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The Setting is the Wrapping, Not the Content

Tantz_Aerine at 12:26AM, Feb. 20, 2021
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I have never been an X-men fan. More like a casual consumer of the movies, and that was only until the disastrous (in my opinion) Wolverine singles and the Dark Phoenix movie which I couldn't finish. Props to everyone who managed to enjoy those films! These things are a matter of taste as well as storytelling skill and we all have guilty pleasures!

In any case, the movies never really sold me to the world of the X-men, despite the premise being really interesting, exciting even: mutants with specific (often very flashy) superpowers, social strife and discrimination, a whole range of social commentary to be inferred by various analogies …it could have been wonderful.

But the story, the content, was really weak or scattered or meandering, making me disengage as audience.

And then I saw Logan, and …I really liked it! I loved the world, the setting, I cared about the characters.

But that wasn't due to the world of the X-men. It was thanks to the story that was told within it. The plot was character driven, the stakes were correctly built up, the three main characters were distinct and adequately fleshed out, and the dialogue was fun and natural.

The setting is an extremely important element of any story. Worldbuilding is vital and needs to be done with attention and consistency.

However, the best world building is wasted if the story told within it is not engaging enough, with well-crafted characters that will draw the audience in the story and make the world immersive as a consequence.

The world is the frame of a story. The story itself, the plot and characters, is the painting it is supposed to be framing. One cannot work without the other if we aim to present a completed, balanced, accomplished piece of narrative art, from novels to comics.

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comment

anonymous?

Unwinder at 10:57AM, Feb. 22, 2021

Another good counterexample is Moby Dick - Basically an encyclopedia of whaling with an adventure story tacked on. It sure doesn't make for a gripping story, but it does make for a widely regarded classic. Maybe the lesson here is that if you've done a lot of research on a very interesting topic, your reams and reams of exposition will have value (even if it's not entertainment value)

Unwinder at 10:42AM, Feb. 22, 2021

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges is a pretty good counterexample. No significant characters aside from the narrator, tons of exposition about the library. The narrator's own thinly sketched arc of a lifetime trying and failing to make sense of the library's endless random texts could be removed from the story without losing too much. So I guess maybe this advice can be disregarded if you're working with in the genre of, uh... metaphysical thought experiment?

bravo1102 at 5:35AM, Feb. 21, 2021

Actually plenty of stories can and have been told with scant attention to setting. See the Twilight Zone for some excellent examples. Rod would say "the setting isn't important, let it be so-and-so" The characters make the story and setting shapes the characters but some things are universal, any time and any where. (Jung and archetypes, Campbell and the hero's journey etc)

hushicho at 2:24PM, Feb. 20, 2021

Superhero movies, especially the X-films, are horrible (mis)representations of the characters AND the setting. Setting is very important and is a large part of the story, unless you're doing something very wrong. If you could just take a story and make it happen anywhere, you're probably failing to develop the setting. In many good stories, a place or a world can be almost a character of its own. The X-Men movies especially were guilty of blowing their wad early on and having nothing to develop as far as setting, which they largely ignored and dear god those movies were boring as hell. It's inaccurate to say that story is more important than setting. Setting is a part of the story, and it has to be important enough for the story not to just be set anywhere, anytime.

bravo1102 at 5:38AM, Feb. 20, 2021

@usedbooks "every now and then" ? It's almost every day for me. Then I am a lot more cynical. Especially any comic that starts with a wall of text and telling some story about some past or present of another world. It's like "see what I created?" "Rich world huh? Huh?", lots of pretty pictures but no story until page five or so instead the history of the world. 'In the beginning--' Exposition is nothing but so much air without a story. Might as well write an encyclopedias and give up any pretense of story telling.

usedbooks at 5:01AM, Feb. 20, 2021

I feel like "you have to write a story not a setting" should be basic "duh" knowledge, but Hollywood amazes with its lack of common sense. (Although, cynical me feels many decisions are made on whether things can be commercialized rather than whether they'll be good.) Every now and then I see a webcomic suffering a similar issue with a masterful artist who can create breathtaking imagery and vibrant settings but cannot put a story together.


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