Date: June 26, 2004

This was written in February of 2003. I never posted it because, frankly, I was too intimidated to do so on the list where the discussion occurred that made me write the rant in the first place. It was cathartic for me and I guess that was enough at the time. However, I recently received a bit of "feedback" from a reader in the S&H universe that was pretty negative. No -- it was completely negative, and in my opinion, completely unnecessary. It was enough that it made me drag my old rant out and post it here. These are my opinions only -- I'm not in any way trying to set myself up as an arbiter of what should and should not be. I'm just expressing my thoughts on the whole concept of writing, reading, editing, and feedback. My comments are free and -- you get what you pay for. If you don't like them, remember, the delete key is your friend.

PS - This was not beta-ed.


There have been several discussions of late concerning writing skills and abilities, what readers look for, what turns them off, what role betas or editors play in the creative process, and what authors look for in feedback.

For what it's worth -- VERY MUCH for what it's worth, here are my thoughts:

I've been thinking about what I think is appropriate discussion/critique of an author's work

I think punctuation, grammar, spelling, syntax are fair game, but only if the story is riddled with errors. I know that everyone has different levels of abilities and sometimes great storytellers are not so great at the mechanics of writing. I think it would behoove them to actively recruit for help in that area, because I do feel, if something is completely riddled with errors, it seems to say the author didn't care enough about the work to try and make it fully presentable. And if the author doesn't care about it -- it's hard for me to get drawn in. If someone misses one or two things -- I think it should be left alone. I mean, no one's perfect and who knows what their situation is regarding betas. I have a very strong beta in my original fandom and several others who also work with me. However in this fandom, I'm working with only one person, so yes, sometimes things get missed.

I think compliments are always okay. You can't go wrong talking about what you liked.

I think it's okay to question something you didn't understand, but I think it should be couched carefully, more a "did I miss something" kind of question than a "you didn't explain this well enough" statement. (But then, I am well trained in using "I" statements in controversy! )

I also think it is okay to discuss/comment on other ways the story could have gone or possible futures the reader sees coming out of the story. If a concept is good, a good discussion of possible futures may spark the author's interest in continuing the story. I've had several stories that I envisioned as stand-alones that turned out to have companions just because of something someone said to me about where they'd like to see the story go. I think that many authors are also flattered to see that their story has made people think and wonder about what happens next or what could have happened. One thing that I think is important to remember about plot development however, is that generally an author has told the tale they want to tell. At times, there may be subtexts included to add to the background and depth of the story, but not everyone one of those may be fully developed. And while an interesting subtext may catch a reader's attention, the questions that should arise about plot should revolve around the primary plot -- How did Starsky and Hutch know that the murderer was hiding in the old cabin in the woods? Not -- Why did Huggy have all those toys and gizmos on the street? In another fandom, I once wrote a story that I focused on one character's trauma and the other character's attempts to help him overcome it. That was the story I wanted to tell. But I was surprised by how many people were more interested in how the trauma occurred. It didn't seem as pertinent to me because it wasn't the story I wanted to tell.

I think plot development discussion is okay too. Did the development seem forced, or too slow or fast? Were critical elements left out so that the reader had to make huge leaps to get from point A to point B? But the important thing for me is, if someone is going to make comments on things like this, then make suggestions on how it might have worked better.

Characterization borders on an area I'm not totally comfortable getting into, simply because we all see these guys differently. The fact that there are gen and slash fans should bring that home. And where some people are perfectly at home in an AU set in the Wild West of the 1800's, with Starsky and Hutch as the local sheriffs, others are completely turned off and feel that those two people couldn't possibly be the Starsky and Hutch that they know and love. (And I am NOT referring to anyone's story at all -- I don't even know if this AU has been done. If it has, I haven't read it. This is simply meant as an analogy, not a dig at anything that has been written!) I guess what I'm saying is that if you plan to critique someone's characterization, just remember that your critique comes from your own worldview, and that could be quite different from that of the author.

Language -- and I have to address this one because right now it is near and dear to my heart. In a recent story I wrote, I used tons and tons of profanity. I did it as a tool to help differentiate who was the speaker. It was a technique I used deliberately and not an indication of a lack of language skills on my part. The bad guys were profane, the good guys used an occasional profanity, but to a much, much lesser degree. It bothered some people -- apparently a lot. Enough to spark a discussion. So -- is language an area open for critique? I don't know. People have personal preferences -- that's understandable. If reading a lot of profanity bothers you, don't read stories with profanity. Is it something you should critique an author about? I don't think so. For me, this begins to get into an author's style, and not everyone's style appeals to everyone else. Again, the personal preference thing comes very much into play. Are there other techniques which would have avoided the profanities and still made the difference in speaker clear? Probably. But I chose this technique because this was the way I wanted to tell this story. I felt it added a sense of urgency and desperation to a very short piece and underscored the differences between the good guys and the bad guys.

Style is very unique to an author. Some people write long, rambling sentences and others are very clipped and concise. Either can read very well, and either can be dreck. One is not necessarily better than the other, and it is in the whole concept of style that mechanics can become confused. For example: It has long been held that you should not start a sentence with "And." However, that is not the hard and fast grammatical rule it used to be, and sometimes, using "And" as a transition between sentences become part of the author's style. And I really like the way it flows a lot of times. It really depends on the author's talent. I don't think criticizing an author's style is appropriate. If you don't like the style -- read something else.

