I don’t want to make a habit of addressing criticism and going, “No, that’s not true, I’m right, enh.” It’s a dangerous rabbit hole to go down. In this blog I’ll be doing it once more after last week I criticized the obsession with the necessity of stating every character’s full intent, but after that, I’ll make a conscious effort to either nod with the criticism or deliberate with it behind closed doors. I think my biggest issue with both pieces of criticism – the one about stating intent and the one I’m about to say – is that at their worst people have noted they’re “unrealistic.”
This just baffles me. I truly do not understand how someone can say that people not stating their full intentions and backstory with every major decision they do is unrealistic. Perhaps they mean it’s unrealistic for Milo’s character as I’ve written him? Honestly, that one is excusable. If you wrote such a comment and you’re reading this post now, please note that if you were meaning the character was unrealistic, that’s totally fair.
Another issue I take is that a lot of my writing is drawn from my own experiences. As I’ve said before, Mutual Benefits was the first story where the premise actually happened to me. I was a nerd that didn’t have many friends and barely hung out with people, and the most popular girl in school approached me to be her private tutor. A few tutoring sessions in, where she insisted on driving with her group of friends beforehand, she loudly blabbed to her about her nonexistent sex life and how she’d have sex with anybody who asked at that point. I lived through a flimsy porn plotline.
For anyone that doubts how much of an antisocial nerd I was: I never asked. That was where Quinn’s plotline diverged from mine. I thought about it, a lot, but never had the courage to just ask her. She also welcomed me as a pseudo-friend into her friend group, and they were toxic.
So the second piece of criticism I have gotten recently kind of bothers me. Multiple people have asserted that Taylor’s friend group is toxic to the point of farce and that it’s unrealistic that Quinn stays with these people. Quoting an anonymous commenter directly:
Any sane person would’ve walked out on these situations and relationships. Morgan and Taylor keep treating him like an idiot. It’s toxic for no reason. Milo is being an asshole and nobody confronts him. In the end Quinn gets a blowjob, but there is way to much drama. I don’t understand why Quinn is still with them. It’s unsettling.
I think I take such issue with this because I lived through this situation without the blowjob, which this commenter is clearly framing as a payout or reward for putting up with the bullshit. This comment, unbeknownst to the commenter, isn’t criticizing the character of Quinn, they’re criticizing my teenage self and saying they never would have put up with such shenanigans.
This person was clearly not antisocial growing up. There’s a bit of subtext to this story that no matter how much drama the group produces, Quinn simply isn’t aware of what is toxic because he doesn’t have a pre-existing social life to compare it to. Even if he’s aware that there’s some eye-rolling drama present, he doesn’t for a second think of leaving the group. The first chapter is almost wholly dedicated to wallowing in self-pity due to the lack of a social life or social skills. And so, chapters later, when Quinn gets exactly what he wanted, people expect him to drop it all and return to the life he hated simply because it’s too toxic for them, the commenters? That’s unrealistic.
It’s so easy to look at teenage drama as an adult and go, “Wow, this is stupid and pointless.” Those who lack perspective will go on to say, “If I was in his shoes, I’d let these people know how pointless this all is and leave them.” People my age (mid-twenties) have the advantage of having archived Facebook conversations to look back on. If you ever want a nice cold splash of reality, go look at the messages you sent in high school, especially during fights. You’ll feel like crumpling into a paper ball and disappearing at how cringeworthy you actually were. Already, my characters are a bit too aware of how dumb teenage drama is for my liking, but every day I get older, I am cursed with less and less insight and memories of true teenage life. It’s also why the majority of teenagers I write about exist from 2010 to 2016. Take a wild guess why I write about teenagers from that selection of years.
The comment I cited says, very clearly, “any sane person would have walked out on these situations and relationships.” Well, I was there, I wasn’t even getting sex, and I didn’t. Why? Because I was a nerd just happy to have human contact for once, and I was an immature nerd in high school figuring myself out. This commenter clearly doesn’t remember they were once immature like that too. In fact, I would argue that wishing for years for a social life and then walking out immediately when you get one just because it comes with downsides is closer to insanity. And on a personal note, commenter, your comment isn’t very kind to me or to anyone else that clearly identifies with Quinn’s character.
Like I said, that comment caught me off-guard, and I wanted to expand on perspective and hindsight as my thoughts on it developed. This blog post isn’t a warning to future comments of criticism, but… the criticism does have to be correct for me to take it seriously. Aside from slightly insensitive, the critique misses the mark. If I were writing about fully-formed adults with pre-existing social lives, they might have something there, but I don’t, and I don’t intentionally. I’d love to be able to do that someday, but there’s a reason I largely stick to high school, university, and people that are slightly childish. Take from that what you will. I will talk to you all next week.