the series by J. GRACE PENNINGTON

Let Them Eat Cake

The relationship between the writer of a series and its reader is a complicated one. I always knew this, even before I began writing or publishing Firmament. I always had very little respect for series creators who knew how the larger story needed to go, but chickened out due to public pressure and caved to the whims of their fans. After all, I reasoned, the writer is essentially the god of the story. They know best.

As I grew older (and hopefully wiser), I had to realize though that while authors are their story’s creators, they are not truly gods. They don’t always know best. But then again, readers don’t always know best, either.

So which is true? Should writers allow themselves to be affected by the demands of their fans? Or should they stick stubbornly to their plans?

The thing that makes it complicated is that it’s a little bit of both.

There’s a quote from director Nicholas Meyer that I think applies here–“Audiences may be stupid, but they’re never wrong.”

Sometimes audiences want something that isn’t good for the series. Something stupid, something we, the writers, know won’t work. But at the same time, audiences can never be wrong. And the reason they can’t be wrong is that they are the only people who know what they want. Even if it isn’t what they need.

So it becomes a balance of somehow jumping through the hoops required to give them both what they want and what they need.

It’s an intricate dance–hearing the demands and desires of the readers and accepting them, while still holding to the greater picture of the story that they aren’t privy to. To hear them clamoring for bread and bake a cake that can satisfy them while at the same time being so much sweeter than they anticipated. After all, we know that cake is better. But bread is what they want. So perhaps sometimes it comes down to making the cake look as much like bread as possible.

Maybe sometimes that means a character they love needs to die–but in the meantime, you can listen to them enough to give them some wonderful moments until then that you might not have thought of otherwise. Maybe it means that the boy and girl they want together are fated to be with someone else–but in the meantime, you can give them a taste of a relationship that’s doomed to fail, so they can sate their curiosity and understand why ultimately it can’t work. And maybe in some cases it does mean changing major things.

Because we aren’t gods. And as much as we’d like to think it, we aren’t perfect storytellers. Sometimes, rather than tossing cake at our oh-so-stupid consumers, it’s good to humble ourselves and really listen.

They just might have a truly excellent recipe for bread.