Recently, a fellow writer and friend of mine read a book that left her completely unsatisfied as a reader. The writer in her couldn’t suspend the disbelief of the plot of the story nor could she understand why the reviews were so favorable.
Now, I normally don’t read reviews of other books. I really don’t, and it’s basically because what one person loves, I tend to not love. Or what one person tends to dislike, I tend to love. Case in point, the reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Many people disliked it, including my boss, whereas I actually loved it, and I was one of the ones who grew up with the originals.As such, when it comes to favorite pasttimes such as reading, listening to music, and watching movies, I prefer to go in blind.
Reading my fellow writer’s review is actually making me glad I read her review of the story because, not only was it humorous (the memes absolutely made my day), but she raised valid points about the plot. I read her review, both through her blog and on Goodreads, and then I read the other reviews, which baffled her as much as the extremely shaky plot points did.
Four and five star reviews of nothing but praise for the relationship. Mainly. And my fellow writer and friend has wondered why.
This morning, I told her what it was.
It’s the relationship angle. Yeah, it might be a story about survival in a YA, sci-fi, dystopia, the plot points might be irreverently weak, but a good portion of the readers will not care because they have a relationship to focus upon. It’s something I’ve noticed as a fanfiction writer playing in some of the biggest sandboxes out there and reading some of the writer responses to reader reviews.
It’s all about the relationship. It’s about Character A being with Character B (established) or Character C (not established and extremely unlikely due to Factors H, J, or even P). It doesn’t matter if Character C or even Character D or B is guilty of raping Character A in a graphic sexual assault scene, all that matters is that somehow the two beloved Characters have made it to the sack and eventually the relationship forms.
Now I’m one for going against the grain, the mainstream whenever and wherever I can, but even I have my boundaries on what I would consider hot and sexy, and I do not consider rape scenes to be sexy. I can explain the line between rape and dubious consent because I know what those boundaries, for me, are.
All of this can go against what the writer is actually trying to do, and it can actually mortify the writer when someone starts praising what amounts to be a rape scene or some form of psychological, emotional, or physical abuse scene. From what I read in this review, the FMC is quite abusive and selfish to the MMC in a survival situation, and the MMC takes it. If I had been the writers of this story, to see such reviews praising a “loving” relationship in a survival situation would, in fact, alarm me. It amounts to “just because we’re writing about it doesn’t make it okay”. However, the relationship trap has been sprung at this point. For better and for worse, a good portion of readers are going to be about the relationship.
It happens to every author. From what I’ve observed in conversations about The Hunger Games and Twilight, it’s about the relationships. Even fanfiction based on The Lord of Rings can be quite pairing-oriented. It doesn’t necessarily become about overcoming obstacles anymore, or facing an extreme conflict. It becomes about kissing and sex because we’ve been denied that. And I have noticed that it’s primarily women who focus on the relationship aspect. Reading is an outlet. Writing is an outlet, and, once we’re being denied something in our real lives, we tend to try and make up for it in what we watch, what we read, and, for those who take up the cause, what we write. It’s the Bella effect, or, even, the Juliet effect. Must . . . have . . . happy ending . . . must have . . . sex! Or something to that effect.
As a writer, it’s frustrating. I don’t want to spend chapter after chapter focusing on whether or not Fen Willows is going to find a new boyfriend and get laid. That isn’t part of his journey. That isn’t even a remote part of his journey. He’s 19 and insecure about himself, his life, and needs to undergo some serious changes. For himself and no one else. The same thing goes for Daniel and Wolfgang Evans, Alethea Light, Jordan Taylor, and any other character I happen to create or, in the case of fanfiction, choose to focus on as a subject. For me, there is more to writing, and to life, than being focused solely on relationships and sex.
But that’s just my personal take as an author who got caught in the whole relationship trap in her fanfiction heydays. And I learned after it was all said and done, it’s not a good way to build a writing career, that there are other things to focus on as well. Does that mean to say my characters won’t find love? Love is inevitable. But they need to know how strong, and weak, they are first.
Like I said, I’m all for breaking the norms when it comes to my writing.
Reminder, Tulsa Comic Con is this weekend! Huzzah!!!