This ramble is even more rambley than usual; just a heads-up to any of you expecting my usual hyper-coherence (pah). But I was discussing the occasional (okay, frequent) dissonance between how authors view their body of work, and how their readers do, and there were a few things I wanted to say about that as regards fanfiction. My thoughts, below the break.
This applies at the scene level, as well. To use one of my stories as an example: the single most-quoted and, apparently, most popular part of Going Up is this bit, where Derpy asks Carrot Top how much she weighs:
Caught totally off-guard, Carrot Top sputtered, then named a number.
Derpy gave her a very critical look.
Carrot Top looked down, then quietly muttered a slightly larger number.Now, if you had asked me what I expected to be funniest and/or most quotable lines in that story, I would have named at least a dozen before I got to that one. It truly never occurred to me that it would be a highlight of the piece for many readers. In fact, I personally think that the paragraphs on either side of that exchange are rather funnier... but that would seem to put me in the minority.
And that's fine. If most of my readers latched onto a different scene than I expected them to, that's not a big deal. I'm just happy they enjoyed what I wrote. And I think that most authors have a similar reaction in cases like this. The same is true at the story level: while I wouldn't necessarily call my most popular stories my best ones (though, lest anyone think I'm complaining, I don't feel like any of my stories have been particularly under-appreciated), I'm just pleased that people are reading my stories at all. And again, I think most authors have the same reaction.
There are some problems which are related this kind of author/reader dissonance that definitely are problems: when an author finds that readers have pigeonholed him or her based on the popularity of a single work (e.g. readers getting annoyed with a "shipping author" who tries to write a horror story, complaining for no other reason than because the fic doesn't end with two characters making out), for example. But when we're talking solely about readers liking the "wrong" story (or liking the "wrong parts" of a story, or liking a story for the "wrong reasons"), and not any of the ancillary problems which can sometimes result from that, I think it behooves authors to give them the benefit of the doubt. If a bunch of readers respond unexpectedly, or unexpectedly strongly, to something you've written... well, who's to say they're wrong?
I still don't think the weight gag is anything to write home about, personally--and it's certainly not a scene I spent any time or especial energy on--but I'm not about to tell any readers who think it is that they're wrong.