The Obsession with Making Writing Real

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One thing I have to make clear before I get started is that I’m not saying “realism sucks”. Every genre or style has its time and place. As much as I love fantasy, I’m open to all forms of the genre and I also adore classics/literary/contemporary fiction etc (not to mention the fact I like my historical fiction as realistic as possible). So, let’s just begin by saying yes, realism rocks just as hard as fantasy. Glad we could get that out of the way 😉

What I do mean, however, is that sometimes striving for realism takes over. While glaring errors can take you out of a story, sometimes criticism of contemporaries can get a little nitpicky (like, whether or not a particular school has a netball team or whatever). And I’ve written at length about why I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for fantasy. More recently, there’s even been a particular obsession with real experience. Which, you know, can be a problem since not every book is (or should be) an autobiography.

atticus finch quoteFor starters, writing is often about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. That’s kind of impossible if you’re never allowed to think outside your own bubble. And while I’m not saying poach anything you like, or that everyone is capable of doing this, some people really are amazing at putting themselves in the mind’s eye of someone totally unlike them (one of the best examples being Rowling’s depiction of abuse, when, as far as I know, she hasn’t experienced this herself).

The other huge problem is how subjective this can be. While one reader might give you the go ahead, another might say you got it totally wrong. This can be even more troubling when you consider the fact that even if you have the same experience, it doesn’t mean you relate to it the same way. It’s frankly horrifying to see authors attacked for writing about their own experiences- which happened to Leigh Bardugo recently over Ninth House. I’m gonna be real: I lean heavily on my own experience in my writing, so it strikes a nerve to see people lashing out at writers over this.frieda-norris-quote-sisterhood I shouldn’t have to point this out, because it is fairly obvious, but here we go: you can’t make claims about someone’s experience without knowing the individual intimately (and even then, it’s pretty rude).  In fact, I’ve had people do the “ugh you don’t know about this, so shut up!” routine to me over things I *definitely* do know about (though, of course, they don’t know that). I’d say it’s safer not to assume you know a stranger’s life story, but that’s just me 😉

What’s more, even if I’ve been critical of a book for being unrelatable, I find it really helpful to hear why other people got something out of it. Not everything can be relatable for everybody– so it’s cool if you disagree with me on something. It gives me a chance to hear another perspective.

Plus, a huge amount of this simply comes down to personal taste. That’s what I tried to get across when I wrote the post “Don’t Write X”- it’s just not possible to appeal to everyone- and that’s okay! I can accept, for instance, that some readers are into fantasy for the world building and complex systems- ergo hyper-realism is important to them. Just because it isn’t the case for me, doesn’t mean I get to rain on their parade and decide all books should be super fantastical. There’s room for both hard and soft magic systems! Similarly, I’ve heard one writer say they find it pulls them out of a contemporary if the names don’t match up to modern trends… whereas I’m all for the quirky names! Barring huge illogical inconsistencies and glaring errors, these things will always be hit or miss. It’s about finding the right readers for a particular book.

For me, books aren’t all about how precise they are; they’re about the endless possibilities they contain. And so I’m not going to obsess over the realism (especially cos even complex magic systems basically come down to *because magic* anyway 😉).

because magic.gif

So, what do you think? Is realism the be-all and end-all for you? If not, where do you draw the line? Let me know in the comments!

All the *WARNINGS*!!!

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Once upon a time, back in my more edgy days, I drafted a post called “triggered by trigger warnings”. The reason I never posted that BEAST-OF-A-POST was because it ended up being 15,000 words of research and incoherent ramblings… so it’s probably for the best that I lost that post when my old laptop, the Mad Hatter, passed away in February (#RIP). Besides, since I worked on that post there’s been even more discussion in the scientific community on the topic- making this more fortuitous timing to have a chat about it. Don’t worry though, this post won’t be 15,000 words 😉

cracks knuckles batmanOkay *cracks knuckles* before we get started, I know this is going to be a sensitive topic for some people, so I may as well begin with a little self-defence and state for the record: I’m not going to get personal. I’m certainly not writing this post for any nefarious purposes. And I would ask those who disagree with what I have to say not to assume/attack/jump to conclusions about me ta-very-much… except that’d likely be a pointless request, since most people don’t need to be told not to be dicks and the people that do need it will likely ignore the request anyway 😉

