Issue Led Stories

Issue led stories are controversial – or can be? Should we write them? Especially for magazines. Or should we stick to nice safe subjects like weddings and car boot sales and summer balls. Not that I’ve got anything against these subjects, I think I’ve sold stories about all of them – well possibly not a summer ball, must put that one on my list!

But – and I think I might have mentioned this – I also like writing about issues. Gritty issues. My students often ask me if there are any subjects that are taboo for magazines and the answer is that, no, I don’t think so.  Well maybe some subjects are taboo for some magazines, but I’ve written lots of issue led stories. I’ve written (and sold) stories about: abortion, agoraphobia, anorexia, alcoholism (did I mention I just wrote a book about alcoholism called Ice and a Slice).  Check it out here. You can even read the first chapter on the previous blog. I will shut up about Ice and a Slice soon, I promise!

I’ve also written about the death of pets or people, drugs, sexual abuse, nervous breakdowns, cancer, prisons – I’ve even slipped the odd quite saucy story past a magazine editor!

I think the key to writing issue led stories and selling them to magazines is to do it sensitively and also to give some hope. If you write about a gritty issue and then give it a really sad ending this might not be so successful.

You can of course write stories with more downbeat endings for competitions. But don’t be depressing even if you’re being downbeat.

I’ve just had one of my issue led stories (about anorexia) published on Morgen Bailey’s blog. If you’d like to check that out, please do take a look. Click here. It’s Flash Fiction so very short. In fact, I think that Flash Fiction works very well if you use a strong, gritty subject.

I’d love to know what other writers think.


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10 Responses to Issue Led Stories

  1. Jackie Sayle says:

    Della – I am the mother of an anorectic daughter and we went through years and years of hell together from when she was 13 to 17, especially after me and her dad (we were divorced) had to have her ‘locked up’. She’s sort of better now and I now longer have to climb out of upstairs windows onto flat roofs to listen or peer through windows to make sure she’s okay. At the same time my father was struck down by a severe and brutal form of dementia called Lewy Bodies Disease. It wasn’t an easy time for either me or my mum. I’ve got lots of stories to tell, but, hopefully, most will have upbeat endings one way or another.

    • Della Galton says:

      Wow, Jackie, thank you for sharing that. You have my utmost respect. That must have been a very tough time. I hope your daughter stays better.

      I have this theory that people who have had to face a lot of pain in their lives are the best, best writers. They tend to be sympathetic and empathetic and write from the heart. This has proved to be the case time and time again. A small consolation when you going through the pain, I know, but maybe it’s what makes us better writers. Hugs.

  2. Linda Casper says:

    If you are able to write about such matters, go for it. You have proved you can.I cannot bring myself to write Mills and Boon style romances, although I know it sells.

  3. Cat Lumb says:

    It’s important not to forget that people like to enjoy reading, and that despite a gritty subject there has to be some allowance for hope to sneak back into it, whatever the issue.

    Writing about gritty, emotional issues can often be difficult for both writer and reader and I think, in order to preserve the message, there has to be an exchange whereby the reader feels the story has somewhere to go. The next step doesn’t have to be a ‘happily ever after’ but there needs to be a change, a progression, an understanding that the issue doesn’t stop when the writing stops…

    I’ve recently been writing about a character whose daughter is about to embark on transgender hormone therapy to become a man, and the mother feels she can not understand it. By the end of the story she still doesn’t understand as such, but she accepts it. That is just the first – possibly most challenging – hurdle, but it’s enough to explore the issue.

    Thanks for bringing this up – interesting subject Della!

    Take Care,

    • Della Galton says:

      Absolutely, Cat, I couldn’t agree with you more regarding reading being for entertainment. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever got was from a very successful writer who told me, ‘never forget, we are in the entertainments industry.’
      Blimey, transgender issues, that’s a biggie. Very brave. But I think you have exactly the right ending on this. Good luck with it xx

  4. Wendy Clarke says:

    I have covered bereavement, blindness, post natal depression and stroke (three of these to a magazine you wouldn’t expect to like such topics!) All these have been, or are about to be, published – which proves that magazines will cover ‘gritty’ topics. As you say ‘sensitivity and hope’ are the key words to making these topics saleable – get these right and I reckon you can write about most things (within reason).

  5. Pauline Mason says:

    I think on this question of fiction as entertainment many readers also like to be able to identify with the stories they are reading in some way. So if there’s a big problem which is shown and the characters begin to understand and reach some sort of acceptance then that helps readers, who have experienced similar events, to identify with the whole thing. So it doesn’t always have to have a totally happy ending but just some hope and empathy perhaps.

  6. Della Galton says:

    Hi Pauline, yes, I agree. You can’t necessarily have a totally happy ending (how like life) but it’s nice to know there is hope.

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