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In Bad Webcomics Wiki, a place for reviews of bad webcomics, there's a common phrase: the "VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS".

The novelists who endeavor to enforce what they are pleased to call "moral truths," cease to be artists. They create two kinds of characters -- types and caricatures. The first has never lived, and the second never will. The real artist produces neither. In his pages, you will find individuals, natural people, who have the contradictions and inconsistencies inseparable from humanity. The great artists "hold the mirror up to nature," and this mirror reflects with absolute accuracy.

Well, I hate Captain Planet and Ted Turner from the bottom of my heart, but the idea of killing off Mao Tse-tung with Zyklon B (a pesticide) is too charming.

So, I want to convey very important opinions, but without becoming the written equivalent of Better Days or Captain PSA's “If It’s Doomsday, This Must Be Belfast” episode.

Tips and important thing to keep in mind?


HELP: I only know one web series, that managed to be good whilst having VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS, and it's the If the Emperor had a Text-to-Speech Device, which basically consists of a Corpse Emperor complaining about stuff to a gold-encrusted banana.

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    How is XKCD considered a bad webcomic? It's educational and downright hilarious - sounds like the author in that link is a "misunderstood" twatwaffle who feels the world "isn't ready for their works". I'd take any advice from that site with a hefty grain of salt. – Thomo Aug 17 '17 at 22:41
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    @Thomo I rather suspect it's someone who doesn't like works which express a different political view than their own. – Philipp Aug 18 '17 at 9:47
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    @Thomo - it can certainly be said that the "art" in xkcd isn't a breakthrough. – Luís Henrique Sep 2 '17 at 13:55
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Lots of great authors had very important opinions. Dickens. Steinbeck. Solzhenitsyn. Dostoyevsky. What they all understood is that a story is not a vehicle to express an opinion, but a vehicle for leading people to form the same opinion themselves by leading them through the experiences that would lead someone to form that opinion.

That does not mean, of course, that there cannot be any preaching in a story. People preach in real life. When Tom Joad gives his impassioned speech at the end of Grapes of Wrath, it does not feel like the author preaching, though of course it is, it feels like the character preaching because that is exactly the speech that that character would give in that situation (whether the author agreed with him or not).

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You should start by considering that your VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS might be wrong.

I mean, clearly some people don't share them, or else you wouldn't feel the need to write about them. Why don't those people share them? How do their values and motivations differ from yours? What ideals do they have that conflict with your opinons? What would the downsides of a society where everyone shared your opinions be?

If after this you come to the conclusion that people only disagree because they're stupid/hateful/ignorant/[insert negative word here] and there would be no downsides to such a society, stop. These are not motivations--they're strawmen. Your story or whatever will end up exactly as preachy those webcomics you hate.

Otherwise, what you have is a conflict between people. And conflict is the foundation of storytelling. So explore it. There's a lot of different directions to take this. Perhaps you already have one in mind, or perhaps you'll think of one while working this out. Some sort of -topia is always popular for high concept stuff, though a bit overused. But regardless, as you flesh out your story, if you want to avoid preachiness, the key is humility. Don't try to tell the audience you're right. Let them come to that decision (or not) on their own.

(And don't kill off Mao Tse-tung with Zyklon-B. It never helps.)

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One good way to write about Very Important Opinions is to begin in an idyllic world complying with the Very Important Opinions; but one that has been idyllic for so long that they have relaxed their vigilance, and an opportunist (psychopath, sociopath, sadist, etc) --- your villain --- realizes there is an opening to attack and destroy the idyllic world for his own self-benefit.

Begin without much explanation, but with showing the advantages this idyllic world has for various characters that aim to accomplish things. As the villain begins to assert himself (or herself) the heroes are thwarted, and the discussions they have about why they cannot do what they wanted, and why their former freedom was justified and how stupid it is for somebody to change it, are the opportunity to explain the elements of the Very Important Opinions without just engaging in long story-killing soliloquy or boring exposition.

The audience hates lectures; they are interested in the emotional fate of the heroes. Doing it this way, the heroes have something at stake, a freedom being denied them by your villain, one that is important to them and, if the audience can identify and bond with the heroes, will feel important to the audience, too.

