The main purpose of satire is to criticize a certain concept, ideology, person, group or event through humor. This often involves characters or plotlines matted with the idea in question and the usage of irony, sarcasm, parody, analogy, hyperbole and general exaggeration in order to showcase its faults and hold them up to ridicule, which we are meant not only to laugh about, but reflect and eventually, hopefully, to desire and participate in the improvement of the issue in question.
All of this is what makes satire such a popular and influential genre and, at the same time, so difficult to write. Satire must be both subtle and clear or else the message it seeks to send will get lost in translation. A satire that fails to make the reader think has failed completely and, at worst, reinforced the harmful belief it proposed to criticize, even if imperceptibly. Sure, it is the reader’s (or viewer’s) responsibility to apply even the slightest bit of critical thinking, but it is the satire’s responsibility to make, even the casual reader, recognize that there is a problem. In the case of, for example, movies, a part of everybody watches movies viscerally and there is nothing wrong with that. A satire no matter its medium has to watch over for the tone it uses to get its point across.
So creators neither can nor should hide behind the excuse of “You just didn’t get it.”
Things to consider when writing satire are:
- 1) The audience,
- 2) The limits, because indeed, there are limits to writing satire, and
- 3) Context.
Satire: How to Disguise Your Criticism with Laughter ellaborates on the first two, while Hugh Holub explains the latter.
If a satirical article catches the reader by surprise, they might not get the humor.
Thus, in plying your satirical wit, make sure you target it in a context where the reader is looking for humor.
He provides further tips:
Second, vicious does not work. ”Trenchant” is a key word to remember. Sharp, vigorously effective. Words like “delightfully vicious”” is more the goal.
Third, obscenity detracts from good satire. The best satire is very literate.
Fourth, the more subtle and authoritative your satire is, the more effective it is. British humor is very understated, and absolutely funny as a result. American’s tend to be over the top. Appearing to be serious while in fact the content is not, works very well. The best satire mimics authoritative presentation so that at a glance it might appear to be real.
The best satire works in tandem with the level of the reader’s understanding of the subject or topic of the satire. If people care enough about a subject, they will be current on it and knowledgeable about it. Assume your reader is intelligent.
Fifth, the trick is to make sure the made-up farcical element is clear. […]
Sixth, one path to good satire is taking an existing trend or direction of a story, and keep going as far over the edge as you dare. The ultimate truth (and justification for seeing something as outrageous) is to follow the logical trend way out there and see where it takes you. A lot of satirical humor has erupted from the current economic bailout efforts […]
Here for the full list.
And here’s a list of resources that go in depth about the topic and revise it from a variety of angles.
Lastly, I will always advice that if you want to write something, you read and overall experience everything you can. Since we are talking about a style and a genre, you go and read and watch pieces that have successfully managed to be satirical. There are certain cues you can’t learn without being subjected to them.
Wikipedia offers a list of satirists and satires which you are free to browse. Find authors that interest you and go from there. Study what made them satirical.
- Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, “Cat’s Cradle”
- George Orwell: Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four
- Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange
- Joseph Heller: Catch 22
- Terry Prachett
- Frank Zappa
- Bill Watterson
And so forth. Even comedians (specially comedians) are known for their use of satire to both bring awareness to issues and entertain.