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A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction

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A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by Imaginos1892   » Mon Dec 11, 2017 2:21 pm

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What is the right way to review Fan Fiction that is found to be lacking in readability?

Step 1. Hold your nose. :lol:

OK, I’m sort-of joking there, but in a lot of cases it’s good, even necessary advice. Many, many people seem to want to write Fan Fiction without ever taking the trouble to learn how to write anything. Some of them have good, interesting story ideas which they proceed to bury under lousy, sloppy writing.

A number of such examples have motivated me to write a kind of general-purpose review that points out the most common lapses I’ve found. Be warned, I wrote most of it in a really grumpy mood.

Since I have no desire to be bitten by Muphry’s Law, I am submitting my review for review before I start using it.
(Yes, I do mean Muphry’s Law, which refers to pointing out someone’s writing errors, and then making similar errors in your complaint. Very red-face-making.)

So here is A General-Purpose Review For Badly Written Fan Fiction. Let me know what you think:
———————————
You are probably not going to like this review, but you need it.
I want to read more good stories, but so far yours is not one of them.

I’m not trying to insult you. I’m not trying to discourage you from writing. I’m trying to encourage you to write stories that people will want to read.
Do you want a lot of Favorites, and Follows? Do you want good reviews? If so, your writing will have to change. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

A story is not about the writer. It is about the reader. If you write a story that nobody wants to read, you have just wasted your time. If you do not convey your meaning in a way the reader will understand, have you really told your story? ALWAYS keep the reader in mind.

NOTE: I spent hours composing this article, and made it general-purpose, so it can be re-used. I want everybody to read this, and maybe gain something from it. Your story may not have all the issues noted here, so ignore those that you are SURE don’t apply. I have found these problems to be depressingly prevalent in Fan Fiction, and most stories I drop this on as a review exhibit all of them to at least some degree.

I have only one piece of advice to give on story construction: Don’t start it off with a history lesson. Start with something happening, even if it’s an event as mundane as a character getting out of bed, or eating lunch. Drop the readers straight into your first scene. It gives them questions — who is this, why is he/she important, what will happen? Fill in background as it becomes relevant.

I can’t give advice on plotting, pacing and characterization. I’m not certain of my own ability in those areas. However, when it comes to the mechanics of writing literate English, and expressing ideas clearly — I have got that DOWN.

All those pesky rules they taught us in English class exist for a reason. Language is a tool, and if it is not used correctly it will not achieve its purpose. That purpose is to accurately convey ideas from a speaker, or a writer, to a listener, or a reader. In order for that process to work, both parties have to use the same protocols, the same rules, and represent their ideas in similar ways. If people ignore the rules, or make up their own, none of them can communicate.

Unfortunately, that is a wide-spread problem in Fan Fiction. I call it ‘The Infinite Number Of Monkeys School Of Writing’ and find story after story ruined by its influence. I think it’s an aspect of Sturgeon’s Law: ‘Ninety percent of everything is crap’. It takes a lot of care, and hard work, to lift our writing out of the crap and into that golden ten percent.

So, here are my Five Rules For Better Writing:

1. Spelling. Check it. Then check it again. Then check for commonly swapped words: you’re - your, who’s - whose, its - it’s, that - than - then, and about 40 others.
2. Punctuation. Use it! Correctly!
3. Sentences. Don’t just string a lot of words together. They have to make sense, too. That’s what grammar is for.
4. Paragraphs. When you start a new theme, for extra emphasis, or every time a different character speaks.
5. Tenses. Don’t mix past and present tense in your exposition. Past tense works best in a narrative story, and most stories are narratives.

Dialog can be present or past tense, depending on what your character is talking about.

Sentences. I could go on all day about sentences. They are the building blocks of a story, and it’s critically important to get them right. A sentence should have structure. It should relate to the sentences before and after it. If it doesn’t, it’s probably time to start a new paragraph. Your sentence must express your idea in a way the reader will understand clearly, and it should end when its task is complete. The next sentence should express your next idea, and so on.

There are no prizes for atrocious 300-word run-on sentences that should have been split up into six paragraphs! I have seen that. I would like to never see it again.

