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.