How to Write Social Commentary in Horror

How to Incorporate the Social Issues You're Passionate About into Your Horror Fiction

5/20/20241 min read

Social commentary has been a massive part of horror since the very beginning. The very nature of the genre is to reflect on societal fears of the time.

There are many examples of this, from Night of the Living Dead in the 1960s to most of the movies in Jordan Peel's catalog in modern days.

But you may be wondering how you can use this in your horror writing. What is the best way to incorporate social commentary in your horror fiction? How do you best incorporate the social issues that are important to you in your horror stories? Read on to find out.

Make Use of Metaphors

The most powerful social commentary in horror movies is not direct or on the nose. It is wrapped in a thick layer of metaphor and allegory.

Take Jordan Peel's movies for example, as in my personal opinion, he is the one director who has perfected the art of social commentary in horror. In Jordan Peel's 2019 movie Us, The Tethered and the tunnels in which they live are a clever metaphor for the less financially privileged in our society.

They live in squalor, having to eat rabbits to respond. They're hidden away underground where their more privileged counterparts don't have to see them. But at the same time, they look like exact clones of the private people living above. This implies that even though they are forced to live a much crueler life, when it comes down to it they are not any different from their more privileged clones living above them. This is a clever metaphor for real life inequality.

Jordan Peel's Us is a great example of social horror that you can use in your horror writing. Try to come up with a unique but clear metaphor that can carry your social message. This should be the strongest element of your story,

Make the Social Issue the Center of your Plot

In order to write the social commentary in your horror story to be as effective as possible, you need to make the social message the center point of your plot.

That's not to say that you have to beat your audience over the head with your social message or that you can't incorporate other aspects into your story, but your social message should be the primary focus of your plot.

How do you accomplish this? First of all, you need to start by incorporating your social message into your plot from the very first outline.

You should figure out what social message you want to portray in your story and build your story around that.

It may be tempting to come up with a story line that you are really excited about and shoehorn your social message into it as an afterthought. But this is not the way to do this.

If you treat your social message like an afterthought, it will almost always feel forced and ineffective. It will not have the same impact on your reader as it would if you made it the center of your plot.

Use Established Societal Fears.

By nature, social commentary in horror has always played off established socialist fears that already exist. Therefore, that should also be something you aim for in your writing.

There are a few different ways you can achieve this.

One way you can do this is by subverting these societal fears. Make something or someone who would usually be considered the monster or the villain to be sympathetic or even the victim. This would take the ingrained human fear of the other and turn it on its head and make the audience question their own biases about the real-life others in society.

Another way to use established societal fears in your horror story's social commentary is to take something normal or commonly accepted in our society and make it sinister.

Hide your monster or villain in plain sight. Make it seem ordinary or even harmless. This will make for even more of an impact when it's revealed how horrifying and evil this thing really is.

This can translate into a great metaphor for the invisible problems in our society that no one dares talk about

So here are my best tips for writing social commentary in your horror fiction. Using your art to bring light to social issues is always an act of bravery and can be a great first step in enacting real change.

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Happy writing!