Writing Excuses 9.20: Creator vs Creation

This topic breaks down into two parts:

First: sometimes you create something, and when you hand to your fans, it becomes their thing. How do we as creators deal with this when it happens, and how do we prepare ourselves, and our works, for this eventuality? And how does this impact our desire to foster a sense of community with our fans?

We talk about our experiences with this, which have been surprising, eye-opening, confusing, and a whole bunch of other things, including exceedingly rewarding.

Second: what’s the difference between liking something someone has created, and liking that person as a creator? Is it possible to not like a creator, while still enjoying the things they’ve made? Where do we draw the lines?

(Aside: when Mary called “can of worms” on “how to express an opinion,” she didn’t know that our recording of that can of worms would air before the recording of us opening of the can. It’s Episode 9.14, right here!)


One of your creations has gained a life of its own, and it’s something beyond the merely metaphorical “life of its own” that we talked about in this podcast. How did that happen? What happens next?

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

18 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 9.20: Creator vs Creation”

  1. Question to the ‘casters: What’s your experience with selective appreciation, i. e. someone likes some of your works but not others, or likes your work for some reason that you don’t find important (which kinda implies that they don’t appreciate what you do find important)? Does it happen? Does it amuse you, bother you, make you uncomfortable?

    Examples (Be careful, may be triggering):

    Dan: I love the humor of INASK (having read the Amazon sample pages), but I don’t read either YA or supernatural, so thanks, but no, thanks.

    Mary: I love your SF short stories, but I’m not interested in your novels; again, because magic.

    Brandon: I love your way with words, you are a great moderator and teacher, but … okay, you get it.

    Howard: I love Schlock Mercenary, but I’m not one of your usual – Why isn’t Schlock in every strip? – fans. In fact, I find most of the other characters way more fascinating. Your visual style is great, but I love it even more when you come up with wonderful wordplay – paul(-)drones – or robust retorts – all the respect you are actually due. I love the jokes you make, but I love it even more when you get dead (sic!) serious. The most important reason I love Schlock Mercenary is that, as a webcomic, it allows me to enjoy themes and topics into which I would probably not investigate reading time.

    To sum up: I’m praising a novelist for her short stories, a horror writer for his humor, a writer for his talking, and a cartoonist for his way with words. Do you find this offensive, or do you still feel the love? Is this kind of feedback normal? Or are all of your other readers loyal fans of the franchise?

  2. Timothy, there are many cartoonist/comic writers with a fantastic sense of word play. And if anything, the format highlights and distills word use. A novel you have many thousands of words to be clever with. A cartoon you have 20ish at a push to do something amusing with. So I don’t think you raise an issue for Howard at all ;)

    The way I’d guesstimate this, there will be people who do not enjoy the work an artist creates. It’s the nature of creativity. However, you are getting some form of enjoyment out of their work. So yay! :p

  3. @Timothy,

    Tripartite answer:

    1) With rare exception, the things people like about my work are things I put in there on purpose. I am, by turns, a cartoonist, a horror writer, a science-fiction writer, an armchair futurist, an instructor, a humorist… and the list goes on. I’m happy that you like some of the things I do. I don’t expect you (or anyone besides me) to like all of them.

    2) That said, it’s weird to have people recognize me for one of the side-jobs. From time to time I get stopped at conventions by people who recognize my voice. “I love you on Writing Excuses,” followed by an averted gaze as they’re afraid to admit that they don’t read the comic. I say it’s weird, but in truth it’s become the new normal. It was weird three years ago when it first started happening. Writing Excuses doesn’t pay the bills (it falls short by about two orders of magnitude) but it’s what I’m best-known for in some circles.

    3) The fact that you, personally, do not uniformly adore all of the things that all of the ‘cast members here at Writing Excuses create is good. It means we’re coming from enough different places that our exploration of any given topic has decent breadth. We do still depend heavily on guests for broader perspective and for particular fields of expertise, of course, and we’d all be quite surprised if anybody anywhere loved all the stuff from all the people we’ve had on the podcast.

  4. Your discussion on how the readers’ interpretations of a piece often differ from the author’s reminds me of a concept from Roland Barthes’ THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR. Any given text actually exists in three dimensions: the text in the author’s head, the text as encoded on the page, and the text in the reader’s head. It can be argued that none of these is inherently more valid than the others.


  5. The writer isn’t responsible for what the reader infers, and some disconnect between the reader and the writer is inevitable.

