Yes, I'm finally getting around to reading Stephen King's On Writing.
But adverbs--it's kind of a hopeless love. I know they don't love me--I'd never be able to get away with my lurches into quadruple modifiers if they loved me like I loved them--but it's there, it's an addiction, like italics, present tense, and white chocolate fudge by the quarter pound.
Still, though. I'm about three quarters through the book--a *lot* of leaping around going on there, since I keep skipping around to see what else is in there--and still come out of it vaguely feeling off.
My biggest problem is that I went into creative writing class as a plot writer and came out hopelessly in love with the concept of imagery.
Seriously, y'all. I have *proof* on this one. My earlier stuff abused the language, but I didn't do a lot of obscure analogies, and I worked off an idea, not characters. And I was kinder to the italics. And God, the plot. Plot plot plot, everywhere you looked.
I took the class to get the A and raise my GPA, which wasn't abysmal, but had a passing acquaintance with the word. Our first assignment was a series of poems, which we had to write a page interpreting, a very creative kind of torture, since me and poetry weren't friends, had never been friends, adn it made fun of my lack of ability to understand. It's just not in me to make those leaps.
The book was The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Second Edition, that I'd--and this is God's own truth--picked up from my grandmother, who'd picked it up at a garage sale and gave to me for reasons that still passeth my understanding. I still have the hellspawned thing, by my desk, to remind me that even writer's block isn't as bad as staring down at James Tate and wishing I could just die and get it over with.
This was also the place that made never really fear a single messageboard, because my first story in my class of eighteen was picked to *shreds*. I have the critiques, too, in the top of my closet. Not one person liked it. With a single, terrifying exception.
My favorite critique was about two lines, written across the top of one sheet of paper.
I can't critique this. It makes no sense.
Well, that was helpful.
My professor liked it. Now, he was a professional poet, which should have warned me what he'd have me emphasize, but I was just relieved to the point of tears that someone liked it. He was all about the imagery, not so much with the plot and dialogue (there was none, and he didn't encourage additions). He cut it up pretty thoroughly, but he also made happy noises at some bits, which was relieving as hell. It was an interesting experience.
And he liked adverbs. For him, I would scale mountains, read more Sylvia Plath than I'd known existed, and modify everything that didn't run for it for the sake of creating a scene chock full of mood. Mood mood mood, imagery, imagery, imagery.
It's a sickness.
Anyway, this and What If, Writing Exercises for Ficiton Writers, are so far the only two books on writing that I like, and while King still manages not to lay out the hard and fast rule on What Makes a Writer and Story/Novel/Etc and Only This Way Works, he starts tripping perilously close to it.
A lot of it has to do with my changing, everchanging, and constantly-changing opinion on the merit of the word 'quality'.
Let's say, just hypothetically, that this story is recced on one of my lists. Hypoethetically, this story, to me, is the worst thing ever created. It's--hypothetically of course--the worst thing ever written. There have, in fact, been monkeys, in certain labs, that have randomly written paragraphs better than this. There are monkeys in the jungle who right now, are writing better than this using twigs and interpretive dance.
That does not explain why I read more chapters of it than I ever want to admit. Not unwilingly, mind you. I read, cajoled others to read, etc. It was a grammatical, misspelled, sexual torture, incesty-overtoned, Mary-Sue, group-sex, mpreg, dear God I will never wash these images from my brain nightmare.
Again, we are talking hypothetically.
The happy joy of certain list members completely floored me. I can't speak for every one of them, but at least one I considered absolutely sane *loved* it. Which was the moment I came to the really scary realization that while you can't measure quality by popularity, you can sure measure the ability to engage your readers by popularity. Which acutally makes me half-understand the entire concept of disliking or dismissing the popular, though I still think it's full of shit. So I was thinking--okay, let's not think of what draws *me* to a story, but what draws *other people*. Specifically, what in this hypothetical story would make people--well, love it. Sadly, it is hard to just post the question "So tell me, what is it about Story Suck that makes you drool so copiously?" because a.) no one will answer the question, or the more fun b.) you will get your ass so very flame broiled that Burger King will make you their new spokesperson, which yes, lucrative, but not so great with the sitting down later to count your money thing.
