Readers and Writers

I’m extremely possessive of my world creations.  This makes me a bad Gamemaster, because if I set a game session in my world, I try to prevent players from mucking up the lore.  (this is bad).  I also have to watch myself when I collaborate creatively with anyone, because I tend to want to dominate the vision of the creative endeavor.  Getting critique as a writer is always hard, because, dammit, they’re MY characters, MY world!  … but that’s not true once the creation is shared with someone else.   And, of course, most writers write because they eventually want their stories to be read.

I think about rock bands and their fans.  A good band knows their fans are important.  A fan, after all, is what allows the band to do what they love for a living: make music.  I’ve heard bands, particularly in the CD-Baby, indy music world refer to their fans as building a tribe. I’ve heard some interesting interviews about “tribes”–those people that will like your music and start to clump around your bands brand identity.  You can either change your music to suit the people around you–or you can go find your tribe.  The theory is, they’re out there.   You just need to figure out how to reach them.  (All of this, of course, assumes that you’re good musicians).  The point is, the success of the music becomes the gestalt that is the relationship between the artist and the audience.

This is true for all forms of art, where the content creator provides something that the fans, whether music, art aficionados, or readership enjoy experiencing.

In other words, your art isn’t just your own.  Creators have a responsibility to their fans.

Where is the balance, though?

Surely, an author “owns” the content.  In sci-fi/fantasy, the author created the world.  The author brought the world to life, and without the author the fan would never have experienced the world.  But, once someone reads the story, it becomes a shared experiences.  Through the written word, the reader creates and experiences the author’s world in their mind — and their interpretive experience belongs to them, not the author.

I’ve recently started to experience this phenomenon in my own writing with my beta readership for my fantasy series I’m writing.  Something changed when the first reader went from helpful critic to actively interested in some of the characters.  The reader became passionate about not only the fate of the character, but the portrayal of the character.  Suddenly, writing was no longer free, and the reader had an influence in my world, because I now had to consider betraying the reader’s experience of the character.  Of course I have the freedom to do this, but then the cost is violating the experiential relationship we had started to establish in the shared world.

Many Star Wars fans were pissed off with the prequels–even more, pissed off with the remakes of the originals (HAN SHOT FIRST!).  Mass Effect fans were upset with the ending of Mass Effect 3 as originally presented (they were stupid :-p), so much so that Bioware released a new, expanded ending to the game (which was even more awesome–thank you, stupid fans).  In each of these cases, the art was more than just the vision of the creative team in a vacuum.  Fans now have an emotional stake in the experience (especially since fans fund the artists work).

Fans aren’t always right, though.  For example, consider World of Warcraft’s new expansion, Mists of Panderia, with Kung-Fu monks who are Pandas.  Since we’re on to panda’s now, here’s the new opening cinematic for Mists of Pandaria, which drops next month.  Can’t wait.

Some fans are upset (my brother hates pandas more than he hates gnomes), saying this is nothing more than Kung-Fu Panda, despite that the first pandaren brewmaster appears in Warcraft 3 long before Kung-Fu Panda every graced the screen.  We see the similarity because it’s a rare image in our geek culture–rarer than a dragon.  But as was pointed out on The Instance podcast, Mists is no more Kung-Fu Panda than the last expansion was How to Train a Dragon.  But I digress.

There’s a balance between the fan’s desires and the artists creative will, and it could be argued that the balance is not equal.  I tend to side with the creator in building his or her vision and letting a fan-base adjust if necessary, but even the greatest can misfire (ahem, Robert Jordan and your Book 10 which takes 1000 pages to span 24 hours of plot.  bleh).

Ultimately, artists and writers have a responsibility to their vision, but they also need to balance this against a responsibility to their readership.  You want to nurture and cherish this shared experience, and when you can find the place that honors both your vision and the love your fans have for your vision, keep fanning that flame.

So, a short one this week in prep for Labor Day weekend.  I need to keep cracking on the writing… and of course the new World of Warcraft patch that changed the way all characters play.  That’s important too.

Cheers all,


8 thoughts on “Readers and Writers

  1. Pingback: Fan Art Creates Shared Experiences | Inner Worlds Fiction

  2. Pingback: Story Crafting: Squeezing a Plot out of Characters | Inner Worlds Fiction

  3. Completely agree! It’s that “happy” balance that writers have to fight with. Because when J.K. Rowling killed off Remus Lupin and Tonks in the seventh book I kind of lost my mind but once I finished the book I realized the symbolism behind why she did it and that is a very challenging thing for a writer to do and still have people wanting more.

  4. This topic particularly caught my attention because in the Harry Potter series fans were desiring one thing and JK Rowling completely delivered another. Throughout the books she would introduce people into Harry’s life that could possibly change his life for the better but then would kill them off because “it had to be done.” An example would be book 5; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In an interview that I watched after she released the book she was nearly in tears because she felt so bad that she didn’t cater to the fans desire by keeping Sirius Black alive but she followed the vision of her books and the world that she created to make the story work. At the time I didn’t understand and was furious but over time and as I continued the series I realized what you pointed out. Sometimes writing just for the fans doesn’t make the story work and that making fans adjust to keep your vision alive is the right thing to do. I mean, even though I wasn’t happy that she killed off Sirius Black I still went and got the 6th book because I just needed to know what happened next (ok and because of the fact I am a die hard fan) so not catering to fans desire can be good and bad. They could get so mad they drop the whole series or they could adjust and keep going cause they need to know what happens after. It is definitely risky.

    • I agree Deborah. There’s a balance. I think it’s good sometimes for characters to die because that keeps the suspense alive for remaining characters. It’s no fun if you know everyone gets to the end. There’s no threat. OTOH, you can kill off way too many characters (George R.R. Martin) so that people have no reason to continue.

  5. I do wish Lucas had given a little more thought to the fan input. I’m not mad about the prequel trilogy (well, okay some things were stupid, like midichlorians. And Hayden Christensen. And Jar Jar Binks. And the writing. And the directing. And…oh never mind). Don’t like the remakes, but I’m acutely aware that Lucas doesn’t really care. It’s not that I think I have a “right” to work he created, it’s that he seems to not care about his fans’ outrage in general. That’s where the feeling of betrayal comes from, I guess.

    As for Panda, if you wanted to get *super* nitnoid you could point out that Universal had the Kung Fu Panda concept in production since the early 90s. That’s if you wanted to play a chicken or the egg game. As a reader/player, I know I’ll pay to experience the new content and world setting, but the characters are going to have to overcome a huge bias in my head of being….panda-ering to the audience.

  6. One way that I look at this is to treat a story as being a kind of negotiation that happens between the author, the readers, and the characters (who absolutely have a say in what happens). When negotiations go well, all three interests align and you get a story where everyone involved feels like their interests got met. When the negotiations break down, however, you end up with broken fan bases, character derailment, or author tracts.

    The Pandaria situation is an interesting case. The authors, in this case, can appeal to the history of the game to prove that they have precedent over Kung Fu Panda, but, in spite of being technically correct, I don’t that they get to overlook the fact that the readership’s perception is going to be influenced by the fact that their first exposure to Kung Fu Pandas is, in fact, Kung Fu Panda. So even though they can claim precedence, I don’t think that it was a very good idea to expand on that element of the continuity for the simple reason that the readership (or players, in this case) simply aren’t invested heavily enough in the WoW story to care.

    I consider this an example of failed negotiation, and I think that, even though they are in the technical wrong, the reader’s perception should have carried the day. Now, just to complicate things, that’s not always true, and there are no hard and fast rules that we can apply to every situation.

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