Respect

“If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

Respect is something that I find very important in the creation of art.

At times, people will walk up and ask me, “What did you think of this movie/book/game/show?”, and more often than not, it is a very difficult question to answer, or at least convey, because to me, what is more important than good writing, characters, music, sound, production values or mechanics is a good sense of respect.

We all know what this is. We as human beings can sense when people are being genuinely considerate or mean-spirited toward us, and we’re okay with that. It’s when people put on the front of being considerate yet retain contempt toward us that we have a problem. Because art is created by people and thus by definition art has the imprint of its creator etched upon it, it can do the exact same thing. Have you ever watched something inane and refused to view it for more than two minutes because it insulted your intelligence, yet read something just as inane but tolerated it more because its intentions were clearly spelled out from the outset? Why is that?

Respect is a very powerful tool in the penman’s arsenal. To use it, one must realize that he is not providing a commodity for the masses, but speaking to the individual one-on-one, and to speak to the individual one-on-one, a writer must first understand what he is not.

The writer is not an illusionist.

Suspension of disbelief comes from the reader who willingly projects himself into the experience. It is not the job of the writer to fool his audience into thinking that what he is reading, seeing or playing is real. Suggesting such a notion is like telling your reader that he is very discerning for demanding only the best of entertainment, and then comparing him to a child that cannot differentiate fantasy from reality and desperately needs your form of escapism to survive and make life better for him. Whether this is true or not, nobody wants this blatantly advertised to them, and nurturing this fallacy does nothing more than that.

The writer is not a propagandist.

Being opinionated is a trait of all human-kind, not just writers, and valid opinions are not reserved for the prolific authors, red-carpet superstars and high concept directors (James Cameron, I’m looking at you). True, the goal of the penman is to shift the reader’s perspective and force him to look at himself and his surroundings differently, but it is not the privilege of the penman to force the reader to adopt the author’s opinion as his own. People don’t like it when their friends do it, so why would they enjoy reading your work if you’re doing it?

The writer is not royalty (even if he is entitled to royalties).

Let’s face it. The only reason why all the authors out there are selling book after book and you’re still trying to get a single magazine to notice you is because they were in the right place at the right time (and a little hard work never hurts). Ecclesiastes 1:9 says “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Published authors are writing nothing new that the majority of the populace has not already considered while lying awake at night pondering the mysteries of the universe. The only difference between the penman and the layman is that the penman is able to pull all of these wandering thoughts together and draw from it something cohesive and compelling. With this in mind, it’s easy to see that the penman’s thoughts are really our own. So, why do writers feel that they are the elite breed of human being bestowing their gift from upon high to the lowly subjects below? By this definition, the writer is subject to the reader, not the other way around, and this sort of arrogance is unwarranted.

This means that we have the responsibility to give the people what they need rather than what they say they want because they are looking to us for encouragement. What this does not mean, however, is that father knows best. We must listen to our readers and maintain an open dialog with them. We must observe our readers’ reaction to our work and craft something that not only entertains them but resonates with them. And most importantly, we must not underestimate our readers’ intelligence. One does not know what the public will understand unless one gives them a chance to prove themselves.

But this is not where respect in writing ends.

I Corinthians 8:13 says “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” This is not a command to be politically correct, but a command to be respectful to the people reading your work. Jim Davis, an American cartoonist, once quipped of a former editor that people are eating breakfast when reading his strip, so he must be respectful to them. Now, there are times when lines must be crossed to convey a point, but if there is something in your work that has nothing to do with your point and could possibly betray the work’s theme, leave it on the cutting room floor. “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.” Matthew 18:8

Most of this logic seems to have fallen upon deaf ears. Some people see it as foolishness and sabotage to their bottom line, and others feel as if its a compromise to their vision by bowing to the reader. But it’s not about giving in to compromise. It’s about having respect for the audience.

Despite what mega publishers and Hollywood executives want to tell you, having respect and morals in your work will not doom it to B-list status. The road may not be as easy and will be paved with hardships, but your work will find an audience, and better yet, it will find the right kind of audience that will listen to you rather than toss you aside for the next big thing that rolls along.

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