The Critic-Proof Story


There's this tendency, one I don't yet have a word for, that I've noticed in myself and in other writers — one that's hard not to succumb to, but worth resisting to some degree. It's the tendency to try and make everything in a story watertight, at the expense of also making it overblown and exhausting..

When you write a story, especially one with a universe that's its own thing, you tend to want to justify every piece of it to the reader. You aren't always confident that they're going to say, okay, my ticket is punched, I'm going to take this ride to the end. You sometimes worry that they will say, why this? why that?, and you end up expending a lot of energy or time pre-emptively deflecting away those things. This makes a story longer, and not necessarily deeper.

I think this a trap. At some point you have to say, no more. Either the reader is in or or is not. If someone resists a story on some level, no amount of additional documentation on your part will get them to soften up.

Obviously this is not the same as being lazy or not explaining anything properly. The situation I'm describing is when you open a door into your universe for your readers, and do so in good faith, but some of them simply refuse to walk all the way through it because deep down they just wanted something else, and maybe even they don't know that.

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Some of this gelled when I was reading some particularly nitpicky, don't-want-to-get-it criticisms of Blade Runner 2049. The person in question was rolling his eyes at a couple of the developments later in the movie, which are in my opinion farfetched, but not outside of the logic of either the movie's universe as a whole or the movie's specific events. I'm fine with that kind of thing, and some people aren't. I suspect people who aren't fine with that kind of thing just aren't the audience for the film, because not everything has to be for absolutely everyone.

Here's my point. If you study any story hard enough, of course it's going to fall apart. It's a construction. It's not meant to be literal. (This I need to separate from stories that purport to be retellings of facts, though.) But there's a certain class of audience member that demands its fiction be airtight enough to survive the ocean floor. They may say that they just want things to be consistent, but this goes beyond basic internal consistency. They're only willing to give up so much in the name of suspension of disbelief.

I decided some time ago I wasn't in the business of trying to please the inherently unpleasable. With any story I write, I do try to think about the implications of what's going on, and to whatever degree is workable build the story around them. But it's not possible to cover every single base, and it's unfair to expect everyone else to do the same. Whatever's in the story needs to be just real enough and just credible enough to get away with whatever you're doing.

Again, I'm not making an argument that lazy, thoughtless writing should be given a pass because it's imaginative or inventive. That's waxing too far off to the other side. "Not every story is for everyone" should never be an excuse to not do your job, to try and meet readers halfway.

What I am saying that if you get complaints like these, consider two things. One, don't automatically assume the complaints are justified. They may be able to provide a very good argument as to why it is, but that doesn't mean your story will be a better one for its own sake if you heed that argument. Which leads me to #2: don't take such input as advice about how to proceed. This isn't to say that you shouldn't seek feedback, only that you should seek it from people who are willing to grant you the suspension of disbelief needed for correct analysis of your work, and who can give you constructive insight that isn't motivated more by their own annoyance and distaste than anything else.

After I wrote all that, I remembered a line from Dale Peck: "Real fiction doesn't 'discover' truth, let alone present it to readers (that's why it's called fiction, duh); real fiction invents and dispenses with truth as it sees fit. That's why it's called fiction. Duh."


Tags: audiences  readers  writers  writing 


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2018/02/18 13:00.

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