    How-some-ever (as Pogo would have said), if what the reader is noticing is so far removed from what the writer intended that it seems they come from different universes (vis-á-vis a mere sidelight or distraction), I wonder whether that should be considered a failure on the part of the writer. Yet this is the danger when the created world is crafted so well that the reader is immersed in it.

    So is the immersion the point? If it is, then who needs a story at all? The story is the thing I want to tell — the world is created to see where the story plays out. But for the story to be convincing, the world has to be good enough that the reader may wander off somewhere unintended.

    So the writer accepts the risk and works out both the world and the story as well as possible.

  6. @Jim

    whether that should be considered a failure on part of the writer, with thatbeing a severe disconnect between writer and reader, is a difficult question. As readers we always bring our expectations, preconcieved notions and double standards to any story we read or watch. And if we are not ready to let go, the writer can do little to make us, especially if it’s about something that’s not central to the story. A story that comes with instructions attached on how to appreciate it in a politically correct way would probably be very boring.

    Example: Skyler haters hate Skyler because they are haters, and hater gonna hate … IMHO there’s absolutely nothing that Vince and the BB team could have done to prevent that (short of writing a different story, of course).

    Another controversial example: When the movie The Silence Of The Lambs came out, people complained about serial killer Buffallo Bill being showcased as sexually pervert, the implication being that gay or transsexual people are icky and dangerous. Now, the book makes it abundantly clear – it’s a major point in several scenes – that he is not a transsexual, and that whether he is gay or not has absolutely nothing to do with him being criminally insane. Even in the movie it is spelled out unmistakenly in one central scene (between Clarice and Dr. Lecter) that transexuality does not correlate with violent behaviour. IMHO the moviemakers could have done a better job by including the scenes with Crawford and the clinic director (which they should have done anyway for dramatic reasons). But there is just no way they could have made sure that everyone would get it .

  7. Thank you for choosing Monstrous Regiment as the book of the week. It’s a reminder to me to read it again, because when I first read it I disliked it. I have since realised that I only disliked the book because I was in a bad place at the time, and I was enjoying nothing that I read.

  8. This makes me think about analysing poetry/prose in GCSE English…
    “The Author used the colour blue because… etc etc it is clear that it meant… blah blah”

    I just wanted to through the book away and say:

    “Well, Maybe, they just like the Colour BLUE!”

    I often wonder what Shakespeare would think about people analysing his works… Most likely something along the lines off:

    “I don’t know… it just sounded good…”

  9. Enjoyed this podcast very, very much.
    I have a similar experience with music. I can listen to David Bowie, despite knowing how unfairly he treated many of his Spiders from Mars era bandmembers, but recently-learned information about just how much more horrible a husband and father John Lennon was than we even knew is making it harder for me to enjoy his solo work.
    Brandon nails it when he talks about disagreeing with a political or religious view (and the need to read outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself) verses support someone engaged in egregious behavior.

  10. Both halves of this episode are incredibly relevant to anyone who is a fan of The Elder Scrolls series of video games, which is a constant argument over different philosophical interpretations cut with (and often derailed by) discussions over the theoretical existence of canon in the first place. Just look up C0DA.

    Fantastic episode in general, and I wonder if you guys agree with me that canon is a tool and a skeleton for me to use as a writer, and not a cage placed over fan discussion? Because that’s what I interpret some of this as.

    Sorry if that’s rambling, I’m at my day job waiting for files and typing this intermittently.

  11. There’s a quote I ran across quite some time ago that pertains to this and has always stuck with me. I wish I could remember the person who it’s attributed to but it goes something like this: “I know what I wrote; I don’t know what you read”. For me, that says it all.

  12. I agree with Brandon that it is important to read books by people whose political views are different than your own but I also think it’s important to recognize that believing that a certain group of people don’t deserve to have their rights recognized and respected (whether it’s racial or religious minorities, queer people, women or some other group) and making public statements to that effect, that is not merely a political belief, it’s an act of aggression against recognizing the people of that group as fully human.

    I also agree with Brandon that a writer who treats their fans badly is not one I’m likely to support, and I hope he recognizes that saying certain fans of theirs deserve less rights because they’re gay/trans/of color/female/etc. is just as much treating their fans badly as going around shouting in people’s faces at book signings.

  13. I really wish I had not waited a week to listen to this podcast.

    When I saw the title, my mind first went to the times my characters argued with me about a plot, action, line etc. [sigh] They always win.

