How to freak out friends and influence people.

The point of this thread: to tell this story to some folks who might have had the same problem, at some point.


This is going to be slightly incoherent, I think. I write this story called Tapestry, over here: http://wsteria.livejournal.com and last night, I wrote up a segment that'd been holding me up for months. In it, the main character and her husband have a knock-down, drag-out fight. Without the knocking down or dragging out - no physical confrontation. Just a lot of shouting.


Anyway, the problem that came up is that a friend of mine found it a mite (more than a mite) triggering. It was their break point, at which point they just didn't like the main character's husband anymore. He had Gone Too Far. It was Not On.


I don't even disagree - he said a good many things that were absolutely horrific. It's just startling, because it didn't change my opinion of him one jot - I expected it of him, and thought that it was fine. Sev, the husband, and Suki, the narrator, live in a medieval/feudal setting where it is to be expected that they both grew up with certain expectations of what a husband and wife act like. For their time period / country / whatnot, he's progressive as all get out for never hitting her. Still, I can't use that as an excuse with someone who's viewing it from a modern standpoint - 'well, he did tell her to go die on the streets like a whore, but he didn't hit her.' That does /not/ make it all better, man.


What makes it better, in my head, is that back when they were first married, Sev and Suki worked really hard to figure out how they were going to relate to each other, given that he wanted to rebel against the man and be decent to his wife, and she wanted to be feminine (by her standards). So they worked out, in their way, what amounts to a dominant/submissive framework. And she did not safeword out during their fight, and could have. By both their standards, all is cool (well, kinda touchy because they just had a fight, but cool).


But on the other hand, I freaked a close friend right out with something I wrote, after being pretty happy to have started writing again after a long hiatus. That sucks pretty hard, right there.


Noooooooooooooo! Don't let it stop you writing! I love your story!


Okay, fangirl moment done. More seriously, that's the inherent downside with sharing stories once you've written them: you can't control people's reactions to them. As a reader, I'd like to offer my reassurance to you and any other author who encounters this type of response. I've read plenty of scenes in stories that feature actions that I don't approve of or would accept IRL, but as long as it was a relevant part of a story I enjoyed overall, I didn't have a problem with it.


I think Capriox is exactly right.


You really can't control people's reaction, and your friend's reaction is understandable. Saying something like that is pretty awful even if you don't follow through.


At the same time, I think you did the right thing in that your characters were true to the culture that they exist in instead of attitudes appropriate to our culture (which wouldn't make a lot of sense).


So while I can't help really at all with helping your friend feel better about this, I can say that I think you're doing the right thing for the story as a whole.


This happens all the time, only we don't hear about it. I mean, how many people found something they didn't like in something we've written and just stopped reading -- without a word? And how many times has a band or a writer or a speaker said something that you just couldn't get over and from that point on, they were dead to you? I'm sure we've all done that. I really don't see what the big deal is; he doesn't like the MC anymore. Why should that bug you at all? You're not writing for him, I presume, and the story doesn't depend on whether anyone likes it, reads it, or even cares. The story is being told because it must be told and you can't hold it in anymore, right? So tell it, and let the criticism fall where it may.


And oh, if he was really progressive, he would have just ran her through with a sword. The road to utopia is paved with human bones (just ask Stalin).


Rhapsody, this was a very close friend who was genuinely upset near to the point of tears by something I wrote. It bugs me because I upset my friend. I think that's a somewhat natural reaction.


Wysteria -- I got to tell you -- moving someone to tears with my writing is a high compliment. It takes a lot to move people. People tell me I've made the squirm, before, or feel "on the edge of their seat", but tears are pretty rare. It's only happened to me once, to my recollection. I know it's a bit worrisome that you may have hurt a friend, but, honestly, I'm having trouble seeing it as a bad thing in terms of your art.


Chris.


I guess the critical distinction to make is this: was your friend upset by *you* for writing something that horrified him or her, or upset by the character for earning her affection and then doing something cruel?


If it's the latter, Chris' point above is spot on. If the former, your friend is being very judgemental and unrealistic. Maybe J.K. Rowling's friends were pissed off at her when SPOILER ALERT: Dumbledore died? I dunno. But the other millions of people who read the story were sad for the characters only. They didn't (and shouldn't) connect their feelings to the author instead of the story.


I guess it's a hazard of getting people close to you to read things that aren't always happy and fun.


