Aesops FablesYou can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself. It’s one of Aesop’s Fables and a song by Rick Nelson, but it’s a true thing that I think writers need to keep in mind as well. In a recent post on her blog, Jane Espenson, writer on such shows as MASH and Buffy, discusses the question of if in today’s age of high speed communication, does the audience have a much greater impact on the storylines of shows than ever before.

In a move that made me incredibly happy, Jane discounts that idea completely. The short of it is this: write for yourself as the audience. And from my (extremely) limited experience, I’d say she is 100 percent correct.

The answer I give to this is that I consider myself to be the audience I’m writing for. I write what I would want to see. Often, people are surprised by this. Not only am I saying I ignore all those fans who are desperately telling me what they want, but I’m also saying I’m writing for one very specific person who may not be at all representative of who is actually watching. Well, when you say it that way, it does sound crazy.

But here’s how I defend it. I think there’s an analogy to be drawn with cooking. Theoretically, why does a chef need to have a good palate? If the chef is cooking what the diners like, why does the chef have to like it? Why, in fact, does she even need to know what it tastes like?

Well, obviously, I’d rather take my chances with a chef who likes the food they’re cooking than one who doesn’t. Only the chef who likes it is going to know when it’s exactly right, not almost right.

I remember going to see a band in college one time, and got a small lesson on this exact topic. I can’t even remember who the lead singer was or which band it was (perhaps it was Dismemberment Plan, though), but he gave a small speech between songs about people asking him who he writes music for. Naturally, people want to hear that they “do it for the fans”, but he said he didn’t buy that.

Amidst the tuning guitars and the general din of impatiently talking and drinking college students, there was a feeling of anticipation for what he was going to say next. “I do this for me and nobody else,” he said without ego and with complete honesty. He motioned around to the rest of the band. “We do this for us. If you do it for anyone else, you’re kidding yourself.”

A few people around me were a bit shocked by this outspokenness, and I was a bit troubled by it, too. It sounds so self-centered, when you really get down to it. Every fan of anything ever wants to know that they are the reason an artist works themselves to death over a project. It’s simply not the case, though.

Through the (limited) experience of writing for small audiences with Leet World and Web Zeroes, I’ve learned the easiest way not to go crazy is to write the kind of show that I wanted to watch. What would thrill me, excite me, make me laugh and surprise me? If I try to write for anybody else other than me, I ultimately get pulled in a million different directions trying to do all those things for everybody else.

For instance, as we worked on Leet World for 2 seasons, the show gradually became more and more what we wanted it to be. The first 4 episodes were really just a trial run, and the story started unfolding itself (a little too slowly) by the mid-way point of the first season. From then on, the show had a bit of a darker tone while still retaining some, though not as much, of its original goofiness. I remember people complaining in season 2 that we were losing viewers (which wasn’t true, they were just making assumptions) because of this change in direction. In the end, though, it didn’t matter to us what the viewership was – we were making the show we wanted to watch. The show that some of the complainers wanted to watch was a different show altogether that we weren’t interested in making.

That’s not to say that criticism from viewers, readers, fans, whatever isn’t valid. Not at all. But if you’re sticking true with what you want to do, chances are there others out there who will like it and latch onto it. This is the way we handled Web Zeroes, as well. One of our goals was to get pretty granular with the geeky humor and the references.

I get so tired with people treating nerds with “kid gloves”, so to speak. In many mainstream shows or movies, they make very generic references about Star Wars or Halo in order to try to connect to a perceived geek audience. We didn’t want to use kid gloves. We wanted to make jokes for people like us. In some ways, it might have limited our audience, but we were more concerned with making the kind of show that would make us laugh. If you’re making something you don’t believe in but has a wider appeal, I’m not sure you’d be completely satisfied with where your time and effort was going.

In the end, I think the chef metaphor is an apt one. It all depends on whether or not you’re not an aficionado at what you do, I suppose, but that takes practice. Sure, there are some people that will eat mediocre food out there, but ideally, you’re making cuisines that people would walk through fire to have a bite of.

Is anyone else getting hungry?

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