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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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success and interpretive dancing monkeys
bored
seperis
This is probably the wrong time in my development as a writer to realize that my addiction is adverbs, and it's terminal.

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.


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I love adverbs. Truly madly deeply.

Hee.

They are my One True Love. I got curious and just *looked* at one fo my stories and realized, my God, it's criminal how I use them.

But I *love* them. They make things shinier. They let words be contemtuously spoken and running can be quick and eating can be ravenous, and yes, I *am* ravenously devouring fudge, darn it. I *need* to do that.

*hugs adverbs*

For me, it's a wonderful illustrator of how people are speaking. I love to use them to describe how Justin says something tiredly or how Brian says something cuttingly or how Daphne says something snarkily.

LOVE. ADVERBS.

Really good point about modifying speaking. There's a world of difference between say, "Go to hell," Brian said affectionately or "Go to hell," Brian said sharply or "Go to hell," Brian said quietly. It's almost like mooding a scene. Your readers may know from earlier *how* Brian is going to say it, but the words make it more intensely visual. At least, to me.

Of course, in moderation, I like using "Go to hell" Brian grated out between clenched teeth, or "Go to hell" Brian whispered into the pillow. *Said* is cool, but sometimes, another word just makes it that more intense, so you feel it more, get into the scene more.

Yeah, I'm a natural adverber. But when I find myself using them a lot, I realise I am writing Mills and Boon dialogue and I try to stop.

Of course, then I get into modifying actions which invariably involve adverbs anyway ("go to hell," he said, rumpling Brian's hair affectionately) and of course, those words ending in -ing. Gah.

I remember reading that book, thinking it was fabulous, and then contemplating driving to Maine to thwack him with it repeatedly. "See? If you read THIS BOOK YOUR LAST BOOKS WOULD NOT SUCK! Thank you."

I guess it's a case of do what I do, not what I say?

*snickers* He was honest about Insomnia, which is my least favorite of his. I've read probably everything he's written, or very close to it, and that's one of the three or four that just did *nothing* for me. The connection didn't click.

*g* Though I still love The Dark Tower series, even the lastest installments. And The Eyes of the Dragon and The Stand, bar none, are my favorites of his work and favorites in general.

Most of his latter books did the Rowling thing for me: Yes, yes, nice story, now delete all the CRAP so I can read it. :)

*nods* I get that. Just see my whole addiction to "The Lion and The Hart", an SN story that is incredibly AU, has none of the distinctive Sorkinism that I love about my fandom, could be reasonably accused of being cliched and the writing quality is not the best. And yet? I love it dearly, madly, guiltily.

Why? Because it hits major kinks of mine and I will forgive many negative points for the good ones. Of course, it's not that I don't see the negatives, just that I won't let that put me off reading.

Why? Because it hits major kinks of mine and I will forgive many negative points for the good ones. Of course, it's not that I don't see the negatives, just that I won't let that put me off reading.

I wonder if that's the secret for me--not only having my kinks, but lacking the sore points that turn me off hard. 'Cause man, I have read some things I *know* aren't all that good, but I still loved them, and some things, which were, to me, that nebulous *well written* I just hate.

Hmm. Intersting thought.

That's funny--I'm reading King's book on writing now too, and I got to that passage on adverbs and rolled my eyes. *g* I like adverbs fine. I really don't get writing advice that suggests writers do away with an entire set of words. I think it's a case of over-generalizing, throwing a broad rule at the masses and hoping it'll stick ninety percent of the time. Because going into detail about *how* to use adverbs and how not to misuse them would require much more detail and raise the difficulty level of the material. I rarely see that, but I *have* seen cases where a writer advises throwing out all adverbs *and* all adjectives and that just blows my mind. I mean, seriously. WTF? Yeah, I'm really going to write nothing but nouns and verbs. I'm also going to switch to the all-saltine diet any minute now. Craziness.

Also, btw, I'm reading Insomnia now. Heh. It's a bit of a slog, like chewy pizza, I'm noticing.

Of all his books, that one just--I read it and though, okay, he did good grammar, those are interesting characters, there's a good plot--and for the life of me, I can't figure out why I didn't spark reading it. I read it--I sat down with it and *slogged* through every word--but I remember ending it going, that's it?

Chewy pizza. That's the best description I've heard yet. And I still can't nail down what made it so utterly bland.

I rarely see that, but I *have* seen cases where a writer advises throwing out all adverbs *and* all adjectives and that just blows my mind. I mean, seriously. WTF? Yeah, I'm really going to write nothing but nouns and verbs. I'm also going to switch to the all-saltine diet any minute now. Craziness.

I'm tempted to try it on something I've already written and see what comes out of it. I'm not sure it would be a story. A series of *actions* that somehow fit together, maybe....

Ooh. Hmm.

Of all his books, that one just--I read it and though, okay, he did good grammar, those are interesting characters, there's a good plot--and for the life of me, I can't figure out why I didn't spark reading it. I read it--I sat down with it and *slogged* through every word--but I remember ending it going, that's it?

Chewy pizza. That's the best description I've heard yet. And I still can't nail down what made it so utterly bland.


Well, King himself doesn't like it. (For the record, I adored it. *G*) He says it was one of the books where he got too involved in 'plot' to pay attention to the story. I think he talks a bit about it in On Writing. Can't remember where, though.

Incidentally, if you like the writing style of his nonfiction, you might pick up Danse Macabre. It's pretty much King's personal analysis of horror in book, radio, movie, television, and storytelling in general. Muy cool.

