Perspective & Hindsight

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.

4 thoughts on “Perspective & Hindsight

  1. With my birthday coming up shortly, I’m remind that I’m close to 30. Out of the people I work with and work for me, I’m the youngest.

    The drama never, ever goes away. There are always toxic people, toxic relationships. I can’t walk away as it’s my job, but I certainly don’t put up with the toxicity outside of the workplace.

    I can relate to the antisocial nerd well. My nature is to be that person, though running a diner for the past decade has given me plenty of social skills. Just recently, the new (hot!) girl we hired was flirting with me, and it took me three weeks to confirm it wasn’t in my head. Perhaps that’s because in between bouts of working and flirting with me, she would complain about issues with her upcoming wedding…

    As we get older, some of us learn to identify the toxic behavior and toxic people, and are able to walk away or shut it down more easily. But it doesn’t go away, that drama we reserve for teenagers is ever present in adults, perhaps even worse for those that never stopped being a part of that type of drama.

    How anyone can criticize your writing for characters staying in toxic situations or people not fully exploring themselves utterly baffles me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for being so open and confronting the criticism that you get (which, in general, is an indication of how much at least some of your readers are invested in your stories).

    However, may I make a plea to you which I have also made in the past to other (good) authors who respond to a similar criticism “But I was there: it’s my personal experience!!” If you are, literally, writing autobiography then such response could be valid, though it might require some documentation. But a fiction writer has given him/herself a harder task. To quote English novelist and professor David Lodge “English Literature students (I know you’re not one) think writing their life stories and changing names is writing a novel”. But the one thing a novelist can NEVER say is “but this is what really happened”! S/He has to convince the reader that what happened must have happened (show, not tell, to coin a phrase).

    That is not to say that all criticisms and comments are completely fair. Sometimes it will be a reader’s personal reaction that is not typical or well-grounded and need not be taken seriously (doesn’t apply to my comments of course!). But I would appeal to you: if you create a fictional world then never respond to a criticism, especially of a plot element, by saying “But it really happened”! It’s not the reader’s job to know or care anything about the author’s life, and while it’s a privilege to encounter an author who is as open about his writing as you are, it doesn’t mean the reader should say to himself “Well it doesn’t seem very likely that the hero wins a Nobel Prize while still at school but I know the author did so I’d better believe it.”

    P.S. I wrote this before reading right to the end of your post (I know, I know) and I don’t want to endorse any insensitive or downright rude comments you may have received. But I do want to say it can be legitimate to query the credibility of a specific character or action even if the author knows (and could document) that the text is an accurate representation of ‘real events’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, certainly a thought-provoking comment. I would agree with you insofar as convincing others; I think this blog post came from a personal place wanting to examine why I refused to engage with that particular criticism openly. Because I had personal ties to the premise (as have some readers), the particular wording that “any sane person would have walked out of this” is an incorrect statement. If the statement is flawed, the criticism is too, and this blog post came from expanding on my feelings behind this, clearly without stressing enough that this was my perspective as opposed to a plea of “this is why it was good, actually.”

      The comment in the blog seemed personally motivated in the first place and seemed to want to make a point about people, as opposed to a point about writing. I should hope I listen to legitimate criticism more openly. For another example, your past criticism of Morgan’s character is spot-on, and even though I’m sure someone somewhere has lived out that scenario too, I care little about that. However, if your comment was worded like, “No one is like Morgan in real life. It’s pointless wish fulfillment. I don’t get why she’d fall for a guy like Quinn, it’s unsettling,” I think I’d similarly not give it the time of day. This hypothetical comment is not only dismissive of any reality outside of the one they can conceive, it’s also weirdly mean to Quinn and anyone who identifies with him. Your comment instead looks at the relationship and the criticism lies in the fact the question you ask (“Why did a girl like Morgan fall for Quinn?”) is not easily answered. That’s way more engaging than, “No one acts like this.” That itself is a statement that *can* be defeated with “I acted like this.” I’m (hopefully) not deflecting the undertones of the criticism; I’m pointing out their statement is false and the criticism is, at best, unhelpful, and at worst, untrue and misleading.

      I promise I won’t make a habit of replying “but this happened to me!” in response to everyone, but when the criticism is “this [“this” being staying in a friendship with toxic elements] doesn’t happen to anyone,” I think that’s the one time it makes a good rebuttal. I can tell a story that happened to me poorly and unconvincingly, but the comment wasn’t criticizing my style, my pacing, Quinn’s transformation, or even the incredulous events – they were criticizing the act of staying in a toxic friendship because you want friends, a situation so common and human that it’s borderline comparable to criticizing Romeo and Juliet because “No one is that gaga for each other even when they’re young lovers.” Not all criticism in that vein will be wrong, but this one in particular quoted in the blog is very wrong.

      I appreciate you standing up opposing my stance like this. I hope my response doesn’t come across as trying to shut down your argument, but rather, better explains what could have been a too-hastily-written argument from my end to begin with.

      Like

      1. Thank you for taking the time to come back on this. I’ll just say I entirely get your point – more clearly than I did before – and have no problem with it.

        As you say, there’s a world of difference between criticising a point by saying “No one in their right mind could believe this would happen” and saying “You haven’t convinced ME that this really happened in this way.” Our responses – and cricisms – in this forum should be a way of entering in dialogue with you: the fact that you are so open to responding makes the dialogue much more enjoyable and fruitful from my point of view.

        Liked by 1 person

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