So, we’re already at an impasse, where all I can say is that I understand the perspective of those who use trigger warnings and can sympathise with their intentions. Arguments range from protecting children from inappropriate books to helping those with PTSD/mental health issues avoid topics they don’t want to read. Personally, I believe that all readers should be able to self-censor, or to use a more common term CHOOSE, what they read. That’s a huge part of why we review books in the first place. you chooseAnd I will say, so we’re clear, if you want to put trigger warnings in your reviews, that’s entirely your decision. Reviewers should feel free to review in whichever way they see fit. But I do think there should be more discussion around this, since there are reasons bloggers like me do not use them. And, spoiler alert, it’s not cos we’re evil 😉

The main issue that I’ve always had with the use of trigger warnings is the consensus from a large swathe of the scientific community that trigger warnings are not only ineffective, they’re also counterproductive. Most recently, a study by Harvard PHD student Payton Jones, linked below, discovered that trigger warnings increased anxiety for those with severe PTSD. His findings were that trigger warnings “countertherapeutically reinforce survivors’ view of their trauma as central to their identity.” Other trauma psychologists, such as Metin Basoglu, previously stated “Most trauma survivors avoid situations that remind them of the experience. Avoidance means helplessness and helplessness means depression. That’s not good. Exposure to trauma reminders provides an opportunity to gain control over them.” Regardless of whether an individual can seek help or not, I would question whether it is wise to adopt a practice which can worsen an individual’s symptoms. This is not as cut and dry an issue as many are led to believe.

Sticking to the topic of mental health, I believe there is an alternative way to approach the issue. Logically speaking, it’s no wonder that trigger warnings can be counterproductive. They prime the reader for an adverse reaction. Starkly putting the words “trigger warning: rape” is far more shocking than explaining gently in the review that “there are sensitive topics in the book, such as sexual assault, so readers who don’t want to read this content may want to bear that in mind”. This is aside from the fact choosing the correct warnings in the first place is tricky if not nigh on impossible (I am not joking when I say that I’ve met a person with an intense fear of buttons for instance). Rather than picking out from a carefully cultivated list, readers are usually better at determining for themselves where the line might be. A good review will always facilitate that, letting you know important aspects of the content.

Here’s where the other issues come in. Chiefly, the spoiler issue… and yes this is an issue for a lot of readers. Not everyone, obviously- many people don’t care about spoilers and some even (*shock horror*) flip to the end of a book before they start to find out how it turns out! Yet, even for those who want to avoid certain topics in books, reading trigger warnings is a no-go because they are laden with spoilers. Given that people put in *every* detail into the warning section, from plot twists to endings, it is unsurprising not everyone wants to know the entire journey in advance. Thus, some reviewers prefer to explain any content issues in the body of the review- which most reviewers endeavour to do tactfully and in depth. This is the *purpose* of a review after all. I understand the desire to give people the information quickly- which is why trigger warnings are so popular in the age of immediacy- yet the words without context aren’t just spoilery. They can actually have other consequences for a book.

Think for a moment what the label “racism” does to your preconceptions of a book. Now if I tell you that trigger warning can be applied from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Invisible Man to Gone with the Wind to Huckleberry Finn, it should raise alarm bells- because these are v-e-r-y different books. Out of context, the word “racist” is off-putting- which is why a full review, with examples, explanations and in-depth explorations, is so important. Just sticking a label on a book is unhelpful if we actually want to examine the issues it contains- especially if its critiquing said issues. I’d argue it’s potentially censorious, except that labels like these have already been used to slam cancelled books. In fact, people often aren’t even allowed to have this conversation without getting cancelled (anecdotally, I saw Erika Sanchez getting serious blowback on twitter for daring to have an opinion on this). And it’s no secret that “triggering books” have been used widely to self-censor at universities (which, given the role of academic institutions, is rather different to self-censoring when reading for pleasure).

