Insight: A Reader’s Ownership

It is something I have found in the discussions I have had with the readers of my stories. Something that took me by surprise, though it shouldn’t have.

That being that my readers after they have read a story fully, from beginning to end — not skimming but really internalizing it, they feel an ownership of the characters. Not in a copyright or entitled sort of way, but in that they understand the characters, their motivations, and feel as if they can imagine what they would or wouldn’t do — what they would or wouldn’t want.

Not just if pressed to decide such a thing, but actively, when they imagine what would happen next. When they have finished the tale of Lauren and Claire, Zahra and Chloe, or Mary and Erin.

What happens next?

What happened next?

I once thought that was something that it was up to me to decide, but when I speak to fans of one tale or another, I find they have already decided. What winds blew the characters, and where they landed after the gust. Whether the rivals linked up again or separated. Whether there was more fire and lust, or instead, violence and pain.

Not just in a surface-level expectation, like “I bet they fought again”. But in a very specific, here is what I imagine happened. The readers almost writing their own sequel, one that in their mind is the best and only way the characters could have moved on from their battle.

Not clearly, not every reader does this, but at least from my discussions it seems not only common, but par for the course.

So, due to the above, I have two questions. One to writers and one to readers — and as a caveat, I take Who is This? out of the equation, given its controversy.

  1. First to authors, would writing a sequel that not only subverts but goes against the expectations of the fans of the original story give you pause?
  2. For readers, if the author of one of your favorite stories wrote a sequel that was not what you imagined make you like the story less?

Before answering, clearly there is an issue of character motivations and traits, and whether the actions in the characters in the sequel flow inexorably from the two.

But for these questions, assume the actions of the characters in the sequel line up with their personalities and motivations, they were just led to a different place than the reader expected.

3 thoughts on “Insight: A Reader’s Ownership

  1. markuswolf says:

    These are both good questions. I came upon this quandary when I was revisiting the original Mirage Studios TMNT comics (the black & white series) before all the cartoons and movies. The creators, Eastman and Laird, had radically different visions from their fans about several aspects of the story, e.g. the Shredder as a recurring character. Let’s just say that, in this case, I am glad they decided to do as they did and not give in to readers’ demands.

    On the other hand, with Star Wars VIII… I don’t think the new people in charge quite understand what they are working with and what they want to achieve, and the fans have much more material/lore to work with than TMNT fans did… hmmm…

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  2. drewpowell says:

    Patronage. Nowadays, thanks to crowdfunding and other possibilities, it has an approachable, everyday meaning, where even with a small contribution a backer can see their name appear in the credits.

    My point is however about the OG Renaissance Era patronage, the times when DA Vinci had to create weapons for his patrons, so that he could also sculpt, write and paint.

    A very obvious reason most stories are not set in the Middle Ages is owed to the fact, that the church literally ingrained it into people that personal hygiene is vanity (as is any change brought on by supposedly god fearing humans). Yet, the 15th century saw a great departure from the usual symbolism, where nobody was portrayed lifelike into one of portraits.

    Only, creators suffering for their art had to offer talent at the terms the patron saw fit, and here’s the meat of the argument: most of these paintings depict people more beautiful/handsome than they were in reality.

    How we can get attached to something, whether it’s sponsored or not, isn’t very relevant. America doesn’t have a national museum for the art exactly because it’s believed taste in art is subjective, thus shouldn’t be mandated.

    Just as well, the wisdom of the crowd has its own dangers. Picking up on Wolf’s intake, sci-fi had the arduous history of first being called scientific romance, only valued by and for bored housewives, and then with the advent of Star Trek it had seen two concurring fan camps, one seeing the vision of its creator (sort of, Roddenberry had his own bigotries) and the other thrusting the sword into the stone, claiming sci-fi is, and can only be about laser guns and other kinds of action, with little to no plot development.

    I feel these to be strong factors in deciding how sequels turn out. It is a long-standing view that we’re an established community, only bound by our common fetishes. I tend to disagree with that, for a second reason I didn’t much reveal until now: intersectionality and representation. My stories are my babies, so I respect them, and that means making it easier for readers to identify with them beyond the small sample pool of stereotypes usually offered.

    As a reader, I like character growth, even if that means illustrating the intolerance or ignorance in a person that keeps them from changing, and forces them onto the path of being the antagonist in a fight story. Showing how pride can lead to blows, sisterhood or not, is a very real thing that exists, and will continue to exist even if we guys didn’t exist.

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    1. markuswolf says:

      drew raises several excellent points, including the historical ones about patronage and commissions. It is true that the scars of smallpox were forbidden from past paintings; in fact, it was difficult to arrange personal meetings with royalty and nobility because the scars would make it known that they were just like commoners.

      I do appreciate feedback from my readers and suggestions, but sometimes, when demands are made for e.g. sexual punishment of a character who has lost a wrestling match, I have to put my foot down and say that no, not if this comes at a cost of character development or if it seems superficial or forced, or just for the hell of my story being a “fetish work”. I don’t see my stories as being merely for someone’s pleasure… my characters and my story world are very much alive in my mind, and as drew says, they need to be treated with respect 🙂

      Reply

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