You can have several such heroes for various aspects of the Very Important Opinions: Just tell the story primarily from the POV of the Villain fighting his war to destroy the idyllic world on many fronts, either for purely selfish reasons or because they truly believe they are doing the Right Thing.

This is an inversion of telling the story from the hero's POV, but it should not be hard to make the audience side with the people he is abusing, and make the Villain somebody the audience loves to hate.

  • It's not a good thing if your answer reminds me of "I want them to know why they need us." thingy from V for Vendetta. (especially considering the fact, that the quoted sentence comes from a dictator's mouth.) Utopia is "nowhere land" for a good reason. – Mephistopheles Aug 19 '17 at 21:02
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    Who said anything about a dictator? If I want to highlight the goodness of freedom of speech and the press, I can describe a reporter that is stripped of both. If I want to highlight the efficacy of free college, I can describe people that have always had it (like Norwegians) and then describe the fallout of it being taken away. No dictator is reminding anybody of anything, a dictator is taking away what they already have, and to which have become accustomed and complacent, with no intent of restoring it. If you don't like my answer, don't use it. Who knows, somebody else might use it. – Amadeus Aug 19 '17 at 21:19
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    I'm just saying, that portraying a system and its leaders as perfect, will make the reader sick. However, a system, that is trying its best to improve, doesn't solve every problem flawlessly and has that humility feeling to it, should make the reader sympathize with them. – Mephistopheles Aug 19 '17 at 21:27
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    I didn't say anything about 'perfect' either. Do you think the Founding Fathers of the USA were perfect? I don't, but I can agree that many of the principles in the Bill of Rights are timeless, brilliant and brave (even if the same guys violated them later). A system can be far better than the fallible humans that build it or run it; just like a machine can be a thousand times faster and a thousand times more precise in its actions than the engineer that built it. But what happens when the rules of the system are broken and the people supposed to address that, don't? – Amadeus Aug 20 '17 at 0:09
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There's nothing wrong with weaving your personal opinions into your writing. The trick is to be subtle about it.

The reason Assigned Male Comics is... not exactly well-received, to say the least... is because it has absolutely no concept of subtlety. It's so heavy-handed with its message of trans acceptance that, in my experience, it often provokes the opposite (i.e. transphobia, usually levelled at its creator). Obviously that is not okay, but the point is that instead of coming away thinking "Wow, transphobia is bad", people read Assigned Male and come away thinking "Wow, this person really hates cis people".

From your mention of killing Mao Zedong, I'm guessing the message you want to convey is something along the lines of "Communism is bad". In that case - and I hate to bring up such a clichéd piece of advice - write a story that shows that rather than just telling your audience that you think communism is bad. If you write a story where the protagonist is oppressed by a communist/socialist regime, readers will come away with the intended message. If you just write a power fantasy about murdering communist leaders, people will come away with the message "Wow, this guy really hates communists". Maybe you do, but that's not the message you want to convey.

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    Nineteen Eighty-Four would not have been anywhere near as powerful a work as it is if it just told and didn't show. – a CVn Aug 18 '17 at 11:08
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    @MichaelKjörling I fully agree. But I was referring to a completely different aspect of what makes it more convincing than what the author of the question seems to want to write. The author wants to defeat the opposing ideology symbolically by killing off its leader. But having evil win makes 1984 even more politically convincing. It conveys the message: "You can not escape or defeat dystopia once it's there. Your only hope is to stop it beforehand". – Philipp Aug 18 '17 at 11:35
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    @RedactedRedacted Sure, but then forget about getting any political symbolism out of killing off a political symbol if the reason for killing is completely apolitical. If anything you will get the reader to sympathize with Mao Tse-Tung for becoming a victim of a pointless murder committed by a crazy anti-hero. – Philipp Aug 18 '17 at 11:43
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    @RedactedRedacted So you are writing a story about a group of people using a deranged lunatic as a tool to commit a political murder? Doesn't seem very heroic to me... But I think your plot appears too complex to tell what the political effect on the reader will be just from such a vague description. – Philipp Aug 18 '17 at 11:49
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    @RedactedRedacted Keep in mind that asking about what to write is very often off topic on Writers. (I suppose it could perhaps be on topic in some highly specific cases.) See writers.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic. – a CVn Aug 18 '17 at 12:17

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