or, How To Be a Good Writer
At some point in the past, somebody-- perhaps a linguistically-inclined friend or a well-meaning English teacher-- told you that great writing comes from within, that you should write passionately on whatever subject is closest to your heart, and that, as long as you are pleased with your work, you are doing the right thing. You believed it. Laws, but you're stupid. This essay will attempt to deprogram you of these obviously moronic beliefs, and help you to acclimate to the wonderful world of free thought and constructive criticism that is FictionPress.
First of all, let us dispense with our preconceived notions of "good" and "bad" writing. A good story, essay, or poem is one that jibes completely with all of your own opinions, without offending, enlightening, or over-stimulating you. Such work is surprisingly common. Bad writing is rarer, but very easy to spot: it expresses opinions with which you may disagree, broaches subjects that make you uncomfortable, and, worst of all, causes you to think. This last quality of bad writing makes it, not only unpleasant, but extremely dangerous. We will discuss the best ways to deal with bad writing, in a later section.
Now that we know the definition of good writing, let us review the steps involved in its production. In the past, you may have been told that you can get a wealth of wonderful starting ideas by brainstorming-- looking to yourself and the world around you to find images and concepts that will make interesting stories. This is a bad habit that you must break before it breaks you. Ideas don't come from the inside of your thick little head: they are developed by professionals. When starting a story, look to the following sources (and nowhere else) for acceptable ideas:
mainstream punk, rap, rock or pop music,
your school-assigned textbooks (important: use only the textbooks given to you by your school's administration; do not do any additional research),
and FictionPress stories that have received only favorable reviews.
- Examine these sources (but, not too thoroughly-- you mustn't overexert yourself) until you find an idea which appeals to you. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this idea unique and original?
Will it challenge my abilities as a writer?
Will my coverage of this topic dispell ignorance and possibly improve somebody's quality of life?
Is there any chance that somebody will not like this idea?
You have probably heard (perhaps from the same malevolent maroon who told you that great writing comes from within your figurative heart) that good writing requires practice, perseverance, and time. This is also wrong. Your piece of writing should be absolutely perfect from the moment that you start. If it is not an instant classic, you should immediately give up on writing and limit yourself to criticism of other writers (the fine art of criticism will be discussed in another section). If you are truly a good writer, you should be able to spew two, three or more marvelous new stories, poems or essays in a single day. To determine whether your work is any good, examine the following questions:
- If you are writing a story . . .
- . . . does it easily fit into a predefined genre?
. . . did you steal most of the plot from a movie?
. . . does your cast of characters include at least one super-cool, immortal vampire (spelled with a "y") who is perfect in every way, but otherwise exactly like you?
. . . is it all about depression, murder and/or suicide?
- If you are writing a poem . . .
- . . . is it entirely devoid of structure, rhythm and rhyme?
. . . have you written at least two other poems that are virtually identical to this one?
. . . for every ten words in the poem, did you include at least three of the following terms: betrayal, blade, bleed, blood, cold, cruel, cut, dagger, darkness, death, defeat, despair, dying, empty, end, frozen, hate, I, love, kill, knife, me, mine, murder, my, myself, nothing, sadness, scar, scream, silence, vomit, wound. (You may have noticed that these powerful words, which you cannot possibly overuse, are presented in alphabetical order. Do not use them in this order in your poem, as this would indicate some semblance of forethought.)
. . . is it all about depression, murder and/or suicide?
- If you are writing an essay . . .
- . . . have you chosen a thesis with which nobody can possibly disagree?
. . . do you constantly restate and paraphrase your thesis as a supporting argument?
. . . does your argument hinge on an obvious logical flaw?
. . . is your prose so dismal that it is likely to drive your readers to depression, murder and/or suicide?
If you are able to answer most or all of the applicable questions with a resounding "yes," then rest assured that you have written something great. You may be tempted to revise your work, to correct your spelling and grammar and, perhaps, to reconsider the artistic merit of the piece. You must resist this urge. Post all of your work hot-off-the-press, no exceptions or excuses.
At this point, you will need to write a title and a summary for your story. Titles are easy: just pick the first one that comes to mind, even if it doesn't really fit. The same applies to the summary. To make your summary stand out, you must include one or more of the following banalities (each term will appear in italics, while its definition will be indented):
- This means "railroad." I don't know why you would tack the word "railroad" onto the end of your summary, but everybody else is doing it, so you'd better follow suit.
- "Rest and relax." This means that you want the reader to casually glance at your story, without bothering to review it.
- Rating may go up
- Roughly translated, "This is the first chapter of my long, grueling story that is supposed to contain some gore or erotica later on, but I'll probably chicken out or run out of ideas before it gets to that point, so go ahead and bring the kids, for now." Apply liberally to all of your unfinished stories.
- Full summary inside
- You cannot be fettered by a limit of one hundred fifty-five characters, so you will jam a largely superfluous internal summary onto your story's head. Most readers are grateful for the added insight, and they will patiently read a few hundred words of your glorious summary before realizing that it's not worth their time and walking away.
- [blank] or "none"
- Summaries are beneath you. You don't care what people think of this poem (this type of summary is used almost exclusively for poems) and you don't want people to read it-- if you did, you wouldn't have published this thing on a popular website. You are so cool.
Congratulations! You have written the best story, poem or essay ever-- or, have you? The fact is, an author is not great unless the critics say that he or she is great. In the next section, we will discuss the various forms of criticism, and then show you the correct way to react to it.