All of this- combined with the fiery-career-ending conversations around this topic- gets in the way of free and open debate. And that is what I am most concerned about. We need to have real conversations, not resort to “here’s what this book is about in 140 characters or less!” Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the quickfire culture is right- but personally I’d rather take my time figuring things out.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Before I go, I’d like to share a couple of fantastic posts from other bloggers having this conversation and presenting their own views:

Drew @The Tattooed Book Geek https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/lets-talk-trigger-warnings-bookblogger-bookbloggers-blogger-bloggers-blogpost

Confessions of a YA Reader https://confessionsofayareader.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/are-we-policing-books-too-hard-or-not-enough-are-we-helping-books-get-banned-controversial-book-discussion-post-massive-warning-for-triggers-and-hot-topics-throughout-the-whole-blog-post-do/

And more recent research that I’ve done:

https://osf.io/axn6z/

https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2018-03-15/do-trigger-warnings-on-tv-do-more-harm-than-good/

https://www.campusreform.org/?ID=13462

https://slate.com/technology/2019/07/trigger-warnings-research-shows-they-dont-work-might-hurt.html

https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/12/trigger-warnings-from-the-feminist-blogosphere-to-shonda-rhimes-in-2013.html

https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/03/study-trigger-warnings-are-basically-useless-even-if-youve-been-through-trauma/

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/03/do-trigger-warnings-work/585871/

https://themedium.ca/features/going-too-far-with-trigger-warnings/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11106670/Trigger-warnings-more-harm-than-good.html

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/20/trigger-warnings-college-campus-books

Sooo time to turn it over to you- am I going to hell in a handbasket for my opinions here? Do you agree or disagree with my stance on this? Let me know in the comments!

Calling Out Call Out Culture

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What with freedom of speech week coming up, I thought now would be a good time to start pissing people off *ahem* saying all the *controversial things* I’ve ever wanted to say. Starting with the fact that I HATE cancel culture… which I guess means I’m going to cancel myself with this post 😉

Just kidding- I know that the blogosphere is basically the sanest place on the internet and I’m probably just talking to an echo chamber of people who agree with me 😉 But you all know what I mean by cancel culture: those dumpster fires that rage online daily and seem intent on destroying everything in their path.

two minutes of hate
And people call 1984 too far-fetched 😉

I’m referring to the fact that many ordinary people are walking on eggshells for fear they’re about to receive their FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME! I’m talking about the way people try to cancel YA for being too dark or daring to cover a controversial topic or the author saying something that strays from a rather niche-and-ever-evolving hymn sheet. Many of the articles I’ve included in my sources will give you examples, yet the one of the most striking is the curious case of Blood Heir, where critical advanced reviews promoted the incorrect idea that the reference to slavery in the book must inherently refer to the Slave Trade and therefore this was cultural appropriation (gosh, so many things wrong with that view, not least that slavery is endemic across history and an ongoing global issue). There was good news on that front recently, with the book now being scheduled for release in November (after people came to their senses and realised Zhao did *nothing wrong*), but not everyone that comes under fire lives to tell the tale.

Most authors can easily have their career ruined by these actions. No one is immune- I’ve seen the most famous authors and virtual unknowns attacked. And I’m often ASTOUNDED by how blasé so many creative people are about it (sometimes even being ringleaders in this regard). Too many seem to be kidding themselves that “oh well I believe all the ‘right’ things so they couldn’t possibly come for me”- when in reality I’ve seen the goal posts change a million times in the last few years. I’ve seen some books praised for covering difficult topics… and the next one condemned. The perceived *target* seems to be as guilty as the next person. All at the whim of select reviewers, social media activists or journos.

Now, far be it for me to criticise negative reviews! You all know I’ve defended them at length. No, I’m talking about targeted campaigns to get a book cancelled because of something (usually) one individual disliked about it. Which to me is a bizarre attitude- as Angela Carter said “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms”– no two people will read a book the same way (I know, very death of the author 😉). And I think we all experience this with reviews. I know I can’t be the piles of booksonly contrarian that’s read a negative review and thought “huh but that thing they’re complaining about really appeals to me- ADDING IT TO MY ALREADY INSANELY LONG TBR!” (#bookwormlogic) That might even be why some authors seem to thrive off a little healthy debate.

let it goOf course if you had a problem with a book *wrestle with it, examine it, dissect it to your heart’s content*, but also LET IT GO! Because, not only are we all individuals who experience books differently, but it isn’t a healthy attitude to have such a visceral reaction. You know why I write negative (and to some extent positive) reviews? To get it out of my system. I think the thing, say the thing, move on from the thing- never have I thought “I’M GONNA GO ON A CRUSADE AND RUIN THIS AUTHOR’S LIFE!”

