Serving the Story, Not You

Here's an excerpt from an excellent blog post from UK TV writer James Moran about abusive fans…a post that preceded Josh Olson's much-discussed, incendiary piece on a similar topic.

I'm a professional writer. That's my job. I write what I write, for whatever the project might be. I have the utmost respect for you, and honestly want you to like my work, but I can't let that affect my story decisions. Everybody wants different things from a story, but this is not a democracy, you do not get to vote. You are free to say what you think of my work, even if you hate it, I honestly don't mind. But the ONLY person I need to please is myself, and the ONLY thing I need to serve is the story. Not you. I will do my work to the very best of my ability, in an attempt to give you the best show, the best movie, the best story, the best entertainment I possibly can. Even if that means that sometimes, I'll do things you won't like. I won't debate it. Either you go along with it, or you don't. None of it is done to hurt you, or to force some agenda down your throat, or anything else. It's all in service of the story.

I urge you to read the whole thing. I can't tell you how many times I've been through the same experience that he suffered through…

8 thoughts on “Serving the Story, Not You”

  1. Abusive comments are tough to take, no question. It’s not possible to please all of the people, all of the time.
    Shakespeare has been heavily criticized for his 3 Henry the Sixth plays, written early in his career, due to their sensationalism, so even the best face it.
    But if a writer has a strong sense of his or her audience, I think that’s an advantage that leads to successful story-telling. The will of the audience is palpable. Graham Greene was said to be ‘in mediumistic connection’ with his audience. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to bring back Sherlock Holmes and Dickens had to bring Pip and Estelle together when they misjudged the audience and went their own way.
    Writers write for story but also for the needs of the audience, I would argue. James Moran focusses on the story, but I think he would do better to do both, and let the abusive comments roll off his back like water off a duck’s back, but also try to learn from them. They are coming from somewhere. They indicate feeling of some kind. He might try to write a later story to please this other audience just to see the result! But then again, feelings are interesting to me and I tend to delete the abusiveness out, although not always.

  2. Abusive treatment can arise from agents or editors as well as the reading public and an author needs to cope with such things. I had a painful decision to make years ago when an agent demanded to see the first 80 pages of a novel he had negotiated for me. He read them and told me start over: new central characters, new storyline. But I was writing the story I wanted to write– so I made the painful choice to continue and to abandon that otherwise excellent new agent. The novel went on to win a Spur Award, got extravagantly kind reviews, went into additional printings, and sold better than any other novel of mine, and was a very profitable venture for the publisher.

  3. To have fans is to also have abusive fans, although where the demarcation between fair criticism and abuse lies is going to be subjective to each writer.
    If you want to be immune to such “abuse,” then don’t seek success. It comes with the territory. Don’t publish a blog, or don’t allow comments. Is this so hard to figure out?
    Lastly, quit being such an over-sensitive crybaby, for Pete’s sakes!
    I’m weary of writers complaining about the awful price of their success, whatever that may be.
    I’m reminded of S.J. Perelman’s joke about screenwriting. “You shed blood, sweat and tears, and all for what? All for a bloody fortune, that’s what.”

  4. I think Richard points out a very interesting connection: that between the story a writer wants to write and a story that becomes successful. Writers are sensitive and may be picking up ideas from the zeitgeist or ‘spirit of the times’ when this happens. But when the story is not successful, where was the story idea coming from? And how do we tell the difference?
    I taught English As A Second Language successfully in Mexico. We had lesson plans but I went anywhere the students wanted me to and it was fun to see how they lit up when they were learning what they wanted to learn as opposed to what the lesson plan dictated.
    So I sort of think that if the audience wants a superhero story that’s a good thing to write. If they want a horror story, that’s a good thing to write. The writer’s job, I guess, is to learn how to tell such stories really, really well. Maybe the criticism, as hard to take as it is, especially when abusive, helps the writer learn what is pleasing and what is not. So maybe the writer cannot tell which of his story ideas will be successful or not, but maybe the audience can.

  5. I, too, think Moran is being whiney about it but he is who he is. Maybe Moran is a guy who receives 100 letters praising his work but then dwells on the one letter telling him he is an asshole.
    Writing for a big show like Torchwood will bring lots of attention from fans; he will also get lots of attention from rude, nutbag fans. If the nutbags are getting on his nerves and interfering with his work than he is doing the right thing to shut down communication for now.

  6. I wouldn’t call Moran whiney. I’ve never seen such hostility vented on the writers/production team before. No, not even during Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s final season.
    There’s a small but loud group of fans who have fixated on one of the minor Torchwood characters and the sheer hysteria and abuse because this tertiary character was killed off in the recent miniseries is unreal. I’ve seen fan entitlement before, but these folks are scary.


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