Writing Wednesday: No, You Don’t Always Have to Please Your Audience, Part 2: Fanservice = Misery for You
By Kara Newcastle
So last week, I started talking about why you shouldn’t always give your fans what they want, and I had decided to break up the blog because I realized it was getting way too long. Last week was specifically why you shouldn’t make characters that your audience wants to see just because it’s the cause de jour—don’t write a character as being, say, dyslexic just because somebody out there is freaking out that there aren’t enough dyslexic characters in fiction and you don’t want them to be mad at you. Just write your character as you imagined them to be, write that dyslexic character when you want that character to be dyslexic.
Otherwise, by giving your fans what they demand, all you’re doing is fanservice, not writing, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes you can ever make.
Let’s define what I mean by “fanservice” in this particular instance: “fanservice” is when people who are fans of a particular book or show or whatever start clamoring for the creators to give them what they want. Most frequently, this is having two characters fall in love or admit that they are in love and officially become a couple. Other times it might be the introduction of another character or villain, confirming a plotline or revealing a detail that the fans have been speculating about.
And this almost always ends disastrously.
You would think that doing something that makes the fans happy would improve the book or show in question, but this often has the exact opposite effect. Usually, once the thing that the fans have been begging for has been presented, there’s nothing left to look forward to. The quality of storytelling goes down because the writers now have to work around this event which has thrown their timelines off. And fans are pretty much impossible to please; some will be happy with the outcome, some will not be happy, and some will sort of be happy but don’t like how the writers went about doing it, etc., etc. etc.
Is this always true? No, of course not; some shows, books, games, movies and comics can deliver fanservice and still maintain a decent storyline, but usually the opposite is true. Once the fans get what they “want,” they either lose interest or they’re sorely disappointed by the results thereafter.
If at any point in your writing career (be it fanfic or real fic) you find that your fans are getting on your case for you to do something that they want to see … DON’T DO IT!!! Don’t do it if it wasn’t already planned out by you and you alone. Fanservice isn’t worth the risk to your creation, even if you think you’re doing it as a “thank you” to your fans—you’re just sabotaging yourself by letting the fans run the show. If they’re hounding you to do something, don’t throw them any bones because it won’t shut them up and may even encourage them to keep pestering you with requests. The second you release any of your creative control, you lose your story, and will lose your readership. Period.
“But Kara,” you might be saying, “what if I’m writing something and my audience is telling me that they don’t like what I’m doing?”
Good question. What does your gut tell you? Is this the way you wanted to write your book? Then by all means, keep writing it that way. Chances are good that most of the people who follow through to the end won’t be so ticked off once they reach the conclusion, and things that were critically mauled in the past have a way of being rediscovered and hailed as masterpieces in the future—just read some of the original reviews for The Empire Strikes Back if you don’t believe me.
Is there ever a time when fanservice is good? In my opinion, not really, no; fanservice is like pleading with people to stick around, a sort of, “I’ll give you my Oreos if you promise to be my friend” deal. There shouldn’t be any negotiating with your fans—either they enjoy what you give them and wait for the good stuff to happen on its own, or they can go find something else to entertain themselves with. Let them whine. This is your story, not theirs, and you know what you want to do. Keep writing what and how you want to write.
Myth Monday: Storm Gods (Now You Know Who to Blame for Ruining Your Picnic)
By Kara Newcastle
Picture it: It’s summertime. It’s finally warm and sunny! The weather has been incredible all week long, and you make plans to go to the beach Saturday. You go to bed at the end of a perfect day, wake up the next morning …
Annnnnd it’s pouring out.
Well, that figures. You were so looking forward to spending the day at the beach, and now those plans are shot. You almost feel as though somebody’s playing a dirty trick on you … and you might not be wrong on that point. Mythology is packed with gods and goddess who control the weather, and some of them aren’t always responsible with those powers. Take a look at the list (by no means complete) and see if you can figure out which drizzly deity is to blame.