Looonnnng sentences are tiring. The poor readers have to remember how the sentence started and everywhere it goes until they get to the end of it — only to embark upon another word marathon after finally reaching that long-anticipated period. Do that a few times and most readers will just up and quit on you. You can’t stop them. You can’t force them to keep reading.

You only write the story once. If you make it readable, if you make it enjoyable, it might be read thousands, even hundreds of thousands of times. That’s worth a little hard work.

Spend some of that work on your story summary. It’s the first example of your writing that your prospective readers will see. You have 384 characters to write something that causes people to think, ‘I want to read more’. If the summary sucks, they will think your story must also suck, and not even bother to click on it.

Take care with your first chapter, too. It’s the second example your readers see. Work that thing over and polish it until it shines! Your second or third chapter may be a timeless literary masterpiece, but nobody will ever read it if your first chapter didn’t hold their attention.

Your writing represents your thinking. If my writing were careless, sloppy and confusing, most people would conclude that I was too stupid to do any better, and wouldn’t waste their time reading it. I always take care with my writing so people won’t have a reason to think that about me. You never know who might read it.

Good writing takes practice. Everything you write is an opportunity to practice writing it readably, understandably, and correctly. That’s what I do. I always take a little extra time to ensure that everything I write expresses what I want it to say clearly and accurately in grammatically correct, properly punctuated English. The more I practice, the easier it becomes.

Now that you’ve read this message, read your story again and ask yourself: Which one is easier to read? Which one conveys its ideas most clearly and effectively?
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by Annachie   » Mon Dec 11, 2017 3:35 pm

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Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest.

Basically an award for really long run on sentences.
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You are so going to die. :p ~~~~ runsforcelery
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still not dead. :)
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by Michael Everett   » Mon Dec 11, 2017 5:35 pm

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Taken from my author's page
Hints for aspiring authors

Do not post a story until you have written at least 6 chapters or half the story (whichever is less), and even then post it one chapter at a time. This buys you a safety margin should your muse decide to hide.
Use the return button to separate descriptive passages and people talking. Large blocks of text can be difficult to read.
Keep your tenses correct. Accidentally switching between past, present and future in a single paragraph destroys your credibility as a writer.
Check your spelling. It's vrey anonyngi fi yuo dnot'.
Chapters less than a thousand words long rarely work. Type at least two pages of A4 unless there's a specific reason otherwise.
Too many flashbacks can spoil a story if not used correctly. It is very hard to do so and flashback stories are very rare as a result.
Try to set things up before you need them in story. If a character uses a special sword, have him find it three or more chapters before he uses it.
Sometimes, what happens off-screen is more impressive than what happens onscreen. Just remember to include several hints as to what occurred.
Six or more paragraphs with no-one speaking is generally seen as an infodump. Limit them to a maximum of 2 per chapter and never over a quarter of the chapter.
Summaries are like mini-dresses. They should cover the important things, but be short enough to seize attention. Just don't do too many what if's.
Finally, write what you enjoy. After all, you need the entertainment.


Comment - Regarding the flashbacks bit, I once wrote a story where virtually every other chapter was a narrated flashback with a different character narrating each one.
I have yet to come across another story using the same framing technique.

Hints for readers regarding summaries

If it says "Please read", DON'T.
If it says "You'll like/enjoy this, YOU WON'T.
More than one "What if" means it is probably unreadable.
Three or more "what if's" means you should keep well away.
More than one typo is a bad sign.
If the summary is incoherent, the story is written worse than Finnegan's Wake.
If it says "Better than it sounds", it actually means it's far worse.
SUMMARIES IN CAPITALS GENERALLY MEAN AVOID THE STORY


Comment - Following these rules has saved me from the need for Brain bleach on many an occasion...

I admit the stuff I write could be better. I occasionally forget to fire a Chekov's Gun that I slotted in place, I still have issues with large casts and I get too many darned ideas that for one reason or another, I can't properly develop (I hate it when that happens).
I also occasionally slip up on spelling. For some reason, my typing often transposes the N and G at the end of words. Very annoyign.

