Write your own story

Hi, gang, Craig here with something that might be a little controversial. Great way to kick off a new year, right?

In fiction, we are responsible for everything. The environment, the economics, the characters, everything. It’s up to us to create all of it. Sometimes we set the tale in the real world, even if it’s in a fictitious city. Sometimes it’s a completely different planet.

The big point here is it’s your story to write, for good or bad.

Time to get to my point. What do you think of fandoms that insist on outcomes to storylines and other major changes?

We should all be so lucky as to have that kind of fandom, but it can become an issue. There were some who had the conclusion of the Harry Potter series all mapped out then campaigned for what they wanted. Some wanted Harry and Ron to become a couple, others wanted Harry and Hermione. Rowling held fast and wrote the story she wanted, including some of the character deaths. It makes sense that some would not survive what amounted to a small war.

Some of this came to me because an author friend recently had to deal with some of these issues. His was an internal struggle, but it was my catalyst here. Work with me, people.

The same issue is happening to a lesser degree with many popular shows. People get wrapped up in them and start insisting on specific outcomes. Lots of people wanted Carl gone on The Walking Dead, and now he is. Have any of you seen the wish list for Khaleesi’s mate on Game of Thrones? It’s nearly as long as the cast of characters.

I can appreciate fans wanting to be heard. Still, the author behind everything has to make the ultimate decisions, and I believe those decisions should not be based on external input. This is something I’ve read before, and it applies to beta readers and critique partners in addition to fans.

Add a recent beta project I undertook to the chemical cocktail discussed above, and that helps us get this post moving.

Now we have something new on the horizon—non-fans lobbying for changes to forward their own agendas. I’m seeing it everywhere these days. The most recent Fantastic Four movie cast a black actor as Johnny Storm. I read these comics from day one until I was a young man, and returned on occasion even as an adult. The whole concept seems forced for political purposes and does not serve the story at all. Similar things have happened with The Flash, and Iris’ family. This one wasn’t quite as big a deal, because they weren’t headline characters in the first place.

Today, fifty years in the making, Dr. Who is now a female. The Ghostbusters are women. So are the new gang called Ocean’s Eight. Splash is supposed to be getting Channing Tatum as a merman. Marvel and DC are making gender and race changes as they reboot characters for their respective film franchises.

People are cheering for these changes, but who are the cheerleaders? This isn’t the same as a fandom, and it smacks of the political agenda. Are those agents of change actually going to watch the reboots? I suspect these changes were campaigned for by people who are not fans and never will be fans. It feels more like people pushing for changes not to freshen the looks and storylines, but rather to advance a personal agenda.

And what do these changes lead to? The record behind the Fantastic Four movie, or the new Ghostbusters isn’t good. The Lobbyists will move on, but will the actual fans move on too?

Here is the deal. I will read, watch, or listen to an audio broadcast of a compelling character. I really don’t care who, or what, they are. What I don’t like is changing horses for no apparent reason. I’ve recently fallen in love with iZombie. If it premiers next year with a guy in the lead role, I’m done. Not because a guy can’t play a zombie who solves crimes by ingesting brains of the dead and taking on the victims’ traits, but because iZombie is currently a woman and doesn’t need to be revamped to suit the desires of a small percent of the population.

The gender bender in the new Jumanji movie worked out well. It was set up and explained quite well. I’m not a Jack Black fan, but if you need pee pee jokes he’s your man.

When the Lone Ranger becomes a Hindu, or Wonder Woman becomes Wonder Man, count me out. The characters have history, and that cannot be discounted. On the other hand, if you want to write original stories about new characters, I might read them. Just don’t try to pass them off as the originals. I’m totally in with Rey as a Jedi Knight—she is a new character with her own story to tell. She isn’t Luke Skywalker reimagined as a woman.

The rant makes for a post without the rest, but I’m going to come back to our original fiction. Feel free to comment on the rant if you like. But here’s my original point. When we create our characters, they have to stay in character. Your shut-in, career welfare recipient cannot suddenly be James Bond. You can actually get there, but it may take an extra chapter or two to get it into the plot. Up in the rant portion of this post, I felt pulled out of those stories to the point of losing interest. This happens in our books, too, and it must be avoided.

