Today we have Adria Cimino with us to share her thoughts on weaving serious contemporary issues into fiction, which she does in her novel, The Creepshow. I met Adria through Tall Poppy Writers. She’s always on the go – writing books, publishing books, promoting books. You can also check Book Star in the left hand columns—that’s another brainchild of Adria’s, along with her friend and business partner, author Vicki Lesage.
But now, back to our business!
What real life issues do you weave into your fiction? Any tips of your own to share?
Please welcome Adria to WFW!
Discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying… Should these and other sociological issues have their place in fiction, or are they best suited to nonfiction territory? We’re so used to seeing them in the nonfiction section of our local bookshops; there’s no denying the fact that you’re more likely to read about the glass ceiling in a nonfiction book than in a novel.
But that doesn’t mean these troubles are poor material for fiction. And the more I considered the possibility, the more I became convinced that these subjects would make for great fiction. They are, unfortunately, real and familiar to many. So wouldn’t it be logical that some of our favorite protagonists face these situations like so many of us? And another reason: Not everyone reads nonfiction. Fiction offers us as writers a vehicle to reach another audience with important messages.
Still, writing about sociological issues in fiction does present challenges. The first one being this: If I think “nonfiction” when I hear the words “glass ceiling, discrimination and sexual harassment,” chances are, so will a lot of readers! Second problem: How to write a book with such an issue and keep it spicy? In my case, I was interested in writing a novel about the glass ceiling. With that, images of sterile (or not so sterile) offices filled my head. Business suits, briefcases, 12-hour days. Not exactly glamorous, exciting or even attention-getting.
And then—not so suddenly, but more like gradually over many cups of tea and various snacks—the answer came to me. Relationships tie everything together in a good novel. A novel incorporating a sociological issue would be no different.
My glass ceiling novel, The Creepshow, would be a relationship story after all, but the protagonist’s troubles at work would be the guiding force, affecting her, her relationships and her decisions. The key to incorporating a real-life issue that to some might seem a bit dry is to emphasize how said-issue impacts the human relationships in the story.
Our characters don’t experience life in a vacuum, and neither do we. If your character is facing abuse/harassment/racism/bullying etc. here are some questions to ask yourself to give your story more depth, as well as a few ideas about how to write accordingly:
- How is the situation affecting the protagonist’s view of herself? If it’s hurting her self-esteem, for instance, she might not react in a “logical” way or in the way we’d like her to react.
- How is the situation affecting the protagonist’s relationships? Is it bringing her closer to the people she loves or for some reason is it driving her away from them? And why? Your character might surprise you, and if she does, listen. Don’t be afraid to go the unconventional path if it indeed suits your character. And don’t be afraid of disappointing the reader. This isn’t about catering to what an audience supposedly will want.
- How will the protagonist change as the difficult situation progresses? Most good stories show a character’s growth in some way or another. In this case, we should see a change in the character’s attitude and way of handling her relationships, as well as the difficult situation.
- What roles will your supporting characters play throughout? Will they truly understand what the protagonist is going through? In many cases, the answer will be “no, they don’t understand.” And that’s a good thing, adding tension and an opportunity for the protagonist to win over this character, and the reader.
By considering these questions, and developing meaningful relationships, shaped by your protagonist’s challenging situation, the main issue in your book will become part of an interesting multi-faceted story. Now that doesn’t mean everyone will understand or approve of your choices—but that is the case when we write a book on any subject!
Including a sociological issue in your fiction might be intimidating at first. But if you’re passionate about the issue and you carefully plan how to develop the characters involved in the action, it can not only make for a great book, but it also can make for a meaningful one.
Adria J. Cimino is the author of Amazon Best-Selling novel, Paris, Rue des Martyrs, and Close to Destiny, as well as The Creepshow and A Perfumer’s Secret. She also co-founded boutique publishing house Velvet Morning Press. Prior to jumping into the publishing world full time, she spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria is a member of Tall Poppy Writers, which unites bright authors with smart readers. Adria lives in Paris with her husband, Didier, and daughter, Phèdre. When she isn’t writing, you can find Adria at her neighborhood café watching the world go by.