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When We Write, Who Are We Trying to Please?

by D.L. Koontz

“No way. Uh-uh. Nope. Never woulda’ happened.”

I raised a skeptical eyebrow at the park ranger who said my Civil War character, Will, a cool hero-type dude, could NOT have been near Burnside Bridge at Antietam Battlefield as part of the Virginia regiment I selected.

It was important “Will” be in that regiment because it formed in Alexandria, his home town.

What’s more, I only needed Will to be at that bridge at night, after the carnage had ended.

“This Will person,” the ranger said leaning over a map, “would have been secluded on a different part of the battlefield.” He pointed to the spot. “That’s almost a half-mile away.”

I reminded him: “It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. Almost 23,000 men ended up dead, wounded or missing.”

He frowned, no doubt wondering why I was telling him something he recited every day.

Nonplussed, I continued, “I walk a mile in under 20 minutes. Don’t you think, given the chaos, the darkness, the confusion, the disorientation, the thick gunsmoke, the dazed and wounded men wandering aimlessly seeking help…don’t you think it possible he could have ended up there?”

“No way. Uh-uh,” he repeated as another ranger joined us.

“You write that in,” said ranger number two, “and you’ll upset all sorts of people. These re-enactors,” he thumbed toward a crowd of men dressed in Confederate uniforms at the back of the room, “live and breathe Civil War. They know exactly who could have been where and when.”

My first reaction was to laugh and say, “Oh really? Were they there?” However, I couldn’t picture Christ reacting in such a way, so I bit my lip instead.

In the end I rewrote the scene, annoyed but satisfied that I had avoided a series of negative reviews online from Civil War aficionados.

But it reminded me of the old saying, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

I wondered, who are Christian writers trying to please? The answer, of course, should be God. His is the only smile that matters. But, I confess: I also write to please myself. Further, I’m told in writers’ conferences to write for the audience. And publishers would like it if you pleased the reviewers, and the marketing folks, and the list goes on.

God doesn’t care where my fictional soldier stood on that battlefield, but I doubt he wants the message to get overshadowed by the mechanics, so I dropped the Burnside Bridge affiliation.

But, how often do we unwittingly change our work to avoid criticism?

As I write this, my novel, Crossing Into the Mystic, was to release March 21. If it did, then I have a whole new round of critics – people who don’t like that my main character defies a command in Isaiah not to talk to the dead.

The full series will ease their concerns.

Meanwhile, I better be sure my target is on straight.

Crossing into the MysticD. L. Koontz was born in Pennsylvania, but now resides with her husband on their cattle ranch in coastal Georgia. A former journalist, business consultant, spokesperson, and college instructor, she has been writing since she penned an award-winning poem in fifth grade. Find her at www.dlkoontz.com.

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2 Responses to When We Write, Who Are We Trying to Please?

  1. LeAnne Hardy says:

    The thing with historical is that those readers are also your target audience–the ones who eagerly snap up something in their time period and tell their network of like-minded friends about it. If it doesn’t ring true for them … (Can you hear the sound of my iron skillet hitting the floor?)

    There is using criticism to make our work better, and then there is being a wimp.

  2. D.L. Koontz says:

    Hi LeAnne, love the comment. Love the skillet sound, too. (Good showing, not telling.) I agree! — never be a wimp, stay true to history, and let the criticism chips fall where they may. Blessings to you.