I have recently posted my latest short story, Beef, to both my website and a few other story sites. It’s one of those stories of mine that are not about the kinds of person to whom most of us feel sympathetic. In this case, it’s about a narcissistic self-obsessed woman who is a success in her chosen career of marketing and sales and whose driven unreflective attitude in the workplace dominates her life outside: especially in the pursuit of sex.
Already, this story is attracting rather low votes but I guess this is inevitable. In Jim Bade’s review of No Future, he criticises the novel (amongst other things) because “there was not one character that I could identify with.” This highlights an issue I’d never considered before, which is that many readers in a sense prefer to identify with the protagonists of a story and their opinions reflect not so much the quality of the story but the extent to which they like or relate to the principal characters. In Beef, the protagonist, Lin, isn’t very nice at all and so, I presume, the story is disliked because of this.
My theory isn’t very well researched and there is probably a huge amount of evidence to the contrary, but I think it is pretty much true of the kind of reader who visits sex story websites and (I imagine) similar online sources of fiction, mostly to do with fanfic, romance and science fiction. If the readers disapprove of the protagonists, they will therefore dislike the story (unless the blindingly obvious and heavy-handed moral is that such a person is wholly bad and deserves only our worst opinion). And by extension, like Jim Bade, they will probably assume the author is sympathetic to or even like the person who the story is about.
Well, I can assure you that in this case, I am most definitely not much like any of the characters in this short story.
However, having looked at quite a few stories in the sex fiction world, I wonder at the readers’ apparent identification with the heroes and, occasionally, heroines of these tales. Many of the most popular seem to have principal characters which, although we are invited to relate to them and to which many readers presumably do, are actually at least as unpleasant as Lin. They talk rather a lot (and the people they talk to always seem to agree with them). They tend to be obsessed by the very narrow and egregious agenda of the American (and sometimes British) right wing. They clearly believe that the chief function of women is to serve men, especially in a sexual sense. And what they don’t understand in the world has to be feared or condemned (particularly when it comes to women, foreigners, ethnic minorities, other social classes, other religions and any one much younger than themselves).
However, as I have said many times before, the principal reason why so many readers don’t like my stories (and for this story the usual sharp division of opinion is even more pronounced) is that I don’t write the sort of stories they like. And as was shown in my story Facebook Friend this isn’t something I have the ability to do much to remedy.