I’ve been working on the same concept for a book since 2011. It’s changed and grown, shifting into a more realistic story with problematic characters who push themselves to be better. I’ve chatted with the three main characters in my head of what is now a trilogy more than I speak to anyone else in my life. But I’m terrified of writing it down.
Why? I know I am a good writer with a solid premise. Multiple friends are mad at me because they want more than a synopsis. They want to read the damn thing. I sit at a computer and choke. Time after time after time. For the past week, this feeling of unease I normally only feel sitting down to work on my YA novel came up nearly every time I went on Facebook and couldn’t for the life of me figure it out until it eventually clicked.
Game of Thrones shared the final episode of the final season less than a week ago. What should be a triumphant moment for the artists (a term I am using broadly to include the writers, actors, crew, and so on) has become bittersweet. Toxic fandom has devoured the internet and has long been a problem within many fandoms, especially fans of Game of Thrones. It is this mob mentality that attacks creators and artists for their work with a sense of entitlement that is extremely defeating. It lets down the content creators and impacts how they view their future work. Which means they are less likely to take risks or make new content. It’s a mess.
Whenever you create something and put it into the world, you are opening yourself up to criticism. As artists, we know that. I don’t expect everyone to love my work and express undying devotion to my story, but I do want people to give it a chance. I think the unease I feel when I try to get my thoughts down comes from the toxic feedback loop we allow to thrive. A few years ago, a young adult title that was not even published yet was dismissed entirely by an audience that had not even read the book based entirely on a review that vilified the book and the author as racist. Twitter went OFF on this title and created an immediate perception that if you liked this book, you’re a racist.
Have I read the book in question, The Black Witch by Laurie Forest? Nope. Didn’t want to touch it after the toxic Twitter mess. Even after other reviewers, reviewers that actually read the source material, stated that a major theme of the series was to explore race through fictionalized races to point out power imbalances and to rebel against systematic racism. Another YA book was pulled before going to print earlier this year because of a similar Twitter storm. Is there any validity to these claims? I don’t know. Like The Black Witch, Amélie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir was condemned by people that never read the book, resulting in the author pulling the book from publication. YA cancel culture is intense and a thing I consider every time I sit to write. As I stated earlier, at least one of my main characters is problematic. It is vital to the story’s evolution that the climax of the first book does not resolve neatly and is in fact a lukewarm mess. I’ve brainstormed ways to change the ending of the first book so the main character does not do something problematic on accident, but there really is no other way. I become paranoid that I will be seen as believing the things I need my character to do to further the story and the recursive paralysis loop begins anew.
Which brings me back to Game of Thrones. My discomfort with fan reactions came to a head in a Facebook discussion with a friend. He stated boldly and unequivocally that the final season was “terrible.” I asked him to expand on what about the story was terrible. Not the CGI, or pacing issues, or coffee cup placements… just the story. He could not provide a proper example. When pressed, it was revealed he hadn’t even watched the show this season and formed his opinion after reading others’ thoughts on the topic. I wish I could say this was a one-off, but many fans of the books and the show have quit watching along the way only to loudly offer their vehemently negative opinion on something they had not even watched. I immediately disengaged from seriously entertaining my friend’s commentary on it once I learned he hadn’t witnessed this supposedly terrible ending for himself, but sat with the conversation in my head for a few more days.
We have to remember that artists and creators are people who pour their time, energy and sanity into their work. Every fan that signed the horrendous petition to reshoot the final season of Game of Thrones with “competent” writers is suggesting that every single man hour that went into filming and editing was garbage. You are therefore telling the artists who created a series you love (or used to love) that they are trash. If something is truly problematic, absolutely call it out. Not liking how a show ended because it didn’t match the over-hyped version in your head is not problematic. You, dear viewer, are the problematic one here.