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09 May 2005 @ 07:00 pm
Poll: When Good Isn't Good Enough  
This post is friends-locked, not to exclude anyone, but because I can see how it could bite me on the butt. Once bitten, twice shy, and that goes double if it's my buttocks that are in jeopardy. (Which isn't to say no one can bite me on the butt, because, you know, some people are welcome to, but...you know what? Let's not go there. There's knowledge man was not meant to know, and there's knowledge no reasonable person wants to know.) If all goes well, I'll unlock it in a few days, because I would really like to hear from everyone on this. (Note: now no longer friends-locked!)

Now, on to the pre-poll. (Please move in an orderly fashion. No flash cameras or video allowed. Not suitable for children under three.)

How do you recommend something that's flawed? My policy has always been that if I have to put in a caveat of any kind, I won't be recommending it. (There's a practical reason for this. Actually, two. First, if I start mentioning weaknesses and strengths, it's the first step on the slippery slope to balanced perspectives, and impartiality, and thought-provoking essays, and...look, I didn't start this LJ to reprise my college English classes. I live two blocks from a college. If I wanted to write papers, I could go do it for post-graduate credit; here, I want to be idiosyncratic and personal and wildly biased. Second reason - fandom is wonderful. But it's also a bit bitey, if you see what I mean. A lot of authors view their stories as babies (boy, did I learn that one the hard way, when I was young and relatively pure), and they respond instinctively and violently to any criticism, no matter how constructive or carefully-phrased or accurate or surrounded by truthfully positive remarks. I don't need more flames, thanks.)

The no-recommending-if-it's-got-a-flaw-worth-mentioning policy has worked for more than a year. But over that year, my list of stories that I consider unrecommendable but still want to keep and re-read has grown and grown. It contains two major categories of problem stories:
  • Older stories. These mostly come from older fandoms and they're written to outdated conventions. You know the kind I mean. Purple prose, and romance-novel language, and soul-searing kisses in the Rain of Nebulous Angst, and, look. I can handle all that stuff. In the presence of sufficient brilliance, I can even ignore it. But in the oldest fandoms, it was the default writing style; everything seems to have been written with Barbara Cartland firmly in mind. (Yes, there are exceptions. Many exceptions. I'm generalizing here, so stay with me.)

    There are other problems with the older stuff, too - for example, things that we now consider the worst kind of cliche (yes, there are good cliches; I love many of them), presented with painful sincerity. Yes, I know they weren't cliches then. It doesn't help as much as you'd hope. Or - no, never mind with the list-making, because this isn't a rant. Let me just say instead that fandom has changed a lot since Kirk and Spock were staring into each other's blazing eyes, hardly daring to hope that this one poignant gesture of agonizing, consuming, soul-burning passion could be forgiven, and I'm happy with most of those changes. But there are some good stories from those days. Some great ones, too.

  • Cracked diamonds. These are unrecommendable because of a serious problem. Many of them are are visibly, noticeably, and highly regrettably unbeta'd. Others have a fucked up plot, or tin-ear dialog, or a character doing an absolutely out-of-character thing, or a writing experiment that didn't quite work. The list goes on and on. And yet, some of these stories also have elements that are sheer genius. It's not surprising. After all, these are the authors who aren't afraid to try experiments, right? Some work. Some really don't. And sometimes the working and the non-working are in the same story, unfortunately.

    I recently read a story that had a scene that was perfect. That scene was - OK, I think I can give some specifics without revealing too much. It was a Smallville story, and it was the Clark-finally-tells-Lex scene. (Not about the gay gay love. Lex already knows about that, or he's not as smart as he thinks he is. About the Alien Among Us thing.) And it was the best I've ever seen it done, just amazing, so perfectly written and in character and right that I wanted to weep. And then I realized that the story could never be recommended unless a good beta got ahold of it and did some very thorough work, and then I really wanted to weep. I have a lot of these stories, especially in fandoms beginning with 'S' (And has anyone ever noticed just how many fandoms do begin with 'S'? If I was making a new TV show, I'd call it Staruniverse. Maybe Super Sexy Staruniverse.) - SG1, SGA, SV, SW, and The Sentinel, which might or might not be an S-fandom.
I want to recommend these stories. Badly, in certain cases. But I have no means to do so, because my own rules prohibit recommending any story if I need to add a warning. (I do occasionally warn. But only about potentially disturbing content, or very rarely about first-level beta stuff - lots of usage mistakes, basically. Not about more serious or pervasive problems.)