To evoke a strong reaction in a reader, especially in their relationship with a fictional character, means you are succeeding. Don't think it sucks. Write some more. Now the challenge could be to get your friend to like the husband again in subsequent chapters????? I love it when I'm reading a story and I start to like/sympathize with a character I did not like or considered a bad guy.


Do we live our lives hoping not to offend people around us? Do we write seeking the safe and middle path? Sure, it's a drag that your friend is unhappy, but what's the answer? To write in such a way so as to never offend her? Doesn't she bear *some* responsibility in all of this? If I was her, I'd simply stop reading if I found something I didn't like and then just tell you, "Hey man, that last chapter didn't appeal to me because of XYZ." I dunno why people keep reading stuff they don't like. What's the point in that?


"Do we live our lives hoping not to offend people around us?"


Yes, actually.


I wouldn't trivialize Wystie's reactions, or her friend's reaction. There's always a difference between writing for our IRL friends and for the faceless internet audience. How my best friends react to my chapters affects me differently than how my other readers do... and I've had moments where I almost stopped writing because I upset a reader.


That being said, Wystie, I know I'm late to the party but ,as others have said, don't let it hold you back from writing. I hope by now you've talked about it with the friend and everything is kosher?


~Lyn


Actually, at this point I don't ask her if she reads the story and don't tell her if I update it. That's more a me-and-my-friend thing than an author-and-reader thing, however, so I have it shelved for dealing with at a later date. It hasn't stopped me from writing: if anything, it makes me desperately want some new readers who will actually dig the story as it is. I am brainstorming a marketing plan.


Hi Wysteria,


I guess your relationship with your friend is yours to sort, but writing history has a particular set of choices.


Some people read historicals so they can feel part of another time and place. Heathcliff smacks a 17 yr old girl up the side of her head, and the characters don't berate him, they tell her she should have minded the master. No one asks that Emily Bronte be rewritten.


But others like their history nice and tidy and sanitized - or at least closer to the way they'd like to imagine it was. Remember, millions sat through Titanic, Gladiator and King Arthur without choking on their choc-tops.


I suppose I'm supporting your choice to let your characters speak and act as they do. Keep it up.


L.


"Do we live our lives hoping not to offend people around us?"


"Yes, actually."


You counsel people to surrender what is important to gain the passing affection and/or fancy of others. Noted.


I think it's pretty harsh to call wanting not to offend people surrendering to their fancies. The truth is that life is a complicated give and take between the compromises we make living in a society with other people and what we believe and want and need. Nothing is as simple as "be true to your heart and damn the consequences" unless you're living on a desert island.


I don't think anyone is saying you should subordinate your artistic integrity to make other people happy. But realizing that your art affects people and that you have to deal with the consequences... and that you might not want to deal with those consequences... that you might in fact prefer to modify what you're saying to avoid them... is just life. And is a valid choice if you value harmony over self-expression.


I tend to think that seeking harmony is a form of self-expression in and of itself. Rather like black is a color.


"Do we live our lives hoping not to offend people around us?"


"Yes, actually."


"You counsel people to surrender what is important to gain the passing affection and/or fancy of others. Noted. "


Thank you, mcahogarth, Wystie. :-)


I'm not counseling anyone; I'm stating a fact about myself. I don't like offending people. I don't often modify my _self_ in the quest of non-offensiveness, though I may modify my words or actions.


I'm with Lyn, mcahograth and Wysteria.


Admittedly, while a "sense of entitlement" can be found simmering amongst some people, it is definitely not the case in this particular example. It's one thing to pander to a person's selfish whim, but it is another thing entirely when a friend turns around to you and says "What you wrote genuinely upset me". And I agree, it's a difficult call.


I don't think anyone here encouraged Wysteria to change the story on the basis of their friend's reaction or said that is what you ought to do; they've merely pointed out that this kind of criticism is something that probably all web authors eventually face, but that they're entitled to feel upset/worried because the reaction came from an unexpected quarter, especially one so personal.


On the original topic, I do have one reader, an IRL friend, who has told me he feels that the entire school of Addergoole & everyone in it ought to be nuked. He feels very strongly about it, as he does about most things - and yet he keeps reading.


I have given specific him-content-warnings: "You really don't want to read that bonus story," but otherwise don't alter the story. I sort of have to accept that people who have an issue with mind control, manipulation, and devious behaviors really aren't going to like my story, or parts of it, and go with the flow there.