BSV Forum - Writing - General Tips

Where do I find good fic?

Jun 29 2009 04:18 pm   #1slaymesoftly
As an addendum to the thread about rules for writing well, I want to offer some practical advice to those new writers who want to follow my advice to read, read, read - preferably good stuff.  Where do you find the best-written fics? How do you recognize them?

My first suggestion, in terms of an archive, would be to read at All About Spike.  Yes, it is no longer being updated; but it is still on line and still full of well-written fics.  You will find the occasional typo and/or spelling/grammar error in a fic or two - but not very many. Because it is an old archive, you may not recognize many of the authors. And you will find that many of the canon fics have mistakes in canon because they were written well before the series ended.  However, what you will not find (to the best of my recollection), is poor writing.  You will find a lot of different styles there, some more appealing than others, but you won't find any crap fics. 

The second suggestion is to cruise the winners lists at Award sites. Note: I do not say to peruse the nominees. Unfortunately, all it takes for an author or story to be nominated somewhere is for someone to take the time to do it.  However, with very few exceptions, the winners will be at least readable, if not wonderful.  The winning (and runner-up) fics may not be the what you would have chosen as the best one in the category, but it's very unlikely that they will actually be bad.  Something to keep in mind here is the category itself.  If the category is "best plot", then the fic that wins may or may not be written better than all the others. It may simply be that it has the best plot of the lot and that the writing wasn't bad enough to prevent it from being the winner in that category. 

The third suggestion would be to read the Gen Fics on award sites or LJ communities geared towards that genre. For whatever reason, Gen fics are, as a rule, better-written than many shipper fics.  Perhaps because the emphasis is on telling a good story and/or providing a look at a particular character rather than just getting two characters together so that they can fall in love and have mind-blowing sex? I don't know. I just know that you'll be more likely to find consistently good writing in that category. Not always, but mostly.

And, here's a thought - if you aren't seeing the differences between "good" writing and "not so good" writing, ask someone whose opinion you value.  Privately.  The forum threads are not the place to have a discussion about any one author's work. Unless it's going to be all praise.  If you want to ask why a particular person is considered a "good" writer, or what makes her writing good, then it would probably be all right. But we don't want to get into situations where we're comparing writers or pointing out their flaws. No one is perfect, so those discussions are better kept private.  Doesn't mean you shouldn't have them - learning to spot the flaws in otherwise good writing can be a valuable tool - but they don't belong on the thread. (Unless it is a published author for whose work people spend actual money. )
I am not a minion of Evil...
I am upper management.
Jun 30 2009 03:12 am   #2nmcil
Here is a question that I have regarding trying to find an outstanding story or the best writers.  Does the amount of reviews for a work bring a useful way to find those especially good and outstanding  stories and writers?  Do established writers have a big advantage in the review numbers?  Should readers really try to help support a work and writer that is amongst the new crop of the  Buffyverse FF fandom?  We all know how easy it is to tell ourselves that we will review a story later on and then we don't until the last chapter.   I do think that the reader should support the efforts of the FF writers and that if we have real strong feelings about a piece we should send our thoughts to the writer - just as I think that when a reader does an especially involved review or asks questions about the piece, the writer should respond.  Don't suggest that writer should respond to each review they get, but when the reader has obviously cared enough to ask a question or make a comment that focused on the plot, etc. 
And something that I recently just learned is that it is OK to ask that hard question of the writers - I had a very nice surprise response from a writer - the reader just has to be respectful of the work and the person.    

Of course all readers have their particular taste that makes a story or writer one that they will have an especially strong connection with and this will effect how much they like works - it is a very important element in the "what is good" question. 
” Recent evolutionary models have demonstrated what politicians have long known: the best way to get people to collaborate and to think like a group is to identify an enemy and charge that “they” threaten “us.”

Michael Tomasello is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Jun 30 2009 03:20 am   #3Eowyn315
Does the amount of reviews for a work bring a useful way to find those especially good and outstanding stories and writers?
Nope, not at all. I have on more than one occasion boggled at a fantastic fic with no reviews, or a crappy fic that's lavished with praise. The problem tends to be that the people who don't know the difference between good and bad fic (i.e. slaymesoftly's target audience) are often the ones who leave the most reviews.

Should readers really try to help support a work and writer that is amongst the new crop of the Buffyverse FF fandom?
Depends. Encouragement is always nice, but I don't think praising a fic that's poorly written does a writer any good. If they think their writing is good as is, then they see no need for them to improve. I'd usually go for a mix of complimenting the strengths while giving a nudge toward the weaknesses, but not everyone's comfortable with giving constructive criticism.
Writing should feel easy, like a monkey driving a speed boat.
Jun 30 2009 03:59 am   #4Spikez_tart
I've noticed that angsty fics seem to get more reviews.  Readers just love that heartbreak I guess.
If we want her to be exactly she'll never be exactly I know the only really real Buffy is really Buffy and she's gone' who?
Jun 30 2009 05:54 am   #5nmcil
Anyone want to give their ideas on the elements that are usually needed to create a good work?  