So. On to the poll.

Poll #490902 Recommending the Unrecommendable

Please click this button so I know how many people took this poll.

Yes, honey, I AM taking this poll! Check out my hot click-on-click action!

Do you understand my descriptions of the problem stories?

I totally get them both, and could think of ten examples off the top of my head.
I think I do. I'd like some examples, though.
I get 'older stories' but not 'cracked diamonds.'
I get 'cracked diamonds' but not 'older stories.'
I don't get either one. Are you speaking real English?
I do, but I don't understand why you don't like them. What is you problem?
I didn't bother reading the descriptions. I'm in this for the ticky-boxes!

What do you normally do about such stories?

I recommend them. No warnings. I'm not offering a warranty against any and all defects; it's just a LJ.
I recommend one or both kinds, but only with descriptive warnings.
I sometimes recommend them, sometimes don't. Depends. (And I'm explaining what it depends on in the comments.)
I mostly don't recommend them, but I might. (And I'm explaining why in the comments.)
I recommend them only privately, not in LJ. Just in chat or email or whatever.
I never, ever recommend them.
I have never recommended ANYTHING, flawed or not. (And I'm explaining why in the comments.)
Other. (And I'm explaining what in the comments.)

I would like to see you, TFV, handle these stories thusly:

Recommend 'em just like any other story. You aren't offering a warranty, either.
Recommend 'em, but warn me, please. I have highly developed reading sensibilities.
Recommend 'em, but differentiate - maybe don't put them in a Slashy Award type post. (And I'm offering a suggestion about how to do this in the comments.)
Don't recommend them at all. I come here for only the greatest in FF, not for recs of dubious reliability.
Other. (And I'm saying what in the comments.)

I enjoy the stories you recommend.

Pretty much all the time.
Most of the time.
Almost never.
I don't even read them. I'm here for something else. (And I'm telling you what in the comments because I don't want you to die of curiosity.)
It's variable. (And I'm explaining that in the comments.)

As long as you're here, please give me some career advice.

Stay with the freelancing. You like it. And you need a flexible schedule because your father is so sick.
Try to get a real job doing one of the kinds of writing you freelance. (In comments, pick one: grants, reports, technical, other.)
Go to library school. You'd love it. You were born to librarianize up the stratosphere, baby.
Go to pharmacy school. You miss science a ton, and smut + drugs is a dream lifestyle, even if the drugs are legal and you won't be using them.
Screw the job stuff. Have a baby. You aren't getting any younger, you know, and you've always wanted kids. Maybe you won't screw them up beyond imagining.
Other. (Explained, of course, in the comments.)
Why are you even asking me? I'm only here for the smut.
Tags: [poll]
nestra on May 9th, 2005 07:45 pm (UTC)
If I think something has a flaw, I mention it, but I don't make a big deal out of it. I'll say something like "Has a few grammatical errors" or "A little dated" or "Sappy, but hits my buttons." I generally don't recommend something I think is hugely flawed, but if I did, I'd mention it.
Lucy: kittycereta on May 9th, 2005 08:28 pm (UTC)
What she said.

Also, I don't rec stuff because I have no confidence in my own taste. I blame English Departments for this.
Cesperanzacesperanza on May 9th, 2005 10:31 pm (UTC)
Hee--I'm learning again, but it's hard!

