On Subjectivity

One of the first things a writer learns is that the business of writing is a subjective one. It’s something we’re constantly told by other writers, agents, and editors, and it’s why so many rejections contain words like “this project wasn’t right for me” with the implication that it could be right for someone else. I know, at least for me, it’s often hard to accept that as a response, especially when we feel like we checked every box. Likeable protagonist? Check. Hottie love interest? Check. Compelling plot? Check! And yet…despite all that, they still say no. It’s not right for them.

I might occasionally look at the shelves in the bookstore and despair. I think, “but how did that get published! I write twice as well! My characters are three times as awesome!” or some other over-exaggeration of my writing prowess, and I don’t understand how something so objectively better can be subjectively worse.

When my mind starts down that crazy path, when I get lost in the difference between subjectivity and objectivity and how it all seems ridiculous, I stop and think about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Iron Man is by all accounts a fantastic movie. It is acclaimed, embraced by fans, and the movie that launched an extremely lucrative franchise. An objective and detailed analysis of the movie reveals a complex character played be an extremely talented actor in a tight and well paced story.

Tony Stark, nearly blown up by his own awesomeness

Despite this, I have never particularly liked the movie. The first time someone sat me down to watch Iron Man, I hated it. I didn’t connect with Tony Stark, I was bothered by the impossibility of the Iron Man armor itself, and for all its tight-paced plotting I was distracted and bored. This is a movie lauded by millions–if not billions of people–and I didn’t like it.

Though I now have a greater appreciation of the movie and the character of Tony Stark, I can still count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the movie. And I rarely if ever think to myself, “man, I really need to re-watch Iron Man.”

On the other hand, we have the movie Thor. This is a movie that is often panned by critics. A movie that I didn’t see for a year after it came out because so many of my friends told me how bad it was. And objectively, yes, this is not Marvel’s greatest story. Thor’s character development is too rapid and sudden to be believable. The split between Asgard and Earth is often jarring. The chemistry between Thor and Jane Foster is not strong. The plot is confusing and weirdly paced. And yet, this is my favorite Marvel movie, a movie that I have watched innumerable times. (Literally innumerable. I can’t even begin to give you an estimate of how many times I’ve watched this movie.)

This movie! I like it!

Because where Iron Man fell flat for me, Thor resonated. The story of Loki felt like my own story, and for all of it’s Asgardian trappings it felt like I was watching my life unfold on the screen.

When I first watched Iron Man and the credits began to scroll by, I rolled my eyes. When I first watched Thor and the credits began, I cried.

My tears probably weren’t as pretty as Loki’s

Iron Man is objectively a better movie than Thor, but if I had been an agent, and Iron Man had been a novel that had been queried to me, I would have rejected it, despite all of its objective goodness. And if Thor had come across my desk, I would have accepted it, warts and all.

It doesn’t matter how well written my story is. It doesn’t matter how awesome the characters are, how great their chemistry is, or how tight my plot is. All of those things give my story a better chance, but ultimately if my story doesn’t resonate with the reader than those things are meaningless.

And that’s what people mean when they say this is a subjective business.

I find this thought both disheartening and comforting. Disheartening because there are no amount of boxes I can check to ensure that my novel will be published. But comforting because that means my story doesn’t have to be perfect to succeed. After all, we can’t all be practically perfect in every way, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The Winter Soldier, blowing up the box office like it's Nick Fury's car
The Winter Soldier blew up the box office like it’s Nick Fury’s SUV

So how about you guys? What is something you love even though you objectively recognize it’s not the best?

One thought on “On Subjectivity

  1. Excellent post and you summed up the business of writing/publishing brilliantly. Of course, it doesn’t help that I am a Marvel fan and could resonate with your examples. Personally, I didn’t care for Captain America. I’ve tried to watch it several times and I have yet to see it all the way through. Yet, my husband loves Captain America because he’s an American Hero. My favorite character is The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and I am still waiting for a new Hulk movie! But I have to say, Thor is dreamy and I’ve watched Thor several times 🙂

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