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Rambling about fic, opinions, free societies, & public works & figures

highvoltage11 and I were having an interesting discussion in the comment thread of this post.

Our discussion sparked a lot of thinking (and rambling) on my part.  LJ told me I'd exceeded the character limit for comments, so I decided I'd put up a separate post.  Before I say anything else, I want to state that agreeing to disagree is fine by me; differences are among the things that make life so interesting.  :)

One thing she said was, "How would you feel if you stumbled across my journal and there were posts about *your* fanfic in a derogatory manner? Especially if it was only one detail that turned me off."

Since she asked, I'm going to put my honest thoughts out there for anyone who wants to read them:

1. Sometimes one detail of a story or movie, one aspect of someone's personality, or one bit of governmental policy is all it takes to turn someone off.  That doesn't seem odd to me.

2. If I knew that I couldn't stomach anything less than a glowing comment about my writing, I wouldn't read any reviews, and I wouldn't click into a clearly-labeled post about spelling/grammar mistakes and/or unintentional bits of humor found in fic.  There are print published authors who purposely avoid reading reviews because they either think reviews are irrelevant or they know that seeing even a small critical comment would be distracting for them.  If they stumble upon comments completely inadvertently, that's just part of having their work out in the world.  That's a risk of having a creation exist in a public sphere.

If I personally ever reach a point where I can't handle knowing that people might sometimes discuss my work outside of my earshot, I'll stop publishing.  I won't expect other people to stop airing their opinions.  If I can't stand the heat, I need to get out of the kitchen.  If I expect the world to be sensitive to my needs, I'm going to be waiting a long time.

3. My ego would temporarily be stung by the visual proof that no, my writing was not universally adored in the way I might have hoped it would be.

4. I would read the story in question and try to assess whether I agreed with the comment or still thought that I'd made the right writing choice for this particular story.  If it was the latter, I would shrug and chalk it up to a difference of opinion.

5. It would be different if someone commented about me, personally.  There's a world of difference between saying, "Lerdo's an asshole," and "In her story, Lerdo used a fucking weird image that put me off."  One is a personal attack, the other is not.  I'm not my writing, and my writing isn't me.  I can choose to make the two equivalent, but that's a choice, not a fact.

6. Every single time I post ANYTHING on the internet, whether it's meta, fic, icons, or pic spam, I tell myself that someone's going to love it, someone's going to be indifferent to it, someone's going to hate it, and the vast majority of people will either keep their thoughts to themselves or will share them with people other than me.  I've made my peace with that; that's why I keep posting. 
7. Ultimately, I really am OK with people not liking my stories -- and being vocal about it.  I am NOT OK with being called names or having strangers demand things from me. 

I thought the epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sucked ass.  And I recently phrased it exactly that way when I commented on a post in doc_3's journal.  I didn't write JK Rowling to share that opinion with her.  I wasn't trying to give con. crit.  I read the book and the epilogue and had that reaction/opinion.  If Rowling happens to see my comment or those of the many other readers who felt that way, her feelings might be hurt.  My intent wasn't to hurt her feelings; I seriously thought the epilogue was horrible. Her books aren't private citizens; they're public figures/works.  And yes, they're asking for reactions.  In that way, I don't see a difference between print publishing and internet publishing. 

Everyone has feelings.  George Bush has feelings; that doesn't stop people from commenting on his policies or doing comedy sketches about his decisions.  Barack Obama has feelings, too; that doesn't stop people from commenting on his decisions or picking apart his words.  And I don't think it should.  I don't think his or Bush's feelings should be prioritized above public or private discourse.  I'd argue that both men think they work hard, and yet some people make entertainment out of their policies and behavior.  Entertainment, analysis, satire, and humor all serve important functions in free societies.

I can believe that someone worked hard, but the outcome just sucked. 

David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, and Jamie Bergman presumably have feelings.  That doesn't stop you, highvoltage11, or other people, from writing RPF about them.  Note:  While RPF generally makes me uncomfortable, I'm not judging anyone who reads or writes it.  My point is just that they have feelings, and they might not love that strangers on the 'net write stories about them cheating on their significant others.

