Satire is defined as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. Satirists write out of concern for the public interest; the presupposition is that the writer has the reader’s best interest at heart, no matter how dark it gets, they’re on your side. Although the setting and events may portray the most sinister qualities, it’s not all doom and gloom.
The light at the end of the tunnel for any satirical work is perspective. The characters can’t be purely evil because pure evil can’t exist. There has to be a relatable, human quality to each of your characters, something unmistakably despicable and familiar. The goal is to offer the reader an opportunity to either relate to something they hate or despise something they believed they loved. Satire capitalizes on the paradox of the self, highlighting the conflicting aspects of our reality. The trick is to bring the darkness in society to the light, exposing it for what it is. Challenging the idea that we know how things are supposed to be.
Exposing truth is the main drive, exaggerating the blind spots in culture offers as a way to combat ideology, the idea that we are better than anyone else. Telling the truth through lies, revealing the contradictory aspects of the reader by provoking laughter at sadness, sadness at what we societally consider happiness, anger at the status quo. This criticism is meant to encourage progress, to slip into the mind of the public conscious and tweak the way they view the political environment, or religion, or media, to offer empathy and perspective. The only way my writing works is if the reader understands that I’m challenging a standard, poking at a dysfunctional bear. That’s where I begin, with a problem.
The story itself is important obviously, but why is it there? Why is the idea interesting in the first place? Even after only writing for the relatively short time that I have, I know what it takes to get through a book. From the concept to the first draft, to the ninth draft, I know when I have an idea that won’t work. Sometimes those small ideas turn into themes that make it into a larger plan, but most of the time those ideas drop off, left to dust over on the bottom shelf. The point I’m trying to make is, the story itself can be very compelling, you can be very compelled by it, and it still won’t work. A lot of knowing when a story has the legs to stretch over three hundred pages is just writing it, but it’s very important you understand why you’re writing it in the first place. Where is the perspective? Where is the empathy? These are the questions I ask myself before I dive into an idea. What do I not expect out of what I’m creating? These are the things I need to know before I say yes to devoting half a year to one project. These are the questions that turn my work into something more than a story. Answering these questions gives my work purpose and bridges the gap between literary fiction and satire.
To be an effective satirist, you must be a believer, an optimistic, and a realist; you have to force your reader to make decisions, not to just feel. Why? Because works of satire continuously ask the reader questions that they may not be able to answer, the ones that you have to be asking yourself constantly. That’s one of the most engaging aspects of satire, the way it has to dig down into what you actually are. Satire circumvents the traditional modes of communication we’re accustomed to, resonating with some, falling flat with others. It explores the rhetorical nature of communication, the way we say things not just the things we say. It pushes the reader to change the way they live, not only to escape reality. It stretches the reader to find meaning in the seemingly mundane and repetitive. What is the purpose of literature if not to expose fraudulence, shatter fallacious illusion, and eradicate complacency and indifference in any way it can? Words are not dangerous; it’s the order you put them in; thinking is the most dangerous thing you can do, words in the right order can make you do that.
Maybe that’s the real draw to writing and reading satire, the high bar it sets to tear at the world around you for the sake of perspective and empathetic edification. Perhaps there’s something irresistible about the words we shouldn’t say and the orders we shouldn’t put them in.