Anyone want to recommend some writers that are not widely known that fit your list of "good writers"
” Recent evolutionary models have demonstrated what politicians have long known: the best way to get people to collaborate and to think like a group is to identify an enemy and charge that “they” threaten “us.”

Michael Tomasello is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Jun 30 2009 08:57 pm   #6slaymesoftly
What Eowyn said. In spades.  LOL  The number of reviews a fic gets can be related to a lot of things that have nothing to do with the quality - reviewers may be close friends of the author, they may think they are doing a service by encouraging someone new (see E's comment above), they may just automatically type "good job" because they feel obligated to say something (or because they pride themselves on reviewing everything and don't want to be unkind), or maybe they love the theme or plot of the story and don't know or care if it's well-written or not.  I think we have fewer non-discriminating readers and reviewers here at the BSV (as opposed to TSR, for instance), but it still happens.

As one of the "bad guys" here, and one who has just had a very civil but testy conversation with a rejected author, I can assure you that reviews praising fics that have major problems do not do anyone any good. 

Angsty fics do get a lot of reviews.  Who knows why?  We like to cry?  They are a fine example of fics that may earn a lot of reviews without being well written.  What is being praised is the angst - not the story itself or the presentation.

nmcil - It is very probable that an established (good) writer will pull more reviews than newer one. People who have been reading for years are well aware of which writers they tend to enjoy and they will read that writer's work ahead of someone unfamiliar. They are probably more likely to review it, also.  However, new writers who are doing something really good will soon acquire readers and reviewers as word spreads (think UB's Forward to Time Past, goldenusagi's Sideways - how long did it take for word to spread about those fics and for the reviews to start rolling in?)
I agree that writers should respond to thoughtful questions about the work. It can lead to interesting conversations and ideas.  And I really wish more reviewers would ask the hard questions.  It's all very well to be kind to everyone, but if no one ever tells a writer that there's a growing plot hole, or a lapse in logic, she may never notice it and what might have been a great story  remains a mediocre one.  You don't have to point to it and say "Boy, did you screw up here!" Just ask a polite question about the issue as if you assume the writer is going to have a good explanation. Maybe she will. Maybe the next chapter is going to fill the developing hole or offer an explanation for what seemed off.  Or maybe she'll just go, "Eeep! I'm screwing up! Thanks so much for helping me spot it." As a writer, I'd much rather have a reviewer question me about something early on when I've still got time to correct it, than to just ignore it and let me wonder why the fic isn't getting as much attention as I expected it to.  Fortunately, I have some pretty tough betas and sounding boards, so I don't think that happens as often as it used to - but it still could, and I'd appreciate the heads-up from a reader.

Elements needed? Maybe we should start a thread?
good, preferably original plot
good plot development (does no good to have an idea if you can't follow it to a logical conclusion)
good characterization and dialogue
clear, entertaining and mechanically correct writing

anyone else?

There's an old thread somewhere on the forum in which many excellent writers with varied styles are mentioned. I'll see if I can find it and bring it to the front.  The problem I have with lists like that - although they are good - is that the list is only as good as the taste of the person writing it.  If I remember correctly, the last time we made lists, there were several writers mentioned (usually only by one person) that made me cringe.  That's why I suggested that discussions about writers to emulate might be better done in private...


I am not a minion of Evil...
I am upper management.
Jun 30 2009 11:32 pm   #7maryperk
Yep, some of us suck, and we admit to it.  LOL.  I know my writing sucks.  I just need to get rid of the plot kitties or they nag me to death.
Jul 01 2009 04:00 pm   #8nmcil
Depends. Encouragement is always nice, but I don't think praising a fic that's poorly written does a writer any good. If they think their writing is good as is, then they see no need for them to improve. I'd usually go for a mix of complimenting the strengths while giving a nudge toward the weaknesses, but not everyone's comfortable with giving constructive criticism.

Agree - This is the problem I have - since I have not done any writing, I am uncomfortable with taking on the critics role.  I am getting just a little more comfortable with asking questions but it usually takes a very strong negative reaction before I comment or ask a question.  I think your "strength-nudge" approach. 

I may not like my husbands negative comments about some of my work - but in almost every case it has helped me make a much better piece -
” Recent evolutionary models have demonstrated what politicians have long known: the best way to get people to collaborate and to think like a group is to identify an enemy and charge that “they” threaten “us.”

Michael Tomasello is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Jul 02 2009 04:39 am   #9Eowyn315
Asking questions is good, too. Like slaymesoftly said:

Just ask a polite question about the issue as if you assume the writer is going to have a good explanation. Maybe she will. Maybe the next chapter is going to fill the developing hole or offer an explanation for what seemed off. Or maybe she'll just go, "Eeep! I'm screwing up! Thanks so much for helping me spot it."
I have on more than one occasion been appreciative of someone asking a question about my fic, because it made me come up with an answer I hadn't realized was necessary - and it came up early enough that I could seamlessly incorporate it into a later chapter without it being obvious I was patching a plot hole.
Writing should feel easy, like a monkey driving a speed boat.