Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Pleasing Everyone

There's a story that has stuck in my mind ever since I first read it in sixth grade, probably because the wisdom in it is so valuable.

A man and a boy are leading a donkey to market. They pass a group of people who say, "Look at that foolish man and boy.  Someone should be riding that donkey."  The man sets the boy onto the donkey.

They pass another group of people who say, "Look at that selfish boy, riding that donkey while his father walks."  The father lifts the boy from the donkey and climbs onto it himself.

They pass yet another group of people who say, "Look at that selfish father, riding on that donkey while his son has to walk."

At this point, the father decides the heck with them.  He climbs off the donkey and they walk the rest of the way to market.

Similar things can be said for pieces we write. I wrote a chapter and submitted it to an anonymous critique queue. I got one two word comment, "Nailed it."  I got another saying, "I have to stop here. This piece just isn't well enough written." Just reading the responses, you would wonder if everyone was looking at the same piece. Truth is, they were but the readers were different.

We'd all love to write a manuscript so perfect that every editor who reads it accepts it for publication and every reader who sees it gets riveted to the story until the end. It's not going to happen because everyone's likes are different. The same factor that makes one person love a manuscript could make another hate it. One person could pick up a story and say, "Great action, Awesome!" while another can pick up the same story and say, "Please, not another shoot-'em-up story."

I'd love to see an experiment run someday where Stephen King writes a story and puts it up for critique by people who have no idea he wrote it.  Most people will know right away it's written by a seasoned writer, if they don't recognize his style outright. Still, many I'm sure will reject it and stop reading. The reasonable objective is to write a story that anyone can enjoy, knowing not everyone will.


  1. It's true that you can't please everyone. One of the toughest things about this craft.

    1. I'm trying to get that across. The perfectionist tries to please everyone and drives himself crazy in the process.

  2. Well said. Reminds me of the old adage, "You can stand on your head and spit nickels, but you can't please everyone." Although it should probably be update to spitting hundred dollar bills. :)