I find myself in an internal conflict between projects that reflect my personal beliefs and projects that strive for wide spread popularity. In the past I felt that these two goals were not incompatible, but lately I’ve been focussed on how to attract readers. While I still feel I need to write for a wide audience, I also need to integrate my personal views.
The last few weeks I have considered why some of the viral e-mails that fly around are popular. Although the e-mails were typically presented as factual, I found them unrealistic. Usually when I looked them up on the urban legend websites, there are indeed fictional.
In one typical e-mail story a man turns the tables on street mugger. His actions, as he describes them, would have likely ended with him dead on the ground, rather than the mugger run off in defeat. The impression I was left with was that the author was angry after he was mugged and dreamt up the story to express what he wished he had done.
My conclusion was that many viral e-mails are wish fulfilment fantasies. The stories were of people who faced negative situations, such as a street robbery, but who had the skill and drive to turn them around. Most people in similar situation would freeze up and give in, but would afterwards wish they had acted with more self confidence and effectiveness. These viral e-mail stories allow them to vicariously see their wish come true.
This ties in well with what I have read about how to create sympathetic characters. People like characters that are what they wish they were.
In my past work I have tended to focus on characters who are not anymore capable than a normal person and who would not have the skill and drive needed to succeed where normal people would fail. This reflects the way that I see most people and what I want to say about them. It is to survive and find happiness that is success.
I need to be careful not to draw too broad a conclusion about these observations. However, I do see a conflict between the likeable character and the kind of character I want to work with. I am confident that it is possible to achieve both goals, but I will need to develop my writing skills to bring them together.