I've given and received con. crit; it can be a wonderful thing and yes, it can help me grow as a writer.  But I don't think it's the only way I can grow as a writer, and regardless of how much con. crit. I get, someone, somewhere will still laugh at or just not groove on my writing.  Art is subjective.  There's no objective perfection, so it's impossible that anyone's writing will ever be universally loved. 

I also don't think anyone's obligated to give me con. crit.  It's simply not a reasonable expectation.  When someone clicks into my stories, they're not entering into an implicit or explicit contract to feed my ego or help me grow as a writer.  If they comment directly to me or comment to other people, it's my choice to take it personally (or not).  My feelings may or may not be hurt, but I'm not governed by my feelings.  I try to think through what reaction makes sense. 

I agree that the term "con. crit." is often used carelessly.  But I don't think anyone who commented here said they were trying to offer constructive criticism.  They were simply stating opinions and sharing anecdotes.  Nor did they state whether or not they'd also contacted the authors directly.  I don't think it's safe to assume either way.

If I wanted to, I could take it personally that so many people read my stories and put them on alert but never leave a single comment.  (I know they're reading because of the stats at FF.net.)  I try not to take that personally.  I try to think through some possible reasons why people might not comment:

- They hate my writing but are afraid to tell me that. 

- They hate my writing but are reading because of the amusement factor.

- They don't want to repeat what another commenter said.
- They don't know what to say.

- They don't know how to articulate their reactions.  They just know what they like and what they don't like.

- They're lazy.

- They're worried about sounding stupid.

- They don't like me as a person.

- I haven't commented on their stories, so they don't want to comment on mine.

- They don't "get" the notion of feedback; after all, they read books and watch movies without ever contacting the creators.  Their consumption of that media is an end in itself.  Why, they wonder, is fanfiction any different?

- English isn't their first language.

- They're intimidated by me.

- They're underage and reading something that has explicit language or sex in it.

- They just don't want any kind of personal interaction with me.  They just want to read anonymously. 

- They're very busy, and my stories provide them with just a few minutes' respite from their stressful lives. 

As I stated before, it wasn't my intent to hurt anyone's feelings with my previous post.  Maybe that's a byproduct; I don't know.  But in this case, since people are talking about writing and not authors personally, I don't feel that any lines were crossed.  I have feelings about lots of things; I also have a brain that allows me to break things down in an effort to decide whether my reactions, expectations, and choices are reasonable.

Pasted from a previous comment: 

I don't want to stifle discussion and say that it's OK to rec or squee about stories, books, and movies in your journal or the comment section of someone else's journal, but it's NOT OK to say that you didn't like something or you just didn't get a certain aspect of it -- at least outside direct interaction with the creator.

Frankly, it seems dangerous to designate any single space as the only "proper" place for a discussion on fanfiction, politics, or anything else.

That has the potential to quickly become a slippery slope.

Finally, I personally haven't said anything in my comments or the original post that I wouldn't be willing to accept from someone else.  I pointed out an error in one of my own stories.  That post wasn't about me being superior.  (Yes, highvoltage11, I understand that your comment wasn't aimed at me.  Still, I clearly had lots of thoughts. *g* )

*runs off to condense this post into a drabble* :P

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(Deleted comment)
Thanks for letting me know. I THINK I finally got it to work. It kept doing some weird Javascript thing. I wonder if it's an interaction between LJ and Firefox 3. Hmm...

Edited at 2008-06-23 02:43 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
you make me feel like a lazy and apathetic ljer

LMAO I have a tendency to ramble. *g*

it's nice to see two people who can disagree, share their opinions, and still be friends and move on.

I sure hope that's the case. Otherwise it'd be pretty tough to keep friends for any significant period of time! People are too diverse to agree all the time.

i guess i never really give much thought to people's reactions to my writings.

That's interesting. In all honesty, I write for me, but I post to share and hopefully be involved in a dialogue. Otherwise I'd just keep my stories on my computer. I love to read, I love to write, and I love to talk about both. Simple as that.

that being said, i AM one of those people who, 99% of the time, keep my comments to myself, even positive ones sometimes.

Different strokes for different folks. There's nothing that says that perspective is wrong. You're right: lots of people truly can't handle "not-completely-positive comments." It can be difficult to accept that our creations aren't perfect. Then again, if someone can't handle anything less than unqualified praise, I sincerely believe they're better off not publishing -- in any form. The world will not coddle us. That's not its job.

even if i may feel we take things a bit too seriously ;)

I hear you.

