What is a writer?
Is she an employee? Since you purchase her work, spending a little of your budget, time, and energy consuming what she makes, do you consider her your employee? Do you have the right to complain about her product if it doesn’t suit you? If you take it home and open it up and find that, although excellently made with good structure and grammar and plot design, you just don’t resonate with her characters or her storyline or her view of the subject matter are you entitled to your money back?
Is this writer, this employee, less important than her readers, her employers? Should she bend her neck and apologize for her subject matter, her choice of character, who is the protagonist and who the antagonist? Should she be careful to read every letter, ever post made by her readers and take their suggestions as orders, as the demands of her employers? That character cannot die, this one must be redeemed.
Should this writer be constrained by her readers’ feelings? Should she be careful not to offend or irritate for fear of reprisals? In this Internet world, should she keep a low profile and try to appease those who might heap up bad reviews or comment endlessly on her site that she is callous and mean to not take her readers’ advice?
Or, worse, it seems, should the writer be compelled to warn her readers of violent, upsetting scenes within her work just in case a reader has had a bad experience in his past and reacts badly? Beyond a general rating, she shouldn’t just assume that readers understand that a book about a rape case might contain difficult images or a romance contains sex scenes, should she? She should be aware, shouldn’t she, that some readers have problems reading about self-harm, or insults, or child abuse, or violent crime, or suicide, or bad haircuts, or torture, or anger, or cursing, or religion, or politics, or hunting. Her book should be wrapped round with warnings and alerts for any and all problems encountered within, shouldn’t it, even if these warnings kinda ruin the suspense and the plot?
She must take responsibility for her readers’ inner struggles.
On the other hand, perhaps the writer an artist.
Is she a creator, ruled by her imagination and skill, working with the clay of words and punctuation and the brilliant colors of characters and plots? You are not her employer, but her patron, encouraging her with your words and hard-earned money to continue her art, to develop and grow and, perhaps, create more and better works. If you find her art on the shelves at an art festival and purchase her work and decide it is not quite what you wanted, do you demand she change it? Change the color? Maybe this flower should be over there on the other side? If it doesn’t go with the living room décor like you thought, do you take to the Internet and call her names? Tell the world that green is the new pink and she should instantly change her surreal paintings into marble busts of famous thinkers?
In this second scenario, generally, the market will decide whether or not an artist pleases her patrons. If her books are purchased, if she earns enough royalties to allow her to eat and have heat and a home and, in our world of dreams and visions, health insurance, she may continue in her art, writing as she pleases. If her books are not purchased, she may think twice. Examine her art with a discerning eye, ask fellow artists to help her determine what isn’t communicating with her patrons.
If she doesn’t change her art, if she is bound to write as she pleases and it does not please her public, then her readers may shrug and move on, wishing her well and looking for other art to purchase, to encourage. They will not insist she soothe their inner wounds with her art, or change her colors or subject matter just in case it might hurt their feelings. They would simply move on and spend their coin elsewhere.
Today, the fan fiction writer is treated as an employee. A serf. A minion. On most public posting sites on the Internet, where, I might add, the writer posts her work for others to read FOR FREE, the writer has no rights. She is the employee – working, again, FOR NOTHING – and is liable to be banned or warned or taken to task for any negative comment by any reader.
She has many rules to follow when posting a story. Not just rules about proper grammar and punctuation, etc. (Those rules are not well enforced, unfortunately.) These are rules about content, about structure, about, believe it or not, warnings. Trigger warnings, they have been named. If any word, scene, character, or plot development could in any way ‘trigger’ bad feelings (yes, it is that subjective and arbitrary), then the writer must WARN their readers about it. They must. Because if one reader complains, the writer will be warned to fix it and possible banned. Yes, the writer must try to imagine how anything in her work could make a reader upset and then warn about it.
I’m not talking about explicit sex of any kind or graphic violence, there is a rating system for that.
Warnings I’ve seen: Kissing. Cheating. Character death. Possible unwanted touching. Adultery. Religious Imagery. Illness. Vomiting. Blood. If the writer doesn’t want to spoil her plot, too bad. She must warn.
The writer must also allow any and all comments on her work. She can moderate them, deleting those who attack her personally or curse at her (yep, it’s happened to me) or call her other names for her choices. BUT, these readers always have the option to report her work to The Powers That Be on the Internet site, accusing her of being mean or not warning properly or many other so-called offenses in order to get the writer into trouble.
These readers act as employers, as masters who are entitled to control the writer who they DO NOT PAY. They are put in control by the websites. And the websites act – the writer is ALWAYS considered at fault. Further, if readers’ feelings are hurt, their demands are not taken into account, they go to the Internet to drag the writer’s name in the mud on Twitter, Facebook, and other fan fiction sites. Not because a story is simply bad, no, because the reader is not happy.
Many fan fiction writers are taking their stories down from places like Fanfiction.net or AO3. They are deleting stories from these patrolled sites and putting them solely on their own websites where the WRITER is in charge. The stories are still free of charge to read, but the writer is in control. She can’t be slapped for not warning about a scene of nose-picking in chapter three. Or because her view of the main characters would never include sex.
What will this do to the fan fiction world if it continues? Readers will become even more entitled if they are allowed to control major sites. So, in order to have any say in their work, the writers will disappear to their own sites where we will have to be diligent to search them out. Writers will have fewer readers. Works we’ve loved might go away forever.
Solution: We must change the thinking for fan fiction readers. We must rename these sites: Fanfiction Library, not Bookstore. At the library, you can choose any book you want and read it without charge, but you don’t get to complain and lash out if you don’t like it – you just bring it back. I’ve seen new websites warning readers to “Enter at your own risk.” Ratings are important – just like at the movie theater – but, when done correctly, they place the onus of responsibility on the reader to choose wisely rather than on the writer to WRITE AS THEY DEMAND.
What do you think? Employee or artisan? Are writers responsible for the hurt feelings of their readers or are readers responsible to make good choices?