A harsh reality hit me the other day once I was finished with my first manuscript of Destiny Seeker. Travis and I were light-heartedly discussing how people would react to our characters once we’re rich and famous. A couple can dream, right?
Then Travis mentioned the possibility that readers would ship my main characters—Ilsi and Reshma—as a bisexual couple. These two young women spend almost the whole novel traveling together as a tight-knit team. But that’s what I had in mind: a kick-ass relationship of two powerful women who help each other get what they want. But what if people are convinced that they’re really more than friends? That’s not the design I had in mind, but should I just accept that or even encourage it?
This is an increasing issue that many writers/creators will face as consumers become more insatiable. How will you handle these types of issues when your work gets attention?
Who Really Owns the Characters?
It is frustrating that consumers think creators owe them something. It’s one thing to ask for diversity—and I am behind that—but it feels unfair to outright demand and critique creators on social media when consumers ask for something and then feel disappointed in the outcome. It’s as if the consumer thinks they know what’s better for the characters or the story than the original creator. If you need further illustration, read up on the debate on the reaction of Joss Whedon’s portrayal of Black Widow in Age of Ultron.
Who should have the power of character interpretation? As with my personal example, I’ll have to accept the fact that I share that power with my readers. Readers will always have their own personal attachment to characters that we can’t and shouldn’t take away. In a sense, how a person feels about a character (think Cumberbatch’s Sherlock) is something that belongs to the reader; fans even give this the term “feels.”
An author can’t demand to take that away. However, a reader shouldn’t be overly upset if their view of the character is different from the author’s canon. As in, I hope people aren’t mad that Ilsi and Reshma are heterosexual, but just share a deep, sisterly bond.
As writers/creators, we will face a larger issue of catering to a demanding audience. As in, when the fans says they want a certain character, genre, or whatever, we should still create the things we want to create. If consumers want these things so badly, they can become creators, too. They can fill the gaps they see, just like creators do.
How Can We Find Compromise?
We want readers to like our stuff, of course. Here are some things I’ve noticed other writers/creators do that keep good vibes between writers and readers.
1. Be neutral about the fandoms’ reactions. I personally think it’s great when a book, TV show, movie, or song can create discussion and debate. It means that it moves beyond entertainment to inspiration. People are thinking about your work. It’s every high school literature teacher’s dream.
Sometimes fandoms get too weird with their theories, character pairings and further plot analysis. But why pull the plug on it? It’s an unyielding beast that can’t be tamed anyway, so might as well let it hype up the interest factor of your content. It will make others curious and curiouser.
2. Don’t listen to haters/trolls. they wouldn’t know good content if it punched them in the face. I don’t know why, but some people just really enjoy using the Internet to make others miserable. Don’t focus on them because they aren’t buying your stuff and therefore are not worth your time.
3. Attempt diversity. If you feel so inspired, take some steps out of your comfort zone—for the good of the plot, of course. Someone will appreciate your point of view and what you’re trying to add to the story. It always helps to do some research and ask for beta reader critiques to avoid as much contention or misrepresentation as possible.
4. Write what you know. You shouldn’t have to feel the pressure to write about something that doesn’t interest you or isn’t a particular strength. For example, I might not depict homosexual characters in my novels—not because I hate them, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about portraying them correctly or justly. But I am aware of lots of indie authors who have that taken care of and will do a better job.
As for my strengths, I want to create strong male and female characters—I want to appeal to other feminists because that’s what I want to see in my own works.
What are your thoughts on this debate? How do you balance out writer and reader relationships and stay true to your initial designs?