A difficulty of processing feedback for an ongoing series is that there are revelations about the story that, at time of writing, only exist in my head. Shortly after producing the last blog post and publishing Chapter 16 to Literotica, I got this passionate feedback:
You have been successfully making this story worse and worse with every chapter since about 13. Introducing seventy more different fake high school drama plot threads along with sluttying the girls and making MC into almost playboy only made the once interesting story boring, convoluted and disgusting. No amount of sex would make people care if all your characters became drama queens devoid of any logic.
I’m not sure if I agree with all of the themes here and would make that pretentious writer rebuttal about the lack of logic being ‘the point’ of drama, but is this feedback founded in nothing? Of course not. Far from it. Even the most defensive writer could see how the reader come to this conclusion, and if Mutual Benefits ended at Chapter 16, this commenter would only be correct and their comment would never age poorly. There is so much that is useful in this feedback – even whether you agree or not, that agreement is irrelevant. I can’t deny that a reader read chapter 16, then felt this way. That’s a fact.
This is where the uncomfortable dynamic of writer vs. reader comes into play. As soon as I read this comment, I thought to myself, “Oh my, I hope the commenter sticks around for the next chapter where X happens! That might give insight to the decisions made here.” As I pointed out in a previous blog post, this is the trouble of episodic and/or serial content. We simply cannot judge stories as whole products without all chapters finished, but to remain quiet because it’s not a whole product would be silly.
So, what is to be done from the commenter’s end? Do you not comment because the author hasn’t finished telling the story and may indeed be setting something up? Do you treat the chapter as its own product regardless, and ignore the context of “this is going somewhere?” Do you try to speculate what’s being done at look at the story from that lens?
I’d say most commenters end up doing the last two, and it’s easy to see why. What’s the point in a comments section for a multi-chapter piece of the “correct” course of action is to not voice opinions? As well, while I feel confident in the direction Mutual Benefits is going in, this comes with two clear counterpoints:
- Many authors, especially erotica authors, aren’t working from an outline or first draft. It’s very possible they write events with no foresight and no plan, and comments like these can help those writers a lot more than writers like myself. It’s a reasonable assumption.
- Who cares if I have a direction? What if the direction sucks? What if the finished product is still worse even if I knew what it was leading up to all along?
I’ll leave the answer to those questions as an exercise to the reader. That said, there is one aspect of this feedback I find fascinating – fascinating, but also potentially problematic and in need of highlighting – and I’d love to hear other opinions on this.
I’m curious as to how this person sees my characters as “sluttified” in the last three chapters specifically, with perhaps the exception of Quinn himself. I can definitely see the “why is Quinn a playboy” question. It can be, from some perspectives, a baffling transformation, and one of the more unreal creative liberties I took with the story. I don’t think I handled it gracefully, and it’s absolutely worthy of critiquing.
But when it comes to the people he’s slept with, Taylor has not been involved with Quinn in a remotely sexual way for a long time, so if anything, she’s been out of the sexual light. Morgan’s second real moment with Quinn was unabashedly talking about a sexual experience while drunk, and reveling in her sexual power over him when he objected. Now she has sex with him, sure, but the sex has taken on a romantic, almost sacred nature. Lexi’s introduction to Quinn was her whining to her group about her wanting to have sex with a boy, and she never really stopped since. The net change of “sluttiness,” if such a thing could be quantified, if anything, has been a loss since the earlier chapters. So why does this commenter see the characters, notably the women characters, as suddenly being sluts for sleeping with Quinn?
Buckle up, it’s time for one of those theories: I don’t think this commenter is angry at me for this. I think the commenter sees depictions of women having sex in a way where they don’t want to be reserved or shy about it, and has labeled them as sluts for it. And that’s just sexism. I frankly see no other explanation for seeing Lexi’s journey specifically, where she goes from constantly talking about having sex with boys and even goes off to have sex with one (in chapter 12, the chapter *before* Lexi “became slutty,” as it were) to having sex with Quinn, as Lexi suddenly becoming “sluttified.” I’m fine with people disliking my writing, but there’s so much else to dislike about it. Try not to make “women are depicted as having sex and that makes them sluts” to be the main point. Slut-shaming and sexism are already rampant in erotica, you really don’t need to be contributing towards it.
Again, I bring this up because this doesn’t seem to be the commenter upset with my writing. The very idea of sexual liberation depicted in women seems to upset them. If there was a way Lexi was not “sluttified” in chapters two through twelve that changed suddenly in chapter thirteen, I’ll apologize, but I’ll be arrogant and call my shot now – there isn’t. This person just saw what they wanted to see, and saw a character engaging in sudden sex in a later chapter, ignoring her entire history of doing so previously. If it isn’t sexism, then maybe it was just missing the themes mentioned previously, which admittedly, I could stomach more, but I’ve seen enough baseless hatred towards women in this field that frankly, I doubt it.
My writing often stems from a counterweight. I do my best work in response to other ideas. As much as responding to other comments may look ‘defensive,’ I enjoy it because I find it sparks a conversation, which is what these blogs ultimately are. Aside from the commenter’s sexism, I find this to be good feedback, and if I didn’t have an outline in place, I’d note how the plot threads are looking to an outsider. If I bowed to every objection, I’d please no one, but if I listened to no feedback, I’d also please no one, so I need to strike a balance. Hopefully I already do, and if I don’t, hopefully I will in the future. All of my writing is a process, and all commenters can do is comment on how the process is looking to them. Both the writer and the commenter are missing crucial information only the other can give, and that just seems to be the way it has to be for me. I’ll talk to you all next week.