Aug. 30th, 2010

thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
I am good at picking fan fiction. I am. I can look at a header and think, YAY or OMG NO or If I had world enough and time, and also someone had glued me to my chair. I can generally tell in a few paragraphs if this is back-button-it's-too-late-for-me-save-yourself territory. Ninety percent of the time, I know if I'm reading my way into trouble, or if I should check the ending first or just get someone who knows me to pre-read the story to see if my eyes might melt right off my face if I try it.

And I know when something is going to be in that sad grey area between "bad enough that you can laugh" and "mediocre but maybe worth your time if it hits your current narrative kinks and character needs."

Unfortunately, I have never had this ability with published fiction. (This is why I laugh when people say, "But published fiction doesn't have headers and notes and warnings and stuff!" No, it doesn't, and we are the poorer for it. Think of all the published work you wouldn't have read if it had had "part 1/???" in the title and "Summary: Stuff happens. People die. Life sucks. Girls can't hack it." in the header.) But the thing is, ten years ago I was more tolerant of published crap. I accepted that I would have to wade through it up to my knees to find great things to read; I thought it was my fate and duty as a reader. Now, I get to the midpoint of a book, realize it exists in the sad grey area, and I don't think, well, maybe the next book will be great. I just want to back button. Except, god damn it, I actually paid for this. Which means there can be no happy ending: either I finish the book and wish I had not, or I don't finish it and feel ripped off.

And lately - oh, man. Lately I have hit a really long run of sad grey area books. I had honestly forgotten there were so many ways to fuck up a book, you know? And Best Beloved has been recommending me stuff (good stuff!) from her recent reads, but she's run dry.

So I am asking you: please, please rec me something good to read. Ideally something available on the Kindle, because I'm doing all this extra reading because I've spent the past two months variously sick or injured, all in the ways where getting up to get another book is a serious investment of time and energy.

I like:
  1. Non-fiction, particularly memoirs, detailed histories of unlikely things (chopsticks, a single typeface, the compass rose), and anything funny or told in an engaging narrative voice. (I am also always looking for really good books on WWI pilots, planes, and the war in the air.)
  2. Speculative fiction. I generally prefer robots to elves, but frankly I will take either. Robots and elves also 100% welcome.
  3. YA books of almost any stripe, provided there is something else going on besides A and B kissing or not kissing.
  4. Anything amazingly awesome. I will read the best book in any genre!
I do not like:
  1. Child or animal harm or death. (If you're not sure about this with what you're recommending, let me know and I will have it pre-read.)
  2. Stories that are entirely about whether or not A and B will kiss. Or, alternatively, stories where saving the world is the B plot, and the A plot is whether or not A and B will kiss. (Saving the world comes first. Or there will be nowhere comfortable to fuck.)
  3. Torture porn, rape-o-matic plotting (Can't figure out what happens next? Rape someone!), authors who think that gore is somehow a substitute for characterization or plot.
And if you're looking for more detail on what I don't like, a rant! Dedicated to the authors of the crap I've been reading recently.

DEAR AUTHORS OF BOOKS TFV HAS RECENTLY PAID FOR AND READ WHY GOD WHY,

There is now a three-drink limit on fading to black. I'm talking specifically here about the kind of fading to black you do when your character is unconscious or near death. Because, okay, if your character is taking multiple head injuries and/or really serious injuries just generally - look. You can get away with that. Serial immortality! Just plain old immortality! Wolverine! But if your character has basically a normal human's stamina and healing factor and number of lives and so on - seriously. Please don't knock her unconscious or shoot her or have her nearly beaten to death at the end of every chapter. Especially if the entire book takes place over the course of a week. After a while, I start humming the Die Hard theme, you know? There are other ways to end a chapter! Like maybe your heroine could knock someone else unconscious!

Please remember to have an actual protagonist. Because, okay. If your entire plot summary can be written like this:
  • Something random happens to X!
  • Something else random happens to X!
  • A third random thing happens to X!
Then it's time to consider one of two possibilities:
  1. You don't actually have a plot.
  2. X is not actually your protagonist.
See, protagonists DO STUFF. They do something. They may make everything worse. They may make stupid choices. They may be brilliant and sparkly and solve every problem and also cure cancer and make our sky a permanent rainbow. But if they just stand around and wait for things to happen, and then things happen and they say, "Oh! Something happened!" or, alternatively, just pass out, then they are not actually doing anything. Including entertaining your readers. Protagonists: a literary tradition for a reason! Look into having one for your next novel, won't you?

Please remember to have a protagonist. Seriously. I am not kidding. It's a good idea if you give the reader someone to like. Not someone, you know, perfect, or even close to perfect, but it's nice if at least one of your characters has a positive trait or two. Otherwise reading the book is kind of like being in an elevator with people you hate. With the doors open, so you can leave any time you want. I am looking at you, author of the book where in the first 10,000 words the only thing approximating a main character is completely nondescript except for his willingness to kill people for no very good reason. "Willing to kill monks if the plot demands it" is not the kind of thing that endears me to a protagonist, particularly if that appears to be his only characteristic.

There is a very good reason to have people of various genders and sexual preferences in your books. No, I am not going to talk here about accurately representing the world, although that's a great thing, too. But here's the advantage to you: you will not accidentally have all your main characters fall in love with one person. They can't! They won't all be interested in the same person. And obviously it gets really tempting after a while to make everyone fall in love with the character you love best. Look, I read fan fiction, so you don't need to tell me that it's tempting. I'm just saying that that it doesn't work. After a while we all secretly rename your main character Prince Sparkleshit Mesmerstare. And here's a way you can keep that from happening!

Try genderswapping sometime! Specifically, try swapping the genders of your book's characters. If you're looking at your now-male characters and going, "But that's totally unrealistic! They're all like cartoon villains!" and you're looking at your now-female characters and saying, "But this is entirely unrealistic! They have three dimensions and breast size is never once mentioned! I can't even describe them as bitches!" just - okay, look, I am not going to give you any advice. You won't take it anyway. But if you would be so good as to send me a note so that I can stop reading your books - which are obviously not written for girls anyway - that'd be aces.

Love and kisses!
TFV

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thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
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