Writing about sensitive sociological issues

Choices is very pleased too host Dawn Reno Langley today, a very renown author of over thirty books. She has also written a guest post just for us about how important writing about sensitive issues is to our well being.

Writing about Sensitive Sociological Issues

By Dawn Reno Langley

When I care about something, I write about it. My mother coached me through my first newspaper essay when I was nine, affirming that I had a right to speak up about how frightened I felt that nuclear war was going to obliterate us all. My young writer’s imagination focused on the fear of a giant missile pointed toward the United States. I needed to say something, and that first essay determined the type of writing I would do throughout my life.

I write about social justice issues. I’ve written novels about wife abuse (Loving Marie), about ocean mammals (The Silver Dolphin), about elephant abuse and gun violence (The Mourning Parade), and about social and gender identity issues (Analyzing the Prescotts). I’ve written essays about nuclear power, the Chinese Communist Party, civil rights, racism, sexism, and ageism. I’ve acted as assistant editor for Vermont Woman, a feminist newspaper. I’ve written nonfiction books about African American and Native American arts. In short, I write about my passions.

But there are considerations when writing about what some call hot-button topics. For me, in order to write about sensitive topics, I must be driven to care about them. Anyone who knows me realizes that they’re not going to win an argument against gun control with me, but if I ranted about the subject in someone’s face (the way I’m tempted to do), it would be unlikely that they would consider the experience a learning arc. I must use language in a way that allows the reader to decide what they wish to derive from my stories. It’s easy to deliver an opinion and reasons for feeling that way in a piece of nonfiction like a newspaper article or an essay; however, if those themes are wound into a fictional format, the reader sometimes comes away having learned something without even realizing it.

When I wrote The Mourning Parade, I wanted to make sure I had my information correct, so I conducted more research than was necessary. Some say I went down the rabbit hole for the better part of a couple of years. By publication day, I knew more about elephants, how they’re trained, how and why they’ve been abused, and about their societies, their sensitivities to emotional events, and their deep and abiding wisdom, which is the way it should be. I knew much more about those creatures than ever landed on the novel’s pages.

That’s a point that I want to make. If you’re going to write about sensitive sociological topics, you must do your homework. Pure and simple. Don’t slap a story together because it’s the “cause of the week.” If I’m going to take the step into the serious issues, I make sure my research is impeccable. Even after I make sure all my t’s are crossed and my I’s are dotted, I will pass the manuscript to another reader (sometimes called a sensitivity reader).

Why do you need a sensitivity reader? With Analyzing the Prescotts, I’m discussing a community to which I do not belong, so even though I conducted extensive research about transgender authors and their voices, reading many memoirs, studying the history of transgender people, and digging into the therapeutic practices used by therapists who treat trans people and their families, I had nearly a dozen people read the work because they are part of the trans community or therapists who work with families. I did so because I’m sensitive to the issues the novel raises for people who have been abused because of their gender identity. I am an ally of the LGBTQ community and want my work to inform those who might not be. The subject is one that I believe touches more people than we realize, and I am currently getting positive feedback from people who want to understand the emotional issues raised.

Writing about sensitive sociological issues is not easy, but it is important. Think about the work of Charles Dickens who was able to bring light to the horrible practice of child labor by penning novels with characters abused by that system. Or consider The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a novel that poses the question of who controls a woman’s body. How about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a story that challenged that time period’s views on racism? Zora Neale Hurston’s books also challenged racist points of view, as did The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Each author approaches their subject differently, but all are bringing knowledge to their readers.

I could continue to list novels that deal with sensitive issues, but I will close with this thought: when writing about social justice issues, the important thing to remember is to personalize the tale. Anchor the story with a character readers can get behind, and remember to both do your research and to get feedback from the community you’re writing about, even if it’s your own.


Book Summary

Cotton Barnes, a Raleigh, NC, therapist, leveled by a client’s recent suicide, is struggling to resume her practice when she begins working with the Prescotts, a family fractured when the father comes out as transgender and begins transitioning. They relate their stories in their chosen voices, each family member’s narrative in a different format. Journals, social media, and other nontraditional narratives challenge Dr. Barnes’ therapeutic skills. While each member of the Prescotts dodge land mines behind the closed doors of her therapy office, the Raleigh, North Carolina area is rocked by a series of LGBTQ+ hate crimes. As Cotton finds herself stalking the family, worried that she might not be able to “save them,” her husband slips away, and Cotton is forced to make a decision that will determine whether she saves her own marriage or the Prescotts.

Publisher: Black Rose Publishing

Print length: 308 pages

Purchase a copy of Analyzing the Prescotts on

Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Analyzing-Prescotts-Dawn-Reno-Langley/dp/1685133495

You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list


About the Author 

Dawn Reno Langley writes extensively for newspapers and magazines, has published more than 30 books (nonfiction, children’s books, and novels such as The Mourning Parade (Amberjack, 2017)), dozens of award-winning short stories, essays, and poems in journals such as Missouri Review, Hunger Mountain and Superstition Review, as well as hundreds of articles, theater reviews, and blogs. A Fulbright scholar and TedX speaker with an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies (concentrations in gender studies and creativity) from The Union Institute and University, she lives on the North Carolina coast. She offers writing retreats for other women and teaches for Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA program. Her latest book, You Are Divine: A Search for the Goddess in All of Us (Llewellyn) was released nationally and internationally in January 2022.ADD AUTHOR BIO

You can follow the author at:

Website: www.dawnrenolangley.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dawnrenolangley/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/proflangley/

You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfSpOz4n17V06ZGei4SkXww



Speak Your Mind