I’ve written before about the misadventures of some of my favorite works of art totally tanking in the homestretch, or after the first book, or maybe for an entire trilogy. But I want to talk about something that even I’m guilty of: not always seeing the difference between bad writing and something you didn’t want to happen.
Don’t get confused, I still stand behind everything I said before in my previous post of a similar nature. However, consider this a slight counterpoint/rebuttal to some lighter “offenses” I’ve encountered over the years.
Fandom is such a peculiar thing. We can get so self-involved with these characters and universes. And if I’m being honest, I almost wholly blame Tumblr for reshaping how even I respond to the things I enjoy or the criticisms around it. Obviously I have accountability, but community sites like Tumblr certainly played a part in the visceral feelings I can have about fandoms or just art I hold close to my heart. Tumblr has always been a mix of people mostly attacking each other in tags or in replies non-stop. It somehow always got worse in “fandoms” where fans are supposed to find community. Worst is, I still have friends who act as if someone is still fighting with them.
At some point though, ya’ girl got real tired of caring so much about what everyone else had to say. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel a twinge of something when people slap their gums and lips around me, but I just have other things I could be worried about. Their opinion cannot be a point of stress or focus for me anymore. (Even if sometimes I still shake my fist at the sky.)
It’s no secret internet culture and nerd culture contains people who love to be the first to ridicule something to shreds before they’ll enjoy it. It seems incredibly difficult for people to just ride the waves. They think every “hot take” has to be posted, or if people don’t side with them on how they feel, they should scream it louder until others can’t stand to be around them.
There are even friends I have had to distance myself from when it comes to all facets of entertainment, because they’re not interested in an open dialogue. They just want to bitch and ruin others’ experiences.
In all of these posts and arguments, it seems more and more people are finding creative vocabulary to simply say something is “bad writing” or “bad” without really explaining how the structural integrity of the story is flawed in a severe way to make it bad. Art is subjective, sure, but a good critic understands the difference between mishandling of a story and simply not in their taste.
What makes for bad writing, then?
Okay, so if we’re going off of my last post, or anything I’ve mentioned in the past, consistency really is the key to stronger writing. This can be tough for some people because they either miss the foreshadowing in a work, or they misinterpret it. This doesn’t mean that whoever that reader/viewer is, is somehow dumber than the guy next to them. It just means for one reason or another it didn’t quite connect for them. So now they’re left with the dilemma of feeling left out of the story because it moved on without them in a way they didn’t anticipate.
(We could spiderweb a little more and start talking about how to properly setup foreshadowing so that it’s accessible to all readers, but honestly that deserves its own post.)
My point is, sometimes what may not seem as a straight line in a story’s timeline or setup may be because that story was telling it to you out of order. Maybe it was a setup that was missed, dialogue that was forgotten, symbolism that was not quite noticed lurking in the background of a scene. Whatever that may be, map out what that is and consider for a moment how it played into what recently made you mad in the story. Was it at least consistent? Chances are, if the writer did their job to keep on pace with the story, the writing isn’t bad, it just wasn’t for you. It’s okay to be disappointed because you thought the setup was leading towards something else. But not everything that isn’t what you wanted or expected is bad. It just simply is.
As I’ve mentioned before, however, it’s easy for authors to bait-and-switch you in cheap ways that take away from the integrity of the story, or completely strip a character of their, well, character. Call those bad when they happen. Fight for proper characterizations and plots with fewer holes! Be the voice of the people!
It’s easy to be wrong even when you feel very right.
For years I loathed the final season of Gilmore Girls. I told myself and others that it was never good enough because it wasn’t Amy’s ending. It wasn’t whatever she had envisioned for years, and up until now her story had been flawless and pristine and nothing could touch it. When it came to repartee, vibrant characters, and an even more brilliant setting, GG was my top pick to stand above the rest.
In many ways, I still think this is true. The show sometimes suffers from witticisms that don’t age as well over time – very early-2000s humor the internet would maybe gasp at now. There are characters who don’t receive enough of their own personal arcs, a lack of diversity that wreaks of the era, and overall it still is a teen drama. And yet… Amy’s use of setting as the show’s chorus and added character to every scene like a theatrical play, her 180-page scripts for a 40-minute show that had characters speaking quickly but never wasting a second, her depictions of a familiar small town and a relationship that so very normal – it was all so fantastically done.
Then Amy left the show.
I was so determined to be her die-hard fan, that every hiccup the new writers had with the final season I overly criticized as if they were actual sins against God. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very cringe-y moments in the final season, but when I revisited it years later on my millionth re-watch of the show, I realized something very valuable: I was wrong.
That season was not bad. That season was actually good. Those writers did their best with what they could give us for a show that meant so very much to so many of us. Sure, there are still the same moments where I cringe a little from secondhand embarrassment. I still wish the show had somehow ended with the Luke/Lorelai wedding. But all-in-all, I could relate to the characters’ endings, and I found great satisfaction in a lot of what was done to wrap up the show. It wasn’t bad writing. It just wasn’t what I thought I wanted at the time.
The funniest twist of all… It turns out, years later when Amy went to revive us with a GG four-parter from Netflix, I found myself even more wrong.
There were so many beautiful conversations and scenes in that revival that I owe so much gratitude to Amy for giving us. But even more of that revival was so poorly executed in fundamental, character-driven ways, that it hurt to watch it and think how much I had rooted for her return only to be so severely letdown. This time, I wasn’t letdown just because I wanted something more for and from Rory. I was letdown because I could tell Amy didn’t know what to do with that character, and it caused an entire half to 2/3 of the revival to be a complete waste of time.
(If interested, I could dissect the hell out of the revival, but I feel as if it’s been done 20 times over now. I could have made it my thesis in college, honestly.)
It stings when you care this much.
These universes and characters are important to us. We fight about them and for them so vehemently because we love them. I get that. I know that’s why I have done it, too. But something I keep having to whisper to myself when I start getting a little too wound up by a story is that I don’t own any of it. It is close to me, and it feels like mine… But it’s just not. It’s allowed to do things I don’t want, grow in ways I didn’t expect, and make mistakes or disappoint me. I have to know when to call it “bad,” and when to give it space to be whatever it is going to be. My disappointment isn’t mutually exclusive to some objective fact that it is bad writing. I like to think I have good taste, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be wrong, too.
Eventually, we have to learn to say, “Hey, maybe this just wasn’t meant for me.” That’s okay, man. Not everything is.