On the other hand, quite a while back, I did manage to get Sharon Rice-Weber's permission to cameo her in one of my stories (where she ended up shooting Magneto in the butt with a de-powering rifle), so that's something that very few other writers can boast about. :lol:

And the worst story I have ever managed to fully read?
Battlefield Earth.
While not Fanfiction itself, it has inspired no less that 7 stories on FFN, although the total number of actual written words in them combined is under 10,000 at this time while the source novel is apparently 332,320 words.
If you haven't read Battlefield Earth by Ron Hubbard, DON'T!
Seriously. It sucks. It has a few good ideas, but is massively let down by execution.
The opposite is the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. That six-book series was based on two cliches (lost Roman legion/Pokemon) and is flipping awesome with some great humor. That series I would recommend.
It has apparently inspired 36 fanfics. I haven't bothered to do a wordcount for them.
~~~~~~

I can't write anywhere near as well as Weber
But I try nonetheless, And even do my own artwork.

(Now on Twitter)and mentioned by RFC!
Animal Crossing Dreams at 6E00-00F5-2891
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by Imaginos1892   » Mon Dec 11, 2017 6:25 pm

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What are you talking about? Battlefield Earth was so monumentally bad, it was good. Like Mars Attacks! bad, or Killer Klowns From Outer Space bad. But it didn't measure up to Army Of Darkness bad.

The movie was just bad bad. But what can you expect from producers, directors and actors who haven't figured out that Scientology is a joke?
———————————
BOMB SQUAD
IF I AM RUNNING
YOU SHOULD RUN TOO
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by The E   » Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:11 am

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Imaginos1892 wrote:*snip*


Never post this as an actual review.

Yes, all your points are common pitfalls for people new to writing. Yes, this is something that everyone who wants to get into the craft of writing should internalize.

It is not, however, a critique of a specific work. If you want to take the task of reviewing a piece of fiction seriously, then you need to decide what you want to be as a reviewer: Do you want to be the "you used these tropes, these tropes are bad, therefore your writing is bad" guy? Because that's more or less the message that screed sends.
Or do you want to help new creators along and give them pointers on how to improve? That approach takes effort, I know, it requires you to read a story closely and find specific instances of bad writing that you can point to and give suggestions on how to improve.

(Also, shameless plug, here's the first short story I wrote, it being a piece of Destiny fanfic. Tell me what you think!)
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by Annachie   » Tue Dec 12, 2017 5:10 am

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Damn, that's a well written piece.
In a very general sense I agree with you.

However.

There's a standard method for delivering criticism. This is not it.

Also, typically whilst you mention good rules, damn there's some fantastic exceptions out there. Discworld comes to mind which typically started with either a history or geography spiel.

Perhaps then they are not so much rules, but guide lines for the beginer. To be ignored, with care, once some experience has been gained.

But yes, information well worth reading.
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You are so going to die. :p ~~~~ runsforcelery
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
still not dead. :)
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by Imaginos1892   » Wed Apr 04, 2018 5:04 pm

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Well, I have an update. I've read some more Painfully Bad Fan Fiction, seen more products of The Infinite Number Of Monkeys School Of Writing, and found still more proof of Sturgeon's Law.

So, here are my Eight Rules For Better Writing:

1. Spelling. Check it. Then check it again.

2. Punctuation. Use it! Correctly! Commas don't cost you anything.

3. Swapped words. Spell Check won’t find them! Look for: you’re - your, who’s - whose, its - it’s, that - than - then, lose - loose, and about 40 others.

4. Capitalize ALL of the appropriate words, and ONLY the appropriate words. Use capitalization for emphasis — sparingly.

5. Sentences. Don’t just string a lot of words together. A sentence has to convey your idea clearly, and END when its task is complete.

6. Paragraphs. When you start a new theme, for extra emphasis, or every time a different character speaks. Paragraph breaks don't cost anything, either.

7. Properly quote all dialog. Missing quotes are confusing and annoying.

8. Tenses. Don’t mix past and present tense in your exposition. Past tense works best in a narrative story, and most stories are narratives.

