They say never two without three, so here I am with the third part of my (late) weekend ramble about who’s in the writer’s mind when they write a story. In particular, I discussed how being a “Them alone” writer looks like the easy way until you actually try to please all your audience: finding a one-fits-all solution is impossible because people want different things.
But what if the fans agreed on pretty much the same view of how a story should go? What should a writer do in that case? If you think about it we’ve already seen fans demanding writers to have the story go a certain way, even though they weren’t the totality of the fandom. It seems like a tendency of the last few years, fired up and amplified by internet and by how close it brings audience and creators, but maybe it’s something that existed even before that.
In Misery, Stephen King tells the story of a writer “kidnapped” by one of his fans and forced to let a character live if he wants to be cured and released. This gives us a hint about the fact that as prolific as King’s fantasy is, the demanding fans must have already been a thing back in the Eighties, and even before that. Maybe they’ve always existed, but they made a lot less noise when they didn’t have the internet to share their frustrations with the entire world. I guess that back then they just wrote letters to the creator itself, but I can’t say for sure, and once again it’s not the point I’m trying to make.
What I wanted to ask myself (and you) with this post is the following question: to whom the art belongs? To the fan, or to the creator? I’m saying creator here because the phenomenon is not limited to books, but it’s something we also see in movies, tv, and video games. Visual arts seem immune to these unrequested suggestions, maybe because they’re a kind of “static” form of art: when we look at a painting or at a photograph, the entire story is already in front of us, and we’re free to give our own interpretation to it. When we read a book, watch a movie/tv show, play a videogame, we discover the story as it unfolds and we have the time to think about how we’d want it to go.
Assuming that an entire fandom agrees on something, or appears to do so, what should the writer do? I have my answer, but I’m an “I and I” writer so maybe for someone the question is not so easy to answer. But there is another question I can’t get off my head when I try to imagine the stance of a “Them alone” or even of an “I and them” writer: if we end up listening too closely to the audience’s demand, what happens to our artistic expression, to the ourselves we put into our work?
I used to roam on fan forums when I had more time and couldn’t help but get intrigued by fan theories and expectations about the latest tv show: Fringe-related threads were a rabbit hole, and I regret starting Lost on the year it ended because it took a lot of theories-browsing away from me. But as much as I found many of those posts creative and enticing at least as the shows themselves, it went without saying that the decision is not made on internet forums or chat rooms.
I’ve been let down by the latest Star Wars movie, and I have my own ideas about what I didn’t like in it and how I’d liked things to go, but I know I’m not entitled to demand the movie to be reshot the way I want it. The creators wanted it like this, fine, I’ll continue enjoying the other movies of the saga and pretend Episode IX never happened.
It’s brutal to say it like this, but for me, art belongs to the ones who make it. It’s their own way to depict and present their vision of the world to the public, and the public is free to like it or to despise it. Nobody is forcing anyone to enjoy a piece of art, but nobody except the creator is allowed to change it. Also because in creative matters, especially in the written ones, there’s no gatekeeping: nowadays everyone can write and publish their own story, so whining about our favorite piece of media not matching 100% with our taste is stupid, and it’s a waste of time. Just grab a pen (or a keyboard) and write your own, silly! Internet is full of spaces for amateur writers and fan-fiction. Some creators even enjoyed a piece of fan fiction so much that they’ve made it canon, i.e. they’ve approved it as an official part of the story.
In case I lost you halfway through, here a recap of what I meant to say: Advocate for something you like you see in media is right, forcing creators to change something to suit your taste is not. Have your voice heard from “Them alone” and “I and them” writers out there to come up with diverse, entertaining, educational stories as much as you want, but be respectful of their work, especially the one that’s already out there.
When it comes to art, forcing things never produces anything good.