Forum: The Art of Declining

Discussing: The ones at the bottom...

The ones at the bottom...

These are easy to decline, and hard, at least for me, to comment on. Do I give a list of problems? Do I just say 'not ready for HASA' (thank you, Julie for that phrase.) Do I suggest they read some of the archived stories and the review criteria to understand what is likely to be acceptable?

Some of these writers may go beyond what they are doing now, especially if not quashed. I welcome suggestions on how to decline gently. As much as I liked Lindorien's HA post "so many grammar errors I must now gouge my eyes out," I'm hoping to find something a bit more diplomatic.

I'm assembling a list for myself of short ways to describe problems:
flat characterizations
trite
pacing problems
multiple or serious canon errors
multiple punctuation errors
multiple grammar errors
multiple spelling errors
Character's actions not well set up or explained (need a better way to say this)
Certain aspects violate common sense (some battle scenes I have read)
Modernisms

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Ahhh, the Lever of Doom fodder.

Character's actions not well set up or explained (need a better way to say this)
Character's motives unclear ?

Certain aspects violate common sense (some battle scenes I have read)
Action not believable or possible as currently written ?

Bad battle scenes are all too common in this fandom, I'm afraid. We want to give our characters a heroic bent, but all too often we have them defying the laws of nature.

khazar

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

so many grammar errors I must now gouge my eyes out.

Say you that be undiplomatic? My dear friend, you cut me to the quick!

How about this --

"Have you considered taking advantage of those remedial English Comp courses offered on your campus?"

Tell you what -- let me dig up a 'bottom' fic to submit and I can let you know how badly I am excoriated...

In all honesty. A fic on the bottom is so bad that I cannot bother with comments. It is perhaps unfortunate, but the writer of a fic on the bottom, unless somewhere within the morass a spark of genius might be found, is best abandoning their hobby.

There are lots of things I cannot do; raising the dead among them.

Lindorien

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

I could dig up quite a few for your sadomasochistic pleasure if you like, most of them currently in the LOTR section of FF.net (how many of those 21,000+ stories do you really think are worth reading?). One of the worst Mary Sues ever was actually in another fandom I came across, and it also happened to be some of the worst writing I've ever read.

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

There's violations of common sense (which may be worth pursuing) and then there's violations of physics (which almost never are... unless you are the director of "Das Boot").

"Character's actions not well set up or explained"--I think that sounds fine, so long as an example is given.

For any single one of those, Lyllyn, I'd stress always finding the most painful example (or the most important example) to point out as illustration. On the assumption that an author who has submitted such a fic isn't cognizant enough to realize the extent of his/her problems, the example is key. Heck, even good authors who get a blank "you have a canon error" may scratch their heads and think, "Could you please point it out?"

The problem with the fics "on the bottom" is that there are two types of "on the bottom" fics:

1) Fic belongs to a new writer, still developing, has kernels of good ideas but not yet the skill to carry them out. That's where I think Julie's "Not yet ready for HASA" is useful, and I'd want to take a little more time and be more detailed with my review. Especially if this is a WiP, I'd be certain to note that it is far far better to have a finished fic than not (it saves you the embarrassment of pulling a fic from the archive back to Beta, for one thing, when you hit a major snag). However, if it's a WiP, I'd also not choose the WiP declination--I'd pick the decline that identified the major problem, then also note the WiP issue.

2) Fic is (to borrow Iain's phrase) "fractally wrong" and is simply not able to be corrected. There, I think it's a matter of pointing out the implausibility of the premise in the first place and leaving it at that, with a suggestion/encouragement to keep practicing. There's no point in detailing the individual problems for a fractally wrong fic, because for the fic to work, it'd have to be a different story entirely, from the reviewer's standpoint.

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

My personal method for providing commentary concerning a story "on the bottom" is thus:
Say nothing unless the author asks it of me.