However, I am often aware of how fortunate I am because of the time and place in which I live; I don't think the freedom to speak, dissent, and yes, even laugh, can be taken seriously enough. A different spin of the wheel and I could live in a place where to speak is to risk death.

Edited at 2008-06-23 05:42 pm (UTC)

You articulate the situation so well here, particularly the reasons behind 'silent reading.' (Many of them apply to me.)

A factor affecting your (and my completely agreed) argument for cool and clear-headed reasoning is access: how many readers of non-fan fiction are able to engage authors on a daily or weekly basis? How often do non-fanfic writers answer their fan mail and ask after your pets or kids or grandmother? How many of us can count published authors as our friends or acquaintences? And that personal connection makes a difference. The longing for protection and for safety among 'friends' gets in the way of reasoned discourse about writing.

It took me a long time to discern the difference between being part of a community of friends and having readers. It got to the point that I separated the two, as you know. An 'aha' moment for me was when a reader commented 'Why are you so mean to _____?'

So, knowing me through fic you like = you like me, and when you don't like my fic, two things happen: you no longer like me, and you feel free to challenge my choices and point of view on a personal, intimate level. And that is not grounded in reality of any kind.

Fandom is a funky ocean of timidity and brutality. Part refuge, part experimental artistry, part feeding ground for the 'BNF Big Fish.' (I know i'm rambling now.) And I think generational permissiveness impacts that as well. To nod to the late George Carlin, my generation rode metal tricycles with sharp edges and drank out of driveway puddles; the idea that all kids won a medal for T-ball was lunacy. And you have those who were raised to believe that just posting should garner praise, and that censorship is fine and dandy as long as they're not embarrassed. It's the curse of having the country run by a C-minus student. /Hodgins.

Okay, I'm cranky now. But I love the way you think, I adore your giganimous brain, and I am delighted that you are invested enough int his fandom to care. We stand a fighting chance.

um. "part experimental artistry" should be "part experimental artists' colony"

just a quick lol at the /Hodgins part *giggle*

Great point of discussion!

My thoughts: if I stumbled upon a journal where people mocked one detail in a fic of mine, of course I’d feel a little embarrassed and dispirited and a little hurt. But just because my feelings are hurt, that does not mean I want people to stop mocking me! As counter-intuitive as that sounds, I have to recognize that this is the internet and snark happens. And I will fight for everyone’s right to playfully snark on everyone else, because LJ is not some kind of fluffy utopia where nothing but nice words are said. And as a create of fanworks, I accept I have to take the good with the bad.

Actually, I think I'd be more hurt by someone badmouthing my fanfic instead of ME! At least with fanfic, they've read the source and are making their opinion known. But someone who attacks me on LJ doesn't really know me, so their attack means that much less to me. :P

I love your icon. He's such a cutie pie. I need to get to the space you're in. I don't post fanfic, but I'm still very sensitive about what people say about me online and in real life. I need to remind myself that they don't really know me so it doesn't really matter.

There are about five people in the entire world whose opinion of me really matters to me, and I know that they aren't going to hide it from me. They're going to tell me straight out, and I'm going to listen and decide if it has validity. These are people I know in real life. There isn't anyone I know just on the internet who has that kind of sway in my life, and I need to keep reminding myself of that.

This is probably one of the most articulate, thoughtful, reasoned, and intelligent posts I have ever read. I have much admiration for you and your ability to respond in a calm manner.

Too many times I've seen people whom I thought were intelligent and mature resorting to name calling and virtual shouting. Too many times I've seen something along the lines of, "If you don't like it shut up," "Quit being a baby," "Stop reading it," or "Get the _ell off the internet." I've seen these comments from both sides of the aisle.

Thank you for demonstrating that reasonable, intelligent people can thoughtfully and respectfully disagree.

I do agree with everything you said, but I do feel a bit ashamed of myself for the little comment I posted in your last post. It wasn't necessarily bad, but since I'm a very sensitive and empathetic person, it would have been better for me, from my perspective, to not participate. I'm not saying your original post was wrong or any of the participants were wrong; I'm saying that it wasn't a good choice for me to participate, even though I was interested to read what you and others posted.

