Monday, April 16, 2007

Give 'em what they want

Should I?

Should any writer?

I'm starting edits on Blood Will Tell with my faboo editor, and so I'm also planning what other books I want to do with some of the secndary characters, or do I want to do books with secondary characters, and if so, what kinds of books?

I'd love to do a series. I almost always think of ways I can use the characters again, or do books with other characters in that world, or whatever. Because I think series are fun. As a reader I love them. I love to get to know a set of characters, to be familiar with their pasts and their possible futures. It adds another dimension of enjoyment to my reading experience.

But that's what makes me wary.

My reading fun has been spoiled one too many times of late, with series that take a turn for the worse and just keep going down. I'll leave out the obvious example (LKH who?) and head for Kay Scarpetta territory. The last three of four Scarpetta books have been...monstrous disappointments, putting it mildly.

And I know we're all familiar with authors who, when fan reaction to their latest books is poor, tend to throw their "these are MY characters" card in the air and storm off in a huff.

Maybe because I've spent so many years now having at least peripheral dealings with the comics/fangirl/boy community, this attitude absolutely stuns me.

See, over there, the fans do have a say. Maybe they don't cast the deciding vote, no. But their tastes are taken into account. Their likes and dislikes. Their reactions to particular storylines, even their reactions to and preferences in movie casting.

And nobody minds. Nobody complains that the fans don't have a right to their opinions. Nobody gets sniffy about how the fans aren't their bosses, so they should shut the hell up. (Okay, yeah, I can think of one person who may have skirted the edge of this attitude. But it's nowhere near as common as you seem to find in the romance community these days.)

It's taken for granted over in Comicland that the fans are gonna have opinons, and that as long as it doesnt actively hamper the writer's creative flow, those opinions should be taken into account. It's taken for granted that people build a strong emotional attachment to the characters.

That isn't to say that unpopular things never happen (um, Captain America died!), or that writers take surveys of what story they should do next. But theycan and do pay attention to that feedback. They can and do explain when an unpopular action is taken, a large proportion of the time.

Yes, we can argue that the two industries are so very different. But Conan Doyle had to bring Holmes back from the dead, don't forget. Fans have always had opinions, they've always had an influence, and I think they should.

No, they shouldn't take over the writing. But isn't it nice when they act like they care what the readers think?

How much influence do you think reader opinions should have?


Rhian / Crowwoman said...

only in so far as it meshes with the writer's vision. I think it's when it becomes all about pleasing and no longer about creating that the weave unravels.

December Quinn said...

Very true. There is a fine line, I just wish the idea of taking a route more likely to interest and please readers wasn't seen as selling out or something, you know?

BernardL said...

Ian Fleming brought James Bond back from the dead. Many of Stephen King's characters had recurring roles in his books (he usually killed them though). Tom Clancy's novels were a series. I'm with you, I like the series books too. Janet Evanovitch and her Stephanie Plum series is very funny stuff. Fans are the people paying the bills, so it would be kind of goofy to ignore their input. It is nice when an author cares what the fan thinks.

Anonymous said...

I don't think any writer should ever change what they want to write for fans, but I'm not dependent on selling books for a living so it's easy for me to say.

I think Bernita brought this up awhile back and I said writing is art, don't do it to suit anyone but yourself. She leaned more to the you've got to please people to sell side. She's smarter than me so she's probably right. :~)

Is it purely art, strictly business, or both? -V95

Rebecca said...

interesting question December - I think, like you said, it is a very fine line.

Patricia Cornwell is a good example - her first Kay Scarpetta book Post Mortem was fantastic - and won heaps of awards (she got a pretty low advance for that, interestingly)It became a best seller

imagine the pressure PC is under from both publishers and write a certain make this or that KEEP ON writing about Kay Scarpetta.

The authors own vision, if she even had a clear one in the first place, must become very muddied under all those expectations.

I've found that her books have become less and less satisfying (I find them very thin somehow) much so that I wouldn't even bother to buy them now....but it makes you wonder - when someone is capable of writing really good stuff - what happens to make it just become so....blah..?

Perhaps she is no longer doing what she wants to as a writer?

Hogging your comment space, sorry, hope I haven't gone too far off track... :)

December Quinn said...

Exactly, Bernard. Nobody says plots have to change completely, but it wouldn't kill some people to take fan opinion into account.

I think there's a place in the center there, V95. Where you keep what people want in mind, but don't necessarily write *for* them. It certainly doesn't seem to be doing some authors any harm, so why not try it in other genres too?

December Quinn said...

Revecca, I know what you mean about Cornwell. I honestly believe she hates Scarpetta now and woud rather be writing different books. I think the books started to go bad a while ago--I wish Lucy would crash her helicopter into a frigging nuclear reactor one of these days, seriously--because I think she just plain wanted to write something else.

I haven't bought the last Scarpetta book (or LKH book, either.) I'm done with them.

Serena Joy said...

If readers want and expect a series, I think that a good writer can produce an excellent series -- IF that's what the writer wants to do. The bottom line is, the writer has to write from the heart, and if the heart ain't in it... Well, witness Scarpetta. That series has gone to hell in a handbasket, and I think you're right, it's because Cornwell's heart is no longer in it.

Anonymous said...

And LKH needs a bigbreak. Maybe if she stopped, for a year, took some time to just enjoy life, she could do it again. She's just burnt out I think.

Outside opinions, they are valuable. With so many people disliking where the writing is going... If it was me, I'd re-evaluate myself. See if there is some merit to the complaints. But I have also run into a good deal of people who are extra hard on my stories because, well, I can't say, but it is suspicious when I mention that a story has already been published and it gets good comments, and I don't say anything of the sort and I get the same comments (really, the exact same comments) from the same people.

