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.