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neither here nor there
Questions About Fictional Trends, Creating Good Fiction, And Quite Possibly Poor Choices 
3rd-Sep-2011 11:33 am
books
Guys, I need new icons like mad. Anybody have a direction they can point me for new ones?

Secondly, IT'S ESSAY TIME.

Well, not an essay precisely, because I'm not really sure what I'm irate about. Working through feelings. Group therapy. Group writing therapy.



The thing is, I read a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean multiple books a week. If I'm not reading new books, I'm at least rereading old ones, some of them so well-loved I can quote passages. Books and reading have always been important to me, and I spend a lot of time with them. That passionate love affair with the written word spills over into writing, leading me to post things like this, write fanfiction, and fearfully and hesitantly work on a novel of my own invention. (Lord have mercy.)

But I've noticed a troubling trend that I'm having difficulty wrapping my head around. I'm not sure if it's my distance from active classroom analysis or just the hazy generality of a problem, but I'm really bothered and I'm not entirely sure what I'm bothered about. Recently, I've been reading both commissioned work and fanfic that quite frankly read like soda pop that's lost its fizz. It may be sweet and it may do a little to wet the thirst, but it's altogether unsatisfying and just not as exciting as it ought to be.

A major part of my gripe (I think) is actually mechanical. I've been reading a lot of straightforward sentences. Not that there's anything wrong with straightforward, mind, but I keep coming away from stories feeling like I've been slapped with prose. Subject-verb-object, subject-verb-object, every single sentence. It's gotten to a point that I get kind of excited when I see an offset clause or prepositional phrase. Names are either overused, with no pronouns in sight, or awkwardly replaced by descriptors. "The girl" instead of "Mary," for instance. Dialogue feels stilted and unnatural, expository dumps instead of human conversation. Descriptions are either entirely absent, or so florid they're absurd.

Then we have plots and the characters that inhabit them. Heavens above. I will be completely honest and say that while I'm perfectly capable of keeping up with a large cast of characters and a convoluted plot, those kinds of stories are not my favorites. Especially when I'm reading for pure pleasure, I prefer a story that is easily memorable, with a progression that doesn't require too much convoluted thinking to suss out. But lately, I've caught myself getting really, really bored. I have seen the same plots recycled the same ways over and over again, the same tired devices punched out of the same cardboard characters. Don't get me wrong; nothing is new. The formula for any story is hero-obstacle-goal, and it's only variations on that theme that keep us from writing the same story verbatim every single time. It's just the variations aren't there. Same story, same people, subject-verb-object, snore.

It is a sad and sorry predicament, made doubly so by the fact that I'm not here to pull pigtails. My goal is not to offend and start wank and point fingers. A discussion would be great, because I'm not sure if it's only my perception, only my choices, or if there really is a curve toward pop-tart fiction. I do know that it's possible for fiction to swing dramatically in the opposite direction, and become so pretentious as to be practically unreadable; that's no good, either. Fanfic has always been a sort of saving grace for me, because fanfic writers are often very good at taking stories unexpected directions, challenging norms and even subverting narrative traditions without sacrificing the fun of reading. When I see fanfic following the same unfortunate direction as published work, though, I start getting really nervous.

So, what is it? Is this really a problem, or is this a warped opinion I've picked up through a long string of bad reading choices? If it is a problem, why is it a problem? What is the appeal of the very simple and very boxy? How do we create good fiction, both in salable print and online? What, to you, creates that gap between the horrible, the so-so, and the absolutely incredible?
Comments 
3rd-Sep-2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
I think that it could be a matter of your perspective, yes, but it could also be a reflection of the fact that trends in writing are probably like trends or fashions in everything else; they come and go in cycles. You may be seeing trend in which writers, for any number of reasons, are trying to write in what they see is a clear, straightforward manner. Some of them may do that well, while all too many don't do it well at all.

The thing to remember is that trends evolve. You may not have to fear for the future of fanfic; the diversity of styles is probably still out there, but you're just living through a rather more unfortunate period of writerly affection for a style that can easily be boring.

4th-Sep-2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
This is true. I just genuinely hope this is a short-lived trend. I've never been one to panic over the future of the written word (and tend to roll my eyes a little when I see articles proclaiming no one reads anymore), but I will be incredibly glad when we move on from this.

And vampire AUs and genderswap AUs and His Dark Materials crossovers. /personal dislikes
6th-Sep-2011 04:34 am (UTC)
I've rarely read genderswap that interested me (one or two fairly well done in Who fanfic, and that's it. Vampires? No. Seriously. I'm not very fond of the His Dark Materials trilogy, so it came as a surprise to me when I actually liked a fic that crossed over into that universe.

Since I write (nonfiction) for a living, I tend to look at all writing, fanfic included, with a rather critical eye. And I second every suggestion/demand, that fic writers look for and use a good editor.
6th-Sep-2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
I've read a couple of Star Trek genderswaps that were intended as meta and exceeded my wildest expectations. But for some reason, the Sherlock fandom is ALL ABOUT genderswap, which honestly is the fandom where genderswap interests me the least. I've only read one vampire AU to completion, and that was on repetitive recommendation; it was actually good, very politically and culturally aware, which was bizarre. I absolutely hated His Dark Materials, so I'm baffled with the endless crossovers.

I don't know. My degree is in English and I only wish I wrote for a living, but I know my standards aren't the standards of everyone else. I suppose what bothers me the most is knowing that I dislike something but not knowing precisely why. I'm having trouble articulating what it is about the fiction I've read that bothers me so much, which bothers me more than the fiction did originally.
4th-Sep-2011 03:50 am (UTC)
I think stories tend to come in waves of good or bad and also the more you read the more picky you become. I used to just lap up stories whereas now I think if she writes such a thing one more time, I'll scream!

Using proper names too often, guilty as charged and I'm working on it after a discussion with my editor.

I think we get a bit jaded if we read a lot as we know it should be done or at least we think we do.
4th-Sep-2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
I try to be conscious of the fact that everyone's a critic and watch myself, because I know that I'm not anywhere near perfect myself. Especially in terms of fanfic, I think a little leeway is warranted.

But it does grate on my nerves to see mediocre or poor stories hailed as the best thing since sliced bread.

Having an editor certainly helps, though; I think a lot of stories would benefit from a stern discussion with one.
4th-Sep-2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
Yes, it grates on my nerves too, because it makes you wonder if any praise you receive for your own stories is meaningless!

I owe a lot to my editors.
6th-Sep-2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
God bless editors. I've got a couple of great ones I'm thankful for every day.
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