Also, I totally agree that once someone has publicly posted something on the internet, or anywhere else, they have to expect that not everyone is going to love what they wrote or said.

Thanks for sharing this. As always, your writing is impeccable.

I have to agree with you, and most of all in #5, #7 and the people having feelings thing. I have never written fiction, but I've read a lot and reviews can sometimes be out-of-place and CRUEL to the writer, that's not fair.

And I don't think you/we were making fun of anyone in a bad way. It's different to mention one thing that made you smile-giggle-laugh than to make fun at a writer for a hard work. And that reminds me of very BAD writers I've read, it's different too to read a well written story that you don't like, than a story by a person who hasn't opened a book in their entire life or even paid attention to grammar classes at school, and that is easily noticed. That was not the case we were talking about, we were not making fun of any good or bad writer or of any whole story.

Rambling in English is not my strength, I hope I made myself understood. ;)

Really great, thoroughly thought out post. I wish that more people had the same views as you do on their writing and constructive criticism.

Oh, and would you mind if I added you as a friend? I love reading your stuff.

Edited at 2008-06-23 05:37 pm (UTC)

Thank you, Tracie. :) I did think a lot before I put up this post; it wasn't a knee-jerk reaction.

Oh, and would you mind if I added you as a friend?

Not at all! Thanks for asking; I just added you.

I added you as well! Thanks! :)

I've never actually written a fan letter to a published author - it just wouldn't occur to me to send feedback (though I have gone to signings for my absolute favourite authors). But fanfic is published for free, so I do try to 'give back' to an author by telling them if I liked it, even if all I can think of to say is that I really enjoyed it.

My reasons for not commenting on stories are usually one of those you listed - if I didn't like a story I won't comment, either because it's badfic where the author is unlikely to respond to concrit, or it's well-written fic but I just didn't enjoy it or didn't agree with the characterisation.

I should point out that I'm one of those people who read your stories at ff.net but don't leave reviews! This is usually because I check ff.net before LJ, so will read your story there, then come over here to comment, or because I'm re-reading one of your stories, which I often do if I need cheering up and/or escapism from real life :)

3. My ego would temporarily be stung by the visual proof that no, my writing was not universally adored in the way I might have hoped it would be.

Hee :) ^ That's me. I love you for being candid and brave enough to admit this *g*

*runs off to condense this post into a drabble* :P

Bwa ha ha :D

I love where you are at with this whole wonderful wibbly world of fandom... when I grow up, I want to be like you ;)

There is a lot to think about here.

The only thing I really have to add is that I second your point that critiquing someone and critiquing something someone does/thinks/etc. are two very different things. The critical point there is that many people do not separate the two.

Once, I was debating something with an ex-friend (oh, very much past tense, no matter how juvenile it sounds) and I could see that the repartee was rapidly degenerating into an argument. So, I called it off, saying, "Well, you have your opinion, and I have mine." Later, I found out that this upset him very much. He knew I thought his opinion was wrong, and he couldn't handle the idea. He could not split his opinion from his person, and therefore felt that me saying "I disagree with you" meant "I hate you."

I think that judging is now an inherent part of our society. We mentally weigh everything we do, and we evaluate everything everyone else does as well. To put your creation out there is to know that someone, somewhere will hate it. And someone will love it. People use different criteria to judge for themselves, and you have to decide what to do with the accolades or lambasting you receive. Sometimes the right thing to do is to take it and learn. And sometimes you say, 'you know what, screw you' and do what you want.

LJ also did weird things to my links right after I upgraded to Firefox 3, so I think you're right on that as well. :)

My thoughts on this subject seem to change every time this comes up. I think it depends on where I am with my own personal writing. I will say that I'm in the group that doesn't comment to an author if I don't have anything positive to say, unless it's to a friend that I know can take an honest opinion (you, for example). As for commenting about writing in a more general sense, such as "this is something I don't like in a story", "I hate stories that use so and so plot device", etc., I think that's an important discussion for authors to have amongst themselves. It can make us all better. And I personally think everyone has the right to say whatever they want on their own personal lj, even if it disparages someone else or their work. If someone doesn't like it - they don't have to read your lj. (And the Harry Potter epilogue *did* suck ass)

One time I posted a snarky "fic pet peeves" list that was not in reaction to anything specific I had read. A friend of mine posted that she was really upset because she thought I was talking about her fic-- and it did look bad, because unbeknownst to me she had just posted a fic that very day that hit at least 3 of the pet peeves.

