How much does an artist ‘owe’ his or her fans?

Posted: April 5, 2013 in Books & Reading, TV Shows, Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m totally going to preface this by saying it was brought about by the whole Sterek phenomenon with Teen Wolf, but I don’t want to make this about that in particular. (Mostly because the Sterek shippers can be a little intense. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little frightened of them.)

But let’s take a look at this on a wider scale.

Say you’ve written a book. Because this is hypothetical and we all love to dream, say it’s your debut book. It does well. Really well. Like, New-York-Times-Best-Seller-seven-figure-deal-and-a-movie-adaptation-in-the-works well.

Hey, it’s happened. Once or twice.

Okay, so you’ve published your book. Fans love it. You have a kick-ass heroine and and a sexy hero. There’s action and adventure, romance and humor. It’s the real deal. You have a massive audience, and they’re clamoring for more. They want a sequel.

No brainer, right?

I mean, if you’ve got more story to tell, and people want to read that story, what’s there to think about?

Not much. But I will ask this – to what extent do you owe your fans a nod in their direction?

Say they really want to see two characters together. You’re not opposed to the idea, and it would work in the story line, but you never really envisioned them together. But you’re fans want it. Like, they really want it.

Envision Tumblr pages dedicated solely to this ‘ship (that’s short for ‘relationship’ for you that aren’t in the know). Fan-fiction. Role playing pages. In depth meta. Angry letters threatening your life if you don’t pair the two of them together in the next book.

Whew. *deep breath* This business can get a little scary if you have overzealous fans.

Now, remember. You’re not opposed to this couple being together, you just never envisioned them as a pairing. So, what do you do? Do you put them together in order to please your audience? Do you owe that to them for loving your work so much? Would you be afraid you’d get more angry letters if you didn’t do what they wanted?

Or would you write what you wanted to write, and to heck with them? It isn’t where you intended the story to go and, by gosh, you’re sticking to your guns. If they don’t like it, they can find another book to read. This is your story, not theirs. You’re the creator, and you’re not going to be influenced by what other people have to say if that’s not what you want for your characters.

And this doesn’t just apply to character pairings. It doesn’t just apply to books either. I think I see it most often with television shows (think Glee). Sometimes the creators pander to the fans. The fans are paying the bills after all, right? So, why not give them what they want?

Unfortunately, or at least in the case of Glee, the story can suffer because of this.

Maybe fans wanted to see your character wandering off into the desert on a horse with no name, but once he got there, your audience decided the desert was boring. A horse with no name is boring. And now your character is boring.

Humans are fickle creatures.

But if you don’t listen to your audience, if you don’t grow and expand and learn from your mistakes, you run the risk of alienating your readers. And that can be a very, very bad thing.

So, what do you do? Put those two characters together and please your fans at the risk of murdering a perfectly good plot line, or do you ignore all those outside influences and stick to what you want to write about, even if that means your audience isn’t happy with the direction you decided to take the series in?

Or is there a balance? Let me know! Leave a comment, and let’s discuss this. (Also, if you’re familiar with Sterek, let me know your thoughts on that matter too.)

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Comments
  1. Jae says:

    I think there is a balance. I don’t think you should take orders from the fans, but you should take the fans into consideration. Using your example, I would think seriously about whether or not I’d like the two characters getting together. Does it mess up my big vision? It’s like getting feedback from CPs. Sometimes those kinds of changes can be good. For example, a friend asked me why a certain character seemed to disappear after a brief stint in the beginning. Wouldn’t they make a great villain, they asked me. I just hadn’t thought about it. And as it turns out, that character made a fantastic villain. It took things in a different direction than I expected. But there have been suggestions that I just didn’t agree with and still went my own way. Fans are in tune with your world, but not the god of it. It’s definitely a balance I think.

    • Karen Rought says:

      I completely agree. That balance is hard, I think, because of social media and how much some fans get to interact with authors and creators. It’s hard not to be influenced, but I think if you have a strong vision to begin with, it can make striking that balance a lot easier.

  2. Debra Kristi says:

    I tend to agree with Jae. Ultimately, you have to write the story you feel in your gut while keeping your ear to the ground, open to any worthy suggestion. You never know what might spark a new idea, leading your story in new and exciting directions. As long as you’re writing what you feel you’ll be writing a better story and that’s what you owe yourself and your readers, the best of your talent. Sometimes the best story isn’t the HEA.

    • Karen Rought says:

      That’s true! Besides, fans can be pretty creative. I’ve read some amazing pieces of fan-fiction and have seen some truly inspiring art based off of literature. It’s definitely a good idea to keep an ear to the ground when there’s some creativity out there.

  3. i don’t think you can get upset about what fans do with your story via fan fiction, etc. and listening to suggestions, critiques is great up to a point. ultimately, you know you’re story better than any one and you know what kind of story you want to tell, no matter if it’s not the ultimate true love happy ending that will please everyone.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Fan-fiction is definitely a whole other ballgame, but I agree that listening to suggestions is great – up to a point. Just like with anything else, there has to be a balance.

  4. Julie Glover says:

    Balance indeed. I’d be inclined to take the suggestions under advisement, but not feel compelled to deliver the storyline fans want. What’s the point of reading a story anyway if you know exactly what’s going to happen?

    I am reminded of a television show years back that Nancy Travis was in (Almost Perfect, I think). In the first seasons, she was paired with someone who was opposite from her and challenged her character. But the show’s creators polled the audience and found that they thought he was boring, so they nixed him entirely in season 2. Without his role of tugging her in a different direction, Travis’s character lost her sizzle, and the show quickly went off the air. It just didn’t work. So I don’t think catering is the way to go. There has been a balance.

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