Thursday, October 14, 2004

Fan Fic...

My family went for a drive last night. My little four year old is just learning about the letters of the alphabet; what they are, what they do, and how they sound.

“Just,” he said. “ju, ju… just. G… S… T. That spells just.”

I heard him from the front seat and replied. “Son, you are wrong. Gst does not spell just. You are not as smart as your brother.”

Earlier that day my toddler pointed to a banana and said, “Nanna.” It was the first word I had heard him say. I pointed my finger at him. “NO!” I said strictly, “That is not a nana. That is a banana. You need to learn to say it right, like your older brothers.

OK, I’m lying. That is certainly not how I act around my kids. When my son attempted to spell just, I praised him for knowing the sounds. He is thinking about forming words with letters, a significant leap. I encouraged him and he was very pleased at my attention. When my toddler tries to tackle new words, I cheer him on and give him a hug. Even when they are flat wrong I praise and encourage.

So why is it when children start to write, we have to grade them? We have to correct their spelling, grammar, and prose? Shouldn't a significant amount of time be spent doing nothing more than cheering them on?

After reading fan fiction this week, I’m beginning to understand the appeal. I was quite frankly shocked as I read the comments. I have been blasted many, many times on the internet. I share my opinion and I’m flamed. I ask a question and I’m flamed. I post a smiley and I’m flamed. In places I'm know I've been flamed on what I'm 'probably going to say'! But with fan fiction it’s different. Oh sure, there are the occasional flames, but for the most part people go out of their way to praise and encourage. That, in an and of itself, makes fan fiction a powerful learning tool. Why do kids (and adults) go and post stuff here? Could it be because they don’t get all of their errors shoved in their face?

But there is more. If I had to teach writing I would do three exercises. First I would have students read good literature. Second I would have them read bad literature. Third, I would ask them explain to me the difference. I would ask them to show me how to make the bad literature better.

Critiquing is a very difficult thing. It seems easy. You read a bad story and say to yourself, “That sucks tacos.” But that isn’t critiquing, that is merely criticizing. To critique you need to explain why something sucks tacos. That is much, much more difficult.

When I first started writing for fun, I wanted the opinion of others. I went to writing groups and asked for opinions. In exchange I was more than happy to give my opinion on their work.

But I found this to be very difficult. I would read a story, find it to be ‘bad’, but not quite knowing why. Their sentences were grammatically correct. It seemed like they had a great plot going. Why didn’t it grip me like Orson Scott Card’s books? Or Douglas Adams? What was the difference?

I certainly don't have all the answers as to what makes a good story, but I feel like I’m starting to have a better idea. Now, after much work, I can read a story and find specific problems; common errors that writers make. Maybe the plot is too heavy handed, predictable, or without conflict. Maybe the writer uses a particular word too many times in a paragraph. Errors I make all of the time, but now recognize because I’m looking at other’s work, and asking the difficult questions; what is wrong with this? how can it be better?

The long and the short of it is that people are finding a voice online. Because of the sheer number of individuals, participants can find a group of peers that have about the same writing level, and the same interests. They can think about each others’ work, make it better, and learn. This could be (is?) a powerful method of teaching literacy.

The stories I critiqued are here, here, and here. The story I wrote is here.

I found this assignment, and the reading that went along with it, to be both insightful and enjoyable.


bhchia said...

for someone who wrote a book himself, this assignment should be a walk in the park for you.

thank you for sharing insights, rather than story. hearing you come from a true writer's perspective, i never knew how tough it was out there... getting flamed for everything. and never knew how supportive it was at fan fics...

one more day to wait and i will be able to post!

good to have met you during the 'pig out' at rosters, ogden.


gulfidan said...

Hi again, after a long break, now I can read your blogs. It was a busy week.

Your post this week make me realize what I am also thinking about, but could not figure out how to explain. About critizing. I think you did a good job refering it.

For me, I never show my stories to anybody except one of my friends. After having some inappropriate 'critisizing moments' during my teenage years, I could not find courage again to show to somebody, even now. They are my inner most thoughts, they are 'me'. By thinking that nobody will read it, I write better and more open.

Therefore, what people do in is really surprising. At least they are having good comments and they can make use of it.

Matthew Buckley said...

I am the same way. I will show my work to somebody and they will encourage me, say it's great, tell me it's nice, then say, "You might want to try this..." And I seem to only be able to focus on the negative. I've gone years without writing because somebody tells me a story is dumb. :)

Gulfidan Can said...

Same...Sometimes, I even get up from the bed and write something on a piece of paper in the dark by trying not to forget an idea comes to my mind just before fall asleep. I remember I cried to my own stories when I am writing them. After all deep moments for writing few sentences,somebody just looks at these words and say 'hmm, you may change it like this'. It is a constructive criticism in fact. But for me, I even do not want to have constructive criticism on my stories. When somebody contributes to my stories, I feel that they are not mine and not my feelings any more.

That is why it was really strange for me to see lots of people out there, publishing their stories and accepting criticism.

David said...

"OMFG U ARE AWESOME!" -- Spirit Dragon

I guess this sort of sums it up on your story. As for your comments:

"Why do kids (and adults) go and post stuff here? Could it be because they don’t get all of their errors shoved in their face?"

At universities and schools these days people are always talking about creating "safe spaces" -- for everything except learning. Absolutely excellent insight above. Seems like the faculty member who lords his/her expertise over you never turns out to be your favorite teacher - let alone a teacher you manage to learn much from.

Matthew Buckley said...

"OMFG U ARE AWESOME!" -- Spirit Dragon

Yeah, I never got that back on any of my papers I've turned in to teachers. :)