I honestly hadn't read the fic in question and it was a very unfortunate misunderstanding. I'll probably be more careful the next time I do it. Now I try to be more specific and if I post about badfic, I have one in particular in mind :) I think that we are in the unique position of being consumers of creativity while also being in an interpersonally complex community. I agree that critiquing a work and a person are separate issues but I understand why some people might have difficulty with that dichotomy in this environment. However, I also think that the minute you can't handle someone saying "I liked this fic but what the hell was x about?", then you're probably going to find the internet a difficult place in general.

Finally, I reject the idea that saying something critical about a fic *has* to be constructive- at least not as con crit for the author herself (though others may learn by seeing what gets critiqued in other fic) Discussing reactions *independent of the author* is an important part of reading and being in a fic reading community that I value. I think it is a fine balance between respecting the authors and keeping personal critiques out of it, but I absolutely see no problem with talking about what one does and does not like about a story without wanting to address the author herself. I mean, I don't necessarily want to hurt an author's feelings by telling her that referring to an orgasm in smut fic as a "bounce" every single time makes me laugh, but I might mention in a discussion like this so that everyone can benefit from knowing that it is hilarious and not sexy without having to attach it to a particular fic or author.

I agree with a lot of what's been said. We have to expect some people not to like a fic, it's the risk of posting. Con-crit is usually a good thing because it helps us grow as authors. But I think there's a line with general negative reviews...it's one thing to say we don't like a fic and maybe leave some criticism,but I am not a fan of the "this sucks" kind of review. And yes, the "you suck" kind of thing, never a good idea. I confess I've not had too much experience with negativity save one bad review but I do love it when people offer help.
I do agree about RPF btw, but I'm also not one to go around bashing others for their fic prefs...I usually take a "if you don't like it, don't read it" approach.

Well-reasoned, interesting post. I agree with much - if not all - of what you've written.

I'm coming in late to this discussion, as I've not logged onto LJ in a couple of days, and I really need more "chew time" to ponder all of what you've written.

I've been in this situation. I've had portions of my LJ posts on the fandom research on BtVS and Ats, linked to major fanboards, where members picked my postings apart without ever having read where the data came from, how it was derived, etc. I wasn't informed that people had linked or discussed my work until DAYS later, when it was really too late for me to say anything about it.

My work has been published; it's been presented at scholarly conferences, and SCHOLARS find my work quite acceptable, but some FANS? Not so much. :-) One of my sister sociologists suggested that perhaps I struck "too close to the bone" - ie, too close to the truth for some fans. That's possible.

Frankly, I strive not to be negative of someone's writings on LJ. Note that I used the word, "strive"; I try, really I do. I usually limit discussions about someone's (poor) writing skills to private communication.

If I'm reading a story that has an error in grammar or spelling, I'll mention it to the writer. If there are more than 3-5 errors, I'll send an e-mail or message. If there are WAY more than 3-5 errors, I just stop reading and move along....

Hey Lerdo! I was checking on my google alerts and stumbled upon this which I found really interesting.

For me as a writer, I feel that you put a little something of yourself out when you post something. Well, actually I'm about to contradict myself. For certain pieces of writing you put yourself out there.

And it does sometimes hurt when you get negative comments about something you've worked really hard on. But as you said, you need to be able to take that and move on. Negative criticism can be just as good as positive criticism. (Although the postive ones are shinier!)

That's one of the things I love about fanfic. Unlike a novel, where you get reviews once you've completed and published, fanfic is a chapter by chapter intense ride and you don't know if people are going to love it or hate it.

I would add to your list about why people might comment the notion that the material you are writing about may be uncomfortable for some.

This doesn't occur all the time, but I know for me, in writing my fic, A Charismatic Evil, my stats dropped by half once I mentioned the word necrophila. Was it because of my bad writing? Could be. But the content could have shook people up to. I think there are so many factors as to why people don't review other than that your writing sucks.

Well, I was just popping in to say hi and this turned into a gigantically long blurb when all I wanted to say is that I 100% agree with you! LOL!

And as well, thanks for keeping the Writing Exercises going. I've been swamped with the ABY move, but now all is peachy.

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