Q&A: Bad Opinion, No Biscuit

So… I have a protagonist and some of their opinions are supposed to be wrong. I know I’m supposed to show in the text that they’re supposed to be wrong, but how exactly do I do that? Thanks.

By calling them out on it.

I’m going to preface this by pointing out, depending on what those opinions are, this could be a lot more complicated than I’m going to address. Particularly if you’re lumping political, religious, or philosophical beliefs in with opinions.

So, how do you show when your protagonist is wrong about something? By showing that they’re wrong. By illustrating the errors in their judgement.

You can do that by having alternate PoV characters who bring external context to the reader. You can put this directly on the character, where their expectations don’t play out. You present the evidence they’re ignoring to the reader. You show that they’re wrong.

I’d say you don’t reward them for their opinions, but this does, actually, happen. People’s baseless opinions can be accepted as fact, and they can find success through that. However, in a fictional environment, you can regulate how much success someone finds with their views.

Important to remember that you cannot control who your audience sides with, even if you make it pretty clear where you stand. There are lot of people who look at Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) in Falling Down (1993), and can relate to the character, even though he’s a psychopath. This is intentional in the material, even as you’re supposed to understand how destructive his views are.

Fight Club is a similar situation. A lot of readers take Tyler Durden’s philosophy and accept that as the thesis of the book, even though the novel is satire, and is arguing against toxic masculinity.

Satire is an important thing to remember. Satire as a genre is where you forward an argument against your position, and then attack it. Depending on how you want present your position, having a protagonist with views you violently oppose can be a critical component for satirical work.

If the point is that your protagonist’s views are wrong, and you want to tear them down over that, you’re talking about satire, and you probably want to spend some time familiarizing yourself with that genre. A Modest Proposal is always the first example that comes to mind. However, satire can be a little tricky to read, because it does depend on your familiarity with the position it’s arguing against.

In the example above, Fight Club assumes you’re familiar the modern cultural stigma over men showing emotion (or in some cases, even admitting to experiencing them.) If this is new information, then you’re going to have a harder time understanding what the novel is about. It is a repudiation of the “solving your problems through violence,” solution that culture will happily place in front of men. Tyler Durden’s opinions and ideology are wrong, but that’s the point. Incidentally, this is the actual definition of “toxic masculinity”: the cultural stigma among men against expressing emotions, and being encouraged to look for aggressive outlets.

It’s also possible your character is an idiot, or at least, uneducated. No judgement there, there’s plenty of room for fools as protagonists. It’s a different kind of writing. If this is the case, then you’re looking at a character where they’re going do, and say, things that just unwise. When called on, they’ll offer responses that are consistent with their understanding of the world, but don’t really match the reality. There’s a lot of room for this. If this is what you want, it’s a fine approach. You just need to be careful to cue your readers in that their hero is a moron. Note: This isn’t incompatible with satire, if that’s your goal. It’s a bit heavy handed, but these aren’t mutually exclusive.

So, how do you manage your protagonist’s bad opinions? You show the audience that their view doesn’t mesh with empirical evidence.


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