Fantasy, science fiction, poetry, and more are the most commonly brought to mind in reference to literary genres. Satire is a type of genre as well, or often used as a literary device, and my personal favorite. Most of us are already familiar with satire even if we aren’t aware of it. Often political in focus, satirical writers will use irony, exaggeration, and humor to analyze human nature or create an overall social commentary with the purpose of driving social change or making a point to the audience, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, government, corporations, or society itself into improvement. Their shortcomings and follies are thus held up to be mocked, caricatured, and parodied in this genre.
Satire can be the entirety or fraction of any work of art, entertainment, or culture. The comedy sketches of Saturday Night Live are excellent examples of satire in pop culture (check out “President Barbie” or “The Bubble”) that impart an important message in a humorous way and give subtext through hyperbolic absurdity. In literature, however, satirical devices usually are used to poke fun of social figures, social customs, a particular leader, etc. as previously aforementioned. Anything the author chooses to comment on or call into question is appropriate material for writing satire.
Satire is a genre frequently overlooked, likely due to its more complex and mature nature, but let’s take a look at some famous examples of satire:
- Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945) uses allegorical satire to take aim at communism and Stalin-era Soviet Union. At face value, it is a simple tale of farm animals but reveals deeper political meaning underneath.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865) uses a distinct sense of humor, of good-naturedness combined with ridicule, to quip at upper-class intellectualism.
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726) targets travel writers, the English government, and human nature itself by spoofing the travelogues that were common at the time.
As you may imagine, writing satire is quite a bit more difficult than some other categories. Some people have a knack for it, but most of us can view it as an acquired skill that gets better the more you practice and put in the effort. The most crucial part of writing good satire is to have a point or message that you can pivot your plot around through metaphors and overarching meaning. The more passionate you are about making your voice about a certain issue heard, the better. Tips for writing impactful, original satire include having a crystal-clear premise, a strong point of view (usually the main character will have opposite opinions of the author), and unusual, extreme specifics (this is where you add individuality and creativity to your story).
Keep in mind, satire is not everyone’s cup of tea to enjoy so there will always be people that don’t identify with your work. However, I believe it is one the most fascinating ways to develop your piece’s overall message in a way that is witty and fresh to your readers. Satire continues to be one of the most prevalent forms of social commentary today and besides, exploring out of your comfort zone by writing within this genre can only broaden your writing skill-set. Lastly, remember, the key way to improve your writing (satire or otherwise) is by both writing and reading as much as possible!
Here are some of my personal favorite pieces of satirical literature that I highly recommend:
- Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
- Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
- The Trial by Franz Kafka
Written by Andrea Duca.