Friday, April 10, 2009

Sookie Stackhouse fans may also be: Lost in Fiction

Fascinating article posted in the Wall Street Journal and written by Alexander McCall Smith about fan relations with fictional characters. Boy, Did we need this article !
Many of you are also watching the new HBO series the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" which is based on the books written by Smith

Alexander McCall Smith on the intense personal relationships readers form with characters and the ways that complicates the lives of authors

A few weeks ago, on a book tour of Australia, I found myself signing books in Sydney. As the line of readers moved, two young women presented copies of books for signature. These books were from a Scottish series I write, one featuring a heroine called Isabel Dalhousie. Isabel, who is in her early 40s, has a boyfriend considerably younger than she is -- by 14 years, in fact. As I signed their books, one of the women mentioned that she thought that this relationship between Isabel and Jamie, the younger man, was not a good idea at all.

The answer came quickly. "Because it's not going to go anywhere."

"But I thought it was going rather well," I protested.

Again my reader lost no time in replying. "No, it isn't," she said emphatically.

That was me put in my place. After all, I was merely the author. As it happens, Isabel's relationship with Jamie had not been my idea in the first place, but had come about because at an earlier stage in the series I came under attack from a journalist -- another woman -- for not allowing Isabel to become romantically involved with Jamie. I had originally intended that their friendship be platonic, but had been told in the course of an interview with this journalist that I really had to allow something closer to develop. "Your readers will expect it," she said. "And it would be so empowering for them."



sauceemary said...

Thanks for linking to this article. I form relationships to characters- I think about them, the way I would a friend, about how they are doing or what happens after the last paragraph. This is probably why I love getting SookieBonTemps' tweets.

This article reminds me of a theory learned in college: It does not matter what the author's intent is; it is the meaning abstracted by the reader that counts.

" Dallas " said...

Thanks Sauce - i loved you quote too's just fascinating !

Rose said...

This is a great article, and demonstrates exactly why I can't wrap my head around the concept of "shipping", i.e. Bill-shipping, Eric-shipping, etc., and trying to influence the writer. It is what it is, the author's vision, an art form. We should no more expect the actions of the reader, or TV viewer, for that matter, to be able to change the actions of a character, than expect that they should be able to influence the future of another human being.
Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Anonymous said...


I'm not sure I agree completely.

Like Joss Whedon said time and time again, you cannot create things to please the fans - you have to give them what they need, not what they want.

The second you start changing things to make the fans happy you have lost the essence of the characters.

I can understand people see characters very differently, but the reason Buffy is above and beyond any other show in its genre is because it never lost its way in an attempt to be something for the audience rather than something for the truth of the story.