"Well-written" won't wash. Oh please. Laundry lists can be well-written. Math can be well-written. The monkeys can do well-written. "I love x/y pairing!!!111!" is just depressing, even if it's true. 'Cause man, so many sins can be committed using that as your catchphrase, including the digestive horror of Brian/Lex/Justin/Clark/Tom Paris/Logan/Xavier/Magneto dropping down to cry themselves out and talk about their feelings for three pages straight. Worse, it's too general. There's something about Story Suck that you see and I don't, you feel and I don't, and seriously, you can't possibly be keeping a straight face when you say it's well-written, even if I can't see your face to know for sure. *I* like x/y and I loathe that story with the passion of thousand post-Island Lexes. Give me something to work with.
"I want to read about the exploration the adversarial/slashy/some-kind-of dynamic". Let's not go there. We're talking pure, unadulterated enjoyment, even if it's the guilty kind, where you are furtively giving your friends links and trying hard to stay blase when the author posts a new chapter, like you aren't all over that sucker like white on rice. And again, way too general. I like that dynamic. Yet strangely, I still want to burn the story and bury its ashes in four distant holy places in the world, set up wards, and guard it with dragons.
"My turn-ons include collars and leather." Good answer. I approve. Kick that well written crap to the curb. Lex in leather and boots carrying around a switchblade--I will wade through a *lot* of crap to see that. "I like seeing the domestic side of x/y". Again, good answer. To get what you need from fiction, it's got to draw something in you. If it's curtain-shopping, that makes a *world* of sense. "I like men talking about their feelings." Right on. That's what I want to know.
"I like plot". No. But wait. "I like plots that do x and y and z". Ah, better.
Like, I will forgive a lot, and I mean a lot, if certain criteria are met, my own little personal set of kinks and preferences. I'm harder on stories that don't fulfill those or do it in a way that freaks me out. Lex in leather with knife? Good. Lex in leather with a knife lovingly carving up a lop-eared bunny rabbit he stole from a kid's arms while nailing Lana Lang? Bad. The good (leather, sharp object, Lex) does not cancel out the bad (lop-eared bunny death) or the horror (Lana Lang and sex in the same sentence/paragraph). Even the mitigation of imagining the bunny was stole from, say, Ryan, does not erase the rest.
Now, all of the above, and Clark getting off watching it? I might reserve judgement, or be really confused. It's a toss-up.
I know my actual conscious criteria pretty well. I'm guessing anyone who has read me can guess at a few themselves. But the second thing is kind of tricky--when something connects with me despite the fact it does not fit that criteria. I don't even mean cross-fandom hopping--I whore for pretty. It's no secret. As a reader, if I wander panfandomly, I'm harder to please, but it's not impossible. I'm generally a little kinky for stories with a lot of style to them. Certain arrangements of paragraphs and words make me swoon. Apocalypses are nice to have around. It's kind of that sort of thing. Theme. Love conquers all. Love destroys the planet. Courage in the face of defeat. I could go on and on about this one forever.
And sometimes, it's just--there. Completely unexplainable. Some story that, as far as I can tell, doesn't hit a one of my criteria anywhere and anyhow, but still just rivets me in place.
I do have three rules for evaluation, though. They're relatively simple.
1.) If a lot of people like it, it's successful. Yes, I know. Don't say it. I'm not saying it is genius, or that someone, say, me, doesn't think it is very possibly the reason for the next ice age to emerge, just to stop the horror from continuing. I'm saying, you hit a critical, semi-arbitrary number, it's a successful story. Take Dean Koontz. Glance at his bank account. I rest my case.
2.) Deathly silence in response to posting does not mean it's a bad story. It just means that it's unsuccessful, in that the connection was not made to the audience. Smug superiority regarding the questionable taste of plebians is perfectly acceptable, though. It eases the stare at your inbox in bitterness. No, really. Trust me.
3.) Who gives you feedback is as important as the amounts. Not the BNF bullshit, either. I mean, people you admire as writers. If five of your Favoritest Writers Ever drop feedback and no one else, that's high cotton stuff. That's glow goodness. Example--in my Smallville slash youth, Livia, Sarah T, Basingstoke, Debchan and Te all sent me feedback within a week of each other on two different stories. I could have died happy.
Okay, I was going to talk about my adverb fixation, but that didn't happen. Hmm.