English 100: Lesson One
April 23, 2010 1 Comment
You hear that word a lot. It’s usually accompanied by “political correctness,” “Offensive,” “free speech,” and “censorship.” It’s usually used to describe a particularly shocking and controversial story, poem, article, or blog post. Like many words that find themselves in the cultural narrative, it’s a oft misused word.
Let’s begin with some definitions:
1. A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.
2.The branch of literature constituting such works. See Synonyms at caricature.
3.Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.
To sum it up, satire is a style of writing that takes something and mocks it, displaying the stupidity or ridiculousness of that something. It is a style that demands that a reader be able to see through the text itself that the subject matter is worthy of disgust, that the writer despises it, and the text is attacking the subject matter.
You cannot take an ideal and simply recreate it. This is not satire. This is parroting a cultural narrative.
The most important thing for writers to know is this: if you, as a writer, have to explain your work, you have failed. Once it is written, it is not a part of you–you will not accompany your writing everywhere it goes. So, it must be able to stand on its own.
In satire, you take a trait, a behavior, and you turn it into a physical characteristic. You take that opinion, or behavior, or habit, and you make it into something solid. What’s more, you dramatize it. Blow it up, exaggerate this physical entity, and make it ridiculous.
The key is, whatever you choose to satirize, to change it in some way. You change something essential about your topic, and then you exaggerate it. Give it flair. Add some humor. Satire doesn’t work if you don’t change anything. It will only seem ridiculous to those outside the cultural narrative, and your goal is for those inside the bubble to see the folly and think.
All writing makes a statement. Your goal in writing is to ensure your piece makes the statement you want it to make. If it doesn’t, you’ve failed. Take the piece back to the drafting table.
With satire, you want your reader to think about something they normally wouldn’t think about. You want the reader to be entertained, to think, and to even talk about it.
I repeat, if your piece resembles that you’re attempting to satirize, it is not satire. You cannot rely on tone or voice alone to show that it is satire, and not simply a work like every other work.