This isn’t the same thing as a character arc. There are stories where a fear of spiders is one thing the character must overcome to complete the story. If that isn’t part of the character arc, then they remain fearful of spiders.

Yes, you can write a Dr. Jekyll and Miss Hyde type story, as long as you make it part of the storyline. Don’t just change things fifteen chapters in without going back and setting it all up.

Use plants and payoffs to get the information to your reader along the way. Maybe Jekyll wonders who left the bag with bright nail polish and some strappy heels in his office. That kind of thing. Then when Miss Hyde makes her debut, she has bright nails and strappy heels.

As authors, we get multiple chances at our stories. We really don’t have to publish them until they’re ready. But shouldn’t we, and not a fandom, decide when they’re ready? Make sure you don’t pull readers out of the story by changing personalities or physical traits of your characters.

Entertaining Stories

54 thoughts on “Write your own story

  1. Great post, Craig. Reblogged on Mallie1025@wordpress.com/. I agree with Marcia as to being careful what I say–after all, we are trying to sell books and readers will often turn away from writers who do not agree with them on certain issues. Of course I don’t mind throwing you to the wolves lol. Seriously, I am sick of readers and other writers putting pressure upon writers for their own personal, political and whatever other agendas they come up with. And that includes the grammar police who have robbed us of adjectives, adverbs and freedom in writing to the point where they would have use write “See Dick Run.” Or would be if we listened to them. It took me years to develop my style and I am not changing it. If I lose readers, it’s their loss but my integrity as a writer will not change with the whims of society. Nor will my reading preferences. So glad you wrote this since I often feel so alone in my choice.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:

    Check out Craig Boyack’s post about characters on Story Empire today. I agree with him, just changing all the traits of characters is a turn-off. Create some original characters and brands but stop messing up existing brands. Also, fans are great to follow so avidly, but many think stories should end in ways that make no sense or travel a familiar path. Many authors work hard for a relatively unique ending. Good post today, Craig!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I remember reading after the final Harry Potter book came out that J.K. Rowling had initially planned to kill off Hagrid, but feared fans would never forgive her, so she changed the ending, allowing him to live. I think when you have a fan base that big there is probably some payment due the fans. It doesn’t make it right, but I can see why she made the change and felt that obligation.

    As for revamping iconic characters, I’m definitely not a fan. When I heard that Marvel intended to remake Thor as a woman in their comic books, I was devastated. As a woman, I don’t need an iconic male character to be remade as a woman to bolster my ambitions. Seriously? Give me a new strong female and leave the icon the way it should be.

    As a writer, I tend to stick with my own vision for my characters, but I will listen to valuable critique. As an example, if a CP were to tell me that my female character wasn’t sympathetic enough for readers to connect with her, I would probably adjust some of her traits. If the lead is unlikable, readers usually won’t stick with the book.

    I admit to being a bit concerned when I released A Desolate Hour because the tone of that final book was different than the preceding two. I also had a few readers
    (who I didn’t know) leave me reviews on book 2 (A Cold Tomorrow) GR, saying they hoped I would end the series well for a certain M-character. I wrote the ending how I felt it needed to end, but did hold my breath at the release, fearing I’d get slammed. I was true to my story and my characters and I believe the book was well received in the end.

    Excellent post and great topic for discussion, Craig!

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Great post, Craig. I completely agree that characters need to remain who and what they are (unless they are shapeshifters and even then, they should remain shapeshifters). Hollywood tries to resurrect old characters in new ways and sometimes it’s successful. More often than not, they flop. We like our heroes and heroines and want to remain the way we see them. Thanks for voicing this!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Even without a dramatic physical change, they have to be true to character at least to a degree. I wasn’t real impressed with Barnabus Collins in the most recent attempt at Dark Shadows. Nothing like the old soap opera version.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Though I avoid online controversy like the plague, I can’t resist replying to this. I have to say I find myself pretty much 100% in agreement with you, Craig–and for all the same reasons. I will only add that I use a very good group of beta readers as I write my first draft. I pay attention to their input, but not regarding the basic story arc and/or who my characters are. (The folks in my head dictating their story to me already have that settled between them.) Instead, I use my betas’ input to determine if how I’m writing each chapter works to forward the story the way I plan to tell it. Are my betas reacting to each scene the way I want them to, and if not, what can I tweak to make it work better? That kind of thing.

