I recently read an article on Medium from a lady about a house she’d been wanting for a long time. She’d bought it, hired an interior decorator and got it exactly how she liked. In the end, however, despite how beautiful it was, it ended up feeling as empty as much of the rest of her life. It was an interesting article that, at first glance, I appreciated (if I had trouble following it at times and got a little lost in some of the verbiage). Then I scrolled down to read the comments.
I know, comments are the bane of any blog/news/whatever site and are most often some of the most toxic places out there. This particular site actually is pretty good around it. Though, whether that’s through moderation or simply the readers it attracts, I don’t know.
One particular comment caught my eye. It was quite long and I admit, I didn’t read all of it. My ADHD was already showing itself after the long article, so I started skimming. This commenter pointed out that, despite what the article’s author professes about her beliefs and political leanings, she came across as someone who was simply flaunting her wealth, rubbing in what she had and how good, then asking people for sympathy for a hardship most of us could only begin to comprehend.
As I said, I didn’t read the whole comment, but it struck a chord in me. Not because of her struggle—though I could, in fact, empathize with her—nor even the specifics of what the commenter pointed out. The article’s author had spent quite a bit of time enumerating the benefits of her Editor-in-Chief job at a big (unnamed) New York magazine. She’d dropped names of furniture and art that most folks wouldn’t even recognize, much less care about. And she’d discussed the kind of friend—her interior decorator—who “randomly dropped French words” into his speech. The kind of person I think most of us would want to punch in the face, not think was “cute.”
It was interesting to run across this article earlier this week because I have recently been on a kick to go back and reread some of my fanfiction. I’d been realizing lately I haven’t spent enough time writing for fun instead of work and my old Naruto fanfiction took me back to when that’s all I did with my writing. I couldn’t publish Masashi Kishimoto’s characters or world because they weren’t mine. It was all about the fun.
Well, I spent more than a few moments cringing behind my screen. There were quite a few chapters that I wanted to delete quickly from the AdultFanfiction.com servers or the AO3 servers so they never see the light of day again. All the mistakes I’d made before I knew how to write. All the epithets, POV filters, and overabundance of adverbs. Never mind just keeping a single POV itself.
But once upon a time, when I’d begun reading fanfiction all those years ago, I’d made a promise to myself. I couldn’t count on two hands and two feet the number of times I’d go back to reread a fanfiction, only to find it’d been pulled. Most often because the writer left the fandom or was feeling their writing as cringe-inducing as I was realizing mine was. And it drove me batshit, especially because I often read pairings that were exceedingly rare or with characters that got very little love. So, I promised myself when I started writing my own, that I wouldn’t pull my stories. Of course, that means I have some seriously horribad writing out there with my name on it.
I’m blushing just thinking about that.
At the same time, however, I have discovered over the years that fanfiction readers tend to be a lot more forgiving than readers of original fiction. Part of that, I have no doubt, is because it’s free. They don’t pay for it (except in their time reading). Part of it is also probably because they’re not necessarily going to find stories about two characters who’ve met once at a random gatehouse in the original canon. Fanfiction is one of those amazing places where you can put all sorts of weird things together—and even mostly have them make sense.
Sure, there’s always a comment here or there about editing. But it’s much rarer than in original fiction. If we—authors of original, published work—don’t edit our stories, we can be positive we’ll hear about it in reviews.
All of this together this week has given me the chance to reflect on a concept we sometimes don’t want to address but almost all of us still keep in mind.
Who are our readers? Who are we targeting a story to?
The author of the article from Medium, I suspect, hadn’t really kept that in mind when she wrote it. She was trying to appeal to folks who would have a lot of sympathy, yet didn’t quite keep in mind that many of them wouldn’t have the first idea what went into hiring an interior decorator for an expensive brownstone in Brooklyn. Much of the sympathy, I think, got lost in the description of an Editor-in-Chief’s salary, and fringe benefits—including, apparently, enough legroom in First Class to be unable to reach the seat in front of her. It’s hard to have the kind of sympathy she wanted for someone who has so much more than the person reading about it.
When I wrote fanfiction, my first story involved cousins. I got a lot of criticism for that (because there’s a lot of misinformation about them out there), despite the fact that it was something very common in the country my fanfiction was set in. Still, I learned and though I had that pairing again later, I learned how to ignore that.
But I still kept in mind who I was writing for. When I write my stories now, I am very cognizant of who is going to pick up my books. The vast majority are women readers. I’ve seen quite a few complaints out there about gay romance books that downright demonize women. Yes, there are women out there that are horrible. But there are often times where that’s all someone writes (I am not thinking of anyone specific here, to be clear. I don’t necessarily know of any, but I’ve heard about it).
As writers, we should be aware, at least in general, of who is picking up our stories. We can’t write for everyone—we’ll go batshit trying to do that. We do, in the end, need to write the story that needs to be written. But if we know, for the most part, who’s going to read it, then we can, at least, try to make sure we don’t go out of our way to make them angry or hurt them.