As for what a beta/editor does:

I think this may be defined differently in different fandoms, and I know it is defined differently by different people.

For me, I want my beta to be a stickler on mechanics. That is their first and foremost job. Pull out those unnecessary commas that I tend to sprinkle throughout things and fix my fingers' almost compulsive tendency to mix up the/that/to when typing quickly. And help me stick the words I leave out and take out the words I type twice. You get the the picture, right?

The other thing I rely heavily on a beta for is what I call placement or position issues. This would be where I write things like:

Hutch rose and walked to the window.

"What now?" Starsky asked.

Hutch turned to look at him, then walked to the window.

And yes, I have done that more times than I care to admit.

It can also include things like:

Hutch held the beer in his right hand.

(blah, blah, blah)

Hutch touched Starsky with his left hand. With his other hand, he stroked the man's arm.

Okay -- is this the third hand? Or is he getting a little kinky and using the beer to stroke his partner's arm? See what I mean? Position and placement.

To a lesser extent, I like my beta to comment on plot development. Is it logical? Does it make sense? Could it happen or is it just too much of a stretch? And along with plot development comes the sense of time. Are things taking too long or not long enough? If my action has Starsky making a bed, but he only carries on a conversation for three or four lines -- is that really enough time to make the bed? And does it really matter? Is it enough of a jarring element to detract from what is really happening? Those are the things I like to discuss with my beta.

And finding a beta to work with can be an arduous task for an author. There are many pitfalls. You have to find someone who likes your work, or you're at cross purposes from the get go. And as an author, you have to know what you're looking for in a beta. Sometimes, a beta has a completely different view of their job than what the author wants. And that's okay -- there's an author for every beta out there, I'm sure of it. It just may take some time to get the right pairs together. In my original fandom, I have my cheerleader, my mechanics expert, (who also doubles for placement and position), and my plot development specialist. But it took me a long time to find people who had the skills I was looking for and with whom I was comfortable. New authors may need time to develop a good beta team.

Feedback, comments, LOCs, call it what you will. Most authors like to get mail. Do I want someone to point out errors to me when they write me? It depends. If the only thing the correspondent wrote to say was: You misused then instead of than, than quite frankly, I could pass on that letter. Now -- if someone wanted to say, "I enjoyed your story but I happened to notice that you used then instead of than," I would probably be much more receptive. But as someone has already said, I am a little hesitant to offer specific corrections unless they are asked for. I'm not the author's beta or editor and I don't know the person well enough to know how it would be received. There's also the issue of where the story is read. If it's already on an archive, pointing out errors is just an exercise in frustration as most archivists don't have time to be redoing stories that are already up. Especially for minor corrections. If the author has their own web page, they might appreciate the opportunity to clean the story up if something was pointed out to them

I absolutely do not see the point of writing to someone to tell them you didn't like their story. Why would anyone feel compelled to do that? If you don't like it, don 't read it. Period. And don't feel you need to share. It serves no purpose other than to hurt the author's feelings.

I think the important thing to remember here is that none of us are professional writers and none of us are professional editors. Or if we are -- Starsky and Hutch is not the venue in which we ply our trade. None of us are experts. This is hobby and should be fun. It's not a closed society -- or at least I don't think it was envisioned as such -- and therefore everyone should be welcome and should feel comfortable enough to participate without fear of being eaten alive.

I have to say, I had very, very grave reservations about posting my story on this list as opposed to the Fiction list, once the two merged. "Discussions" over here seem to turn snarky quite quickly and it made me very reticent to open myself up to that. My stories are my babies, and writing one follows a very similar path as childbirth. There's the conception of an idea, then the gestation as it develops. Then there's the labor or writing it, editing it, rewriting it, re-editing it, polishing, finalizing, proofing, etc, etc, etc. Repeat steps as often as necessary before the "baby" is ready to be born. Giving birth to the story -- posting it -- is almost as hard for me as sending my kids off to school for the first time. I want people to like my story. I want it to be a good reflection on me. I want it to have an impact on people, be it make them laugh, make them cry, or simply make them remember it. And when someone feels the need to just blatantly criticize, I am really hurt. I simply don't understand it. If someone is reading something that is not to his or her liking, then close it and delete it. Be adult enough to recognize that not every story will appeal to every reader and maybe this one just isn't your cuppa.

I am always amazed at the stats on list participation. There are over 300 people on this list and yet, only 15 or 20 post. So while I agree with the overall analogy that a few people being rude in a room of 300 shouldn't make me feel unwelcome, when those few are the only ones speaking, then yes, I do feel unwelcome.

I recently posted a story and have received a number of comments on it. I belong to several lists, as do many of the people here. I find it extremely interesting that all of my comments have been received from the other list, despite the fact that I recognize the names from this list as well. This is not a plea for feedback -- just the sociologist in me making an observation. Perhaps people feel more comfortable making their comments elsewhere -- and isn't that a shame?

Just remember:

No one makes you read a story.

No one appointed you King of Content and Commentary.

No one wants to be made to feel bad or inadequate or unwelcome.

And most of all: Your delete key is your friend.

And of course -- no one appointed me King of Content and Commentary, either. The above does not reflect the views of anyone other than myself and you are totally welcome to use your delete key if you do not agree.

Just don't feel you need to tell me.