    I have always said I’d never sell a story of mine to Hollywood (should I ever be offered such a chance) because I would never be able to hand over control of my tale to those folks. I’ve seen too many excellent books (and wonderful characters) butchered by them in the name of everything from politics to someone else’s idea of how the story should go. I’d rather sell fewer books to a smaller audience than have my story retold by someone else in any medium, by fans or movie producers, or tv script writers. Of course, my husband says if Hollywood knocks at the door, I’d BETTER sell, but luckily, I don’t think this will ever become an issue in our lives. Guess it’s a good thing that’s okay with me. 😀

    Great post, Craig, and very well expressed.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I read this with interest and can identify with your soapbox stand. All too often the social pressures of the day begin to show up in the entertainment sector. I can’t wait for the next ubiquitous villain which I imagine to be some powerful guy who sexually assaults women. I was watching a new show over the holidays and sure enough there he was. I am not a fan of the CW type shows but can certainly feel the angst of those fans who get force fed an unnatural characterization. This was a nicely done post, Craig.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Wonder Man is actually a Marvel character, but that’s the besides the point. I’ve actually had a few run-ins with fans on my own stuff. A few years back there was a big call for Kira Grasdon to get killed off. It stemmed from a book that she didn’t even appear in. I’ve noticed that the most common demand from fans is that characters get killed off. Even more than hookups, but the two seem to get attached a lot. Not sure why, but it feels like modern fans think they have control over the creators. Maybe it’s because they gravitate towards online groups that think the same things, so they feel they’re the majority and then believe they’re saving the show from a mistake. Surprised they killed Carl since he’s still alive in the comics from what I’ve been told.

    I have two issues with the swapping of pre-existing characters these days. One is that it seems to be done and used as the primary promotion instead of the overall work. ‘Look at this radical change we made! You must like it!’ More importantly, this has opened the door for lazy stories. We already had a flood of reboots and remakes. (At least Ocean’s Eight is a spinoff, but stil.) Now, we have even more with every adaptation jacking into another social group. There aren’t any new characters turning up these days. All attempts end up getting compared to older things, called a knockoff, and ignored. Usually by the same people cheering for the changed characters. They don’t see the films and shows either. For example, I have a friend that is always demanding a female James Bond. ‘Atomic Blonde’ came out and I thought they would be excited. Nope, they were angry that it was a ‘James Bond copy’ and refused to see it. This makes me wonder if these non-fan groups want a greater variety of characters or simply claiming established ones for themselves because then they can continue their fights online with those who don’t like the changes. This is why I don’t think most of the people I know who are excited about ‘Black Panther’ aren’t going to see it in the theaters.

    Liked by 4 people

    • So many ways to comment back. Demographics of who buys movie tickets may become a factor in the success of the Black Panther movie. I wish them well, but can’t get over the Black Panther movement of the 1960s. This many years later, most people won’t recall that, particularly the ones who see superhero films. There is a Miss Marvel or Captain Marvel now who is a Muslim woman. This feels right to me, because she isn’t the same character, but a new person taking up the mantle.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Like you said, I never even thought of the Black Panther movement. Though it is curious that character debuted before the party. Might have only been by a few months though. Miss Marvel (Kamala) seems to be done right for exactly what you said. She’s her own character like Miles Morales and they don’t harp on the religion thing. It feels similar to how DC has multiple Green Lanterns. The original moved on and wasn’t replaced.

        Liked by 3 people

  8. Excellent post, Craig, and I’m with you all the way. Too many people have their agendas these days, which is fine, but they shouldn’t expect everyone will agree. We’re all different and that’s what makes the world unique.

