With all the shutdowns and kerfuffle around the Covid-19 situation, I’ve been watching the publishing and media news with interest. Some of what we’re seeing has been on the way for a while. Some things were a bit of surprise (I didn’t expect Disney execs to cut their own pay until there were no other options…). One huge through line in it all is a lack of respect.
Media companies… writers… directors, they don’t seem to respect much except their own ideas and agendas. They don’t respect their audiences. They don’t respect their characters or the cannon of their worlds. They don’t even seem to respect other writers, directors, and companies.
Respect for audience.
No, you don’t have to cater to every whim of the audience. Sometimes they’re not sure what they want. Often, they want you to tell the story instead of asking what they want. But… it’s a lousy idea to deliberately piss them off. Lately this has been happening a lot.
“Hey! People don’t seem to like our female Doctor in the Doctor Who series. Guess what, we just retconned the series so the original Doctor was female!”
“You know what? Batman’s Chinese now. Yeah, and instead of a butler, he’s got a gay uncle.”
“I’m naming my new characters Snowflake and Safe Space. You know, to empower people and junk!!!!”
By all the Gods, I wish I was kidding…
That last one (Snowflake and Safe Space) is my favorite. By the responses I’ve seen, the author pissed off the usual audience and offend the people he’s trying to ‘empower’.
The writing represented by these examples does no good for your audience or your relations with them. Spend more time figuring out who your audience are and how to grow that audience without alienating them.
Respect for characters and lore.
Sadly, I wasn’t kidding… Hartnel is supposedly no longer the first Doctor and Batman’s Chinese now (he’s also apparently back in high school). This problem has been going on for a while…
Your readers and viewers love the backstory and mythology that come along with characters. That stuff takes thought, effort, and commitment. You and your reader/viewer will have to put in some time before characters and story mythology are really known and developed. That’s part of why the piolet episode of a series seems so awkward when you go back and watch it after season six or seven.
When you go changing things up for a character, there needs to be real consideration for the character, the character’s world, and what would ‘really’ happen.
Just deciding “Ok, Thor’s a chick now!” or “I’m bringing back Palpatine and I don’t have to justify it,” Is jarring to the audience (please don’t throw them out of the story with ‘what the @#$%#$#!!! was that?’ moments).
Please don’t throw your reader/viewer out of the story by being stupid about how you use your characters. I’m not saying they can’t do something out of character (sometimes that’s good!) but there should be a reason for it that makes sense within the world and your character’s story.
Also, please don’t pirate a character’s name and storyline just because you’re too lazy to do the work for your new character.
I could get behind a rich Chinese kid in high school as a character; just don’t call him Batman and trash a lifetime’s worth of known history and lore.
Want to pass the baton to a new generation of Jedi? I’m good with that. I’m also good with a female Jedi main character. But do you really have to trash Luke in the process? I don’t think so.
These kinds of changes aren’t improving the character, they’re just the mark of a lazy writer who doesn’t want to pay his/her dues in creating a new character. In story terms they’re about the same as the guy who plays Call of Duty once then goes around telling everyone he won the Congressional Medal of Honor when he was fighting the Tsarist Nazis in Vietnam back in ’96.
When you lose respect for your audience and characters, you make your stories unreadable/watchable. The golden rule applies to characters and audiences: do unto them as you would have them do unto you. Yes, this can mean more work. Yes, it means you have to earn the audiences respect and build the story and popularity of your characters. But it’s a lot better than making useless garbage and pissing off the people you want to resonate with.
That’s it for this one, dear reader. Think about your audience and work with your characters. I’ll be doing the same. I’ll see you next post!