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B&N Week 183: Does Your Worldview Make Your Characters Preachy?

| June 24, 2014

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It’s another Tuesday! Guess that means it’s time for another Bolts & Nuts question!

This week’s question is about your worldview: does your worldview make your characters preachy?

As creators, we have something special: something to say, and a medium to say it through. What we also have, though, is a way that we view the world. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t have something to say without having a worldview about which you’re saying it.

However, just because we have a worldview, it doesn’t mean that that view is the correct one. It is right for the individual, but not for the masses. (Sticky territory, Steven. Right and wrong are subjective, y’know.) I know. But groundwork has to be laid before getting deeper into it. (Okay.)

You can’t have a discussion about worldview and comics without bringing up two different examples. The first is Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus. Cerebus is a self-contained work, first as a parody of Conan the Barbarian, and then delving into other things such as philosophy, gender issues, and metaphysics. The second is Frank Miller, creator of Sin City, as well as the writer of All Star Batman and Robin, and writer/artist of Daredevil.

Dave Sim used his character Cerebus to explore a lot of different things. It then devolved for a while into what Sim said could be taken as hate-literature against women. He used his character as a mouthpiece for his own worldview.

Frank Miller’s political views came under fire in 2011 during the Occupy Wall Street movement, where he called the protesters “nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists.” (Really? Rapists?) Really. He also basically called them self-pitying narcissists, and said that “America is at war against a ruthless enemy…al-Qaeda and Islamicism.” Miller wanted to create a book entitled Holy Terror, Batman!, in which Batman fights al-Qaeda in Gotham. That version of the book never materialized, but instead became Holy Terror, where a superhero fights al-Qaeda. Again, the use of a character as a mouthpiece.

However, neither of these pieces feel preachy. They may give the creators’ worldviews, but they don’t feel like they’re trying to convince the reader that they’re “right.” That is much different than some books I’ve read, where it feels like the writer is trying to get the reader on their side, trying to reinforce their own position through persuasion.

That is where some writers start to preach. They forget to tell their story, instead trying to get the reader to understand their point of view, understand where they’re coming from, in order to persuade them that their point of view is the correct one.

In general, readers won’t care about your worldview—as long as you keep it to yourself and tell good stories. Or, if you’re going to espouse your personal view of the world, then the opposing view should also be given. (Wouldn’t that make for great conflict?) [Hey! Now you’re getting it!]

I have my own view of what is right and wrong. I have my own views about gender roles and relations, religion, parenting, societal ills, marijuana, government, the environment, music, and more. However, if I were to put any of those views into my stories, you would never know which “side” I was on, because I don’t want to preach to my readers. I don’t want to persuade them of anything. I want them to enjoy the tale, and maybe think for a bit. So, I would present the other side of whatever the argument is as well.

Readers don’t want to be preached to. That’s something to understand—readers don’t want to be preached to. Most people don’t want their views challenged. Go talk to a religious person, and tell them that some aspect of their religion is wrong, and tell them why. Generally, they’re going to get upset with you. They’re also going to tell you why you’re wrong. (They’re gonna try to persuade me?) You betcha. I’ve only ever met a single person who was a believer, and who was open to sitting down and rationally speaking about different views. It was breathtaking.

What do most people want? They want to read things that reinforce their view of the world. Barring that, they want to read something that could challenge them, but that isn’t done in a very blatant way. Apollo and the Midnighter.

These characters were created by Warren Ellis in a book called The Authority [which spun out of StormWatch]. They’re basically Superman and Batman. And they’re gay. But their sexual preference wasn’t thrown in the reader’s face. It was eased into. There was readership outcry for them to kiss after a particularly physical mission where one of them was hurt. Lots of “they should have kissed” letters.

Does that challenge a reader’s view of the world? Sure does. Is it thrown in their face? No. Is this something that you may want to do for your stories? Quite possibly. It depends on the story you want to tell.

Do you use your characters as mouthpieces to preach to your reader? Are you trying to convince the reader of the merits of your position? Can the reader tell your “side” of an argument?

These are questions that only you can answer. Take a look at your work and decide. If you can’t, or don’t trust yourself, then have someone else read it and tell you. Take a consensus if necessary. It can’t hurt.

And that’s all there is for this week. See you in seven.

Click here to discuss in the ComixTribe forum at Digital Webbing!

 

 

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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