Previously I discussed how pandering to your audience was a bad thing. It would break your world, confuse your technique, and risks humiliation – as well as the fact you’ll compete with people far better at selling out and far less ethical than you. i noted It’d be better to chose marketable premises or pick appropriate “views” on your world if marketing was important – and those can be rewarding approaches.
Having covered the danger of pandering to other people, I want to focus on the one person you want to avoid pandering to.
See it’s bad enough when you try and bound and twist your imagination just to tweak other people’s buttons. But when it’s yourself you’re pandering to, you enter a whole world of conceptual hurt. If you’ve ever read a book where the author was clearly writing with one mental hand down their psychological pants, you know what I mean. You how how their world (and their games or books or comics) look – a pile of wish fulfillment and personal delusions.
For some authors, you wonder if they didn’t even need you as an audience, – they were just going over their own fantasies. And when they do have an audience for their self-pandering creations . . . you’ve probably seen those. The kinds of audiences people look at and just wonder if they know how they look.
Sure, sometimes self-pandering sells. It may cultivate an audience because you hit the setting sweet spot for people like you. But my guess is that’s probably not your ambition.
(Or if you want a fanatic audience, you want one of a good quality).
But the pandering worlds where the author lives their own fantasies trundle out. Let’s look into just what’s going on.
Why People Do This?
I’ve seen many a book, movie, comic etc. that was really just mental masturbation and personal pandering. It’s honestly something that’s fascinated me for some time – just why do people do this, especially because it can end in humiliation?
I’ve found these reasons:
- Ideology. Some books and tales are meant to express or support a given ideology. They’re really tracts, manifestoes, or rants with characters. Or things close to characters.
- Wish fulfillment. The author is basically enjoying living their fantasies. Sometimes this can actuallybe engaging if it’s done in fun, but can take weird or odd turns.
- “Told you so.” Some worlds are built as “counter settings” to something people disagree with. They want to respond to ideas, other works, etc. by building the opposite. Usually because their ego is involved – though I’m not going to argue with the idea of just exploring the opposite of an idea.
- Double down. Sometime people take an idea and then double down on it to make a point. ever read a book that seemed to be a previous pock turned up to 11? you get the idea.
- Assumptions. Some people think that what they like everyone likes, and pour themselves into their world. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re just humiliated.
You’ve probably seen these yourself, and seen some particularly humiliating examples. However, when you think about it, Self-Pandering is not only bad, it can be even more painful than regular pandering . . .
Where Self-Pandering Collapses
You’ve seen that book or game that just seems so . .. self-indulgent. They have a particular sense of disaster about them that’s often worse than the usual results of pandering to others. Regular pandering, after all, at least thinks about the audience, but self-pandering has a particular way of blowing up.
These are the things that plays into those particularly incandescent explosions of bad continuity:
- Self-delusion. It’s easy to think that other people feel the way you do and want the same things. In turn, you may not see that you’re pandering to yourself and no one else. This lets you get awfully far along before your worldbuilding collapses.
- Invisibility. People may not be deluding themselves about their own self-pandering, but they may not see it. They can’t see how they’ve projected their own wants and needs onto the world because they’re so used to them. Cases like this are actually a bit sad because they honestly don’t mean it – and I’m sure we’ve all done this.
- Obviousness. Self-indulgent world building is often so . . . obvious . . . that it’s outright humiliating. You may not see it due to the above two factors – and it can be crashingly painful when you do. You may be the last person to see how you’re pandering to yourself.
I’m sure you can think of several painful incidents like the above. Hopefully none you’ve experienced – or at least experienced publically.
So how do we avoid doing this to ourselves? How do we avoid self-pandering and thus self-destruction in worldbuilding?
The prime rule I found is this – your world building should surprise you.
If while creating your world your conclusions shock you, if you find unexpected results, then you’re on the right track. If what you’ve made isn’t what you expect, that’s a sign that a world is truly evolving from your efforts, as opposed to being your desires codified in world format.
In fact, this is a good policy anyway – you don’t want your world to meet any kind of expectations. You want to find your imagination has brought it to life. you want it to transcend expectations. You want to be shocked.
Look for those moments of surprise. If you don’t see them there’s a chance you’re really not diving into your world. If you do see them, then it’s a sign of both good world building, but also a sign you’re either not pandering to yourself (or others) . . . and if you are you’re breaking through it.
I’ve had this happen several times in my worldbuilding and after awhile it’s delightful. You know you’re onto something when things make you go “where did that come from.” I find in time that such shocks are almost addictive as each one is a sigh that your setting is alive.
Shocking is what you want. In a good way.
A Few More Tips
Beyond the rule of “be shocked” there are a few more tips I can provide to help you avoid self pandering:
- Be aware. Just keep an eye out on your world building to look for self-pandering. Be on the look out for regular pandering, but chances are if you’re doing that you’re aware of it. And, hopefully, a bit ashamed.
- Learn to let your world be itself. As noted, a good world comes to life on its own – give it a chance. Trust your creation.
- Disagreement is progress. When your world doesn’t work the way you expected, when it doesn’t always line up with itself, that’s progress. It may be that you’ve surprised yourself or found a flaw to fix.
- Run with your inspirations. Go on and explore and play with ideas. That fun, that joy, can keep you from getting dragged into pandering to yourself – and others – though it can backfire at times and become self indulgent.
Self-pandering is perhaps a greater enemy of good world building than pandering to others – as it plays into your ego and is missed due to a variety of reasons. Fused with other forms of pandering and it could be quite destructive.
But when you look for those shocking moments, those moments that surprise you, and when you practice good world building, you can avoid it.
– Steven Savage