But I'm all about lending people a hand, so if I see a request somewhere for reviewers to provide feedback, I always respond. And by reserving my energy in the cases when I'm not sure my input is desired, I'm more inclined to reply gladly (as opposed to grudgingly) when someone asks for information.

In those cases, I try to be more detailed than a 'capsule review' type comment, however precise or diplomatic (although sometimes that's sufficient, it isn't really my style).

So instead of saying, "I thought XXX was OOC", I'll say something along the lines of, "I wouldn't have expected XXX to react/behave in this, this, and this fashion, and XXX's motivations weren't made clear/believable enough considering YYY circumstances and what we know of humans/dwarves/the Valar from canon. I suggest reviewing and reworking the material with a stronger focus on character motivations".

Some problems aren't as easy to define as, "You're not using proper punctuation throughout ('punctuation' is the parts of spoken dialogue that are put in "quotations" and the rule of application for commas and periods and such). I suggest locating a 'how-to' guide, like a writer's desk reference, and looking up the correct way to utilize punctuation".

I find when a story has lots of little things that irk me, it becomes a much more complicated process to compile a general overview that is both insightful and coherent (especially if it isn't necessarily 'technical' issues, such as writing mechanics or definite canon points). But, I try.

...Lyllyn, did I just completely not address the purpose of this thread even remotely...?

-AE

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Lyllyn, I think your list of “problems” is a great idea.

I also tend to decline the “F” list without detailed comment (things are bad enough without rubbing it in!) unless there is something, even a phrase, that speaks to me of a place to encourage. But I do try to point to the problem if I can.

I need a similar “checklist” for declining poetry. I tend to favor substance over surface, but sometimes one can say “badly structured” or “Incorrect use of form” (or “have you ever heard of meter?”) but I have seen some “blank verve” and “free verse” that leaves me without those rules to point to.

Some forms fall through the cracks – like the drabble – and also suffer in review. But as a reviewer, there is a discipline to judge them against, a use of their chosen form – structure and substance, again.

Sometimes I want to write – free verse is not a catch all phrase for an incomplete thought with any structure. It has its own rules – it has to say something, and it has to phrase it to catch the eye/ear.

But it can be so subjective!

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

For the ones that really make me wince (being slightly hypocritical here), I tend to say "I don't think that is ready/suitable for the archive". But it depends on whether it has potential or not.
Also, for me, saying that it "Isn't suitable" doesn't necessarily mean that it's bad. It could be fairly good, but just not seem right for the archive.
Tay, I'm afraid that your poetry list quite often applies to me!

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

I could dig up quite a few for your sadomasochistic pleasure if you like, most of them currently in the LOTR section of FF.net

No thanks, but you're so kind to offer. I gave up on ff.net for the most part, and when i do venture it, I don't review any fic that isn't a serious effort to write well (as opposed to serious in nature.)
But when they show up on HASA, I figure one of two things has happened:
1. The author feels he or she is seriously attempting to write well, no matter how bad the story is.
2. The author or nominator is totally clueless as to the nature of the archive.

So I try to say something, just in case it's number 1. But I do wonder how some of these stories wind up submitted.


Lyllyn, did I just completely not address the purpose of this thread even remotely.

Actually, you did address it. You gave examples of how to tell authors of 'bottom' stories what the problems are. I'll take that.

I need a similar “checklist” for declining poetry. I tend to favor substance over surface, but sometimes one can say “badly structured” or “Incorrect use of form” (or “have you ever heard of meter?”) but I have seen some “blank verve” and “free verse” that leaves me without those rules to point to.

I'd really like to see that checklist for poetry. Not to mention your article on poetry forms (hint, hint).

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Tay of the many names wrote --

free verse is not a catch all phrase for an incomplete thought with any structure.

hehehe. For a lot of free verse I just want to say --

"Please explain to me why you did not opt to simply put this into a paragraph and then write a story around it."

But that's just me.

Lindorien

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

I need a similar “checklist” for declining poetry.

