After reading a number of posts, at metafandom and various other places, about what makes for 'good' and 'bad' writing, and seeing the often strong reactions to those posts, I feel like I should pitch in some thoughts of my own.
First of all, I've found I really, and I mean really, dislike the term ‘badfic’, that's used so often in meta on writing. Not that I don’t think there’s a whole lot of fic around that could, in my opinion, be called ‘bad’. Or could even be called ‘bad’ by some general standards that nearly everyone agrees about, say, grammar or characterization. But having an actual label for it, that people can attach to fics they dislike, gives me the feeling that it’s an either-or situation. As if a fic is either badfic or it isn’t, whereas in my opinion what’s badfic for one person may not be that for someone else. And even if some fic is really, objectively speaking, horrendously bad in quality, I still have trouble with the idea of attaching a label to it to denote it as such. Somehow, that makes it sound as if said fic is irredeemable, which, I’m sorry, is an idea I resent. Yes, there are definitely errors in writing that detract from the quality of a fic, and can even turn me off of it completely (because, unlike what all of this may make me sound like, I am very picky about what I read and enjoy), but that doesn’t mean the fic as a whole needs to get that label. Plus, reading barely nuanced statements like “no one reads long paragraphs without dialogue, so get rid of them” and “never use the word ‘suddenly’ in a fic” in meta posts discussing 'what is badfic' – that has a way of irking me. Because things are rarely that simple. But anyway, that’s my personal opinion. Just wanted to vent about that for a moment. Finished now. *g*
So for myself, I’m not going to talk about what makes for bad writing, but about the opposite: what can, in my personal view, help to give a fic that little something more. I’m not pretending to be either an expert on writing, or a great writer myself, but as I said, I am picky – I know what I enjoy in reading a fic and what I don’t, and try to follow those guidelines in the stuff I write myself. Whether or not I’m successful at that – that’s up for you guys to determine. :) But anyway, here goes.
Your POV character’s eyes are your own. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always put enough thought into my choice of a POV character. But the truth is, a different POV character means you’ll be telling a different tale. Even if, as a writer, you know how your plot fits together, your characters rarely have all the details. Your POV character will always be missing certain bits of information, and react differently because of that – for example, if characters X and Y are talking innocently and suddenly X kisses Y square on the lips, X will most likely know why s/he did that, but Y won’t. Having your story reflect that, will help to emotionally engage your reader. Rather than a dry ‘And suddenly, X kissed Y,’ which doesn’t specify the POV at all, you could say ‘Y was stumped when X grabbed him by the ears and kissed him’ or ‘X didn’t even know why, but suddenly, all she wanted to do was kiss Y’ depending on whose perspective you’re writing from.
A good choice of POV can save you. Choosing your POV can also work in your favor. You don’t always need to lay out all the details – only those that your POV character knows. So if there’s an aspect of a fic you’re writing that you’re not quite confident about, or a part of the plot that doesn’t quite work out, maybe switching the POV can solve your problem? Restricting your POV to a character who isn’t supposed to know the details about that aspect, may just be the thing you need to circumvent it, and focus on the story you really want to tell. One could say that’s cheating, but personally, I think it’s just efficient writing. If, of course, you don’t take it too far. *g* In Of Wine and Virtue, there was a perfectly good reason for my not picking Londo but G’Kar as the POV character – taking Londo, I’d have had no choice but to explain how the Drakh would have agreed to let Londo leave Centauri Prime, and I didn’t know how to do that – besides, it wasn’t the point of the story. By telling the story from G’Kar’s perspective, all I had to do was give a very vague hint as to the explanation, then let it drop. That choice saved my skin there.
The character makes the mood. In the same vein, try to use your POV character’s uniqueness and sensibilities in crafting the shape of the fic. Your POV character is, quite literally, the lens through which everyone will see your fic. A tragic story, for instance, can sound very different when told by a gentle, innocent type of person (say, Vir from B5 or Harry Truman from TP) than when it’s told by someone hardened and sarcastic (say, Londo from B5 or Albert from TP). Personally, I am very fond of POV characters from the latter category, especially – and that may sound like a contradiction – when writing angsty tales. Recounting tragic events from a hard-assed character’s POV allows me to downplay the drama using the character’s inherent cynicism, and thus avoid the slide into melodrama (which I’m terrified of doing when writing angst). I’m not a cynical person, at all, but by writing from the viewpoint of a character who is, I’ve managed to manage to write about tragic events that I never would’ve been able to recount when telling the same story from an innocent character’s eyes, because then I’d have slid over into melodrama for sure. That’s why to me, characters like Londo, G’Kar, Timov, Albert, Dr. McCoy, etc etc. are so great as POV characters. Which isn’t to say I can’t use anyone else – I have done Vir, and Lyta, and Spock, and Dale Cooper, who aren’t all innocents but do not have that sarcastic/self-deprecating reflex, or at least not often – but it’s a lot harder for me. (Which, I guess, is part of the explanation for why I write from male POV more often than female – it’s not that there are no female characters who have that streak of self-deprecation, but they’re certainly harder to find.) So again, depending on the mood you want for your story (and often it’s the choice between downplaying the emotion/humor/whatever or explicitizing it) you’ll want to pick another character to tell the tale.
( Cut for length - click for more rambling on POV, style, and characterization. )
Well – a lot of weighty words, this. :) And let me reinstate here that that’s all this aims to be: words. I’m not in any way trying to impose my norms on the rest of fandom – just trying to formulate what, to me, have been helpful tools in writing. As I’m far from infallible myself, I don’t always follow my own principles, even when I try to. Some things I still do consistently wrong. I’m pretty sure use italics far too much. That, and commas. I need to focus on making my sentences shorter, but don’t always manage to. Very often I slip into some kind of rhythm, and then when I re-read, I realize all my sentences have the same cadence and length. And sometimes my dialogue falls flat, but I leave it like that anyway, because I can’t find any better way of saying it. *g*
So if any of you have writing tips of your own, or a reaction to anything I wrote here – let ‘em come! Discussion is what makes the world go round – and fandom too. :)