I think Dave Sim is a bastard. An accomplished bastard, to be certain, but a bastard nevertheless.
During his 300-issue run on his independent (that’s self-published, to the literary crowd) comic book Cerebus, he used the titular character as an outlet to complain about many grievances he had about the world, most notably the role of women in it. Sim was not a happy guy when it came to women, during this time, and he made no secret about it. Of course, he was going through an ugly divorce from his wife, so it’s somewhat understandable. It doesn’t really excuse the way he took a dump on women in general in his book, but I suppose he had his reasons.
Still, despite his somewhat misogynistic words, I still find – even to this day – that I have to admire the guy. Why? Because he wrote what he wanted.
There’s a lesson in there, right? I mean, I may not agree with his perspective, but he wrote the story he wanted to write, and if readers didn’t like it, that was their fault. It reminds me of a response another writer (Rick Remender) gave to a fan, who’d written an opinion letter saying that Remender was not writing a beloved character the way that the fan thought he should be written. I’m going to paraphrase Remender’s response to this, but it was, essentially:
I am writing this story. Not you. So shut up.
Man, that response gives me wonderful chills every time I think of it. I’m going to write it again just for that reason.
I am writing this story. Not you. So shut up.
I read a lot of articles and blog posts and comments from, about, and to writers, many of whom seem to be slogging through the same drama I am: writing a novel, which we hope we can sell, of course, but that’s not all there is to it.
Many of us are in love with our stories. I know I am. But, like love for anything, there comes with it a deep sense of trepidation. Are we doing what’s best? Are we doing it right? Are we going to be hurt when we put this out there for everyone to see? The answers, of course, are yes, yes, and – sadly – yes. But I think that we can take a lesson from the bastards out there.
We should tell the stories we want to tell. We should tell these stories the way that we want to tell them. And if someone out there doesn’t like the story, that’s their problem.
Of course, there is value in writing for your audience. And we can’t all be Dave Sim or Rick Remender, able to write whatever in Hell we choose because people will buy the work regardless due to brand loyalty or whatever.
But, for pity’s sake, love your story. Have faith in your story. If you don’t love it first, if you don’t have faith in it first, who do you think is going to follow after you?
The video above is of the Muppet performers singing “Just One Person”, from Snoopy! The Musical, at Jim Henson’s memorial service. If you can watch it and listen to those words without tearing up at least a little bit, I don’t think I want your support.
No matter what you create, you owe it to yourself to trust in your own vision. Be willing to take advice and criticism, and be willing to listen to other people who have the good of your story at heart, even if the words they have to say may be harsh to your ears. But always remember that this is your work. And if you don’t love it first…well, no one else will.
I agree with you if the writer is then going to recognise that they’ve written their novel on their own terms for his or herself. What I don’t like is when a writer then gets angry at their reader for, “not getting it,” or simply being too stupid to recognise their genius. If a writer’s come at it purely from what they want to achieve, they can’t resent a reader for rejecting it because it isn’t what they want to read!
But I do completely agree that you have to love your work and believe in it!
Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Sally!
I do agree with you on your point about the author turnaround. I think we’ve all read too many stories that delve so much into subtexts, it’s like we’re already reading a scholarly interpretation! I personally enjoy stories that can be enjoyed on a superficial, obvious level (rousing adventure, fluffy romance, thrilling conspiracy)…but if I want to dig deeper, there are parts to it that enhance the experience.
The sad thing is that I’ve come across too many writers whom I can tell are just trying to jump on the latest bandwagon, whether that’s vampires and werewolves, or children fighting battles. They don’t care about these stories, their characters, or their readers – it’s obvious they’re working just to get a piece of glory or cash in on a fad.
I love that: I am writing this story. Not you. So shut up.
The first time you told me that really resonated with me. I still remember reading that review that someone gave me where they wanted me to change my characterization. Man, was I mad that day! But, when you told me that quote, I never forgot it and am really enjoying developing my story. I can safely say that I love my story, and I know that it won’t appeal to everyone, but I still wonder: Why do people take the time to read stories they don’t like when they could use that time to write their own stories? I know, obviously they might not be writers, but for me, if I’m annoyed at a character, it’s the character I’m annoyed at, not the author. They were clearly created to be annoying, and I don’t want to change that. Perhaps it’s because for me, the characters turn into real, living people.
I love reminding myself of those words. I’m glad someone else agrees with it! 😀
I adore it when characters turn into people. It gets me some odd looks, when I start referring to them as such in conversation with my husband (like, “Did I tell you what Ross does, in this scene? He’s such a dude!”). But, it’s a great feeling to know that your characters are resonating on a more visceral level than merely words on a page.
So glad you’re having fun with your story! I know you have classes and such, but I do hope you continue with your original work. I would love to see it on my shelf, one day. 🙂
I’m still curious on what happened to Amber in your story. It’s so strange, since you post a number of sweet moments with her and Ross, and a few other things and then BAM! She’s suddenly in the hospital for some unknown reason. Hit by a car? Stray bullet? Attempted suicide? I’m almost making mini-fan fiction bits with different scenarios on what might’ve happened!
I guess it’s just natural for me to see characters as people. I mean, what else would they be? And besides, I thought that a number of characters that people make have pieces of the author in them.
Hey, make sure to advertise your story when it’s published so I can grab a copy! I need to know what happens to Amber and I still have to learn more about Neville!
Mini fan fiction about my story… I rather like the idea of that. 😀 And I’ll certainly be spreading the word about the book when (if?) it gets published. In fact, you’ll likely want me to shut up about it! 😀
I always like to think of characters as people, too. It makes it so much easier to write for them, that way. Of course, they say and do dramatic (sometimes overly-dramatic) things, but it adds a touch of realism to them, as well.
Thanks for the kind comment, spooney! 😀
If anything, I wish I had more friends with whom I can chat about stories. How cool would it be if I were friends with someone whose work I’ve read? 😀 Then there’d be plenty to talk about!
How many times have I started a conversation with my brother going, “Dude, did you know that when this character did this, it’s symbolic of her doing this?” He just replies with a grunted, “Uh-huh.”
I’m fine with characters doing some overly-dramatic things. Heck, why else would I want a drag queen in my story? For the excuse of having someone over-the-top fun! 😀