11.45: Elemental Issue, with Desiree Burch

For November, our elemental genre is “Issue,” and we were joined by actor, writer, and comedian Desiree Burch. The Elemental Issue is similar to the Elemental Idea, but the type of idea being explored is a point of social conflict, like racism, teen pregnancy, or corporate greed. Authors writing Elemental Issue stories raise questions for the readers.

We talk about how to go about writing these without sounding preachy, and without writing polemics.

Soundbite Moment: “The more specific a work gets, the more broadly it relates to other people.” —Desiree Burch

Credits: This episode was recorded aboard Oasis of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Read a magazine, ads and all, that is outside your personal cultural context, or realm of interests

Extreme Makeover, by Dan Wells, narrated by Brian Troxell

5 thoughts on “11.45: Elemental Issue, with Desiree Burch”

  1. What Mary said at the beginning reminds me of what Chekhov wrote to his publisher Suvorin: “You confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for an artist.”

  2. What do you do if a fictional issue in your story is likely to cause readers to draw unwanted parallels to issues in the real world? Do I need to abandon the story?

    1. That depends on a lot of factors. Many authors would just tell you to ignore it. For example: many people find WWI and WWII allusions in Lord of the Rings and Tolkien famously hated that. He thought it was ridiculous and he dismissed that critique.

      And you have to do that, at least to a degree. People bring themselves to the story, and they will take things from your writing that you didn’t intend. So you do have to accept that.

      On the other hand, if you write a book with really obvious parallels, then you should take that into account. For instance if you have one race of aliens enslaved by another race, you have to assume that people will compare that to slavery in our world. And you can always just ignore it, and write the story you want to write, but it will have a few extra obstacles to people enjoying it if you do.

    2. The thing is that people will always draw parallels between fiction and the real world. If there’s a baked in analogy, I would learn more about the real world issues, which will probably give you the tools you need to subvert or use those parallels.

      If there’s no way to avoid reinforcing a message you don’t want to deliver, then yes, you should probably abandon it. I’ve had to do this. It’s no fun, but it beats the alternative.

  3. Issues, problems, what’s wrong with this picture? The featured foursome got together with Desiree Burch while on the Writing Excuses cruise to take a hard look at how to write about issues, how to help the reader get curious without preaching at them. The answer? Well, you’ll have to read the transcript in the archives or over here


    To find out all about it! Just remember, you’ll feel better with a friendly gerbil in your pocket.

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