Writing Wednesday: No, You Don’t Always Have to Please Your Audience, Part 1: Writing the Characters The Fans “Want”

By Kara Newcastle

Konrad Westermayr_Schreibendes_Mädchen Writing girl 1913

Okay, so let’s say you’ve been writing for a while. You’re feeling pretty good about your skills and confident in your ability to tell a cohesive and engaging story—great! You’ve gotten to a point where people are starting to take notice, and you have even developed something of a fan base—awesome!

Now that you have fans, you might start worrying about how you will keep them. You might start to worry about what they’re going to think about your next fictional endeavor. You want to give them something they’re going to love. You might even feel a little pressure from some of these fans to include things that you hadn’t considered before, and aren’t sure you want to do. Then you start thinking that maybe you should … after all, they’re your fans, you should make them happy, right?

If you ever find yourself worrying about “pleasing your fans,” just stop. First off, you’re not going to please everybody—it’s impossible. Second of all, if you start writing with the idea that you’re doing it for someone else, your writing is never going to be good. It’ll be strained, stilted, restricted, it won’t sound honest, and you’ll hate it because it won’t feel like your work—it’ll feel like somebody else’s project, and that’s a sensation that will rip you apart. Always write for yourself first and please the rest of the world later (or never, in some cases.)

In older writers (Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the like), there isn’t quite as much pressure to please their audiences; they feel more concerned with the quality of the fiction, and if people aren’t happy about it, well, screw ‘em, essentially. With newer, younger writers, we’ve grown up in a world where it seems like the fans run the show, and if we do anything that is just a hair out of line with what is the popular cause at that moment, we run the risk of being verbally flambeed and forced to issue an apology.

I’m here to tell you that it is perfectly okay to not follow, for lack of a better phrase, whatever cause is trending at the moment, especially regarding your characters; just because everyone else is hopping up and down screaming that we need characters with a feature (again, for lack of a better word) that is not frequently portrayed in the media does not automatically mean that you have to make any of your characters like that. I agree, there’s a massive lack of diverse characters in fiction and entertainment, but I really don’t think you should feel forced to include them if you don’t feel a natural connection to that character. Don’t make a character gay because you feel like you “have to,” or you’re worried that people would complain if you don’t; have a gay character because you know that’s how you want that character to be. If you make a character gay, trans, disabled, a different race, a different religion, or whatever it is that is contrary to your original intent because you want to satisfy your audience, that character will not come across as genuine, and trust me when I say people will pick up on it.

I have a vast array of different characters, but I do not have a character who is transsexual. Why not? For the same reason I don’t have characters who are Russian, Episcopalian, autistic, or missing a limb; I don’t have a story for them yet. When I have an idea for a story that can use a character who is Russian, Episcopalian, autistic, or missing a limb, then I will write a story with a character who is Russian, Episcopalian, autistic, or missing a limb. I will not write about a character who doesn’t click with me at that moment because if they’re not true to me, they will not be true to my readers. If they’re not true to my readers, then I’m basically using that character as clickbait, and you’d better believe there are going to be a lot of teed-off readers.

All right, so I made this Part 1 of this blog because when I initially started writing it, I realized there were a few other topics related to pleasing your fans, and if I kept going to with it the blog would be, like, eighteen pages long. No matter how much time you might have right now, nobody’s going to read a blog that long. I’ll try to have Part 2 shortened and ready for next week!


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