Yep. I accept poetry sometimes but almost never decline it ( that doesn't mean I accept all - it means I pop it back into the basketa nd tiptoe quietly away. ;-)) I guess I'm confident enough to go 'I like this - it says something to me as a reader and I believe a visitor to the archive would be pleased it was here' - but not confident enough in my judgement of what is bad poetry. I know *I* think it is bad - but what if I'm rejecting the next Sylvia Plath or Henry Lawson? What if it is just that I'm a philistine?


Avon

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

1. The author feels he or she is seriously attempting to write well, no matter how bad the story is.
2. The author or nominator is totally clueless as to the nature of the archive.


Yep. I tend to suggest to writers of yowch! sort of fics that they might like to join HASA, if they don't already belong, and put their stuff into beta to get some help or find a beta from somewhere. The problem with doing long feedback is that (1) if they didn't self-submit this then they'll never see it and (2) I don't know if they give a darn. If they're just going to bristle and say' but everyone else loved my fic' or shrug their shoulders and say 'I do this for fun' then I'm wasting my time and possibly theirs. My other problem is that I don't believe - and I'm sorry if this offends anyone - that everyone can write well enough to make a criteria referenced archive like HASA. Of course you can improve your ability but not everyone can write well. I could train as hard as I liked but I'd never make, say, the state netball team. So thre are stories where I encourage them to fix and resubmit and there are stories where I think - but don't say - that the kindest thing would be for them to stick to somewhere like FFnet.

Avon

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

I don't find poetry difficult to judge - having very strong, not to say passionate, views on what differentiates real poetry from something labelled 'poem' - but I find it can be difficult to comment on. Personally, I find the overall standard of fanfiction poetry relatively bad - lower than prose fanfiction, anyway. Authors who are otherwise careful about writing and canonical idioms can perpetrate significant errors of judgement in poetry. Attempting to comment on them, I sometimes feel as though I'm trying to apply guidelines that the author may never have encountered before. And it's not terribly diplomatic to say things like, 'To a haiku lover, these sentences in 17 syllables are as horrible a misfire as a canon-bending Sue'; or, 'Using obsolete abbreviations for the sake of scansion is as much disrespect for the language as peppering prose with chatspeak'. You know that the author wouldn't dream of committing those latter sins, but how do you shake an assumption that the rules of good writing are different in poetry?

Anyway, my poetry 'checklist', for those interested, runs something like this:

Structure. (If a set form) Has the content dictated the form, giving the poem an air of smoothness and inevitability; or have the metre and rhyme scheme been filled at the expense of precise diction and accurate syntax? (If free verse) Does the poem move in an organic cadence, or do the line breaks seem arbitrary and the rhythm flat or choppy?

Precise effects. Is the diction of the poem clear or woolly? Does the poem offer concrete imagery, or windy rhetoric? Do adjectives carry proper weight, or are they weakened by overuse? Can the reader 'taste' each line on their tongue?

Vocabulary. Is the language more highly charged than that of prose, yet still that of the living tongue, not pseudo-Elizabethan argot? Do certain words obviously jar? Do the sounds, as well as senses, of the words complement each other?

Concision. Compressed, or long-winded? Has the author understood that poetry is a more concise vehicle than prose? Do I feel the poem could have been trimmed with no loss? If repetition is used, does it enhance the cumulative movement of the poem, rather than being dead weight?

Originality/spark of inspiration. Does the poem have something that lifts it above the banal and familiar? Does it present noteworthy images, use language in a creative or innovative way, or offer a new and/or insightful perspective?

Perhaps, like the joke about the Ten Commandments, 'candidates need not attempt all of these' But those are the criteria for poetry in my own little mental attic.

Gemma

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Gemma, for the sake of my education, could I impose on you to give some examples? I think what you have written and a few examples will add a great deal to my understanding of poetry. Like Avon, I tend to check out poetry only when I can vote 'Approve', and I leave all else for those more knowledgeable. I suspect there are a lot of us out there.

