This is for GBE2 Prompt 52 “Guilty Pleasure”
For this prompt, I wasn’t sure whether to put it on A Wicked Convergence of Circumstances (my science fiction/fantasy media and meta blog) or here on Near Life Experiences (which is a more general purpose blog). That is because this particular guilty pleasure relates both to writing and experience and to meta and media related to science fiction and fantasy. I will probably go with cross-posting to both journals, just because.
My guilty pleasure is that I read horrible things. And by horrible things, I do not mean the actual action taking place in the story. (Though that can be pretty horrible depending on what I am reading and whom the writer is.) I mean that I deliberately read things that I think are badly written, and then I will either: a) make fun of it a whole heck of a lot or b) carefully analyze exactly why I did not like it. Sometimes I do both!
Here are the specific areas that I will either mock or analyze.
Purple prose involves writing descriptions that are overly decorative and spends more time on what things look or feel like instead of what is going on in the story. You may also have way too many similes/metaphors/allegories mixed in with the decorations. Whether something is “purple” or not depends largely on taste, but I feel there is a certain critical mass where there is so much purple that everyone can agree that the prose is question is of the loveliest eye searing fuchsia.
World building is all of the little details that make the environment of a story seem real. These are the descriptions of the architecture, historical back grounds, personal backgrounds and the details about culture or customs. Its language and local people and the completely accurate description of the awesome diner that anyone who has lived in the city you are writing about will recognize immediately. It is language, mannerisms, and culture. It is things that you absolutely must not screw up or you will toss the reader out of the story.
Good world building involves research and is often something that is VERY easy to screw up. This is much less subjective, though some problems are more glaringly obvious depending on how much you know about the information in question. (For instance, forensic experts and others involved with criminal justice will rag on shows like CSI. Doctors may complain about medical shows, and historians grit their teeth when a movie or TV show is Obviously Getting It Wrong.) It must be internally consistent and logical and it must make sense.
Using the Right Words
Okay, Mark Twain once wrote an extremely excellent slam about what he referred to as James Fenimore Cooper’s “Literary Offenses.” Among the crimes listed, Cooper supposedly had a problem with using a word that was pretty close to what you would expect to be there, but was not in fact the correct word. This would seem to be subjective, but actually, it really is not. As an example from memory, there was a fantasy writer had the bad habit of using the word “forswear” to mean, “swear [an oath].” The problem here is that “forswear” means you are breaking your sworn oath. Editors why were you not catching this? Another fantasy writer stubbornly swore up down and sideways that potatoes were introduced to Ireland well before the Americas were even explored/stumbled across by Europeans. How that worked, I do not know.
Characterization has some of the same problems related to world building. You need to have an idea of their history and their likes and dislikes. You need to know where they grew up. You need to have a vague idea of what their family was like. Just like world-building, it requires a lot of research so you can create a believable and interesting character.
Some of the problems that can crop up here:
The character is stereotypical or clichéd. (Please rethink your decision to have the martial artist talk like the old man from the first Karate Kid movie. Please, please please.)
The character does not actually fit the time period or setting of the story. (Seriously, what possessed you to stick a stereotypical 70s era feminist into a fantasy with a pseudo-medieval setting. No, really, it does not work.)
The character’s actions do not make sense within the context of the story or the character’s own background. (Please tell me what made Character A suddenly decide to do that when earlier you said that character A was not capable of doing that because of X, Y, Z. Show your work, writer because I see no development or learning experience to justify it happening!)
The character is being used to work out writer’s issues. (This can be very subjective, but if similar themes keep cropping up then yes, there’s a good chance that the writer may have issues.)
The character is the writer’s pet and can do no wrong. (This problem can also be subjective! Anita Blake and Honor Harrington are both examples of being a writer’s pet. Someone else may disagree!)
The character is “floppy” and is dragged from situation to situation. (By floppy, I mean that the character is passive and reacts instead of acts. By personal preference, I do not like passive characters. Especially when the writer is trying to set up situations that will make me like them.)
This can be somewhat subjective. I have a low tolerance for excessive drama. Other people seem to wallow in it. Excessive drama drags the story along, usually in a negative direction as Terrible Things happen to the characters. An while Terrible Things can be somewhat entertaining, it quickly becomes boring when the Terrible Things keep happening and nothing gets resolved because everyone in the story is too busy being filled with Nameless Despair and Loathing for their Existence. (I am emphasizing my exasperation for excessive drama by adding in Random Capital Letters.) Emotion porn should be avoided, particularly when combined with Purple Prose.
So, these are the areas I generally critique or mock in.