Writing the Wrongs: Sensationalism vs. Social Justice

Today’s guest post is from Amy Thomas, a writer who asks an important question that hits home for me whenever I see topics that are “trending” on social media, and I feel an itch to write about them: what’s my real motive? Do I really care about the importance of this subject? Will I handle it with the sensitivity it deserves? Or do I just want to write about whatever topic will guarantee my blog to be among the first results on Google?

Agents often look for these trending topics to figure out which books will be the most marketable, but as an indie author, I am not limited by those trends. I have published, and continue to publish, books on topics that I know are not popular, but as Amy says, I want to at least get people to see why they matter.

I love that Amy was brave enough to bring this up, because it will undoubtedly strike a nerve among other writers. Agree or disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


The strongest misconception I have witnessed as a writer stems from sensationalism. Political, spiritual, sexual, or otherwise, innumerable written works have been labeled for their alleged agendas or money-monger authors. As our world becomes increasingly riddled with injustices, so our writers are discredited in tandem as abusers and opportunists.

Although I cannot deny that there are voices who latch onto hot topics and trending debates for readers, they are likely less than half of those who choose those subjects about which to write. For me, writing is a systematic and honest documentation of current events, attitudes, and suffering. I learned these details about past years through literature, and I hope they will be learned by future generations. Preserving human suffering is, in part, to preserve human dignity. Many authors and writers who do so are tagged opportunistic raiders frothing at the mouth for open wounds.

Opposite and equally shaming, another reaction to social justice writers is revulsion. Many people are still unable to face such topics, despite being surrounded in them at present. In my last year of college, I wrote a series of short stories based on the social problems of my generation, and many are difficult to address: homophobia, rape, racism, cyberbullying, etc. I understand that to some, these stories strike hurt places in them that need healing or are not ready to read what they have never believed or witnessed. I do not write these stories necessarily to change anyone’s mind—a person must come to his own beliefs in his own time. The point instead, I believe, is simply to get them to see. If a person sees injustice, no matter what he or she believes, at least its presence is acknowledged. I think it is the hope of many writers that eventually this acknowledgment will lead to action.

There is, however, a right way to address issues such as these, but it is not restrictive. Style is irrelevant. There must only be a present sensitivity in writing that acknowledges that some of those who have already suffered are reading. Gratuitous scenes of overly descriptive, exploitative violence are useless to anyone, sympathetic or otherwise. Many television shows are guilty of this. Instead, a respectful subtlety is appropriate. By no means do I intend to say that graphic scenes should be prohibited—if they are necessary to a character or story and are, as mentioned, sensitive to affected readers, then so be it. These are the scenes that make it easy to distinguish opportunists from true authors, and they are the scenes that often earn writers a bad name.

I hope writers continue to refuse these labels and keep working toward justice in literature. It can be hindering to share these works with the world, but their work will inevitably cause good, even if for a solitary reader. When I presented my aforementioned stories at a podium before graduation, my fear was overcome by a dead certainty that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Amy Thomas is a graduate of Santa Clara University, where she worked as a fiction editor and editor in chief of the Santa Clara Review. She was recently published in Sediments Literary-Arts Journal and continues to work as an editor. Find more of her writings at www.akthomaswrites.com.


One thought on “Writing the Wrongs: Sensationalism vs. Social Justice

  1. Pingback: Writing the Wrongs: Sensationalism vs. Social Justice | femininefeministe

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