How to Write Suckitudinous Fiction
By Holly Lisle
©2003, Holly Lisle
It's fair to say that
writing a good story is damned hard to do. Writing something that engages
readers and wins them over to the side of the characters and makes these readers
care about the outcome of your tale requires constant effort on the writer's
part -- brutal questioning of each scene and each line, a tight, sharp focus,
and a deep belief in the story that you the writer want to tell.
Being mediocre is
normal. It's where you start before you pick your path, hone your skills, and
become either truly wonderful or friggin' gawdawful.
But the quest for
good fiction is not the only way. There is ... another path. A dark path. And
it is a path rich in tradition and esteemed by many. It is the Path of
Not all bad fiction
is Suckitudinous. Some of it is simply bad -- written by people who are
completely tone-deaf to the language, blind to character and motivation, and
incompetent with conflict.
Unlike bad fiction,
Suckitudinous Fiction takes a dedication to the fine art of sucking that, if
pursued with sufficiently rabid fanaticism, can win Pulitzers. (Yes, I think an
inordinate number of recent Pulitzer-prize-winning novels suck. Hugely.)
If your grand fantasy
is to suck like a Pulitzer winner, you have to be competent with the English
language. You have to have a big vocabulary or a good thesaurus. It wouldn't
hurt to have a graduate degree from an Ivy League college. But above all of
those, you have to follow the Thirteen Sacred Commandments of Suckitudinous
anoint no hero.
If you have a real
hero, you cannot reek magnificently. It simply cannot be done. Real heroes
beget a whole slew of real sins of good writing that will in the end slaughter
your hopes of Genius-Level Suckitude (TM). So eliminate heroism from your main
character's personality. This takes some serious mental gymnastics -- but if
you want to pursue writing at the GLS level, you have to know the stunts.
Here's your floor routine.
philosophy that everything is relative. Everyone's actions are morally
equivalent to everyone else's actions. Heroes act out of self-interest, just as
criminals do. The guy who risks his life racing into a burning building to save
a kid is no better than the arsonist who set the building on fire -- they're
both imperfect people dealing with the world as best they can. (CONSUMER
WARNING: The mental gymnastics required by this approach to your writing can
cause irreversible brain damage. If you achieved the most rarified heights of
GLS [Genius-Level Suckitude], you are probably lost forever to writing anything
worth reading again. Proceed with caution.)
decree no villain.
requirement begets the no-villain requirement. Villains are as deadly to truly
horrible fiction as are heroes, because even spineless wonders of main
characters have been known to stop contemplating their navels and leap into
startling life when faced off against a sufficiently driven, passionate
villain. No -- your antagonist may have dark demons and vile habits, but they
must be equivalent to your protagonist's vile habits and dark demons, and you
may not, under any circumstances, declare (or allow the reader to decide on his
own) that one of these characters is morally superior to the other.
express no opinion.
misunderstand me. You aren't avoiding opinions. You have an opinion if
you are shooting for GLS greatness, and you must express it at every turn. Your
opinion is "No opinion." Everything is relative, remember. If everything is
relative, then any opinion is passing judgment, which you can't do because in
the universe of moral relativism, everything is this mealy gray sludge of
sameness. Nothing is bad -- and if nothing is bad, then nothing can be good.
So for every moral dilemma that your characters face, you must land firmly in
the realm of "It's all the same." You cannot dare to suggest that anything your
characters might do would matter, that anything might improve (or worsen) their
state, that they might aspire to the sublime or sink into depravity -- well,
they can sink into depravity, but that's only because being depraved is the same
as being good, only more so.
entropy here, doing your bit to hurry along the heat death of the universe. No
matter how deep into the pits your characters sink, you never need worry about
getting them to notice that their lives are shit or that they're worthless
excuses for human beings because it's all the same.
embrace no theme.
Even if you can
manage hero-less, villain-less fiction and avoid expressing any opinion beyond
'no opinion', still you are not yet safe from the realms of mediocrity, or, God
forbid, the pernicious upward creep into good fiction. Press forward -- sweep
themelessness to your bosom. Themes are nothing but trouble for the author of
GLS caliber. Themes require having a point to what you're writing -- for
example, that good triumphs over evil, or that love matters, or that there is
some difference between day and night. And having a point is the antithesis of
GLS fiction. The reasoning is simple. Well, no, it isn't. The reasoning is
convoluted as hell, and it goes like this. If good and evil are relative, then
your opinion on everything is 'no opinion' because at the very ground level,
having an opinion is passing judgment, so passing judgment is BAD, and the
reason passing judgment is bad is because ... because ... (a sane reason escapes
me here, but just pretend along with me for a few more minutes that the basic
premise of this whole exercise makes any sense whatsoever) ... passing judgment
is bad because it might hurt someone's feelings or something, so THEREFORE
writing to a theme that expresses an opinion about the relative merits of
something -- anything -- is just unbelievably crass and tacky.
I'm getting a
headache already. You might be too. But soldier on. If you can get the hang
of this, potential Pulitzers await.
sneer at conflict.
stakes. Stakes require that something be at risk, and that the very same
something which is at risk shall offer to the characters a potential to reach a
resolution, and shall offer to the reader a reason to give a shit whether the
protagonist triumphs or the antagonist fails. But in the Universe of Gray
Tapioca, everything is equal, everything is relative, and picking a side would
require taking a stand. When you're neck deep in tapioca, no stands are
possible or desired -- the objective is to drown. So your people can
whine and bicker and have lots of meaningless sex and meaningless violence and
meaningless conversations, but IT MUST BE MEANINGLESS. If the point of your
fiction is that life has no point, conflict is right out.
commit no plot.