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

I'd love to offer To the Eldar as an example of a gem. Perhaps I'm a bit biased, since I was the one who found this poem and submitted it for review, but it's one of the best, most Tolkienesque poems that I've ever read. Impeccable metre and rhyme - internal rhyme, no less! - the break in which appropriately directs the reader's attention to a shift in the poem, rather than jarring distractingly. As for diction - well, I'll give you this:

Even though cold their doom they bore
Until the hoar of time should melt,
No fear they felt, and knew no dearth.


"The hoar of time" - I love it. And the author managed to add a bit of Quenya at the end without disrupting the rhyme. And the tone throughout is crisp and concise.
Can you tell I wish I could write poetry like this?

-Aerlinnel

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

I don't find poetry difficult to judge

So Gemma - and thanks muchly for the guidelines - I think I'll print them out to keep - what do you think of this poem by Browning? I ask because I'm very fond of it but was told when I studied Browning in the final year of school that it was 'bad' - so I always think of it as my classic how do you separate opinion and feeling from fact when judging poetry example. (Mind you I note the website I nicked this from doesn't consider it 'bad' ;-) - and we won't even get into 'Ern Malley')

The Lost Leader

Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a riband to stick in his coat--
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
So much was theirs who so little allowed:
How all our copper had gone for his service!
Rags--were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
Burns, Shelley, were with us,--they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the free-men,
--He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!

We shall march prospering,--not thro' his presence;
Songs may inspirit us,--not from his lyre;
Deeds will be done,--while he boasts his quiescence,
Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire:
Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
One task more declined, one more foot-path untrod,
One more devils'-triumph and sorrow for angels,
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life's night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation and pain,
Forced praise on our part--the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!
Best fight on well, for we taught him--strike gallantly,
Menace our heart ere we master his own;
Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,
Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!

-- Robert Browning

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

but was told when I studied Browning in the final year of school that it was 'bad'

The Lost Leader

Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a riband to stick in his coat--

--Robert Browning

*****
Reflections on How My Poems Compare to Mr. Browning's

Would that my poetry
sucketh so mightily.
Would that my verbage
be so filled with turdage
Would that my thoughts
be so meant for naughts

I wouldst cry in my sleep
I wouldst weep in the deep
I wouldst shout full of joy
were my poetry deployed
In the manner of Browning
so bad I was frowning
Whilst I pondered the problem
of how to absolve him.

Hence I shout to the night
Forsooth! and forsooth!
for 'tis true that eventually
all of my poetry
begins to sound like
my dear Dr. Seuss

-- Lindorien 2003 copyright

And what did your class, pray tell, teach you was considered a GOOD poem.




 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

LOL, Lindorian!

And what did your class, pray tell, teach you was considered a GOOD poem.

The other 8 or so we were studying - none of which I can remember because they didn't speak to me ;-)

Avon

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Now why didn't I keep my big mouth shut, having been called out to put my money where it is . I'm wary now of seeming like someone who passes hubristic judgements on anything and everything, which I hope isn't the case (after all, this thread is about 'the ones at the bottom' - even the juvenile Mr Browning probably doesn't belong there!). But to pick up the gauntlet: -

In answer to Lyllyn's post, I'll try to give some examples of pass/fail re. the 'checklist' above. For obvious reasons, I don't want to cite authors in this community, so I'm using some passages from a 'little magazine' with which I was involved several years ago. The magazine was community-based, in that one had to subscribe in order to contribute (for this reason, it offers a partial parallel to HASA submissions). Because the contributors were also subscribers, and because one of its aims was to encourage new writers, the quality of published poems was inevitably mixed; some writers had genuine talent, others were uninspired 'scribblers' (you know the kind of thing).

Caveats, etc.: Quotations are given entirely without the author's permission but should theoretically fall under fair use for the purposes of criticism . Assessments are of course only my own opinion, and because passages are cited to illustrate specific virtues/flaws, the 'poor' may still have other merits and the 'good' other mistakes.

Set form: natural and appropriate, or allowed to distort the content?

