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Writing Stories That Centre Around Sensitive Topics



Writing a story that centres around a sensitive topic is not easy. It’s hard because as a writer you have a responsibility to try and get the balance right. Such topics may include grief and loss, abuse, trauma, mental health challenges, suicide, or a devastating medical diagnosis.

I am working on a story titled 'Scattered Scones'. It's a bit different from my other books. It is very close to my heart. I think it’s taking me so long to get back to because I am scared I won’t get it right. It centres around an early onset dementia diagnosis of a woman in her early fifties who is estranged from her adult daughter. She embarks on an impromptu road trip with her best friend to try and reconnect with her and tell her about the diagnosis.

Dementia is a topic I am fiercely passionate about, and I wanted to tell this story to help bring more awareness to the community. I understand the disease from a professional standpoint. Working in my role as an Aged Care Clinical Nurse Consultant, I am a clinical expert on the disease. Every day I help people and their families navigate what support is available to help them live their best life while dealing with the progression of the disease.


But here lies my struggle. I have no personal lived experience with the disease. I also like to include a little bit of light-hearted humour in all of my books. Writing a story that is entertaining, deals with the topic in a respectful and sensitive manner, contains a bit of humour, is both raw and real, educates, and highlights the challenges faced is hard.


So, how do we get the balance right? Here is what I have learned so far.

·         Include a trigger warning at the beginning of the book. This is a short statement at the start of a piece of writing alerting the reader to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material. For example, my book might state ‘This story centres around a diagnosis of dementia and may be emotionally challenging for people with a lived experience.’

·         Try to talk to people with a lived experience and ask them how they feel the story should be approached

·         Use sensitivity readers. A sensitivity reader is someone who reads a piece of work and looks for possible offensive content, stereotypes and bias. This may be someone with professional knowledge on the topic or a personal lived experience

·         Try not to sugar coat it. Sometimes the topic you are writing about just plain sucks for the character. Tell it how it is. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows

·         Try to draw on your own experiences if you can. My extensive professional clinical knowledge helped me get information accurate, such as early signs and symptoms, how the disease is diagnosed, gaps in the health system, and the support services available (In Australia)

·         I can’t stress this point enough. If you are not an expert on the subject, do your research. Getting your facts straight is so important

·         Have a clear understanding of why you want to put the story out there. As I said earlier, I want to help raise community awareness on something I am passionate about

·         Lastly, try to include an author’s note in the back telling readers why you chose to write a story centering around a sensitive topic

·         Include information on links to useful websites and support services available if anyone reading your book is struggling or needs information on the topic

 

So, if you are embarking on penning a story containing sensitive content, I hope this helps. These are important stories that need to be told.




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