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In which Young Geoffrey gets spanked by Doctor Who fandom - The Annals of Young Geoffrey: Hope brings a turtle [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Young Geoffrey

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In which Young Geoffrey gets spanked by Doctor Who fandom [Apr. 7th, 2010|11:49 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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Do everything I tell ya, don't ask stupid questions ... and don't wander off.
"Do everything I tell ya,
don't ask stupid questions ...
and don't wander off."
At a very low price, I got a valuable writer's lesson today. To wit: Think about your potential audience and how they will interpret your words.

You see, I cross-posted my reaction to the latest Doctor Who episode to a Livejournal community, where a goodly-percentage of the folks responding too my opening line, "The girlfriend fell asleep" as all manner of sexist and/or at-least-gender-clueless commentary suggesting that Doctor Who is a boys' thing, as if I didn't know or didn't care, that women like it too.

As a Doctor Who fan community, which had by and large reacted to The Eleventh Hour pretty positively, I had expected people to take issue with my critique of the writing. That I would, instead, have been taken to task for besmirching the geekiness of female fans or worse, of denying their very existence, never once occurred to me.

So far as the writer was concerned, I was talking about my particular girlfriend's individual reaction to a television show about which I am a little abnormally enamoured. That anyone would take what I thought was just a cute hook (though one based in reality — she really did fall asleep) as a general commentary on women and science fiction, or anything remotely like that, never even occurred to me.

But that's mostly what happened.

And I'm reminded of a piece of writerly advice I've come across quite a few times, I think first from Judith Merril: Your favourite line — the one you really love? Take it out! It's almost certainly self-indulgent twaddle!

I don't think I actually apologized to anyone for my words, but I sure as hell spent more time than I wanted to explaining what I meant instead of arguing about what I thought of the episode.

Obviously, only the blandest and most pedestrian of writers will never be misinterpreted, but when a whole raft of people miss your point, you're probably doing something wrong.

Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online


[User Picture]From: beable
2010-04-08 04:04 am (UTC)

I knew what you meant

But since I was reading this in your LJ, and I've met you and have been reading your LJ for awhile, I knew you were talking about your specific girlfriend, rather than the generic girlfriend.

Your title "Steven Moffat's debut shows promise but fails the girlfriend test" does make it sound like the more cliche - and excruciatingly common "girls don't get this geek stuff" throwaway line, and had I not had the context necessary to know that you were in fact talking about a specific girlfriend, I would have assumed you were just making an asinine joke.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-04-08 04:06 am (UTC)

Re: I knew what you meant

Yeah, Flist is not the same thing as the general public. I think I'd have been even more surprised if you folks had not understood where I was coming from and the effect I was going for.

But still, it's a valuable lesson in Communication 101 for me.
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[User Picture]From: antaura
2010-04-08 04:24 am (UTC)
Ugh. I can relate to the frustration.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises to come my way was the realization that 95% of the people on my Facebook friend list with Bachelors of English can't understand basic sarcasm when presented in written form. I once posted a status update along the lines of "Mass destruction and death in Haiti today. In more important news: Tiger Woods admits to shagging more blonde women." People went out of their flippin' minds! And the ones freaking out were the people I'd met doing all those university English courses. I thought I'd posted some rather blatant sarcasm and they missed it entirely. I got called some pretty nasty things that day ("pathetic excuse for a human being" was one of them). The whole thing was so horrifyingly stupid that it was hilarious.

Yeah, so not the same thing...but it's close...kind of...
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-04-08 04:31 am (UTC)

Actually, not quite so frustrated this time around

I've had people utterly miss the point when I've posted my stabs at playing Jonathan Swift, but this experience wasn't quite the same.

Basically, I walked into a room in which I was a stranger (I've been lurking on that community for a while, but not paying a great deal of attention; and I think it was my first actual post) and expected the people in it to pick up on my sense of humour without considering that, y'know, there are a lot of sexist, poorly-socialized twits running around fandom.

This time, I think it was more the writer's phail than the readers'.

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[User Picture]From: tacky_tramp
2010-04-08 07:04 am (UTC)
Heh, useful lesson for you!

Female scifi fen are used to being treated as though we don't exist -- and the "girlfriend test" is a well-established trope. For example, male critics used to praise Battlestar Galactica by saying "even your girlfriend will like it!" Because obviously women are naturally scared of pew-pew space operas.
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[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2010-04-08 10:52 am (UTC)
This. When I read the post's title and subtitle, I had to do a double-take. Because it was ed_rex and I know him, I kept reading and immediately realized that he was talking about his specific girlfriend and not the fannish trope. But I likely wouldn't give a stranger the benefit of the doubt.

I'm exponentially more geeky than any guy I've ever dated. It caused some issues in my last serious relationship (not that there weren't other huge problems) because he was scared of pew-pew space operas—let alone hard SF—and I was annoyed by pretentious art films about drug addiction.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-04-08 05:14 pm (UTC)

At least Raven isn't into pretentious art-films about drug addiction

When I read the post's title and subtitle, I had to do a double-take.

It's posts like these (that is, my original) that makes me pine for the slow old days in which editors could have been expected to catch and correct the phail.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-04-08 05:12 pm (UTC)


On some level I must have known about the "girlfriend" trope, too; I can't believe that I haven't come across it. Of course, at the time of composition I was squeeing because Raven in fact did fall asleep and so inspired the so-called "original" opening line I fell in love with ...

And the rest is history.

For example, male critics used to praise Battlestar Galactica by saying "even your girlfriend will like it!" Because obviously women are naturally scared of pew-pew space operas.

I have to admit, when I see such a line my ears perk up, because, though I'm not "scared of pew-pew space operas", I am mostly bored of them.

If "even your girlfriend will like it" is code for "It's good character-development and intriguing plots with a complex moral sub-text, then I am one of those girlfriends. (Remember when BSG had all of the above, and more.

*sigh. still bitter about the finale*
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[User Picture]From: tacky_tramp
2010-04-08 07:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Yup

Yeah, I do like knowing when a genre piece seems to have qualities that will attract people not normally into the genre. But using "girlfriend" or other female-gendered noun as a synonym for "person who is not into sci-fi" makes me want to throttle things.
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[User Picture]From: mijopo
2010-04-08 12:02 pm (UTC)
If you were talking about your girlfriend why not say 'my girlfriend' rather than 'the girlfriend' which can have the effect of sounding objectifying. (I'm sure you dealt with this in the LJ community discussion.)
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-04-08 05:17 pm (UTC)

Mea culpa

As a writer, I feel as if my biggest sin came from falling in love with my own "cleverness". As I noted above, kill your favourite sentences is an oft-repeated bit of writerly advice.

To answer your question directly, I just liked the way saying "the girlfriend" sounded; and I think it worked okay here, where people know me, but not out there in the wider-world.
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[User Picture]From: pakaboori
2010-04-09 12:18 am (UTC)

being on alert for self-indulgent twaddle...editorial good practice

I must thank you for passing on that bit of writerly advice. I would like to emblazon it behind my eyelids, so much do fear forgetting it and losing its potential for beneficial influence in my future. And at least now I know why it is that I always suspect and don't want to acknowledge that my more exquisite turns of phrase are unlikely to reach other people.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-04-18 09:25 pm (UTC)

Re: being on alert for self-indulgent twaddle...editorial good practice

You're most welcome; some of those old bits 'o wisdom need to be forever repeated.
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