What do we owe our fans, as creators?
In a perfect world, writers, artists and musicians would be thrilled to be able to put their creation out there into the world, and have a positive (or at least constructive) response. It’s not a perfect world, so we’re reasonably okay with whatever we get, be it a bunch of lukewarm responses, very small but amazingly positive responses, or, if we’re really lucky, a snowball effect of growing positive responses. So we at least owe them something they’ll enjoy.
Do we owe our fans perfection? Well, that depends on who’s defining ‘perfection’ here. In normal situations, the writer defines it as ‘the best damn version of my creation that I can give to you, to the best of my ability.’ In this case, yes: we owe our fans our best work. Anything less than that, and we’re phoning it in. And fans can see phoning it in a lot more clearly than we as creators can. You don’t want to cut corners, say ‘fuck it, it’s done’ or ‘…oh HEY LOOK OVER THERE’ [whoosh of handwavium]. And if our creation is in an extended universe, the last things we want to do is kludge it with a bit of poorly applied spackle or reckless retconning, or worse, not even bother with the continuity.
However, we don’t owe our fans what they would consider a Perfect Story.
We do not owe them their perceived headcanon. Yes, our fans have invested time and care in our creations, and that’s really cool! But they’re not the ones driving this bus. The creator is the one dedicating a hell of a lot of personal and creative time planning how each intricate bit of action is going to unfold. If the creator decides to do or not do something in the story, I can pretty much guarantee that 99% of the time, the creators have a reason for it. We especially don’t owe them an explanation when we go against their perceived headcanon.
So why do I bring this up? Well, part of it is due to Sunday’s reaction to the unveiling of the thirteenth Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker — the first female to play the role. It’s an awesome decision and for the most part everyone is thrilled by it. It’s the usual small-yet-vocal male contingent that are having issues with it. How dare they mess with an always-male institution?, they cry.
But it’s also partly due to frequent conversations I see between webcomic artists (frequently female) and their fans, where the reader (frequently male) has ragequit the series or released a Twitter tirade — or worse, harassed the creator through the comments sections of their work — due to their headcanon not actually being canon. And I’ve also seen it in a lot of anime and manga fandoms; for example, the ending of the Naruto manga series (and in effect its anime) was faced with a bizarrely antagonistic American backlash due to certain characters ending up romantically linked and others not linked. It was weird, a bit unsettling, and completely uncalled for.
I admit I haven’t had this kind of response to my books as of yet. That’s partly due to my relative obscurity at this point in my career, but I would not be surprised if it was because I was a male writer, either. That said, though, I still think about it. I write knowing that I’m probably going to piss someone off for one reason or another. I won’t let that stop me writing what I want to write, though. I can deal with that if need be. But it still baffles the hell out of me. It’s fandom expanded to bizarre extremes. It’s an extreme emotional reaction to something harmless and fictitious. It’s reactions unchecked.
I don’t owe anything to fans with that kind of reaction.
I just owe them a damn good story that I hope they’ll enjoy reading. That’s all.