Shockingly, there are people who do think like that. Annnd this is the part of the post where I’m going to throw some real shade. Cos the agitators behind this know *exactly* what they’re up to. They think they’re getting good publicity and that no one could possibly think they’re the jerk. They think that the cover of social media grants them anonymity- and yet I’ve spotted a pattern with repeat offenders. While they may be happy to destroy careers on a whim, they like equally problematic things in other books (cos it’s pretty easy to have a little looksie at their goodreads 😉). Hypocrisy aside, there’s nothing wrong with them liking some books over others- the problem arises from them trying to act as the moral arbiters here. Because who the hell crowned them the king or queen of taste?! Most people rightly realise opinions are *SUBJECTIVE*.

Being the worrier that I am, I fear I’ll get a chorus of “name names” and “tell us who’s doing this”- but that is the antithesis of why I’m doing this post in the first place. I don’t see how turning the mob on these individuals will help calm things down. Besides, too often we’re so fixated on the named “criminal” we forget what we’re even talking about. Recently, I’ve written articles in response to some statements by famous authors and, rightly or wrongly, I chose not to include names. While I don’t want to rely on hearsay, I personally think it’s usually better to focus on their ideas and avoid the possible (totally unnecessary) author-bashing. Especially since the one time that I did name an individual for off the cuff comments, it ended up being a distraction to the point at hand. Naturally, this isn’t to say every journalist or commentator is wrong to do so, I just think sometimes it is possible to argue your point without making it personal.

As much as I hate call out culture, I know not everyone who gets caught up in it is an awful person. We’re all human (or in some cases monkeys) and we all make mistakes. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop liking those tweets from people saying “let’s end so-and-so’s career”. Maybe we can stop posting and reposting the angry diatribes directed at individuals. It might just be a little too late in some other areas of life, but we can do better in the bookish community at least. Or else, all art will be dictated by the mob and books can be nothing more than drab, colourless, lifeless autobiographies. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? 😉

Other blog posts on the topic…

Katie @Never Not Reading – Book Twitter is Kind of the Worst

Nicole @Sorry I Am Booked – Bookish Thought Sensitivity: Cancel Culture in Literature

And elsewhere around the internet…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/15/torn-apart-the-vicious-war-over-young-adult-books

https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/in-ya-where-is-the-line-between-criticism-and-cancel-culture

https://slate.com/culture/2019/01/blood-heir-ya-book-twitter-controversy.html

http://www.papermag.com/cancel-culture-doesnt-work-2602364106.html

http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/the-problem-with-cancel-culture

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/17/opinion/sunday/cancel-culture-call-out.html

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/04/228847/own-voices-movement-ya-literature-impact

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/writers-blocked-even-fantasy-fiction-is-now-offensive/

Phew- that was a big topic to get through! And now I’m terrified of what everyone is going to say! Even so, this has always been a platform for free speech and I want to know your thoughts on the issue. So, do you agree with me that cancel culture goes too far? Or should I just head off to the gulag? 😉 Let me know in the comments!

Confessions of a (justified) mood reader…

 

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This has been a long time coming. I’ve been holding this secret inside and I don’t think I can keep it from you anymore: I’M A MASSIVE MOOD READER AND SOMETIMES I MAKE RIDICULOUS READING CHOICES! (okay a lot of you already knew that and so this was perhaps a little melodramatic 😉) Point is, it’s time I exposed my silliness to the world… (so that you can laugh/judge/commiserate with me!) Let’s get into some of the ways mood reading effects my reading:

piles of booksI am incapable of keeping to a TBR. I’ve talked about this before, but there’s a reason you’ll never see a proper TBR post from me (and if I do one, it’s more like: here’s some books I plan to read within the next decade 😉)

 

merlin books sharingOh and forget about keeping to hard deadlines- I like to have months to read an ARC, buddy reads are often a no-go and I will happily read a gift years after I get it (the exception being that I am almost pathological when it comes to library due dates 😉)

 

shameBecause of that I have so much TBR Shame! Often people will be impressed that I have only 300 books on my goodreads TBR… until I point out that I have wishlists with hundreds of books on every. single. book site (I don’t even think this is simply being disorganised- I think this is a way of tricking myself into believing my TBRs are not all exponentially long). And I only ever seem to grow them instead of making them smaller. It’s a real struggle to delete something off the list that I will never might not read- let alone pick them all up! (which to be fair would be impossible, since I seem determined to list every book in the universe, no matter how much it seems like these lists are never ending blackholes…)

