Please Stop With The GOD DAMNED PANDERING!

Last week, I was unable to put up a blog post because I was unwell in the morning, and had to rest before going to see the wonderfully amazing and amazingly wonderful Eddie Izzard for his Force Majeure Tour. Without further ado, here is the post I wanted to write.

Yes, that title’s a take off on Bill Murray’s character from Scrooged, Frank Cross, when he yelled for the workers to stop with the goddamn hammering.

It’s fairly much expressive of the level of irritation I feel when certain television shows and films (that run in a series) start to pandering to audiences. Currently, it’s Hannibal (pandering to the Hanagram crowd) and Sherlock BBC (bringing back Moriarty) that have disappointed me by pandering to their fans rather than sticking to the quality material that have made them popular and beloved in the first place. Once a show begins doing that, it becomes sloppy. The writers stop feeling the magic that brought them there in the beginning. It shows. The series suffers, and the audience ultimately suffers except for the vocal handful who demanded dreck and nonsense from the writers.

This is not the same as listening to your editor. Your editor is there to help you make the best out of your work.

Of course, a big influence for television shows and films are the producers, who are the writers’ bread and butter. But that’s another post in and of itself.

So, dear fellow writer, why am I bothering with all this? Because I want to tell you to not give in to your fans if you have something in mind. If you do, your writing will suffer, and you’ll wind up with a work that leaves you utterly dissatisfied.

You are not a fan fiction writer when you’re writing an original work. You’re also not a fan fiction writer when you’re working on a reboot of an original work. There is nothing wrong with fan fic. I write it all the time. I love it. But when you write something, and you make it your own — whether it’s a reboot of a classic or an entirely original world, write it for you. Write it because you enjoy it, not because you have fans begging you to put James with Daria or so-and-so, but because you want to put James with Daria, or with Ken, or whomever you prefer. That’s just an example.

Admittedly, feedback from fans is invaluable at times. Sometimes, they have an insight into your characters that you’ve never considered. But it must be taken with a grain of salt.

It all comes down to this simple, seven-step program:

  1. If you enjoy what you’re writing, write it. Others will enjoy it, too.
  2. You will have detractors.
  3. You will have fans who want something from you.
  4. Continue to do what you want.
  5. You will continue to have detractors.
  6. You will continue to have fans who want something from you.
  7. Continue to do what you want.

I recall an interview with someone from Warner Brothers (I saw this when I was a little girl, so I can only vaguely recall who it was) discussing a number of changes that “the people” would want them to make regarding Bugs Bunny/Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes. His response was, essentially, that they ignored it and just kept doing what they wanted to do, and the shows/cartoons/etc. continued to be enormously popular.

Sometimes, you just have to keep doing what you think is best, producing what you want, and THAT is what will help you maintain your quality. THAT is what will keep you manufacturing your best writing.

Avoid pandering. You don’t need to turn your masterpiece work into something for others. Your contribution is what you make of it, and you don’t want your work to become weak and watered down just to please others (who will never be pleased anyway). Please your own inner reader, and the readers who can appreciate the quality of your work will, too.

If you want to keep up with my blog posts, follow me on Twitter already. I update about once a week for your reading and learning pleasure.

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Write Something Worth Burning

A friend of mine once said (and he was quoting someone else, though I cannot recall the person he was quoting) that the best way to sell a book is to have it banned. While banning a book is not a marketing ploy, it is certainly an effective way to sell books. After all, once you hear a book is banned, don’t you want to run right out and read it just to see what all the fuss is about? (If you want to read some ‘banned classics,’ check out the ALA’s website.

A book worth reading is a book worth burning.

I love to go around finding lists of banned books, who wants them banned, and why…and then go out and read them or buy them. Perhaps it’s just the rebellious kid in me, but I really get a kick out of finding out what was so objectionable about the book. Plus, it gets me to think. I mean, really think, and even meta-think. “Why would they want this book banned or burned? What are they thinking?” It’s helpful to expand your mind in a variety of ways. Not only is the reader enriched by the literature itself, but also enriched by trying to think of why a book would be so volatile to some.

I see people who say, “these days, everyone has to be offended about something.” It’s true, but it is not unique to our time period. Take a long look back at history, and you’ll find plenty of people who have found offense with things. What happened? They were heard, things changed a bit, or they were ignored, and the status quo was maintained. Ho hum. Boring. Move along.

Today, all I ask of you is to be inspired. You don’t have to write something just for the sake of ‘being offensive,’ but write something that you’re passionate about. Someone will likely be offended by it, even if you didn’t intentionally infer anything at all. So, you might as well turn up the heat a bit and write about topics that interest you, topics that light you on fire and enjoy every word.

WRITE FOR YOU.

Remember, offense is taken, not given. I write horror. A lot of horror. I enjoy writing horror. One of my chapters in Silver Hollow is about a man who kills children. I bet there are people who take a whole lot of offense to that. Did I mean to be offensive? No. It’s a story, and that’s all it is. To me, it’s a truly disturbing story that was stuck in my head and I needed to write it. So, I did, and there it is. Certainly there are some people who would want to ban the story, some who will think I’m a nutjob, and some who will just read it and say, “meh, it was okay,” and still some who will read it and say, “that was XX minutes of my life wasted.” Am I responsible for their reactions? Nope. I’m responsible for me.

