the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur (plonq) wrote,
the Sweet Smell of Burning Fur

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Fan Fiction

Against my better judgement I've made a point of reading a few fan stories from one of the fandoms that I follow (but which I shall not name here because I'm sure that many of you are sick of hearing about it).

When I say that I read these stories, it would be more accurate to say that I read the first bit, then skimmed the rest to see if it was following the predictable path for these things (pick any 3):

1. Insert self into story as a Mary Sue character.
2. Write the canon characters as exaggerated caricatures of themselves or...
3. ...give them no real personality at all because they are just foils for your Mary Sue.
4. Rules are for egg heads. Spelling, grammar and story structure are for the weak.
5. Pathos! Whether it advances, or even fits the story never miss the chance to try and squeeze out some manly tears.
6. Dark. It has to be dark. Somebody needs to be depressed, hooked on heroin, and selling him/herself into prostitution in the first chapter.

Sadly, there are some really bad writers out there who don't know that they are bad. There are too many readers who are either very indiscriminating, or are so desperate for genre-specific stories they will heap praise on anything just to keep the writers producing.

I read and skimmed one yesterday that was, on a technical front at least, much better than most. It was a typical teen-pathos story line (pretty character gets badly burnt in a tragic fire and learns about empathy), but it followed most of the accepted rules for spelling, grammar and style. I read the first couple of pages and found it hard going though. I pondered on why that might be, because the writing was technically sound, and - tear-jerking aside - the story itself was not the worst I have encountered.

As I began to skim the story, the answer became clearer. There is more to telling a story than having an idea and being able to produce good, technical writing. This person knew how to write, but he did not know how to tell a story. His tale read like an ordered list of events akin to a witness's testimonial, rather than the spinning of a story. It followed a choppy flow that went something like this:

First this person said something, which triggered an event. Then that person said something, which triggered another event.

I scrolled to the end of the story (or as much of the story as he had written by that point) and the comments section below as filled with lots of kudos and circle-jerking by other writers on the site. As I read some of the comments, the rather sad realization came to me that this writer - who actually showed decent potential - would probably never improve his craft because others had convinced him that he was a good writer.

The author had written a short blog post along with his story, where he outlined how he and some others on the site were putting together a tutorial on how to be a good writer. I admit that I did a spit-take when I read that. It would be like me writing a tutorial on how to become a good musician because I can hit may of the right notes on a kazoo. On the other hand his writing was a whole order better than most of the fan stories I have read, so I guess he has a few good things to teach.

The self-affirming praise-fest was the most depressing part for me though, because this is not the only site on which I have seen this kind of behaviour. Sometimes it feels like nobody has any interest in helping their fellow writer to improve. The implicit message on these sites is I'll stroke your ego if you stroke mine.

I may not have sounded terribly grateful at the time, but I want to thank all of you who have savaged my writing over the years.
Tags: writing
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