But seriously; put them in a category of "older stories and flawed diamonds" and rec them. What I wanted to tell you was this--some of us who WROTE those older stories are kind of just as stuck about how to discuss them. Like--I really would have written a little less purple in the early Sentinel Days, there, but SERIOUSLY, it was a different time. Mine was the butch writing!--even though my first story has manly crying AND Jim carrying Blair up the stairs! (kill me) But there are also some great speeches in those early stories, but you can't tell anybody unless you go--uh, but watch out for the manly crying and the Jim carrying Blair up the stairs. It's like Python--Warning: Lark's Vomit.
tried to eat the safe banana: Smilethefourthvine on May 10th, 2005 01:51 am (UTC)
Hee. I suppose calling them "Lark's Vomit Stories" would actually be more insulting than just saying they were flawed.

What I wanted to tell you was this--some of us who WROTE those older stories are kind of just as stuck about how to discuss them.

I don't think of you as an old-fandom writer, but this is still interesting to hear. When I think about the inevitable problems with older stories, I always wonder if the authors have moved on, too, or if they look at the stories being written now and wonder why no one writes the good stuff anymore. ("But there's no romance! No description! And why don't the tops carry the bottoms up the stairs anymore*^?")

* Footnote: I am in no way implying that Jim is the top to Blair's bottom, because that is so not true, man.

^ Further Footnote: I am also not implying that that story - because I'm pretty sure I know which one you mean - is bad, or even truly old-style. Although it's fascinating to read your work at pretty much one gulp (which I did, long ago, starting with the TS stuff and moving into dS) and see how much your writing has changed.
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on May 10th, 2005 01:41 am (UTC)
Well, I have confidence in your taste, even sight unseen. And I would be seriously interested in hearing about what you like, English departments be damned.

(Although I do get that recommending is maybe a little too revealing for some people to be comfortable doing it. But, still - you write so well! I'd love to see what you read.)
tried to eat the safe banana: Greek to methefourthvine on May 10th, 2005 01:39 am (UTC)
Do you remember that we (you, MMWD, and me) were talking (like, two weeks ago) on MMWD's journal about principles v. preferences? Because if so, and if you agree that recommenders generally have these, will you recommend a story that violates your principles (like, bad usage) if it's got something brilliant in it? Will you recommend something that violates a strong preference? Or neither?

(Just curious.)
nestra on May 10th, 2005 11:38 am (UTC)
I do remember, and it's one of those conversations that I wanted to get back to and have never had the time. If I remember correctly, preferences are something like me saying "I really like first time slash stories" and principles are "I can't rec anything that constantly misuses its and it's." (Please correct me if I got it wrong, since I didn't pull up the previous post to refresh my memory.)

I would say that I definitely rec things that are outside my preference, and sometimes I find new preferences that way. The sort of unofficial rallying cry of my side of PolyRecs is "If it works for me, I'll rec it." So we have Mpreg and genderfuck up there, deathfic, unconventional pairings, cliches, long stories, short stories, mutants, etc. Part of the fun of fandom for me is the variety, and I think I'm more willing to read outside my preferences than a lot of people I've seen. Which is not to say, "Go me," because it just really means that I'm a giant whore and other people have standards.

Principles are much less flexible. When it's something like grammar or punctuation, I'll rec it if it didn't distract from my enjoyment of the story. If it's more of what I'd call a "moral" issue (trying to sidestep the huge potholes in calling something morality), it's going to have to be something really exceptional for me to rec it. I have inherent wiggly issues with RPF, so I have no RPF on the site. If something had deeply icky gender politics, I probably couldn't rec it without feeling dirty, so I wouldn't. If a story was a great relationship story but bashed a third party, I probably wouldn't rec it.

Anyway, something that has serious enough problems to prevent me from reccing it is probably something I'm not going to even finish, and some of that may have to do with how I read. I read badfic, god knows, but I go into it specifically looking for badfic. I won't finish something that loses my interest halfway through simply out of duty or stubbornness. At best, I'll skim to the end.

But honestly, sometimes it just depends how I feel on a given day. Reccing can be a real crapshoot, and it's not ever going to be completely representative of everything I read or enjoy, nor will it be a bible of "these are the best stories and everything else sucks". It's just a snapshot, and the nature of the internet means it's a lingering one.