Of Puppies and Principles
I have, courtesy of being narcoleptic, rather more experience with psychology than I would like, what with the way long-term sleep deprivation causes interesting psychiatric/psychological issues. I’ve also studied it the formal way and informally via observation and a lot of reading. Not to mention, I learned how to interact with humans by explicit observation and deduction because I’m sufficiently Odd not to get it the normal way (by osmosis while growing up).
Anyway, this little piece of anecdata leads to some thoughts about what could be considered the Sad Puppy Manifesto (although it isn’t, since the Sad Puppy organizers were – and are – more interested in doing stuff and getting results from said doings than in writing manifestos. Besides, the usual purpose of a manifesto is so the factions can have wars to the death over the wording of Chapter 27, Paragraph 45, Clause 15… Oh wait. That’s political manifestos. Nevermind). Despite this and the individual color of the three campaigns to end Puppy-Related Sadness, there actually are some broad principles that underlie the Sad Puppies campaigns.
- Story first. This doesn’t mean that other things aren’t important. It just means the most important thing is a story that grabs readers by the collar and hauls them into its world.
- Characters nearly first. Characters readers can relate to and empathize with (this does not mean readers need to like them, nor does it mean readers have to be exactly the same as them. It just means the characters have to make sense in context, do things that make sense to readers, and have goals that make sense to readers. Bonus points if you, the evil author, can have someone agreeing with a character who is doing something the reader actively loathes.
- Meaning and message should arise naturally from the characters and plot, not stop the action for a sermon. It’s natural for a commanding officer to let loose a lecture/tirade to a recalcitrant subordinate. It’s not natural for the hero to pause in the middle of slaying the monster to ponder the feminist psychosexual subtext of the monster’s appearance. He can do that later in his nightmares.
- Respect the readers. This should be bloody obvious, but it’s pretty obvious from some of the commentary that there are people who’ve missed it. I look at it this way: my potential readers are anyone capable of reading English who enjoys science fiction and fantasy. That is a hell of a lot of people, and they come from all kinds of places and lifestyles. There are city-dwellers, rednecks, bored housewives, computer programmers, you name it – and that’s just in this country. All of them have their own ideas about how things should be. Don’t assume they’re inferior to you – and if you do believe such a thing, try not to let it into your writing (and if you can’t, make sure an editor you trust cleans it out).
- The award that matters most is people buying the work. That doesn’t mean other awards aren’t nice: we all like a bit of recognition now and then. But if with all the millions upon millions of people out there who could be reading we can’t build an audience over time, then something isn’t working right. It could be sucky distribution. It could be that presentation or some of those other intangibles need a bit of a boost. It could also be that you’re writing for an audience of half-a-dozen and you’re already selling to them. (If so, do consider broadening your horizons a little bit).
- More voters and more votes mean more representative results. In 2008, fewer than 500 nomination ballots were cast for the Hugo awards. There were categories where the nominated works had fewer than 20 votes. In that environment, it doesn’t take much for someone with an agenda and a loyal following to push out anything they don’t like. In 2015, more than 2000 nomination ballots were cast. That makes it harder for things like the Sad Puppies campaigns, or our not at all hypothetical person with an agenda to push out everything else – but it doesn’t make it impossible. More people voting means that absent corruption on the part of the officials (which doesn’t appear to be a factor based on the information that’s publicly available), the results will tend to reflect the desires of the broader public (because the voters are a sample – and by the very nature of statistics, larger samples tend to be more representative of the overall population than smaller samples – and yes, I know it’s not that bloody simple. I’m trying to keep this short and failing miserably).
So, the tl;dr version? Plot and characters over message, respect your readers and really respect the ones who hand over their hard-earned money to buy your works, and the more voters at all stages of the Hugo awards, the better.
So, if you’re a member, read the stories, then decide which way you’re going to vote.
And while you’re at it, review the WorldCon 2017 Site Selection bids and pay your $40 to vote for the one you prefer: you’ll get automatic supporting membership for WorldCon 2017 before the price goes up.
You don’t get to bitch about the result if you don’t participate in the process.