In ancient Greece, the man responsible for thunder and lightning was the king of the gods, Zeus. Zeus was the physical embodiment of lightning—in fact when Princess Semele, pregnant with Zeus’s son the wine god Dionysus, was tricked into demanding to see Zeus’s true form, his lightning killed her instantly. However, Zeus was thought to propel lightning down from the sky using bolts forged by Hephaestus, the lamed smith god and/or the Cyclops brothers who had sided with Zeus in his war against the Titans. Some versions of the myth depict Zeus’s thunder and lightning as actual deities, usually personified as the goddesses Astrape (lightning) and Bronte (thunder, which is also where we get the name Brontosaurus, for the long-necked dinosaur that paleontologists can never agree if it actually existed or not.)
For the Vikings, king of the gods Odin was sometimes thought responsible for storms, but when it came to thunder and lightning, these were products of Thor the thunder god’s divine fury. Whenever Thor smashed his battle hammer Mjolnir, the impact sounded like thunder, and lightning would fly from the wheels of his chariot, drawn by his two goats Tanngniost (“Teeth barer”) and Tanngrisnir (“Teeth grinder.”) Thor was never without Mjolnir, and the day he discovered it was stolen by the giant Thyrm Thor nearly went out of his mind with rage. Thyrm said he would trade Mjolnir back to Thor only if Thyrm could marry the goddess of love and beauty, Freya. Freya of course refused to do so, prompting Loki to suggest that Thor disguise himself as Freya, with Loki disguised as “Freya’s” attendant. Covered in a veil, the hulking, hirsute Thor slouched into the giants’ feast hall, and the second the giants were distracted, Thor grabbed Mjolnir back and brained everyone there.
I should also mention that Freya’s twin brother Freyr was not only the god of fertility, he was also a rain god as well (because nothing is fertile when it’s bone dry.) So if you get a rainstorm with no thunder, you know who’s at fault.
Shango was the ofttimes testy, axe-wielding thunder god of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. As a mortal, he was the fourth king of the Oyo Empire, but he wasn’t always seen as a fair ruler. He became so unpopular with his followers that it was said that Shango wandered into the forest and hung himself in despair. Later, a terrible storm roared over the land, and the lightning bolts all hit and burned down the houses of Shango’s enemies, prompting those that were still loyal to him to proclaim that Shango had become a mighty thunder god. Shango became one of the most popular orishas (a being that guides humans through life and are sometimes said to be extraordinary people who became gods after their deaths) among the Yoruba. In the 19th century, the Yoruba used Shango as a rallying symbol to unite under as they fought the slave trade, and a statue of Shango was erected at the Kainji Dam to help electricity to flow through the power lines.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the time to also mention Shango’s three wives, Oshun, Oya, and Oba. Oya is both a fierce warrior and a goddess of turbulent storms, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, while Oshun is a more gentle (until she gets really mad—once she was deeply insulted by her devotees and sent down a torrential rainfall that flooded the land) goddess of love, nurturing, water, rivers and rainfall. Oya is extremely jealous of Oshun because she is Shango’s favorite, and the goddesses fight frequently, so worshippers are advised not to invoke both goddesses at the same time. Oba, Shango’s first wife and also a goddess of rivers, wisely avoids as much contact with Oya and Oshun as possible, though they both hate her because she was the only one of Shango’s wives to bear him heirs.
Perun was the god of thunder, war, fertility, and king of the gods in ancient Slavic mythology. He’s been largely forgotten today, but some of his stories still survive (and he’s a delightful character in the Iron Druid novels.) Perun ruled over the dry land of the living, but periodically Veles, the tricky god of the wet Underworld would sneak to the surface and try to steal something of Perun’s. Perun would respond by lobbing lightning bolts at Veles, who would run all over the world, transforming into various things to try to escape Perun’s retaliation. It was thought that if a lightning bolt struck a tree, for example, then the tree was actually Veles and Perun had successfully zapped him.
