Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Don't Worry About People Missing The Point (Because They Will)

The world of fiction is filled with great satires, as well as stories that make poignant arguments on social issues, morality (or the lack thereof), and the state of the world at the time. Books that act as take-downs (as well as send-ups) of political ideologies are a dime a dozen, and you've probably read at least that many in your lifetime so far.

And you know something? Good or bad, poignant or sloppy, subtle or obvious, there are people who missed the point when they read them. And even when you explain that point to them, they still just... don't get it.

Wait... what do you mean he's the bad guy? I don't get it!
That's going to happen. No matter how clever you are, or how clear you think you're being with your book, some people are going to misinterpret the subtext, the meaning, and the motivations of it. There is nothing you can do to stop it, so just accept that it's going to happen even if you spell it out in plain black and white.

Not Everyone Is Going To See Your Perspective

Communication is a difficult thing when text is the only tool you have to work with. Especially when you consider that, try as you might, you have a very specific set of experiences and frame of reference that goes into your work. Someone who doesn't share those aspects with you, or who has been conditioned to see certain aspects of a character, story, or situation as white when you're painting them as black, and vice versa, isn't going to walk away with the same message you laid down.

One of the more famous misreadings of a text comes from Alan Moore's comic (and the subsequent film) Watchmen. The graphic novel is a deconstruction that shows just how awful it would be to live in a world with real superheroes, and the sort of damage that life of unbalanced violence can do to a person as well as a culture. Atomic Junk Shop talked about this recently, and in it they mention how horrified Moore was to the American reaction to his cast.

Because, you see, the character we're supposed to empathize with is Dr. Manhattan. He has the power of a god, but rather than bringing him happiness, it's disconnecting him from the world around him. He's having a harder time seeing things from the simple, moral sidelines so many mortals occupy, and he can only view the world on a grander scale, or on such a microscopic one that it's beyond anyone else's comprehension. By contrast, Rorschach is the character who is meant to embody everything that is awful about what a real-life costumed vigilante would be like. He's a product of a horrifying upbringing, was regularly abused, has a skewed black-or-white vision of reality, lacks empathy, is a sexist, a fascist, and a serial killer. He can barely communicate, he has no hygiene, and he's left behind his actual life and identity entirely to become this thing. He exists as a brutal, awful ideal comprised of splintered bones and broken teeth in a world where might makes right is the whole of the law.

And that's the guy American readers could NOT get enough of!

Some of you don't seem to understand...
It didn't matter how awful Moore made Rorschach, just like it didn't matter how terrible Tyler Durden was, or how absolutely insane the actions of characters like the Punisher or Judge Dredd are. No matter how clearly they're coded as villains (or as characters who are broken, hurting, and violently dangerous as opposed to the sort of people you'd want to model your life choices after), there are readers who are going to see them not just as heroes, but as examples. Maybe that's a cultural difference, maybe it comes from a misreading of the subtext, or maybe it's because these readers just have a bizarrely different frame of reference from the writer, but they not only missed the intended point, but they picked up an entirely different point than the one being made.

The important thing to know is that, in the end, it's out of your control. Additionally, it may not even matter!

For The Last Time, It's NOT About Censorship!

In 6 Books Everyone (Including Your English Teacher) Got Wrong, it's pointed out that Fahrenheit 451 is not actually about censorship, according to the author himself. While it's easy to get that impression, given that it's literally about state-sponsored fire teams going building by building and blow torching books, Bradbury has gone on the record by stating clearly and explicitly that his book is about television, the dumbing down of the audience, and the shortening of people's attention spans.

Which, sure, you can see that. If you squint really hard, and tilt your head a bit.

The point, though, is that in the end it didn't matter what Bradbury's intended message was. The book became a condemnation of state-sponsored censorship, whether that was what he meant it to be about or not. Some people might argue that his vision should be respected as the creator, but communication is a two way street. If you make a statement, and there are alternative interpretations of that statement (good or bad), then the fact that you didn't intend them is irrelevant.

In other words, you can control what you said all you want. But what you cannot control is what the audience actually heard. And sometimes that's frustrating. Sometimes it leads to your book becoming a champion of a cause you hadn't intended, or getting latched onto by a group you'd really rather not have as fans. But that is, as they say, out of your hands.

And look at it this way... people still have to buy a copy and read it before they can misinterpret what you wrote.

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That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

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