Social Commentary in Your Writing


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Thread: Social Commentary in Your Writing

  1. #1
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    Social Commentary in Your Writing

    I think it would be fair to say that most, maybe even all of us write to be published, and to that end, write as if we are going to be published. By this I mean we write in the hope (vain or otherwise) that one day someone else - hopefully a lot of someone elses - will read what we've written.

    So, picking up on a subject hinted at some time earlier by ironpony, do you think it's important to include social commentary in your writings, and do you, or do you shy from it? I usually try to address some issue in my own stories, though of course not always, and even then it's not always overt and in your face. Racism, sexism, terrorism, corruption, madness, senility, loss... all these and many more are issues we can draw attention to, or reference when we write. So I just wonder, do you consider this when writing, or do you actively try to stay away from it? Obviously, every story/novel is different, but just in general, I mean.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  2. #2
    I'm writing a novel in which the MC is an anti-hero. He keeps a running commentary in his head on social issues like "career panhandlers," and he begins mining his fellow workers' social media accounts for leverage. One of his observations is quoting Thomas Jefferson, "An armed society is a polite society," and so forth and so on... For this particular character, I think it works. It also reveals that, although he's an asshole, to his logic, it makes sense.

    Basically, if you choose to include social commentary, it's best (IMHO) that: 1. It serves the story. 2. It doesn't come off as preachy.
    Her: I love my computer! All of my friends are in there!
    Me: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing about my freezer...
    Her: What?
    Me: What?

  3. #3
    Member Umree's Avatar
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    I think all writing can provide social commentary if you wait long enough. Everything written at a specific time offers a snapshot of that time period and includes at least some commentary on a current event or lifestyle. Even if you try to avoid it, I bet that 50 years from now a freshman English class may analyze your work looking for overviews of what life was like back in the good ol' pre-2020s.

    Like Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Don't write about yourself, at least if you want to write fast. You'll be writing about yourself anyway, you just won't know it"
    You always include social commentary, even if you're actively trying to avoid it in your work.

  4. #4
    This is one of those things I intentionally try to include whenever possible. As umree said somewhat like this. Very late into the process I insert something in it. Since I usually write science ficiton I look for the political issues. One of my weaknesses is including some humanity in the characters. To make the reader care and identify with a character not through suffering necessarily but through likability. The best fantasy imo tries to moralize the issues in today's world. Like jewels of the forest by fritz leiber. It politicizes forests. It's a value imo when we make social commentary. It's also a part of the theme, the moral argument if you will. Do people become worse after going into prison? You bet they do. Some people need humane prison conditions. Mental illness abounds in prisons. Suffering shouldn't always be the right answer. The moment some people believe in taking away a life of a prisoner is because of the inefficiencies of the prison system. (retaliation to victims of a family is the I.E.)

    Science fiction has social commentary often. Some consider it a literary genre or commercial or escapist. Some don't consider it literature. But it can illuminate the human condition which is how you write about theme. It's one of those take away points. Why is the story I am writing about important? How does it educate the public? Mind you little kids should be reading. I wish I could write to their audience. I feel like I am meandering writing through a story pointlessly when I abandon the theme. Am I good externalizing it? I am not really sure. I don't try to sound preachy when I give it a try. For example, I've written about by opinions and the evils of patents as a theme for a story or my arguments.

    Stories make us human. We need them for the social condition. I can argue that it isn't enough to simply entertain, but all art sells even though it may be appalling to our tastes.

    People want to feel human. All story turns out to be social commentary at least imo.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; September 19th, 2019 at 08:14 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  5. #5
    Yeah, I agree with umtree. I think every novel includes at least some degree of it, with the likes of Animal Farm being at the hard end of the scale.
    Last edited by Aquilo; September 19th, 2019 at 09:49 PM.
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  6. #6
    Music Guru Trollheart's Avatar
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    @Umree: one of the best uses, I believe, of social commentary without beating you over the head with it was the film Silent Running. Given that there was, pretty much after the first act, only one human character, I think it did an amazing job of making us think about ecological issues in the future, and presented two sides of the story really well. Had a great ending too, if somewhat (who am I kidding? I was bawling!) heartbreaking.

    Other series that used issues of the day and (usually) did it well: Star Trek (mostly Next Gen and DS9), Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica (the reboot, obviously). I'm sure there are plenty of others. Sci-fi gives a writer a chance to view the social issues of the day through the lens of history, like when in I think it was Timeless, they went back to 1930s America and the black character was arrested for picking up a white woman's handbag and "daring to talk to her". He couldn't understand it, and for us, knowing it had been like that, it was both shameful to remember and relieving to think that, mostly, that sort of attitude is now long gone. Mostly, I said, Mister Trump.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  7. #7
    I personally love writing from perspectives that are vilified or actually marginalized. A half-breed doctoral student lamenting the difficulty of dealing with their mixed racial identity? How tired and lame. A death row inmate unrepentant for his life of crime? Now that's a view worth taking a look at! Of course writing about something you know absolutely nothing about is a sure fire way to create garbage, but I dismiss notions of "authenticity" as if no artist or person should ever attempt to empathize with any other person's perspective for fear of misrepresenting it.

    Of course if you write about a subject without actually presenting a realistic perspective on it, then get ready for a snooze fest. Want to talk about racism? Try having a character actually face racial discrimination without so much heavy handed author narration disguised as the character's inner monologue. Or better yet, have a racist protagonist! Now you're really getting into it. Of course most "social commentary" rises to the level of "X thing is wrong or not wrong and I need to EDUCATE my readers into the correct opinion and should not explore these subjects any further for fear of it hurting my intended effect with nuance and realistic characters."

    It's not that social commentary is bad, it's that the current wave of holier than thou Mary Sues in so much media (including written work) leaves a poor taste in the mouth of anyone who wants something real, true, and emotionally impactful from the things they read.
    You can never hate something so thoroughly as that which destroys what you love, and who is more guilty of this crime than the stranger who was once a lover?

  8. #8
    Presenting both sides of the argument is worth mentioning again to emphasize why I think it can help us write theme. You've got to believe in the winning argument. It's something only you could think off. What are your convictions and beliefs? Basically in the story anything the character might be willing to sacrifice something for.

    I don't necessarily mean essays, we can accidentally discover them if we have very big opinions concerning certain subjects that are strong. Our experiences inform us of what we live. Maybe this is the passion of writing something worthwhile. Movies are built of themes. They want you to take away a message. I would say stories aren't visually intensive but they have the same potential as movies. They are competing for people's attention like movies.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  9. #9
    What Umree said.

    I don't think it's avoidable so much as inevitable. Eventually, everything becomes commentary--intentionally or otherwise.

    That said, I don't shy from it. Better to be offensive than boring. Better to sharpen a mind than dull it. Better to inspire conversation instead of silence.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  10. #10
    I like to write satire so yes, I do want to write commentary in my writings. My one unpublished novella deals with a reporter's experience in Hell and I certainly cover religion, or at least the way humans distort it in their own ways, in that book.When I do start writing for real again, I hope to tackle some of the age old conspiracy theories out there.
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