Poor (this lines 1-4 of a sonnet):
The fruit tree cornering our fence has gone.
I looked astonished at your man with saw
hacking at branches twigs and leaves, then more -
the trunk is killed, its standing stump forlorn.


Good:
Counter the curse
by finding the one
who wronged you first,

else though you be
an open door, you'll
not have company.


Free form: cadenced movement, or 'chopped up prose'?

Poor:
When we're alone,
His prehensile limbs
Snake round me,
Seeking support
That I will not give.


Good:
His hands are cool, square,
enclose mine with definition.
But I read the Braille
of fingertips, understand
the changed planes of his face,
know those distances of gaze.


Precision and concreteness:

Poor:
Meaning, like an empty cup,
leaches the dregs
through the cracks.
Pointless in stained circles,
revolving the edges
of the wheel of life.


Good:
A drift of sound
behind the window,
a touch of movement
in the cedars,
and a day
blows
from my calendar.


Concision:

Poor:
Candy floss hair, rose petal mouths,
Rainbow painted eyes,
They flutter round in groups like small exotic birds,
Hovering, preening, twittering,
Their shy souls and unschooled thoughts
Hiding behind this brittle, brilliant, camouflage.


Good:
A blackbird, in the bishop's garden,
chortles long and loud, as if he would
outdo the bells. From our attic window
we see the archdeacon scurrying through
the close; and, beyond the city walls,
crows and seagulls settling on the fields.


Originality/inspiration:

Poor:
Your [Ted Hughes'] Birthday Letters
give us understanding
of Man's essence:
incomprehending Woman.


Good:
Maybe the Lord
marks those he needs
with a mountain word


Those are just random examples, and I'm sure people could come up with far better/worse ones from other sources. I do agree that the poem Aerlinnel pointed out is very judiciously done: precise, uncluttered, and the author knew clearly what they were doing.

As for 'The Lost Leader': I'd have to write a thesis to comment on it properly, but I don't think it's 'bad', and can certainly understand why Avon admires it. It does show early Browning mired in some of the less-than-wonderful characteristics of Victorian poetry (slightly facile rhythm, oratorical tone, noble and 'By God, we're British' sort of atmosphere, and some fuzzy 'cosmic' phrasing), but it also shows the poet's genuine skill and original voice pushing through. The first two lines, in particular, are an excellent example of imagery vs. assertion (or show, don't tell), and for 'never glad confident morning again' one would forgive a lot of flaws . To borrow Ezra Pound's distinction between poems that take form as a tree grows, and those that take form as water poured into a vase; this is one of the latter kind, and the 'vase' isn't top-quality and perhaps is allowed to do a bit too much of the work, but the 'water' is the real stuff. We might still compare the poem with the more mature RB e.g. of 'Men and Women', when he dispenses with the 'vase' and concentrates more on precision and natural speech:

Rafael made a century of sonnets,
Made and wrote them in a certain volume
Dinted with the silver-pointed pencil
Else he only used to draw Madonnas:
These, the world might view - but One, the volume.
Who that one, you ask? Your heart instructs you.
Did she live and love it all her life-time?
Did she drop, his lady of the sonnets,
Die, and let it drop beside her pillow
Where it lay in place of Rafael's glory,
Rafael's cheek so duteous and so loving -
Cheek, the world was wont to hail a painter's,
Rafael's cheek, her love had turned a poet's?


That's a 'tree', and to me, at least, it sounds more real, more uniquely Browning's, than 'The Lost Leader'. Of course, others may prefer the more sweeping rhythm of the latter; and hopefully those combined opinions will give a fair hearing to poetry of substance whatever its form. So we won't bounce Robert (screen-name: I_Love_Elizabeth) just yet...

