A while back I had someone tell me they wanted to start writing, but were afraid. “What if I write something that makes people mad at me?” I was asked. I could feel the gears that spun within me turn to flames and I became impassioned as I made my reply.
It doesn’t matter if people get mad at you, you write it anyway!
You see, there is a time to consider your audience and “write to them” but there is also a time to ignore your audience and write what needs to be said. For example, when I was writing Winter’s Bite, it had some sensual scenes in it. I thought about it and decided that because I’d like to market the book as Young Adult friendly, I would remove them. I chose there to “write to my audience”. Young Adults aren’t specifically my audience, but I do not want to isolate them, because my audience is larger than one age group. On the other hand, I have written poetry that just needed to come out. It really had no audience aside from whoever would read it, and I make no apologies if someone is offended by it. Especially if you warn them beforehand. Tell your reader on the back cover that there are sexual scenes in it, or there is domestic violence, or dismemberments. Then it’s their own fault if they are offended by it, as they were warned.
Another point to bring up is that it is good to anger the reader. What? Shouldn’t you try to get the reader on your side, so you can both root for the hero together? Maybe on occasion, but for the most part you as a writer are the puppetmaster. You make the puppets go where you want them to go, do what you want them to do, say what you want them to say. And you make the OTHER puppets think what you want them to think; feel what you want them to feel. You pull the emotional and mental strings of your reader just as you pull the literal strings of your characters. But to be a good puppetmaster, you don’t want to just shatter people. There needs to be some benefit from every cut, some purpose for every emotional punch, some teaching from every enigma, and some illumination from every seed of confusion that you sow. When you sow seeds in a garden, you know what you expect to come up. But when you take your seeds, mix them all together, and then pick one at random to plant, it will be a surprise as to what comes up. So it is with writing. You don’t want to give the reader instant gratification at all times. You want to hurt them; wound them. Because only then can you heal them and elate their mind.
Like in the movie Fight Club (my flawed recap). The two guys break into a convenience store at night and make the cashier leave the building. They follow him out back and make him get on his knees with a gun in his face. He is asked questions about why he is working in a place like this, and doesn’t he have dreams? His ID is taken and he is told he has 1 month to be enrolled in school in pursuit of his dreams or the guy will track him down and kill him. Later, when the second guy asks what the heck that was about, the one guy says that tomorrow morning will be the best day of that cashier’s life. Being that close to death, he will appreciate every bite of his food more. He will have a new outlook on life. They did him a favor by practically ruining him. There was no real harm done, except for in that instant where the guy didn’t know if he would live or die. With writing, we put the gun in the face of our reader. We tell them what to think. And then…we release them. We throw them into a pit and they struggle to get out, but they appreciate their freedom more. We kill off a character that was beloved to them…and give them a chance to love even more as they remember the legacy of kindness that a character that you have written has left on their soul. Every time the villain rapes a woman, every time the ruler taxes the people beyond what they can afford, you anger the reader. But when justice comes, oh how much greater is the satisfaction?
Another consideration is that as a writer, you have stories inside you. Every story is not for every person. There will be people who do not like your work. They may think it is boring, because it is a topic that does not interest them. They may think it is offensive, because they do not want to see animals sacrificed. They may think it is way too descriptive, because they like lots of action and dialogue. They may think it is shallow because they like more description. Inevitably, you will have people who don’t care for your work. That’s not your failure, that’s your glory! They thought it was offensive? You have successfully strummed a chord on their emotions. They thought it was too descriptive? Well, in the words of Natalie Portman (regarding Der-ek-Zoo-lan-der), “The only thing keeping me from seeking a relationship is that he’s too good looking.” Don’t take offense that someone thinks you describe things too much. As long as it’s done well, which it should be if someone is reading a book that you have released, then they basically told you that you are too rich, or too smart, or too good looking. Their criticism is your compliment.
But you have a story inside of you that needs to get out. It isn’t up to other people to write your story, or to shape it. It’s your dreamwagon, baby! If someone doesn’t like the color of your car, are you going to paint it? Heck no! You’ll let them have their opinion and be on your way. Perhaps the next person will love the color of your car, the graphic dismemberments, the sweet old lady who dies because a house falls on her. Your job is to give people something they haven’t seen before. Be a creator, not a regurgitationist.
The bulk of this post has been in reference to writing, but these principles can be applied in anyone’s life as well. Sometimes the truth hurts…but it still needs to be said. You can try to take the time to candy-coat it, tactfully wording it to be as inoffensive as possible, but there will be people who see right through that. They want to know why you are blowing smoke up their butts. But candy-coating it takes time, too, and by the time you’ve got it perfectly worded, the moment is past and it would be pointless to say anything. I’m guilty of that. It’s something I need to work on. Also, sometimes you need to say things to people to light a fire under them. Pushing someone to go back to school for their Bachelor’s degree may seem a pain in the butt to them. They may be angry with you. They may feel you are just trying to make them miserable. But you know better. And when they cross that stage and are handed that degree, they will thank you for being obnoxious! You also have thoughts, feelings, and beliefs inside you that need to be shared with the world. Be yourself and add a splash of color to the world! You don’t have to change for anyone. “And above all, to thine own self be true.” Words of wisdom, for certain. Reject robotization. Just be who you are!