Danse Macabre is one of my favorite books *ever*. His reviews on different movies, tv, books, his analyses of them and their effect, the trends they were part of or created--I read it into *pieces*. Literally. Six pieces. I need a new copy.

Though I'm always wondering, considering when the book was published, what he would have made of the nineties/2000s horror, especially the genre TV, the coming of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, Angel, and the other one-season shows like American Gothic, and the new remodled Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Seriously, if anyone had ever asked me what was on my Please Write This Wish List, a new edition of Danse Macabre with these things would be at the top.

I mean, he liked Kojak. Seriously, unless he just didn't like girls, Buffy should have been right up his alley. At least some parts.

*bounce*

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.

Hee. Yes. This is why I liked Super Mario Bros. the movie.
No, not like that! But it has archaeology, references to millitary types having tiny brains, action, fun alien worlds, a smart woman, and a little romance story. What's not to like?

-Silverkyst

I'm getting this movie for Child, since you've vetted it to me as okay. *g* He'll love that to death.

I did love this one dance sequence in it, of Mario with a sizeable chick in a spiked dress...

Hmm. I've always thought the idea behind the Adverbs Are Bad rule was that you shouldn't need them. If you can find one regular verb that will cover what the adverb would have said, I think it generally does make the writing better. Like saying, 'he dashed' instead of 'he ran quickly'. But I've got nothing against adverbs in general- when they're used properly they can really improve a story.

In general, I mostly think so. But so much of it depends on what specifically you're writing. Like, something action-heavy might benefit, but I'm not sure a character study would, or even a mood piece--think Isilya or Penelope from HP, off the top of my head.

I want an Adverb Defense T-shirt so much. *grins*

Hee. I think adverbs can be very effective when used wisely and in moderation. At one point in the last HP book, I was like, If someone says something "bracingly" one more time, I'm going to scream! JK Rowling needs to step away from certain adverbs, yo.




I agree with your comments about what makes a story successful. I also love your attempts to drill-down to what makes a story successful to different people, because, mmmm, yes, curtain fic. I got sucked into Repossession because oh, the shopping!

As for adverbs, I love them, truly, madly, deeply, but they are also a big, giant red flag for me. Every time I use one, I go back (in the editing stages) and try to eliminate them, using a more specific verb. Whispered, instead of said quietly; jogged instead of went quickly; snarked instead of asked sarcastically. It ends up eliminating half of my word count, but (imo) improves the prose.

I agree with your comments about what makes a story successful. I also love your attempts to drill-down to what makes a story successful to different people, because, mmmm, yes, curtain fic. I got sucked into Repossession because oh, the shopping!

*g* I'm so guilty of catering to my kinks with some fic. I just gulp them down and beg for more, even when I wince over how it was written. Superheros Do Domestic just--speaks to me. Beyond words.

As for adverbs, I love them, truly, madly, deeply, but they are also a big, giant red flag for me. Every time I use one, I go back (in the editing stages) and try to eliminate them, using a more specific verb. Whispered, instead of said quietly; jogged instead of went quickly; snarked instead of asked sarcastically. It ends up eliminating half of my word count, but (imo) improves the prose.

*nods* I can, sometimes, control myself once I'm in editing, but even then, it *hurts* to remove them. Even when I can figure out a better, cleaner way to go about it.

I'm not joking about the quadruple modifiers on a single, beleaguered verb, either. I still make myself remember that to control the urges a little.

I've never understood why people get down on adverbs. I love them too! I am a published poet. I don't know if that has anything to do with it or not.

*g* Adverbs are our friend. If they weren't, why, we never would have devoted an entire part of a sentence to them!

*sticks by this story*

What If, Writing Exercises for Ficiton Writers

... Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter? I have that one :D I have a shocking number of books-on-writing, to be honest.

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.

You know, this is something that I really try to wrap my brain around because I don't necessarily see it that way. After all, there are a lot of writers that I admire who like dreck sometimes. In fact, I like dreck sometimes. Er, not that I admire myself as a writer, just that it is possible that the comment of liking it from anyone, even a good author, might just be them liking dreck. I mean, hmm, I don't always think that just 'cause someone who is a good writer liked the story means it is a success......argh. Never mind. Not making sense.

BTW, this was an excellent post and I really appreciated the part about pinning down what people like about stories, be it a kink, etc. Because that makes sense to me. I mean, I can say, "I like this horrid story because when Clark fucked Lex, he was so overcome that he didn't realize he'd bitten his lip and was bleeding." Heh. I'm pretty much as sucker for shit like that. Oh, and anything where there is some sort of insight into the relationship...that get's me, too.

I am an avid follower of several stories that, well, if they were published for real, I'd wonder what the publisher was smoking, what with the overdramatic OOCness and really wild grammatical choices.

Mainly, I'm in it for the sex. And not just any type of sex, it's the porn bom-chicha bow-wow sex, with the crude euphamisms and the grunting and thrusting and vocal bellows, usually with a whole lotta kink thrown in, too: drag, spanking, toys, chains, orgies.

There's one storyline that I read, though, that makes me think I'm watching General Hospital in close captioning. It's unbelievably addicting, even though things aren't written "properly," but the storytelling style really is soapish, and it draws you in with complex story lines, high drama, fun with fandom and outside fandom characters, and, well, lots of sex. Plus, I'll never get Clark's "I'm going to get a cock- I mean, Coke" line out of my head. Ever.

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