Decades ago, Harlan Ellison did a public reading of short story of his that was slated to be published in a major magazine. The reaction of the audience was very favourable. They all liked it. All of them, except for one young man.
Said young man pointed out that the story sounded a lot like the myth of Prometheus and that Ellison shouldn’t have copied it. Ellison tried to explain that 1) he was familiar with the myth in question, and 2) the story was a pastiche of that myth. But the young man persisted and, eventually, caused Ellison a bit of grief with his editor at the magazine.
It’s obvious that young man just didn’t get it.
As writers, we all run into readers like that from time to time.
Readers who don’t understand an allusion. Readers over whose head a turn of phrase flies. Readers who take some things a bit too literally. Ones who don’t understand the purpose of a pastiche or an homage. Readers who pick every little nit while missing the main thrust of a story or an article.
At the risk of offending some people, I’ll be brutally honest: I find readers like that to be a bit annoying. Sometimes, more than a bit. I, and you, can’t do anything about them.
But how can writers deal with readers who don’t get it? Ignore them. Actor and writer Wil Wheaton had this to say about his critics:
I determined that the people who were really, really cruel really are a statistically insignificant number of people. And I know, just over the years from people who’ve e-mailed me at my web site and people who I’ve talked to since I started going to Star Trek conventions again in the last five years, that there are so many more people who really enjoyed everything about the show, including my performance, including the character.
Focus on the people who enjoy your work. Think about why they enjoy it. Focus on the feedback from the good critics, folks who point out the good and bad points of your writing in constructive ways.
Worrying about and trying to cater to a small percentage of people who don’t get what you’re doing is a waste of time and energy. Time and energy that’s better spent on writing and becoming a better writer. Nothing else should matter.
Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.