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Authorial Authority & how do I use it correctly

February 4, 2014

As some of you know, I am a huge fan of BBC’s Sherlock television program, whose third season just completed airing on PBS in America. There will be no spoilers on this post if you haven’t seen it or the two other seasons. If you haven’t watched it though, I encourage you to do so. It’s breathtaking, from the acting and cinematography to the score and directing. And usually I would say the writing.

I don’t know if it’s a unique phenomenon to British television shows, but a lot of the credit for a show being fantastic across the Pond goes to the writers. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Stephen Thompson have been applauded and worshiped by fans across the globe for their skills. They’ve created amazing characters and relationships in Sherlock, especially with Holmes and Watson, and that’s what I loved about the show. Yes, I loved the mysteries because hey, clever’s the new sexy, but what I adored about it was the Holmes-Watson dynamic.

I loved it through the first season and then the second, but now this third one altered that dynamic considerably. Sherlock’s character emotionally reversed 180 degrees between Season 2 and Season 3: this reversal was believable, but most of the events that helped shape it occurred offscreen. It throws John Watson and the viewer a bit. Just as I was getting used to this new, more emotionally available and mature Sherlock, the story veered off course with the Season 3 finale. It was like a semitruck blasted through the highway barrier and ran Holmes & Watson over. Not literally, but emotionally.

The two show leads’ characters were just steamrolled over slowly, agonizingly and I have no idea WHY. Why was that necessary? Why weren’t there consequences when there should have been? It just made me feel that my interpretations of Sherlock and John and how they would react to things are COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY DIFFERENT from the writers’ interpretations. Other fans I’ve spoken to feel similarly. The writers and actors–or at least Amanda Abbington on Twitter–has been informed of the fans’ displeasure.

But I’m not here to bash and/or discuss BBC Sherlock. Tumblr is a good forum if you wish too. I recommend this blog, by fanfiction writer Seth, who roleplays as Sherlock in a very popular ask blog called Texts from Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Or this website With Love, S.H. for a thorough interpretation of the whole series, as well as other Sherlock Holmes adaptations.

Meanwhile, I have a question for you. Yes, you.

So at the most basic crux of all this is that I, as a reader and fan, am interpreting characters vastly differently from their creators. What happens when this situation reverses? When I’m the author and I find a reader with a different interpretation of my character than me.

While I do look forward to the general public reading, analyzing, talking about, and heck, writing fanfiction of my work, I do have some very firm views on my characters that I have in the past put my foot down about. It’s come up through my editing. Readers have suggested that I have two of the males who kiss, not kiss, or at least be “a little less gay.” No. I invoked the almighty power of STET (let it stand) on that faster than you can say Quidditch. What if this comes up after the book has been published?

A similar, horrifying situation has happened to podcast Welcome to Night Vale‘s characters, Cecil and Carlos. They both identify as male. The narrative has them kiss, cuddle, go out on a date, state their love for one another, and immensely grieve when one thinks the other is dead. Yet some people still insist they are straight as arrows. What do they need: blaring neon? Rubber stamps? The creators of Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor, have said nothing as far as I know, and to be fair they are super busy and the vast majority of the fanbase recognizes Carlos and Cecil as they are: gay as jaybirds. (I’m just using the gay-straight dichotomy here for simplicity’s sake: one of my favorite interpretations has Carlos as genderqueer or FtM trans*)

So what, as an author, do you suggest I do? What have you done? No one wants fans to stop being fans–you want them to enjoy the product you created and buy the sequels–but do you just ignore them? What if it’s homophobic? What if I want to sneak around and see what fans have created, what they’re thinking, what they liked/disliked? What if a reader shoves it in your face so you can’t ignore it anymore? If you respond, what do you say? Will anyone care what I say? Should they care? Should they not care?

And let’s not forget that I have to publish the damn book first.

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