December/Stacia posted an interesting question yesterday, talking about a discussion on another blog centered around whether a woman who offered sex to a depressed man was "taking advantage" of him. Apparently most of the folks over at the original discussion thought she should've offered him ice cream instead, or something like that, and saved the sexual advances for when he was feeling better. [blinkblink]
Wow, and I thought it was just those of us who write gay romances who have to worry about slipping into the "chicks with dicks" problem. :P
I think it's pretty obvious where my opinion lies on this topic, but there's a larger issue here. Apparently a writer who was worrying about how one of her sex scenes would come across to readers posted the original question, hoping to get some data. This sounds like a good idea but unfortunately one can't necessarily rely on even a large group on the internet to be representative of general thinking, even within a subgroup such as Romance Readers. Any group larger than one has occasional disagreements and the larger the group the more likely disagreements are. Larger groups are also more likely to fracture themselves into smaller subgroups who all feel approximately the same way about some issue.
So you've got a question and you want to know if "everyone else" in your group thinks A or B. You post to a blog or forum where many members of your interest group hang out and 95% of the people there are very clear that they think A, and that in fact B is such a distant second that only a brainless moron would choose that option. I can guarantee you, though, that somewhere else online there's another blog or forum full of people from the same interest group who will very loudly and strongly think B, and who will assert that only drooling psychos would choose A. And somewhere else there's another blog or forum where the group would come up with C, defend it just as strongly as the preferred option, and spork you to virtual death for even suggesting that A or B might be worth considering.
So what's agreement worth, really?
It can still be useful for a writer to know what people think. I remember a workshop where a critiquer dinged a writer for having her long-haired character comb her hair while it was still wet. That should never be done, she said, because it damages the hair. You should wait for it to dry and then comb it. Other people popped up to say no, that's wrong -- you should comb it while it's wet because if it dries first, the tangles set and you're more likely to damage it when combing them out. There were two approximately equal groups of women arguing opposite sides, all insisting their mothers had taught them The Right Way.
In a case like this, it was good news for the writer. What it meant is that there are women being taught both ways and that therefore she could have her character do whatever she wanted and it was perfectly believable that the character's mother taught her that way of doing it.
[It also proved that some women will become absolutely rabid about hair care. :D ]
But just because the blog or forum in which someone chooses to post their question doesn't demonstrate a divided opinion, doesn't mean opinion isn't divided among a larger population. A writer who's feeling hesitant about some issue might find strong agreement in one place but still have other people write angry letters once the book is published. Or they might find strong disagreement from the group they chose to ask, when a larger audience might've enjoyed it and appreciated how the issue was handled.
If a nervous writer just needs some reassurance that whatever-it-is doesn't completely suck, or that they're not totally off base with something, and they can find that reassurance and go back to their writing feeling more confident, then that's cool. But unless someone's waving a check at you, their opinion is only data and I'd hate to see a writer discard or radically change what could've been a really interesting and possibly edgy story because twelve people on a blog somewhere told them that doing X was sick and disgusting. And I'd hate just as much to see a writer use duct tape to stick more sex and violence and radical whatever into a sweetly mellow book, because a different twelve people on some other forum told them their story was blah and boring and too twee for words.
I get the desire to collect opinions and I certainly enjoy discussing whatever might come up online. But at the same time when the issue is how a story should go or how a character should behave, a writer needs to start out with a strong sense of confidence in their own point of view, in the story they're telling and the way they're telling it. If the group -- any group -- is advising changes which would take the story significantly away from the writer's original vision because of a difference in taste or world view, then the writer needs to toughen their hide and learn to take opinions as only data and stick with the basic story they're telling, unless someone comes up with a convincing argument with reasons for changing beyond a bare "I prefer it this way."
Ideally the reasons would include, "I'll give you a contract and an advance for XXXX amount if you make [this] change."