As an author, yours is the god-like power to make your characters do and say absolutely anything. If you abuse that power, if your characters do crazy, stupid, arbitrary senseless shit for no evident reason, your story will suck. The readers will tell you it sucks, because you do not have any power over them. You alone have the power to make your story suck, or not suck. Choose…wisely.
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They say I can't be a nonconformist because I’m not like the other nonconformists.
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by The E   » Thu Apr 05, 2018 7:54 am

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Imaginos1892 wrote:6. Paragraphs. When you start a new theme, for extra emphasis, or every time a different character speaks. Paragraph breaks don't cost anything, either.

7. Properly quote all dialog. Missing quotes are confusing and annoying.


these two sort of go together: As a reader, nothing is more confusing than having to go back a couple lines just to sort out who is talking to whom.
Related to that: If at all applicable, try to give each character their own distinct voice. Not just a random catchphrase here or there, but actual distinct modes of speech.

8. Tenses. Don’t mix past and present tense in your exposition. Past tense works best in a narrative story, and most stories are narratives.


This is where I have to disagree, partially. Choosing the correct tense for your story is never as easy as saying "oh, this is a narrative, therefore it needs to be past tense".
Every piece of your writing tells a story, and that goes for the tense you choose to use too: A tale told in the past tense implicitly implies that there is someone or something remembering the story; it implies an ending.
Writing something in past tense, while perhaps an easy choice because large portions of the fiction we consume is written in it, also makes for a much more passive reading experience. In the one short story I wrote that I felt was good enough to publish (shameless plug), I chose present tense because the story I wanted to tell required an element of immediacy, of being in the moment, that would inevitably get lost when telling it in past tense.

Imaginos is still completely right when he says that you shouldn't go mixing tenses without thought. The term here is consistency; if your authorial voice is consistent and if the tale you're telling is internally consistent (i.e. a person in a story told in present tense relating something they experienced is a perfectly valid use of past tense).
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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by pappilon   » Mon Apr 09, 2018 3:36 am

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I don't know the general age of some fan fic writers. Quite frankly I don't read much of it (Harry Potter is one I do) So

1) Find yourself a good beta. that is essential! Your beta is your editor, your best lierary friend and should be yourn harshest critic.

2)Use present tense and Active Voice (Caps are mine for emphasis).

3) Short sentences are good, long sentences are really not very good as they slow down the pace of what you are writing and drag things out, and also tire your reader's brain. However, using nothing but short sentences becomes an adrenaline rush that also burns out your reader's brain. So use short sentences, mixed with longer ones to vary the pace of your writing.

4) Writing is not story telling. However, they are both skills you need to develop. The only way to develop them is to practice them. Nil desperandum!
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The imagination has to be trained into foresight and empathy.
Ursula K. LeGuinn

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Re: A Review For Painfully Bad Fan Fiction
Post by Imaginos1892   » Mon Apr 09, 2018 10:01 am

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It’s not as simple as Short Sentence Good, Long Sentence Bad. If you have ever read the Pelbar books by Paul O. Williams, you would know how tiresome short sentences can get — and he was an English professor! Some ideas simply can’t be communicated effectively in a short sentence. Breaking them up into a series of short sentences can put you right back to tiresome. You can't just look at a long sentence and say it has Too Many Words.

That said, there is a big difference between a long sentence that expresses a complex idea, and a run-on sentence that jams a bunch of unrelated items together. Talk about tiresome! That’s why I sounded off a bit on the subject. It’s a very common problem in Fan Fiction. Tip: if your sentence contains more than three ‘ands’ it’s probably a run-on. If most of your sentences contain more than three ‘ands’ you need to seriously rethink your writing style.

I personally find stories told in present tense very irritating. I’m not sure why that is, exactly; maybe I just haven’t read any well-written ones.

I’ve read Fan Fiction by writers ranging from teenagers to 60-something retirees. Not all of the bad stories come from the youngsters! Nor all of the good ones from the Old Farts.
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Helga and her trained Zealand soldiers were Plan A. Michael and I were, at best, Plan O — for Oh Shit.
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