The plot is the
direction of the story -- it is the way that one event leads logically into the
next, with conflict creating actions that beget consequences. At this point in
GLS fiction, plotlessness is almost like gravity. Unavoidable. If you have no
theme, no conflict, no opinion, no hero and no villain, you can't have a
plot. The second you try to create a plot, all those other essentials of good
fiction are going to start beating at the door trying to get in.
The GLS writer has
taken his stand on saying nothing. However, having done this, he can't be
satisfied to say nothing with no words, which would at least be admirably to the
point, and save a few trees. Oh, no. The GLS writer has lots and lots of
words, being in most cases very intelligent, if not too terribly smart, and,
having nothing to say and many words with which to say it, the GLS writer needs
to resort to pyrotechnics. What are these pyrotechnics, you ask?
deconstructionism is always good. Or you can go to the Gertrude Stein School of
Repetition and Word Salad, which offers Jackson-Pollock-Throws-Words-on-a-Page
as a technique. Meta-fiction (writing fiction about fiction, usually to
demonstrate the futility of fiction itself) is always very neat. Vignettes work
well, as does the first-person-superwhine. You can throw in tin cans trouping
cross-country, talking coyotes, and characters with erectile dysfunctions or the
tendency to whack themselves between the eyes with hammers; these are always
weird, depressing, and disturbing, which is what you shoot for in the world of
GLS fiction, instead of being meaningful or entertaining. Remember that in GLS
fiction, what you say is nowhere near as important as how you say it.
flee from any hint of pace.
Pace requires that
things within the story happen, and that they happen for a reason, and that when
they happen, other things shall happen in consequence. But the sensation of
pace -- that is, of the story moving forward -- also requires that there be
a story. You, the would-be GLS writer, DO NOT want a story. Stories are
nothing more and nothing less than fictional characters participating in a
progression of events designed to cast light on the otherwise disorderly
existence of the human species, and as such, stories cannot exist without a
moral stance, an opinion, a plot, a theme, and characters who are unlike each
other. So avoid any attempt at creating pace as if you were nocturnal and
undead and pace was silver.
Those are long and
somewhat complex rules. The rest are shorter and easier to follow.
Suspense demands that
the readers care, and that the writer give the readers something about which to
care. Suspense demands that the writer invest himself deeply in the plight of
his characters, and take an interest in the outcomes they face. To create
suspense, the GLS writer would have to want one character to succeed and another
to fail, and this is utterly anti-Tapioca. You would have to pass judgment on
the relative merits of your characters. Who are ALL THE SAME.
No suspense, dammit.
Suspense ... BAD.
excise vile passion like a nose wart, lest it shame thee.
Love nothing, for
nothing is better than anything else, so nothing is deserving of love. Hate
nothing, for nothing is truly vile or evil -- it is, at worst, misunderstood.
Excitement is for the ignorant unwashed. You, the future GLS author, are beyond
all that. You must not love your characters, your situations, or your
significant other. You are, however, permitted to be insufferably pompous about
mock hope as plebian.
improvement -- things getting better, people triumphing. Hope is a sneaky way
of saying that everything ISN'T relative, and we mustn't have that. Nope, can't
have that. So your fiction must never contain the slightest shred of hope.
Ever. Your characters wallow in their filth and they LIKE it. Got that?
Anyone who includes hope in fiction is a backward Neanderthal hick redneck
married to his sister whose non-branching ancestral tree makes him incapable of
understanding that wallowing in filth and liking it is sophisticated.
equate faith with rankest superstition.
Faith is hope on
steroids. Faith states that things could be better than they are, and
believes that they will get better. In permitting your characters to
express faith, you would be suggesting that your characters -- those malcontent
bastards -- might in some way wish to see their worlds improve, or might
even take a hand in improving them, and could possibly even invoke help from
Greater Beings who ALSO claim the right to pass judgment (politically incorrect
bastards that They are). You, the future GLS author, know that you can
keep your fiction nailed to the Truth that everything is shit and that shit is
good (or at least as good as ice cream) if you can just keep your dim little
rodents away from the crosses and the feather dolls.
The GLS author in the
world of Everything Is Relative has no room for faith. Kill every word of it.
declare story dead, and do thy bit to kill it deader.
your GLS un-story, you must then mock any fiction that does not worship at the
altar of Everything Is Tapioca. You must get involved in awards committees and
give awards exclusively to other GLS authors, all the while scoffing at
relevance, plot, suspense, heroism, and villainy as rote tricks used by the
untalented. You must turn up your nose at bestsellers and use the word "hack"
for anyone who sells better than you do. Most of all, you must get a Creative
Arts degree, work your way into a position as a tenured professor, and make sure
that everyone who comes through your program either learns to write
Suckitudinously, or else fails to graduate.
There you have it --
the Sacred Path. Astounding suckitude is within your grasp, if only you cast
off all common sense and Embrace the Tapioca! Decry reason, never say anything
and be sure to say it in the most words possible, and someday, you too can hold
your Pulitzer above your head and thank the little people who made it all
possible. Only ...
... if you follow
these rules and you DO win one ...
... please please
please don't mention me.