Now, if someone comes along and says, “your story inspired me to kill a bunch of people,” am I responsible for that?

Nope. That person just needed an excuse.

If someone comes along and says, “your story stopped me from killing a bunch of people and made me rethink my life,” am I responsible for that?

As much as I’d love to take credit for that, nope. Again, that person made a decision.

That’s not to say we don’t influence one another to think, or to act, but in my years spent studying psychology and working with patients as a supervised therapist, as well as reviewing hundreds of case studies and blah blah blah, I believe that we are ultimately responsible for the way we act and think. We just have to learn that we’re responsible for ourselves. Some people don’t know that, yet.

So, have you been shying away from that piece on abortion you’ve been wanting to write? How about that piece on going hunting? What about that work you’ve been putting off about heroin addiction?

What are you afraid of, that your book will get banned? That people will be mad at you? That someone will tell you that you suck?

Fuck ‘em. Write it anyway.

Elizabeth Bishop once wrote a poem on loss, called One Art. When I first heard that poem, I was 21 years old, and my father had just died. Oddly enough, I didn’t really think of it as a poem on death. But the last line really stuck with me for years (and still remains with me):

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

That ‘write it’ right there? WRITE IT. That’s what I tell myself when I want to shy away from a certain topic.

It might not be the disaster you think it will be. But hopefully, your writing will piss enough people off to get them talking and thinking. Write with passion. Write with intelligence. Write to have fun and maybe even make a point.

Write because you want to, not whether or not it will be offensive.

But for the fun of it, love, tell yourself you’re gonna write something worth burning.

More About Grammar

During last week’s blog post about grammar, I got some great feedback on Twitter from my friend, @flickguy. It was a quote (sent in a couple of tweets to me) from a NaNoWriMo experience he’d had in 2005:

If your spelling and grammar turns readers off right from the start, your thoughts and ideas are worthless because you’ve failed to communicate them to anyone.

The quote was attributed to Holly Jahangiri, a professional writer and author, and she’s absolutely right. Have you ever picked up a book (typically self-published) and, just a few pages in, got rid of it because the language in it wasn’t reaching you? Much of the time, it isn’t because the writer is using circumlocutory language, but because they never bothered to edit their prose and correct their spelling and grammar mistakes.

Now, there are some really great self-published works out there, actually. Well-written, with excellent spelling and grammar, free of egregious mistakes. I’m not knocking self-publishing. I’m knocking writers who don’t get their work copy edited before publishing because they don’t want to pay for it and couldn’t get their work published traditionally (likely because their query letter was so filled with said egregious errors, but that’s for another blog post).

Basically, what I’m saying is this:

GET YOUR WORK EDITED, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE NOT GREAT AT SPELLING AND GRAMMAR.

But you can save that for the editing process.

Now, last week, I also said that dialog is a different matter altogether. Because it is. Essentially, don’t forget to listen to how people say the things they say. Ever read V.C. Andrews? This sort of Gothic thriller fiction was great for me, especially when I was a teenager, but one of the things I couldn’t stand was her dialog. Of course, it was purposefully crafted that way, but it was so stiff…so punctilious, it would get on my nerves.

Unless you’re going for that kind of prose and dialog, I would suggest you listen to the way people speak to one another, and work from there. If you have to, read it out loud and hear how it sounds. If it comes across as too stiff, change it up a bit and relax. Unless your speaker is an erudite university professor, you probably want it to come off a tad more unrefined.

Don’t let your hard work get pushed to the side by bad spelling, grammar, or overconscientious dialog. Get it edited, check it yourself, and be proud of the manuscript you’ve built.

Does Grammar Matter?

Okay, so you’re writing a novel, book, literary piece, short story, etc. Typically that means you have something to say. Maybe you’re not the best speller or grammarian in the world, but you have the right to tell your stories, just like anyone else.

So is the story more important than the spelling and grammar?

Yes, and no.

When you’re writing your story, you’re weaving a tale that, most likely, you will want read by more than just one or two people. Yes, yes, of course you’re writing your story for you, but be honest with yourself: wouldn’t you also like for other people to enjoy the story as much as you have?

If so, you’re going to need to get a copy edit.

You want to present a polished manuscript to your publisher. It doesn’t have to be perfect (no manuscript is), but you do want it to be as good as it can get so that the publisher doesn’t take one look at it and say, “this is a mess, forget it.”

There is an exception when it comes to spelling and grammar, though, and that’s in your dialog. When characters (and people) speak to one another, they don’t always follow the rules of grammar (they split infinitives, just as I did here, and they even do more than that) and the spelling may reflect their accents. They say, “I could care less,” instead of the correct “I couldn’t care less,” and they say, “ain’t,” “carryin'” and “Australopithecus afarensis.”

Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

So, with the exception of dialog, you want your narrative to be spelled correctly and use relatively proper grammar. Don’t make it a mess. Turn on that spell check, and have a couple of people go through and edit your copy once you’re finished.

Remember, even editors, when they go through your manuscript and make changes, are capable of spelling and grammar errors. No one is exempt. Always check your work.

Sometimes, it’s the difference between having your work read and having it trashed.