 

hoarding booksI also hoard ebooks like there’s no tomorrow. I have books for every occasion and every possible mood- some of which have been on my TBR *forever and a day*. Here are just some of the books I’ve got on my kindle that I’ve been meaning to read for years:

 

(yes I am sneakily including these so I can guilt myself later 😉)

choose books2And yet I still struggle to find the perfect book for the perfect moment! I will spend ages between books looking at my shelves/overdrive/going to the library, trying to determine what’s right for my mood and choosing what to read next… which should be easy with options from *all the genres* but NOPE.

 

book loveBecause *lowers voice* nothing really happens if I make the wrong choice. Sometimes I could pick something up in a genre I don’t feel like and just put it down again. The rest of the time, I secretly know that I could probably choose anything and it wouldn’t actually matter if I thought I was in the mood for it- if it’s a great book, I’ll get in the mood…  

So are any of you mood readers? Do you have the same problems as me? Let me know in the comments!

Genre snobbery is a bitch

 

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I feel like it’s a becoming a biannual tradition for me to point out “sorry, you don’t get to dictate taste”. Sadly, there’s a reason this keeps coming up: every so often a member of the literati pokes their head above the parapet to denigrate genre fiction. Today’s “inspiration” is a famous literary fiction author who decided to give genre fiction a go, only to (rather hilariously) state they don’t like that particular genre… cos that makes sense. Now, without naming names, this is almost part of the course for literary fiction writer’s foray into genre fiction- they assert “but I’m not a genre fiction writer” in the same way one might say “I’m not a prostitute”. Well, as a genre whore, I take offence to this kind of language 😉 Aside from the blatant hypocrisy, I don’t think genre snobs have quite thought this through…

spaceFor starters, there is unfrickin-believable-out-of-this-world genre fiction. One of the funniest parts of this person’s argument was that they didn’t think that genre fiction explored humanity with any depth- LOL! Clearly, they’ve never read genre fiction cos there are *far too many* examples for me to list. The crux of this criticism is that they seem to think you can’t simultaneously write well and develop your world building- which is about as logical as saying you can’t eat a banana and ice cream at the same time 😉 The two are not mutually exclusive (in fact they go together rather well). So, if you’re going to judge a book by its cover, the joke’s on you. Especially because…

the greatest of all timeToday’s “genre fiction” could easily be tomorrow’s classic. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but realism doesn’t always win out in the end or make it into the canon. And some genres (romance novels, gothic literature, even fantasy etc) do better than you think. Literary fiction stands the same chance of going down in history as one of the “greats” (regardless of whether the publisher slaps “modern classic” on the back or not).

you're not wrongThe customer may not always be right… but they’re not wrong! Let’s be real: you can’t be wrong about your own taste. Not only that, but most readers read genre fiction. The idea of going after the consumer is becoming increasingly popular- yet it doesn’t make it any less futile. A word to the wise- no one will be convinced to pick up your book just cos you said they shouldn’t pick up some other person’s book (in fact there’s a strong chance of reverse-psychology-ing them into picking up the one you told them to avoid).

party on dudesPlus, us genre sluts are having a lot more fun than the genre prudes. We’re not tied down by immature “you need to grow up” arguments levelled at adult YA readers; we’re not threatened by a bit of flirtation with genre bending books. We just dive straight into the whorehouse of endless tastes- otherwise known as every bookshop/library/personal collection ever- and glut ourselves on whatever’s on offer. Gotta say it’s liberating to let go of your inhibitions and just join the party. Don’t be shy, you know you want to 😉

Im outThat said, if you’re still taking yourself too seriously after that analogy, I have one last truthbomb to drop: no one is the GOD EMPEROR OVERLORD of taste. No one’s taste is infallible; no one gets to act like an authoritarian hack when it comes to literature. And I’m not gonna apologise if that’s hurt any egomaniac’s feelings for saying that. I’d say “anyone who truly believes that they know best about what people should be reading needs to take a long hard look in the mirror”, but that’s probably what they do all day. I’m sure their hand is sore from patting themselves on the back 24/7. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t have much time for anyone who thinks like this anymore 😉

And with that, I’d like to ask you guys what you think of genre snobbery? And are you a genre whore like me? Let me know in the comments!

