Audience Participation

     These days, a writer who allows it will get plenty of feedback from his readers. I encourage it; it helps me to know what I’m doing badly, what I’m doing well, and what I could try that I haven’t yet thought to do. But there are pitfalls to the practice, some of which are less than obvious.

     For one thing, people who merely want to piss you off have as much access to you as those interested in an honest exchange. I’ve received a fair amount of such “input.” I hardly need to tell you that I don’t care for it, but it taught me an important lesson: not to respond. The response, to quote master cartoonist Chris Muir, is what such nuisances want. You have a better chance of getting them to cease and desist if you deny them that reinforcement.

     Another pitfall is excessive praise. It’s in the nature of such feedback that your correspondents will exhibit an “undistributed middle:” nearly all of them will either love you or hate you. The reader who was left essentially unmoved by your stories won’t bother to write to tell you so. You can go quite as badly wrong by wallowing in paeans and dithyrambs as you can by allowing yourself to get riled by insults and condemnations.

     But there’s a third trap, about which I’ve only just learned: the praise that tempts you away from your proper path.

     My principal themes are freedom and Christianity. My love of those things provides the motive power that makes my storytelling possible. I seldom deviate from them, and when I do, I’m even less often satisfied with the result. Which is the “backstory” to today’s little homily.

     Some of the folks I correspond with are other indie writers. They aren’t all oriented as I am; in fact, I can’t think of one who is. I like them as people. I trade thoughts, ideas, and miscellaneous commentary with them just as I would with an in-the-flesh buddy. When one of them hits me with a challenge, I take it seriously, as an avenue that deserves to be pondered and possibly explored.

     Not too long ago, I received such a challenge. It came from another sometime writer of erotica, who likes what I write well enough, but thought I should put my hand to something different. Here’s the meat of what he suggested to me:

     Your erotica is nearly always extremely gentle. You focus on love rather than sex, which is an unusual bent for such stories. I’ve got no quarrel with that, but I’ve several times yearned to see what you could do with a premise that compels you to think sex first and foremost…or a premise that forces you to set aside your religious convictions just to write about it!

     So try this: a story entirely about futanari. Women with “a little something extra.” Have them come by it naturally rather than surgically, so it’s not a matter of willful gender transformation. How would you cope with that premise? How would they?

     You’re a Catholic. You believe to the very bottom of your soul that God does not make junk. So how would such persons, women in all but the members hanging from their groins, cope with their condition? And how would you craft a story – your sort of story, not mine – around them, but without mentioning Christianity?

     I’ve made it a policy not to turn down such challenges, as long as they’re not facetious. So I ran with it. And I had a fair amount of fun doing so.

     (Sorry, I can’t post the story here. It’s not for the eyes of the underage.)

     My writer friend was pleased. He thought the story displayed more skill and sensitivity than he’d previously thought I possess. But that’s not the end of the adventure.

     Quite a lot of readers were pleased with it, too. Readers of a sort I’d never connected with before this. And they’ve descended on me in a body, demanding more…more…MORE!

     It would be ungracious to say I’m unhappy about those demands. Nevertheless, I thought of “A Place Of Our Own” as a once-only sort of undertaking. I met my friend’s challenge, but I’m not sure I should do any more along those lines. Indeed, I’m not sure I could.

     But those hungry readers…I really hate to disappoint them.

     See what I meant about the dangers of praise?

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Categories: Audience Awareness, Fiction Tips, and Writing Tips.
Profile photo of Francis W. Porretto About Francis Poretto

Writers might just be the most boring people on Earth to read about. Yet we're constantly being asked "just to say a few words about yourself." Go figure.

Well, here you go: I was born in 1952. I have no excuse for that, sorry. As a boy I was fascinated by baseball and space travel. Unfortunately, my career opportunities were limited in both fields, so I took up mathematics and physics, and eventually became a real-time software engineer. That's how I've made my living lo! these many moons.

However, being a wordy sort, I was moved to write, as well; no one I knew was willing to listen to me long enough to hear even the shortest of the stories floating through my head. So, at the tender age of sixteen, I blew my lawn-mowing money on a manual typewriter and, it being 1968, discovered the joys of carbon paper and correction tape. Nothing came of those early efforts, and after a couple of years' fruitless struggles to interest the pulps in my adolescent narratives, I gave up the whole idea for a long time.

Fast-forward to 1994. Desperate for something to deflect the angst of incipient middle age, I returned to writing, this time with a computer and a word processor. I'd become fascinated with a character idea: a young woman of great beauty, intelligence, and physical potential who's been taken captive by a vicious biker gang, cannot remember her life before her capture, and must ultimately commit a murder to win her freedom. Her story, and the story of her exceedingly unlikely rescuer and mentor, became On Broken Wings, my first novel, which was completed in 1997.

There have been many ups and downs since then. Conventional publishing houses have proved impervious to my semi-gothic supernatural fantasies, my science-fiction-for-readers-who-detest-science-fiction, and so forth. With the rise of electronic publishing and print-on-demand, my books are beginning to find a readership at long last.

Apart from that: I enjoy a modest existence on the eastern end of Long Island in a creaky old ranch house, overfilled with books, that perpetually threatens to collapse on my head. I have one dog -- Rufus the Newfus -- five cats -- Electra, Orestes, April Come She Will, Irving Seymour Creamsicle, and Uriel the Great -- and a wife of surpassing patience who claims still to love me, after twenty years and against all the odds. My personal vices are action movies, NHL hockey, Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry, the music of Glass Hammer, the military fantasies of Glen Cook, the Vladimir Taltos adventures of Steven Brust, and the SF romances of Linnea Sinclair. My chiefest ambitions are to complete Liberty's Torch (the sequel to Which Art In Hope), Powers Of The Air (a near-future Christian / SF novel), At The Gates Of The City (a political thriller), and The Warm Lands (my long-neglected fantasy novel) before dementia overtakes me, and never again to set foot on an airliner.

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