    I admit to wishing certain fav TV shows had a different outcome, and I might have written the story differently. But the characters aren’t mine. I have my own and can choose to do as I please. The old saying goes “you can’t please all the people all the time.” Such as it is with our fans. Some will like certain aspects of a book, others will dislike the same thing. But we must we remain true to ourselves and our characters.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I love this post, Craig, and thank you for putting it out there. I always say, we can please some people some of the time but nobody all of the time. At the end of the day, the story belongs to its author. I would love to write something that fans felt so strongly about; however, I wouldn’t want to then have to bow to pressure to change characters or plot lines to suit. As for political correctness and all that stuff, it drives me nuts. With anything that we decide is a minority, we always seem to swing too far the other way and the majority ends up in the wrong and with no or little voice. I’m all for a diverse population and recognising and respecting the merits of that, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bath water or discount historical stuff … history has much to teach us and much relevance too. Again, I hate when someone tries to dictate how many white/black/blue/green characters I have in my book, and what traits such characters should exhibit. Ha ha, looks like I climbed up on your soap box with you! Thanks again for such a thought-provoking post 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • I seem to lug this soapbox around with me. Happy to share room up here. I read one a few years ago that was a great story. Then at the end, one of the characters was revealed to be a man, hiding as a prostitute. It kind of pulled the rug out from under a couple of the relationships that had been built through the story. One of which was pseudo-sexual, and the other character involved had no idea. Made it all kind of creepy.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. As a reader, I’d love to give my input to a favorite writer and influence the outcome of a story or series I love. But I don’t think I’d do it, even if they asked. Why? Because I want to read that author’s story, for good or for bad. If I want to read a story that ends the way I want, I’ll write it myself.

    Fandoms are great. I wish I had one. If I did, I would definitely listen to opinions and engage in healthy discussions. But I wouldn’t let their opinions determine my story. Just like I wouldn’t let people tell me how to raise my children.

    This is a fascinating topic, Craig. I can’t wait to see what other people say today.

    Liked by 6 people

  11. I’m in two minds about this. In the case of TV/movie franchises, I think it’s a great idea to consider re-imagining characters’ identities/backgrounds/genders etc, especially in the case of older TV/shoes and movies which overwhelmingly have white men as the leading characters. You can’t avoid the political connotations of this, I suppose, but as I young woman I really like seeing some of these changes. Of course, it’s not going to work well every time, and just because a reboot isn’t a smashing success doesn’t mean it’s worthless.

    But when it comes to a continuous book series, I think authors need to be careful when it comes to listening to their fans. I’ll use your example of the Harry Potter books. I grew up reading these, and remember how everyone wanted Ron and Hermione to get together. They did. But JK Rowling has expressed her regret about this on numerous occasions, claiming that their relationship wouldn’t, in reality, work because they have so little in common. I kind of agree. But it’s difficult to resist peer pressure, and I can imagine it’s a billion times worse when it’s coming from a fandom that could potentially be millions strong. Still, I think I would resent anyone trying to tell me what to do with my writing and how things should end, but I’ll have to wait and see!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I have had many well- meaning suggestions about what I should be writing/blogging or doing with my life, and can usually be polite about it. Luckily, no one (as yet) has criticised how I write. People are entitled to their opinions, but sometimes I wish they kept them to themselves…

    Liked by 5 people

  13. yep – the right character who undergoes the journey the story takes him/her/otherwise on so they learn what needs to be learned, but only for that character. And the writer always has last say. Opinions and feedback welcome, and I’ll consider them, but the story is mine until it’s finished. then the reader can like or not depending on their own tastes.
    And I would love to see less of the -retelling and be able to find something that isn’t a rehash, remake, re-issue, re-shape, etc. of something that’s gone before. But new, not just a bit of make-up or paint to cover up the lack.
    New, insightful stories with the appropriate character on a heart-stopping journey. That’s what I want.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I love input from other authors. They’ve walked this path before, and can be really helpful. They also aren’t likely to suggest sweeping changes to a story. Now that you mention new stories, what is up with the newest television schedule? We have Will & Grace, Roseanne, and X-Files back. They were fun shows, but is Hollywood out of new ideas?

      Liked by 3 people

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