Addressing “Entitled” Fans

 

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Am I the only one that thinks this whole “entitled fans” debate is getting old already? For those of you who haven’t seen this phrase bandied about, well first of all lucky you, and second of all it’s basically becoming a catch-all phrase to describe disgruntled fans. A couple of years ago it was used to describe Star Wars fans for not lapping up the trash that was The Last Jedi; more recently it’s been dug up again to sling at those of us who are unhappy with the ending of Game of Thrones (more specifically for a petition that I don’t feel the need to go into cos it’s much the same as any other petition on the planet).

A lot of the time, this argument seems to be a way to shut down criticism- which is never a good look for a creator. Aside from the fact it often seems like people with MASSIVE platforms going after the little guy, let’s just say throwing your weight around shouting “HOW DARE YOU CRITICISE ME FOOLISH MORTAL” makes something else seem a little bit inflated… 😉

That said, the creator isn’t necessarily wrong for standing up for themselves. After all, if they had a vision for their work and the audience doesn’t like it, that’s not their fault, right? And harassing the author/creator/whatever isn’t okay. No matter how much we might love something, we don’t have ownership of it. And in the words of Mick Jagger:

you can't always get what you want

So, I actually do get that a creator really shouldn’t have to do what their audience wants. That’s why I say REVIEWS ARE FOR READERS– they’re made after the fact and aren’t designed to make the author change their ways. Still, while it may be true that “art is not a democracy”, it doesn’t then follow that “ergo I never have to listen to criticism”. Nor is “I don’t have to listen to you because you’re just a fan” a great argument. Because here’s a little secret: FANS WANT THE PROPERTIES THEY LOVE TO SUCCEED. That’s why they’ve poured their time/money/hearts/souls into these projects. And to forget that is to forget what made success possible.

This is particularly significant when looking at modern, commercial art. When we’re talking about huge franchises like Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Harry Potter etc, we’re not talking about its creation in a vacuum. These hugely successful properties owe more than a little to their fans. The fact is, shows/movies/books even are being treated more like products; likewise, creators have been willing to treat fans more like customers. And that’s fine- but then it doesn’t stand for writers/producers to still say “it’s art, we can do whatever we want!” Because you can’t expect to act that way when taking people’s money AND get no complaints if you miss-market said product. As a fan, I might be more forgiving if things don’t pan out exactly as I want; as a customer, I won’t be as happy. For instance, if I go into a restaurant and order pizza and you give me ice cream, I’m not going to be happy (no matter how much I love both). Customers rarely want subverted expectations. Which brings me onto one of the biggest areas of debate…

elephants game of thronesNow, here’s the thing: subverted expectations aren’t always a bad thing. Game of Thrones in particular was known for it- and known for doing it well. There are times when I wish the creator had gone the unexpected route. And some art exists in that beautifully comedic and meaningful sphere where art breaks all the rules. Some of my favourite works exist in this bubble: Guards, Guards, Carry On and even the Alan Partridge books! Fans don’t always want to be serviced, if you know what I mean 😉 But, in the case of the elephant (or lack thereof) in the room/Seven Kingdoms, trying a bold manoeuvre like subverting expectations has to be well executed.

Funnily enough, a lot of criticism like this is actually fairly technical. Mary Sues, subverted expectations, fanservice are all terms that existed for a long time- and yet they’re being brushed aside for causing “offence”. Ironically, this feeds into the idea that there is a right and wrong reason to criticise art nowadays (or to criticise criticism). With call out culture waiting in the wings, (often verified) journalists are able to rile people up and simultaneously forbid regular consumers from questioning creative “genius”. This doesn’t seem like they have the audience’s best interests at heart: it seems like thinly veiled elitism, pulling up the drawbridge and gatekeeping competition.

That could just be my sceptical brain going into overdrive though 😉 To be on the safe side, let’s just engage in honest discussions, not resort to stifling conversations by throwing around ad hominems and stop calling fans “entitled” for voicing opinions.

So, what do you think of the “entitled fans” debate? Do you think fans go to far? How do you think creators should respond? Let me know in the comments!

