Dear Jim,

I’ve read some of your other posts and was wondering if you had any advice for me. A lot of your other posts have taken stabs at identity politics. I think you and I fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, but I figured I’d give this a shot.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a strong lesbian character. Someone I and others like me can relate to. However, since publication, I’ve been getting a lot of critical and downright offensive comments regarding my work. Some of them even come from self-proclaimed homosexuals who say that the character is stereotypical and offensive. I suspect a lot of these people are trolling and would like to expose them as the hateful individuals they are, so I was thinking of writing a blog piece calling them out on their hatred, but I’m worried about potential backlash from doing this.

If you have any advice, I’d really appreciate it.

Thanks,
Alicia (User asked not to use full name)


… Oh boy…

Hi Alicia,

First of all, I want to respond to your idea of posting a response to your critics calling them out. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU DO THIS!!! Dismissing a part of your audience that may have taken issue with something you wrote will not gain you anything. It won’t bring anyone over to your side and it won’t establish you any level of moral high ground.

I invite you to go back and look at my posts regarding the Ghostbusters debacle and Marvel Comics trends. In those cases, Paul Feig and Marvel accused their audiences of being bigoted trolls. The resulting backlash made things considerably worse than if they’d kept their mouths shut.

What I would ask is whether or not you’ve actually considered that their criticisms might actually be valid? I would look at what they’ve said to you, check out any examples that they may have provided and go back and look at your writing to see if you can figure out what they’re talking about.

Looking at one thing you sent me in your message:
“For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a strong lesbian character. Someone I and others like me can relate to.”

I have a feeling that you may have fallen into a trap that a lot of other people have fallen into. When writing a character, I’ve always found that there is a right way to do it and a wrong way. Basically, this is what it boils down to:

Writing a (LGBTFemaleMaleMinority) Character vs. Writing a Character that Happens to be (LGBTFemaleMaleMinority).

At first glance, there may appear to be little to no difference here, but upon further examination the difference is actually very nuanced. Let’s go with the example you gave above about writing a lesbian character. How often does the fact that she’s a lesbian come up? Is she defined by that characteristic?

See the problem with writing a character this way is that too often the character is defined by their sexual preference and that becomes literally all their is to that character. In essence, that character isn’t a character at all, it’s a character archetype which displays extremely stereotypical lesbian traits. This happens because when a character is defined by what they are instead of who they are, they can’t really bring anything more than that to the table and thus cannot contribute any more than that to any dialogue. They’re always going to stand out and they’re never going to be relatable.

Now let’s look at it from the other perspective. Did you write a character that happens to be a lesbian? In other words, did you write a character with a personality, quirks, etc. that offers more than simply being a lesbian? Are there other aspects to the characters personality… and finally, can people other than lesbians relate to this character?

If you create this character and don’t place all the focus on the fact that she’s a lesbian, suddenly this character will likely seem more like an actual human being that could exist. Give her real world problems, some of which only a lesbian would have to, but others that every day people would have to.

You can still have your character tackle issues that those in the LGBT community faces, but without a human characteristic, people are going to see an archetype that is going to come off as stereotypical. Now I grant you that this is simply an assumption on my part as you didn’t provide me any source material, but I’ve seen many writers fall into this trap and I grant you, it is an easy one to fall into.

My advice to you is two-fold. First, sorry to be blunt about this, but you need to grow a thicker skin. This is advice that you really should have gotten before you started out and I’m sorry that you’re learning it after the fact. Different people speak different ways and what might come off as mean may simply be them being blunt. That being said, their are going to be trolls out there and if you put yourself out in view of the public, especially online, chances are good that you’re going to get trolled.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice. Take a couple of their comments, post them in a blog piece and say something to the effect of “Okay, I can understand why you might feel that way, but honestly my intent was to create a character for people like me that we can relate to. If you have any advice on how I can improve, I’d like to hear them. All I ask is that you give my story a chance.”

That’s really all you have to say and most of the time you’ll either silence or satisfy much of the controversy surrounding your work. Just to reiterate though, do not call them out, do not resort to name-calling, and do not accuse them of bigotry/hatred. Doing that will be like throwing gasoline on the fire and will embolden critics. Word of mouth is everything in this business and attacking critics will come off as you showing contempt for your readers if they don’t necessarily agree with you.

In the end, you won’t silence them and you’ll only be hurting yourself and your writing.

I know that this was an extremely blunt piece of advice, but I really think that what I wrote above is the best way forward for you. If you’d like to discuss this further, my door is always open and you are 100% encouraged to send me a followup if you need any help.

Now what’s say we open this up to my reader base? What does everyone think? Does anyone have advice for A.? How can she rectify this situation?

Thanks All,

Jim



Readers,

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.

jimthewritingwizard@gmail.com

I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Harrington/e/B00P7FBXTU

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

 

1 Comment on “Contempt for the Contemptful Reader

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