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Introducing a Newbie to Fandomby R. Bail
It's human nature for you to want to share something that you enjoy with your friends and family. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon to experience resistance from loved ones when you try to introduce them to your fandom of choice, especially when that fandom falls in the fantasy or science fiction genres. For various reasons, works in these genres and the people who make or consume them have a variety of negative stereotypes attached.
These stereotypes aren't the biggest obstacle, however. Many a potential fan has tried to get into a fandom, only to be turned off by the confusing terminology or vast bodies of work that assume the consumer has lots of background knowledge of the genre, the particular universe, and the terms used. Give a newbie your entire collection of Robert Jordan novels, D&D sourcebooks, or X-Men comics and she is likely to throw up her hands in confusion and despair. It's too much all at once! You can guide a newbie through these pitfalls, however, if you start your newbie on works that are simple and approachable.
Please note that this advice applies to people who may not be new to a genre but are new to a particular medium. A person may read fantasy novels but be terribly intimidated by the vast number of comic books that are out there.
Preparing Yourself and Your Newbie
The first thing to do is find out what, if any, related things your newbie likes, so you can more accurately suggest books, movies, comics, or what have you. Perhaps she really liked Star Trek at one point - that's your cue to introduce her to novels, comics, or movies with lots of spaceships, action, and tense situations, but stay away from the science fiction that's so hard you need a degree in astrophysics to understand it - at least for now.
Also ask her what it was that she particularly liked about these related things. In the Star Trek example, perhaps the newbie didn't actually care for the action-filled episodes and the space parts of the show, but she really enjoyed the humorous episodes and the strange creatures. This means that she may not care so much about the specific genre, so Discworld novels may hit her sweet spot just as well as anything set in space.
Keep your opinions to yourself when you query your newbie! You may think Star Trek is a ridiculous waste of time, but no one likes having their taste insulted and if you do so you will be playing in one of the biggest stereotypes about fantasy and science fiction fans: that they are arrogant and judgmental. If your newbie starts seeing you this way, she will think you are making fun of her and be much more resistant to suggestions.
Once you have an idea of what your newbie is already interested in, you are faced with the task of choosing something to start her with. You can narrow down your choices considerably by choosing items that are standalone or that are enjoyable as standalone works. By choosing a standalone work to start your newbie off with, you are making the fandom more approachable for her, as standalone works require only a small investment of time and money. The newbie won't be left feeling like she is abandoning the work in the middle if she doesn't like it, like she would with a series. She also won't face the intimidation factor a large, sprawling series has.
Try also to choose works that don't require a lot of background knowledge. You may know the meanings of the words mage, lich, and mithril like you know your own name, but these words are going to be unfamiliar to a newbie. Most people are more than bright enough to pick up the meanings through context, but the context has to be there in the first place - not all novels integrate these words adequately enough for someone completely new to a particular fandom.
On that note, oftentimes the case is that the more familiar settings and themes that the works you start your newbie out on have, the better. This gives her a point of reference that will help her feel more comfortable with the unfamiliar things that she is encountering in the work. Urban fantasy and near-future science fiction are good things to start a newbie on, but works that have the feeling of childhood fairytales, such as Neil Gaiman's Stardust, also have that familiar touchpoint.
Save the weird stuff for later, if at all. A very strange and unexpected scene in the middle of a novel, movie, or comic can turn a newbie off in a hurry. She will be hurt and offended if you recommend something that contains situations that make her deeply uncomfortable as well, so keep in mind any points of sensitivity that she may have. You may think the scene with the tentacles on page 52 of your favorite manga gives the story spice, but it will probably be far too much for your newbie.
When your newbie is trying out the work you've suggested to her, be available to answer her questions. Be polite in your answers - the questions may seem silly to you, but remember, someone with no foreknowledge of the type of work you've suggested is in completely new territory! Find a way to answer difficult questions without revealing spoilers. Sometimes telling a newbie that you can't answer a question so you don't reveal a spoiler is enough, but sometimes the newbie will need reassurance, for whatever reason. You giving her that reassurance will keep her reading, watching, or playing.
However, don't hang over the newbie's shoulder. This will only serve to annoy her and will make her feel condescended to. If you are introducing the newbie to a video game, television show, or movie, don't volunteer your opinions or running commentary unless the newbie asks for them. Letting her form her own conclusions and enjoy the work at her own pace will be more conductive to the newbie enjoying the work.
A Special Note about Role-Playing Games
Role-playing games are trickier to get a complete newbie into, as they require a considerable time investment for learning rules as well as playing. Plan only one-session games for introducing a newbie to role-playing, even if she is familiar with the genre your game is set in. Lend her the dice and other unusual items she needs to play, and perhaps even provide a pre-generated character - all of this avoids testing her patience to the point where she won't want to play at all. Also, pick a system with rules that are easy to learn and that allow the newbie to focus on playing, not on reading the rulebook every five minutes and doing math acrobatics.
Make sure that the newbie knows what to expect from the game as regards to setting and theme, and then stick with that system - she will not appreciate it if you decide to run a superhero campaign instead of the fantasy one that she was preparing herself for. Make absolutely certain that the other players and the Game Master (GM) know the rules very, very well - confusion on the part of the GM and the seasoned players will annoy the newbie, and rules lawyering will make the game considerably less fun for her.
Although it may be tempting to drop your newbie into a long-running game to avoid so much work, this is a bad idea. The newbie will be utterly confused without time to learn the rules and the playing style, and the other players will probably end up resenting the newbie and you for slowing down the game.
When the Newbie Doesn't Like It
Sometimes, despite your careful questioning, your most considerate choices, and your helpful-but-not-pushy demeanor, your newbie simply will not like the fandom you are trying to get her interested in. Everyone's tastes differ, and your newbie's taste differing from yours does not reflect poorly upon you.
It is reasonable to be curious about what it was that the newbie disliked. Ask her, but ask in a neutral tone of voice and be considerate about her opinions. You may think that she is one hundred percent wrong, but again, tastes differ. Asking for clarification of points of dislike is fine, but pushiness is not; once you have your answer, even if it's simply, "That kind of book/comic/movie doesn't suit me," drop the matter. Do ask her if she wishes to try anything else that may be more to her tastes, but again, don't push.
Do show appreciation that the newbie made an effort to enjoy something that you enjoy. This shows graciousness and also eases any poor feelings that she may have towards your fandom and people in it, and it makes her feel more positive about whatever it was that they just watched or read. It may be that, despite gentle handling, the newbie approached the work you suggested grudgingly, but showing appreciation that she made the effort may sweeten her feelings about it and make her more willing to try other things you suggest in the future.
Finally, do be willing to take the newbie's suggestions about trying things that she is into. Give and take is a part of any relationship, and anyone is more likely to be willing to try something a friend or relative suggests if that friend or relative is in turn willing to try something new. You never know what new thing you may end up experiencing if you're willing to venture outside of your own fandoms!
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