Misconceptions of Negative Reviews

 

thoughts orangutan

A few weeks ago, I saw something that has become the norm online: a famous author (who shall remain unnamed) saying why people shouldn’t write negative reviews. Now, not only is *criticising criticism pretty hypocritical*, it also comes across as someone with a fair amount of power trying to stifle conversation- and let’s just say I don’t approve. But going beyond this individual’s fame and success, there are a lot of people who hold similar views. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people choosing to only do positive reviews, but I think negative reviews get a bad rap. Sometimes I just think people don’t understand why people do them and assume motives that aren’t there. So, I thought I’d break down where I reckon these misconceptions are coming from:

meanMisconception #1: Critical reviewers are MEAN. Well, that could be true, who knows? 😉 Just kidding- I think this assumption is reading wayyy too much into things. Beyond the fact it’s probably not a good idea to psychoanalyse strangers on the internet, I also think that it’s not taking into consideration that people are different and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some reviewers are blunter than others, some are snarkier, some are funnier- because that’s their personality. Not to go all Big Five Personality on y’all, but (and I can’t believe I have to point this out) being more agreeable (for instance) doesn’t make you inherently a better person. For goodness sakes- you don’t have to like everyone’s way of doing things, yet I think we can all agree that how you review isn’t the next Great Moral Debate!

the devil hocus pocusMisconception #2: We want to upset authors. Also known as the “reviews are meant to help you improve” idea. Ermmm no. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: reviews are for READERS! That means whether the review is positive or negative, it’s not designed for the author. Frankly, I’m too shy to @ authors when I’m being entirely positive- but I definitely would never do that if I had even a smidge of criticism there.

never happyMisconception #3: We’re hard to please… okay this one is totally possible. And I did see a really great video about critical reviews, which suggested there’s a possibility you’re reading the wrong books for you 😉 HOWEVER, while this could be true, most reviewers will have a mixed bag. I know I do. And the thing is, even positive reviews can hold criticism- which leads me onto…

throw booksMisconception #4: We don’t love books. Pahahaha- so because we don’t like your book, we can’t like any books?! I mean, this is just plain silly. Why dedicate hours and hours to a passion if we secretly don’t like it? Really though, this feeds into the idea that we can read *everything* *all the time*- which is daft. Encouraging people to read endlessly is preposterous. So much so that even positive reviews should point out the downsides- and vice versa. For instance, while some people are put off by slow books, I’ll be perfectly happy to give it a try. Even when I’m gushing, I don’t aim for mindless POSITIVITY- for me it’s primarily about getting people to be able to find the right book for them. Sure, this isn’t always possible, but it’s worth a try!

stop reading
Almost didn’t put this meme in cos it personally offends me!

Misconception #5: Negative reviews are to stop you reading! Again, negative reviews are often pretty nuanced. They’re written to explain why someone may/may not want to read something; they’re not explicitly designed to deprive other people of pleasure. A great review helps readers make informed decisions (see above about not having the time to read everything ever written). BTW people who read reviews also aren’t braindead- *SHOCKER* readers are smart and can make up their own minds whether to trust the reviewer thank-you-very-much! As someone who watched and read reviews long before I got into doing it myself, I think it’s safe to say I know how to read a review without losing my sense of self. It’s quite possible to see a negative review and say “I’m going to read it anyway!” Which brings me onto…

im-right-youre-wrongMisconception #6: We think WHAT WE SAY GOES! We’re not gods or always right (that’s why I did a post about how not to review). Reviews are biased, they’re not objective. You don’t have to listen to them all the time and you can come away thinking something completely different.

Misconception #7: We’re playing 4D chess… Cos right now there is this idea that you will get ALL THE VIEWS if you get a little snarky. While I don’t deny this can be the case for some people, I’d say I have the same stats on negative and positive pieces. Plus, this is a good opportunity to come full circle in the piece and say PEOPLE ARE A BIT MORE COMPLEX THAN THAT. You can’t just bottle up people’s reasons for doing things in simple “oh they’re just looking for attention” terms. I for one didn’t start my blog for just one reason (and I can tell you when I started attention wasn’t even a remote possibility on my radar). So I think it’s time to finish off my piece with some age old wisdom:

when you assume

And with that I’d like to know what you think- do you reckon people have misconceptions about negative reviews? Or do you think any of these are spot on? Let me know in the comments!