Four Views of the Same Short Story
I had a short story come out today: “Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans for the First Time,” as part of the Robots Vs. Fairies anthology. And here’s something I would like to show you, regarding the story: Four takes on “Three Robots,” from four different Goodreads reviews of RvF, each one giving the story one star fewer than the review preceding it (note: minor spoilers in a couple of the reviews):
Which review is correct? Of course, they are all correct. Which is to say, they accurately represent the opinion of the person writing the review. Depending on who you are and what you want out of a story (or what you want out of a story from me), “Three Robots” is a four star story, or a three star story, or a two star story, or a one star story. It might be your favorite story in the collection, or the one you actively hate, or the one you don’t remember the instant you stop reading it. The text of the story is the same regardless of who reads it, but the experience of reading it is unique to the person reading.
This is a very important thing for writers (especially newer writers) to learn and build into their worldview: That everyone’s experience of your work, and any reviews they might then write, are inherently subjective, dependent on the person writing them, and there is nothing in the world you can do about that. That’s just the nature of putting work out into the world. Your job is to write the story as well as you can, and not worry overly much how it will be received. Because, as you can see above, it will be received well, and poorly, and everywhere inbetween.
And yes, learning to be okay with the fact everyone won’t love what you wrote is hard, because everyone has an ego, and everyone likes the validation of people enjoying their work. But as I frequently tell people, there are creators who I admire and whose work I love, and every single one of them has something they’ve created that I don’t like. Sometimes more than one thing! And sometimes it’s more than just not liking; sometimes I kinda actively dislike it. Or even hate it. On the flip side there are creators whose work I mostly dislike who will have that one thing that just works for me, or that I might even love. It happens! And then the whole mass of creators in the inbetween, whose work is mostly okay for me, but occasionally veer into the “like” or “dislike” territory.
If I feel that way about the creators whose work I experience, how can I expect any different from anyone else? I don’t expect everyone to like what I write equally; I don’t even expect people who like what I write to like it all equally — or uncritically. That would be weird and a little unsettling. I mean, you don’t need to tell me personally when I write something you don’t like. Feel free not to. But if you think yourself “I like Scalzi’s work — well, except for [X] which really kinda stank,” congratulations, you’ve passed a Turing test. You’re human.
Write your story and create your work as well as you can. Be as happy as you can with what you write and create before you send it out into the world. That way, no matter what people think or say about it, you can be happy knowing you did as well as you could with it.
Which is how I feel about “Three Robots,” incidentally. I enjoyed writing it, and it did what I wanted it to do, really well. It was fun. If people like or love it, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. They’re entitled to their opinion, and they’re entitled to share that opinion. I’m glad they took the time to read it.