Sunday, September 24, 2017

Who's Looking Over Your Shoulder as You Write? Appeasing the Fandom

One of my faithful desk companions - Isabel has little interest in the stories themselves, but she disapproves of my reaching for the mouse. Good incentive for me to keep typing with no backtracking!

Not as visible - and not as likely to claw me for reaching for the mouse - is everyone else virtually on my desk as I write. By this I mean my readers. And not just any readers - but those passionately invested in the stories, worlds and characters. You know who you are! These are the power readers, the ones who take time to give me personal feedback on how much they love what I write.

And they have opinions. Sometimes strong ones. Again, you know who you are. :-)

That's our topic this week: Responding to the fandom – where do you draw the line? (e.g., not killing a character after all)

It's an interesting question for me because I've noted several authors in recent years who I've felt have caved to reader pressure on various levels. That might be a bit sideways of this topic, so let me respond directly to the question before I dive into that.

Would I not kill a character because my readers urged me not to? Absolutely. Okay, probably I wouldn't. The only exception would be if I believed that death to be necessary to the story in a way that resulted in greater richness. I wouldn't do it to make a point or to create emotional angst. I like stories that make me feel enriched and optimistic, so I like to leave my readers with that feeling, too. I have killed characters - because people die, and sometimes a character's death is needed to allow another to move forward - and I would even kill a loved character because the story demands it.

For example, in MAGIC RISES, the sixth Kate Daniels books (don't read this paragraph if you aren't caught up and don't want to be spoilered) Ilona Andrews made the choice to kill Aunt Bea, a hugely popular character. I tell you - and you know if you love the series, too - I cried and cried. BUT, her death was important. The stakes were very high and it made no sense if no one was killed in that situation. Also, her death meant a change in the political structure and allowed two other characters to step into leadership positions. I'm sure the writing team of Ilona and Gordon Andrews got a LOT of upset feedback from their passionate fandom about not killing that character. They mention in interviews that they argued between themselves about it.

They made a hard decision and stood by it.

At the same time, other authors have made the choice to kill characters - even first person point-of-view protagonists - in order to make a point. George RR Martin famously kills off characters, sometimes almost arbitrarily, to demonstrate how capricious such things can be, and how tenuous our grip on life.

I'm not into that so much.

Where I do draw my own line is bending to political pressure. There's a great deal of discussion online about what's appropriate in real life - such as consent and healthy relationships - and also trope exhaustion. I've seen authors change their stories to accommodate this kind of feedback. One wrote a beta hero who gave way to the heroine in all things because her readers were "tired of alpha holes." (That's a cross between alpha and asshole, for those not in the know.) You know what? That book was dead boring, at least to me. I know some readers loved it, which is cool, but I thought it was far from her strongest work - and I fell off reading that series due to lack of interest.

Another author has gotten tons of feedback on a couple who are both highly emotional, sometimes violent people. She's really toned down their interactions over the years - and I wonder how much is due to the sometimes strongly chastising posts written about some of those scenes. The thing is, I read the most recent book - found it dead boring - then went back to an earlier one and devoured it for all the excitement and turmoil. I'm missing that element now.

Passionate voices are loud voices - and strong opinions have great conviction behind them. It's important to discuss issues like consent and healthy relationships. But it's worth noting that conflict is what makes STORIES interesting and exciting. I think authors bend to social pressure at the risk of bleeding the energy from their books.

In real life, we'd never find it useful for someone to die. As authors of our worlds, it's a choice we make. Sometimes with relish.

Because relish is what adds the flavor!


  1. Oh, I think what book you mean with the beta hero. We even talked about it back then and I completely agree with you.
    Great post :-)

    1. Thanks! I'm glad it makes sense :-) And funny that we talked about that one because it was while ago!

  2. I don't want to be in control of the characters' behavior. I want to go where they want to go, through the agent of the author. If I wanted wimpy characters, I'd watch TV.
    I don't know which two books you are referencing, but I've been disappointed before. I also think that the entertainment industry is so caught up in white-washing stories that everything is losing its spice. Thank you for being a writer who stands up for the characters.

    1. Boy - I sure feel this about the spice, too! The thing about TV is that they want to appeal to the broadest sector, which means offending as few as possible. But if we're not shaken up... how is that exciting?

  3. I won't try to control your characters or the outcome of your books... just the rest of your life. ;-)

    1. In all seriousness... Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is my favorite of the series. Yes, a MAJOR character dies, but the story is so emotional and moving, and it moves the entire plot. It helps Harry grow. It's done with purpose and that makes for great storytelling.

    2. I can totally see that. Done well and for the right reasons, it can make the story.