It’s hard for anyone to process the scale and horror of events like the atrocities in Israel by Hamas, or genocide and ethnic cleansing, or the devastation caused by the invasion of Ukraine. But writers can play a vital role in helping us all process, and respond to, these unthinkable events when they happen.
Firstly, I’d like to state – on behalf of everyone at WriteMovies – our shock and revulsion at the attacks in Israel last week, and our heartfelt sympathy for everyone who has been affected by them or their consequences. My fear is that things are going to get a lot worse even than they are right now, for a much bigger number of people, over the weeks, months and years ahead, because of some of the factors I’ll talk about in this article. And I think writers do have the power to make some important differences in these situations, and I’d like to talk a little about that here.
Here are some principles for writers to consider about their role in the world and the influence that their work can have over world events. You’re welcome to respond to these and suggest others on our social media!
- Show us how we got here. Historical, biographical, or contemporary retellings of things that happened in the past are a vital insight into who and what we are today, and how we need to change for the future.
- Don’t let us forget the lessons of history. Find ways to reinvent and retell the stories that teach us the most from the past, for today’s and tomorrow’s audiences and obsessions.
- Don’t fall into lazy, familiar, safe views of the past that indulge and reassure us. Why create a faithful new adaptation of a familiar classic work, when you could be focusing on different angles within that world that speak to our modern views of that world? Or find other stories from that era which people then weren’t ready to tell about themselves?
- Don’t fall into the trap of treating anyone’s personal identities as more important than our shared humanity. That way lies tribalism, prejudice, war, and ultimately genocide.
- Avoid writing predictable ‘issue dramas’ that basically agree with everything we would already think about an issue, without teaching us why this thing happens or why we should look differently at it.
- Help us understand why people do ‘unthinkable’ things. Famous examples include: How can a responsible, ordinary person turn into a hardened, dangerous criminal (BREAKING BAD)? And, how can someone commit terrible criminal acts for their ‘job’ yet still try to be a good person for their family (THE SOPRANOS)? In the current crises, you could try to explain why Hamas doesn’t value life – their own, Israelis’, nor even their own people’s. Or how Russian rhetoric was describing Ukrainians as their ‘brothers’ in the run-up to the invasion – while their armed forces prepared to kill any of them who tried to stand up to oppression.
- See the bigger picture, and look further than people caught up in the crisis now will be able to. For example, here is an immediate reaction, one week after Hamas’ incursions into Israel in October 2023: the Hamas atrocities in Israel seem designed to show all Israelis and Jews that they will never be safe, and to provoke an extreme reaction in response. The reaction of Israeli forces to that has so far followed the pattern of previous attacks and hostage scenarios in that conflict very closely, but on a predictably bigger scale. Surely this is exactly what Hamas and their backers would have expected, and would have planned and prepared for? So if what Israel is currently doing, is also the goal of the attackers – who is actually winning? What will the longer-term consequences be as the rest of the world – Arab or not – reacts to what is happening in Gaza and beyond? Could this situation escalate far beyond its current focus – what if that’s exactly what Israel’s enemies are trying to bring about? And if so, how bad could things get for Israel and its allies, how quickly?
These are just a few of the ways that writers can add value to the world which can both recognize and help the situation, within and beyond any current crisis or recent shock. I hope they help you frame your own reaction to the many crises in the world, and to understand the part that you can play in helping us to address or prevent them in future. As ever, we would be very happy to mentor you further if this is something of interest to you – https://writemovies.com/script-mentoring/. But above all good luck, and if you or people you care about are caught up in these or any other crises, our sympathies are always with you.