Sorry about the essay-long post, but there are some fascinating issues being raised here

Gemma






 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Now why didn't I keep my big mouth shut, having been called out to put my money where it is . I'm wary now of seeming like someone who passes hubristic judgements on anything and everything, which I hope isn't the case (after all, this thread is about 'the ones at the bottom' - even the juvenile Mr Browning probably doesn't belong there!). But to pick up the gauntlet: -

Thanks Gemma! I'm glad you did, because I consider myself fairly ignorant of poetry, and can use all the help I can get. (limericks are the only exception, but we won't get into that here.

This is very helpful to me, although I know I'll have to read it several times to take it all in. For some of the examples I can tell one is better, but even with your cheat-sheet, I can't always figure out why except that when I read it the 'good' one appears to flow better.

I'm going to save your post and think about it - a lot. Not to make more work for you, but are there Tolkien poems that are good or bad examples?

lyllyn

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Gemma wrote --

its aims was to encourage new writers, the quality of published poems was inevitably mixed; some writers had genuine talent, others were uninspired 'scribblers' (you know the kind of thing)

And where might my little gem fit?

Lindorien -- standing around with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

And where might my little gem fit?

Well, I thought it was funny

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

Lindorien wrote:

Would that my poetry
sucketh so mightily.


oh, my...me, too.

And Gemma -- thanks for taking the time to put up possible review pointers and examples. Interesting and instructive. I hope they will make me both a better reviewer and a better writer. Lots to think about.

flick

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

And where might my little gem fit?

Well, I thought it was funny


She said TACTFULLY.

hehehe
Lindorien

my work is done.

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

You know flick, I was just thinking -- never a safe thing for me to do -- I was just thinking that nothing makes my heart quaver more than to see a bunch of poems hit the review bin at one time. Somehow I know it will be WEEKS before anything else gets moved along.

Lindorien -- for whom hyperbole is a way of life.

 

 

Re: The ones at the bottom...

are there Tolkien poems that are good or bad examples?

Well, Gemma clearly has more experience and knowledge than I, but for what's it's worth, "Eärendil was a mariner" is one of my favourite poems from LotR. I love the internal rhyme and the wonderful descriptions, and the hints of alliteration that recall, say, Tolkien's "King Sheave" in The Lost Road. One that I'm not particularly fond of is Legolas's "To the Sea" - the metre is odd and awkward, and the poem is in simple (ha!) rhyming couplets. Not the Professor's best work, IMHO.

-Aerlinnel

 

 

Ah, poetry...

Fascinating discussion. I must admit I avoid poetry. I don't understand it. I don't know what people are looking for. I suspect I have a taste for doggerel. We studied poetry in 8th grade... that was a long, long time ago (possibly in a galaxy far, far away as well). And I hated it.

I have reviewed a few of the poems on HA that "spoke" to me, if you catch my drift. The others I leave to more knowledgeable reviewers.

Really enjoyed the parody (or was that a paraphrase?) of Browning, BTW.

I write poetry, but... *sigh* since I do not understand it, it might well be bad poetry. How would I know?

Living in blissful ignorance,
Lin

 

 

Re: Ah, poetry...

Really enjoyed the parody (or was that a paraphrase?) of Browning, BTW.

'Twas neither, Lindelea, just the ravings of a soul running on too few hours sleep.

Here's my bent on poetry -- it it is TRULY horrible, I feel comfortable declining. That is because I am an expert on horrible poetry, having written enough of it in my time.

If it is truly good and speaks to me -- I feel comfortable accepting.

If the poetry has little to do with LOTR -- in other words, were it not for the promise in the summary as to what the poem is to be about -- then I might decline for that reason, per the reviewing guidelines.

Anything else, I run away from screaming into the night and hope there are nine competent people out there who can review it.

Lindorien

--So I sing bonnie boys, bonnie mad boys. Bedlam boys are bonnie. For they all go bare and they live on the air and they want no drink nor money. -- steeleye span

 

 

In Forums

Discussion Info

Intended for: General Audience

This forum is open to all HASA members. It is read-only for the general public.

Membership on HASA is free and it takes only a few minutes to join. If you would like to participate, please click here.

If you are already a member, please log in to participate.

« Back to The Art of Declining