I'm (still) in the process of working through edits on my second Bad Fairy book and people are still surprising me with their enthusiasm.
Ever since I started writing and sharing my work, I've received responses here and there that suggest I'm doing something right to build suspense or get people invested. And even though I know what I wrote, it kinda still surprises me.
People are waiting to find out what happens next. Biting their nails over stuff they can't have yet. Wondering what's coming and caring about the characters.
I love this, but I have to admit that for a loooooong time I assumed I was being humored. People manufacture excitement sometimes to make you feel like you've done well if they care about you and want to seem positive, and I guess sometimes I felt like I couldn't possibly have written characters people cared that much about even though I cared about them. For my webcomic I sometimes get comments or private messages suggesting people are eagerly anticipating the next volume to find out where the story's going to go, and I have to admit . . . even now I just kinda look at them and think "really?" Like are you kidding?
I am not sure why I think that way. I like to think I'm a decent writer; if I didn't think so, I wouldn't have tried submitting my work to agents or publishers or magazines, and I wouldn't spend so damn much time with fictional people. So how come when people tell me they're really excited about seeing more, I sort of don't believe them?
So anyway. Y'all who follow me around these here Internet parts know I'm pretty obsessed with a cartoon these days, and one of the ways I make excuses to watch the episodes again is tuning in to reaction videos from viewers on YouTube. Yes, I watch people watch television. Last night I was enjoying the video reactions of a guy who hit one of the plotty episodes and when the credits rolled he yelled "No, you can't end it there! Come on!" The enthusiasm and frustration was so much fun for me as a person who knows what comes next (and who knows how long he'll have to wait for the answers he wants at that point), and I realized something weird. That reaction I had of "heheheeee, you'll seeeeee" was actually very similar to how I feel when people are reading something I wrote and I know they probably aren't ready for what's coming.
And I got to thinking . . . how come I can accept that people are legitimately enthused about someone else's work, but I don't have the same level of confidence in their investment in mine? Maybe because I think other people's fiction is just so good and I can't imagine that mine ever has a similar impact? Maybe because I had a similar reaction when I enjoyed their work so seeing it mirrored by someone else feels authentic? Maybe because I can imagine anything I want about these characters and their past and their future and that's as "real" as it can be, so it doesn't feel like it's the same level of real for the rest of the world? Maybe because nothing I ever write will impress me the way fiction impresses me when it comes out of someone else's very different thought process?
Through other people's fiction (including, yes, this cartoon), I'm learning a lot about subtlety and developing investment in characters and trusting my audience and using perspective to keep readers' attention. But I'm also trying to imagine other people feeling about my stuff the way I have felt about others' work and reminding myself that there are many reasons I need to keep the story going. . . .