    With the Star Wars prequels, I think Lucas was attempting to reclaim his work from the fandom which took ownership between Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace. He’s saying, “Star Wars is mine, not yours, and I’ll prove it by changing everything around.”

    With political opinions, the thing I ask from authors of a different (really any) political persuasion is: Don’t preach at me. Don’t turn your work into an essay on your politics or an editorial cartoon of your opponents, unless that’s what you meant it to be from the start.

  14. After listening to the part about supporting an artist that one finds reprehensible by purchasing their merchandise, I automatically thought about Rihanna. I was never a fan of Rihanna, but I think that her cyberbullying one of her fans that was 16 years old is a good example: if I had been a fan, I would stop purchasing her stuff now.

  15. A different take on the artist/art conundrum:

    There are a couple of artists whose work I really don’t care for. One, in fact, whose art has brought a rather marked negative response from me.

    However- they are both respected authors and I have found that I cannot let my distaste for their art taint the advice they may give on the topic of writing- some of which is actually very excellent advice.

    (don’t worry- I’m not talking about you)

    Thanks for giving me the nudge I need to be more open to the artist, even if I don’t care for the art.

  16. Since boycotts were briefly mentioned, I thought it might be useful to point out how those are ineffective when applied to the arts.

    First, boycotts work by exerting economic pressure to motivate individuals to change their stance. In short, it leverages someone’s desire for money against their desire for that stance. For-profit businesses yield to boycotts because their primary goal is money. However, the primary goal of an artist is to make art: many would continue doing so even if no one bought their work. Thus, money (and restricting it) is not an effective lever.

    Second, seeing as economics are not an effective means at motivating change in artists, it becomes malicious to boycott. When one boycotts a business, the goal is to motivate change. But since boycotts are ineffective at motivating changes in artists, it is rather a means of exacting revenge: the boycott wont change the artist, but it will make their life harder (and potentially remove their livelihood, still without effecting a change).

    Third, art makes people into better people. By boycotting a skilled artists, the boycotter is limiting their own avenues for personal development. As the boycott is ineffective and even malicious, someone who boycotts an artist is essentially just punishing themselves.

    To be clear, this is not to say that anyone has a moral obligation to support an artists they don’t like. A boycott is only effective, in any circumstance, if you would normally engage that individual or business in economic activities. For example, if I never eat at Chik-fil-a, I cannot boycott them (as they never had my money, they will not notice the continued absence of my money).

    A better course of action might be to demonstrate to the artist that their stance is hurtful. For example, if an author has spoken out against sinistrals, then lefties going to the author’s signings and showing him/her that lefties are nice, upstanding people who don’t deserve such treatment. Of course, this might be harder given more abstract statements (I am not sure how to respond, for example, if an author spoke out against consubstantiation, or professionalization, or antidisestablishmentarianism).

    Regardless of the ultimate course of action one takes, it is always important to tailor one’s response to the course of action that is most likely to produce change (rather than mere revenge)

  17. I found the second part of this conversation very touching.

    I grew up as a huge fan of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.” The book touched me and gave me confidence in a very particular and tough time in my life, adolescence.
    I am a fiction writer but I excel at screenwriting. So when I heard that Ender was finally getting a film made, with a good budget and some great actors I could not help but squeal with glee, not literally of course. I was so excited. Then I learned of a boycott of the film. Orson Scott Card is homophobic, and a board member of National Organization for Marriage.

    This hurt me a great deal as I am gay. Did I boycott the movie? I actually did, yes. But only because I heard such terrible reviews that I knew if I did watch the film it would tarnish my love of the book. I did rent the blu ray from Redbox though and found it mildly sub-par.

    I love the book to this day. The irony is that it was Card’s book that assisted me in accepting my sexuality. I found Ender’s isolation in the story to mirror of my own life. I felt isolated, outcast and even bullied not just for my sexuality but lets face it my geeky appearance, nerdish intelligence and my bad haircut/un-cool clothes.
    Ender’s Game showed me that there was someone who felt like I did out in the big world, even if he lived in the future and fought aliens.

    However, I don’t believe that I should provide money to someone actively working towards removing my rights. … So will I buy another Orson Scott Card book? Probably not. To be honest I’ve been dissapointed with his writing lately. But if I hear he has a great book out, I’ll probably buy it used. Haha!

    Great show guys!

Comments are closed.