Anyway, welcome, everyone. Feel free to introduce yourself, if you like. I'd love to know why you're here. :)
The onslaught of the cicadas is slowly fading away. There are still plenty in the trees and on the ground--yesterday one flew onto my shoulder and stayed there for about five minutes trying to decide whether my hair was edible or not-- but there aren't billions the way there were just two weeks ago. This saddens me in a strange way. This morning coming into work, I saw where someone in the library staff had drawn a picture in crayon of a happy cicada and stuck it on the wall. It reads, "Cicadas ♥ our tropical paradise." I am still smiling.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about badfic, goodfic, and plebefic, for quite a number of reasons. I think after multiple tries I've found a system of fic reccing that both does what I want it to do and communicates effectively with different kinds of readers. Namely, squeeing shippers who just want to lap up every halfway-decent H/D fic that comes their way won't read fics the same way as a casual reader who prefers to stick with high-quality recs of any pairing. That is the hardest part, I think, about reccing fics for a very wide range of people--but I think by adding a few specific details and stating what category of reader I think this fic works best with, I've finally solved that problem.
The one issue that remains is, of course, the Plebe fic. A friend of mine who has made some absolutely fabulous plebe recs in the past commented to me last night that she felt guilty about reccing some of them as plebe fics--that some of them, she had decided, weren't actually in that category. My response was, well, okay--but if you take away the "plebe" category from a well-written plebefic, wouldn't that make the fic simply average? I was half-joking, but I had a point. Plebe fics are like B movies, the kind that MST3K turned into cult classics. Plebe fics can be absolutely wonderful if they're bad/good enough--just take Chatroom Anonymity, for example. But take away that element of horrible, wonderful over-the-topness that makes plebefics so great--and what is to keep the fic from being just another boring, mediocre fic undistinguishable from many others?
The problem is that you can't actually rec a fic as a "plebe" rec--because to call something a plebefic is to insult it. Yet I think that plebefic as a genre is really underrated. It is a very distinct genre within fanfic, easy to recognize and define. I would define it as characterized by fantastical, escapist plot scenarios paired with mediocre to average writing, with an emphasis on very fanon characterizations. Many of us are fans of plebefic, and we bring a vastly different set of expectations to every plebefic we read than we do to "goodfic." I wish it were possible to call something a delightful plebefic and be seen as giving the fic a compliment--because as fics go, Plebefics are wonderful escapist, recreational reads; they're often funny and extremely creative, and they keep you from taking any fic too seriously. Without plebefic existing at the opposite end of the scale from serious, 'arthouse'-types of fics, there would be no standard for determining what is "goodfic" and "badfic."
What's the difference between plebefic and badfic? Badfic, I think, is something that should be better than it is. Badfic happens when the caliber of the writing style is much better than the story the author is trying to tell. Badfic happens when goodfic meets plebe scenarios. Plebefic is quite often wildly popular; but Badfic is quite often even more wildly popular. To me, of the two, Badfic is by far the more offensive. Plebefic can be enjoyed on a certain level, without expectations of improvement. Badfic, however, seriously tries to operate on a more sophisticated level--it wants us to judge it critically. Badfic often suffers from many of the same flaws as plebefics; but unlike plebefics, Badfics are written well enough, and their plots (usually dramas or high romance) are serious enough, that they are more difficult to write off as pure escapism. In badfic you're less likely to find things like Mary Sues, MPreg, or Veela!Draco-- but in Badfic you are very likely to find extremely fanon characterisations, implausible situations, florid writing, self-insertion, and/or a manipulative authorial presence that has characters doing any number of unlikely things.
Badfics often leave me wanting to throttle the writer, because someone writing at a certain level should know better--or at least have the stamina to undergo a certain amount of constructive criticism in order to improve. Yet who's going to critique a badfic with ten zillion screaming fangirl reviews? Most serious reviewers won't bother--and occasionally those who do receive less-than-positive responses from the authors. That is frustrating; it is frustrating not only because there's a part of me, personally, that wants to be able to shut off the critical part of my brain and just enjoy the fic, but also because I can't stop seeing the potential the writer has to be writing at so much more sophisticated and creative a level than they currently are.
And then there is one more nebulous and highly frustrating category: WIPS that jump the shark. Commenting on that fanfic hate thing, patchfire mentioned to me yesterday that it's too bad we don't have more discussion about fics that abruptly start going downhill in the middle of a story. Oh, how we can all relate. I could go down the list of stories that I absolutely loved at the start that totally left me weepy and jaded when, 3 or 4 chapters, sometimes 20 chapters in, they took a turn for the inexplicably awful; I'm sure every person reading this can do the same.
I read a fic last night that jumped the shark so horribly I was and still am completely unsure about what to classify it as: plebefic, badfic, or horribly executed goodfic? If you read this fic's summary, you would automatically think "Plebefic!" and begin reading it with the same expectations you would bring to the average plebefic. Shortly thereafter, you would be completely taken by surprised, because it's quite a well-written fic (and has about 800 enthusiastic reviews at Schnoogle as testament to this fact). For about halfway through it, the characterizations are surprisingly canonical: Harry is brash, an interesting mix of insensitivity and kindness; Draco is nasty and insufferable and weak and vulnerable; and despite a plot straight out of FF.Net's Greatest Hits, it's really an enjoyable, addictive read. I was all set to give it a glowing rec.
And then. And then. Halfway through suddenly the Original Character became an out-and-out Mary Sue; Draco became a Carson Kressler-esque, snarky-but-likeable fanon caricature of himself; Harry became wibbly and needy; random melodramatic plot twists started happening for no apparent reason and with no substantial plot-point other than to give Harry and Draco reasons to go all emo on one another and provide the author with a cliffhanger that would leave the fangirls leaving wailing, 'how could you' reviews; and ultimately the fic wound up with everyone falling in love and Harry and Draco house-hunting. That fic is, inexplicably, still a WIP, even though the most recent chapter should have been a clear ending point; and I am left to wonder how many more crimes upon character, fic structure, and plot the author will continue to inflict upon her readers.
And really, it wasn't that the fic wasn't enjoyable; it was just that I didn't know how to enjoy it: at first I thought it was a plebe fic--then I started thinking it was goodfic dressed in plebe clothing and adjusted my reader expectations and sense of enjoyment accordingly; and then it jumped the shark and became horribly fanon to the extreme; so I felt like ultimately I was reading this weird conglomeration: a Badfic that should have been a Goodfic set in Plebeland. I went from feeling pleasantly surprised and delighted to have discovered a fic that was much better than I had expected it to be, to feeling betrayed that I had raised my expectations only to have them bitterly disappointed in the second half of the fic.
So now I have a bunch of questions. Is it helpful to place these distinguishing labels of "plebe," "bad," "good" as sort of all-encompassing genres that tell us how to read fics? Do they tell us how to read certain fics, or should we rather approach fics without any expectations whatsoever? How do we tailor critique of stories so that they meet fics where they're at, if the fic itself leads you to expect first one thing, than another? How do you even tell where something ceases to be a "plebe" fic and becomes something better? And if it's something that's well-written enough to be considered "better" than a plebefic, should we judge it by the same standards that we judge the best serious fics in the fandom? Will we ever be able to rec plebefics with a straight face? Should we even try?
I have no answers. Do any of you?