Tag: criticism

Stephen King: Digging Beneath the Topsoil

Yesterday, several friends pointed me to an article in Salon.com titled, “My Stephen King Problem” by a fellow named Dwight Allen. Actually, they pointed me to an excellent rebuttal to the article by Erik Nelson titled, “Stephen King: You Can Be Popular and Good.” You might consider reading both before continuing.

I suspect they directed me to these posts for two reasons: (1) I am a writer of genre fiction; (2) I am a Stephen King fan. With regard to the latter, I think it is important to state for the record that I wasn’t always a Stephen King fan. Before I read any of his books, I rather arrogantly dismissed him as “just another horror writer.” Then, sometime back in 2001, I read ‘Salem’s Lot. I thought the first two-thirds of the book were excellent. But then the monsters showed up and I thought the book got silly. I decided King wasn’t for me. That said, a few years later, I decided to give him another try. I read Needful Things and had almost the exact same reaction. They say the third time is a charm, however, and in September 2009, not long after our son was born, I sat down to read King’s book On Writing and I absolutely loved it. Of course, that was nonfiction, but in it, he talked about several of his books and stories and charmed the reader in such a way as to make it virtually impossible not to give his fiction another try. So I decided to start from the beginning and I read Carrie. And you know what? I thought it was a pretty good book. I followed that up with The Shining (I’d never seen the movie) and I enjoyed that one as well. And then I read It and I still consider that to be one of the finest pieces of fiction I’ve ever read.



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Thoughts on Science Fiction: Don’t Give Up the Ghetto!

When any group of intelligent readers (and writers) of science fiction get together, the conversation will inevitably turn toward the “ghettoization” of science fiction. There is nothing new here. It has happened in every decade of science fiction since its inception. One cannot be an intelligent reader or writer of science fiction without questioning its purpose and the question of the ghettoization of the genre goes to purpose. Why do we read and write science fiction?

Why I won’t give up the ghetto

Rating fiction

On the eve of the final votes for the Hugo Awards, I am trying to catch up on as many as the nominated stories as I can, so that I can post which stories I would vote for, if I were voting. I’m not quite ready to post my results yet, but I did make me think about how I rate the fiction that I read.

Everyone has their own system for rating fiction, and I’m not different in that respect. For many years, it was a simple system, based on 5 points, five being the “best”. It was sort of arbitrary, and I found that a lot of stories were rated 3s. Also, I always hesitated to rate a story as a 1 or a 2 because, frankly, I felt bad. I’ve always believed in constructive criticism and I can’t stand reviewers who skewer writers just because they think they can. So, over the years, my system has changed. I began to think about what it is a story should do, at least for me personally. Here is what I came up with:

First, a story should entertain.
Second, a story should make you think about what you read.
Third, a good story should make you feel something, anything, whether the feelings are good or bad.
Fourth, a really good story should move you emotionally.
Fifth, a truly good story should change you. This is the hardest thing of all for a story to do.

Being an orderly creature of habit, I still use my 0-5 point rating system, but for years, I’ve used it as follows:

  • 0-1: at the very least, the story entertained me
  • 1-2: the story made me think about what I read
  • 2-3: the story made me feel something (for the characters, for the drama, for the humor, whatever)
  • 3-4: the story moved me; I felt it in my gut; it drew blood, sweat and/or tears
  • 4-5: the story changed me in some significant way

It seems to me, with this type of rating system, everyone is a winner. I’ve rated stories I’ve read (even some of my own) as 0.6 (they entertained me to some degree). Joe Haldeman’s Forever War for instance, was getting a solid 3.0 through a good portion of the book. Then I came to the ending and it jumped up a notch; I got something I didn’t expect and I rated the book a 4.0.

Anyway, that’s how I rate the stories I read and that works well for me. It also helps me think about how I write stories. Do I just want to entertain, or do I want to try for something more?

Later on this week, I’ll post my votes (predictions?) for who I think will win the Hugo for best short story, novelette and novella. I can’t guarantee that I will have read all the stories, but I’m doing my best. I can guarantee that there is no chance I’ll have read the novels. There just ain’t enough hours in the day.