I've read some of the stuff people are saying about LKH. It goes WAY too far. It does read, quite a bit, like people arep icking on her just because she is big sometimes.

Readers are the ones who buy the books, but they aren't the ones writing them. You're not going to please everyone all the time, and you shouldn't try. But getting defensive and blaming people's intelligence for the problems isn't right either.

I love series, reading and writing them, and I think that the line has to be drawn by your experiences and what your want from the series, not everyone else's.

Not at all an easy task.

pacatrue said...

I think it all depends on why you write and what you enjoy. If what you love best about writing is creating whole worlds from your imagination and pushing the boundaries of literature, then the reader should have little input. What gets that type of author going is releasing the beast within, and so if the beast gets trapped by following the expectations of others, then it's a downward path.

On the other hand, if what you love is creating a great story for people to read and knowing that they loved it, maybe it affected them for the better, maybe it just turned them on for a couple hours, then writing for readers isn't a sell-out at all. What this author loves is giving great stories to people, so there's no trouble in tailoring that to what people want.

And then there's the money part, which is relevant, but then, if all we cared about is money, being an author is a pretty lame way to go about it. There's the 5 rich authors and then the 10,000 others who make an OK living if they are lucky. Of course, those 10,000 authors could make more money in a cubicle somewhere, but they don't go that way because something about writing is more enjoyable to them. I say grab whatever that enjoyable thing is and hold on to it.

Bernita said...

I am bery fond of series.
Sometimes when a series is done - it's done, and should not be on life support.That point may occur at different intervales, some at three books, some at six, some may extend life further, depending on the mixture of the original, essential charm and new dilemmas.
Another series that should have stopped perhaps is the Amelia Peabody set.
I agree there should be balance, but to ignore a rising tide of reader frustration is, to me, sheer arrogance.

Robyn said...

The fan input should be regarded most when the author wants to take the characters down a completely different road. The thing about Anita Blake, for me, is that the series turned from paranormal with erotic aspects to pure erotica with little or no reason.

If an author wants to do that, fine, but give your devoted readers who aren't happy some credit and at least apologize and wish them well.

December Quinn said...

Yep, Serena. I wonder if the first sign of a writer's heart no longer being in a series is when they suddenly seem to be trying to prove/make a point instead, of telling a story? I know once we started getting into the myriad ways Poor Lucy's Sexuality Made Life Hard For Her, the Scarpetta books started to suck, and once LKH got on her You're All Prudes set that one started sucking too.

You know, Michele, that's not a bad point. Maybe a year off would help her gain a little perspective on things and get back to what she really wants to do...

December Quinn said...

Wow, Paca, you've really set it all down for us, haven't you? I'm going to have to do some real thinking about this.

Everyone's comments have been so astute!

Very true, Bernita. Ignoring people is never a good idea. As Robyn says, at least wish them well, instead of calling them names. I've actually never really been an Amelia fan, but I'm really getting tired of seeing Amelia book after Amelia book come out, and no more Vickies, and no more Barbara Michaels. Heck, I'd even take a Jacqueline Kirby at this point, and I don't even like her.

I agree, Robyn. What's wrong with saying, "Well, I wanted to go in a different direction" instead of creating characters who don't like it just so you can make them look like HATERZZ?

Sonya said...

For the most part, the readers are the bosses for me. If I ever have a substantial number of readers who all agree they want to see a certain thing, the chances are better than good that's exactly what I'll be doing.

My reasoning is mostly that the LAST thing I want to end up doing is reading like certain series authors who throw Amazon hissy fits, or certain UF series authors whose fans have been less than enthused about the new crop of vamp butt-kicking heroine action, but I'm not naming any names.

I want happy readers. Yes I do. I have visions, but I'd like to think that my (eventual) readers will know my characters almost as well as I do, and that any majority opinions they put forth will be in line with that vision.

If any of my work ever descends into pretentious stream-of-consciousness posturing and pontification, I'd like to think that my husband, at the least, would have the good sense to shoot me and put me out of my misery. :-)

Sonya said...

Oh yeah, and I agree with Bernita. Some series should know when to stop and don't. I would just stop writing the series if putting out another installment would wear the characters thin.

And I'm a hack, and a sellout. Yep. :-)

Erik Ivan James said...

I enjoy a series. I would like to have enough talent to be able to create a good series. But, I definitely agree with Bernita that at some point a series should stop. And, in my opinion, that stopping point is when the author is no longer "excited" about writing the next bood(s). When the author's passion begins to fade, the series is as good as over, for everyone.

kis said...

The reader should have more influence than LKH's disgruntled but disregarded fans, but less than Kathy Bates' character in Misery.

And I thought new stories were what secondary characters were for. I tell ya, build yourself a world with its own creation myth, 4000 years of history and several completely distinct societies, both religiously and culturally. Then try to write only one book set there. Go ahead, try.

I've got sequels, prequels and concurrent stories coming out the wazoo. Now if I could just finish one. Hmm.

December Quinn said...

Can I join your hack sell-out club, Sonya? Because as per usual, we agree. Fans are too important to alienate.

Very true, Erik. I think maybe series come to be like relationships for's not really good anymore, but it's safe and comfortable and you don't want to let go...

December Quinn said...

Lol, kis! I don't think I actually have a number one fan, but I'd hope it wasn't someone like Annie Wilkes!

I don't think I could win on that dare, and yes, you need to finish at least one of them!

Tempest Knight said...

I only like series that the author has planned well, so it has a beginning and an end with a bigger conflict building from one book to another, instead of writing book after book in a senseless manner.

December Quinn said...

Oh, that's a good thought, too, Tempest. There should be some things growing and changing and an overarcing story, not just more stuff piled on.