Okay, I really can’t make a list of weather gods without mentioning the Japanese god of thunder, the mighty Raijin … but, if you’re a Mortal Kombat fan, you know him better as Raiden. Raijin would stand amongst a set of Taiko drums and, with his fearsome face set into a snarl, he would pound of the drums to create thunder. Raijin was also a ferocious warrior and was said to have defended Japan against the Mongol invasion, throwing lightning bolts and arrows at the enemy fleet. Another story tells how the Emperor dispatched a man named Sugaru to capture Raijin and force him to turn away an oncoming storm. Raijin ignored Sugaru’s orders, so Sugaru prayed to Kwannon, the goddess of mercy, to help him. Kwannon agreed to help and brought Raijin to Sugaru, who then promptly stuffed the thunder god into a sack and dragged him back to the Emperor. (Oh, and for reasons I haven’t figured out yet, during thunderstorms Japanese parents sometimes tell their children to keep their bellybuttons covered up, or Raijin would eat them.)
In the early Vedic era, Indra was the god of thunder and war, as well as king of the gods (sensing a theme here …) He was armed with the varja, a sort of ceremonial club or mace that represented the thunderbolt—and in Indra’s hands, it was. According to the Rigveda (one of a collection of ancient Hindu texts), a dragon-like asura (demon) called Vritra stole all the cloud cattle (rainclouds) and hid them within a mountain. Indra attacked Vritra to free the cattle, and at one point was actually swallowed whole by the demon. Once inside Vritra’s stomach, Indra wielded his thunderbolt and split the dragon in two. With the monster dead, Indra was able to free all the cloud cattle, and rain quickly fell to earth.
As you probably know by now, summertime is hurricane season in the United States, and we can thank the ornery Mayan god Huracan (that’s where we get the word “hurricane”) for that. Huracan isn’t all bad though; he stood above the endless primordial ocean and chanted “Earth” three times until it arose out of the waters. Huracan also helped to create humans … even though it took him and the other gods three tries to get it right … and after the second attempt Huracan let loose the Great Flood to kill all the humans because they were so evil … and I’m starting to think he missed a few … Oh, and he’s also depicted in artwork as a man with one human leg and one leg in the shape of a snake, representing the zig-zaggy, serpentine movements of a lightning bolt.
Back to ancient Greece we go to meet Typhon, the impossibly huge monster giant that almost defeated all of the Olympian gods. Said to have one hundred heads, one hundred arms, and one hundred snake tails for legs, Typhon was created by the goddess Gaea to avenge the slaughter and imprisonment of her Titan children. The name “Typhon” is thought to be derived from the ancient Greek word for “whirlwind,” which, considering the way he tore through the Olympians, makes a certain amount of sense. Nowadays, a huge storm in the Pacific is known as a “typhoon,” and while it’s more likely the word is derived from Asian terms, Typhon has since become linked with the incredible phenomenon.
And now for a return trip to Japan to meet Susanoo, the god of storms and the sea and storms at sea. Susanoo was one of the youngest children born to the creator god Izanagi. According to one legend, Izanagi had gone to the underworld Yomi to try to save his wife Izanami, but failed. Emerging into the world of the living, Izanagi ritually bathed, and then wiped tears from his eyes. One of these tears turned in Susanoo, who from the get-go was a problem child. He screamed and cried so much for his dead mother that his weeping stirred up massive storms, and Izanagi had to kick him out of heaven. While exiled, Susanoo decided to visit the home of the food goddess Ōgetsu-hime. Susanoo demanded food, to which Ōgetsu-hime provided by creating it from various things that her body … uh … produced. Susanoo was so disgusted that he slew Ōgetsu-hime. Susanoo’s elder sister, the sun goddess and queen of the gods Amaterasu was furious that he had killed Ōgetsu-hime, but Susanoo didn’t apologize. In fact, he responded by going on a rampage, throwing a flayed pony (Amaterasu loved ponies) onto her throne, among other offenses. This did not endear him to the gods, so Susanoo was sent to earth, where he became a hero to the mortals there.
That’s just a selection of the storm gods that are stomping around out there, and any one of them could be at fault for the torrential downpour on your day out. Just keep your head down and mouth shut—you don’t want to say anything to get the gods madder and fling a lightning bolt after you.