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View Full Version : Is it ever okay to tell someone their story is unsalvagably bad?



sunandshadow
02-09-2013, 07:13 AM
This is not about stories which are badly written. This is about the story's core concept or basic plot outline being something you cannot fathom why anyone would ever want to write it, much less read it. Something so wrong-headed or pointless and unsatisfying that it's just baffling why it exists. I find it disturbing how often I run into a writer who is either all fired up about a story idea like this, or has already spent a year or more of their freetime writing the manuscript. There's no way to tell someone they've wasted a year (due to their apparent utter lack of either common sense or artistic taste) without being cruel. So what do you say instead?

And for bonus *headdesk*ing, what do you say or do in a situation where a manure pile like this has already been published, especially if you had the ill-fortune to discover what it was after you paid for it?

Kerosene
02-09-2013, 07:18 AM
Be cruel. Walk away. Let them explode.

What else are you suppose to do? Baby them?

Ask them if they want you honest opinion. You sit them down, tell them that you like them in many different ways. And then drop, "But..." and go from there.
And then you try to be factual. You bring up points, reference published writing, reflect on their writing so they can see what's wrong.

They'll either plug their ears and sing, or scream and yell at you. But in time, they'll thank you in one way or another.

NeuroFizz
02-09-2013, 07:21 AM
Anyone in his/her right mind likely would have used the tag "bad and unsalvageable" for my very first story. Now, they would just call it Something Bad (including the people who awarded it a silver medal in the 2008 IPPY competition, Horror category).

Crits on the present quality of a work have nothing to do with the ability of the author to learn enough to rescue even the largest pile of literary scat. I agree on calling out bad. But to judge any future value of the story is taking the crit beyond the present work. Keep crits focused on that present work and don't let them extend to the author or the author's ability to learn and re-write.

Note added in edit: I'm not suggesting that any crit or review be soft-pedaled. I don't think that will help a new or developing writer improve. I was an angry a$$hole after my first crit, but if I'd been mollycoddled, or even given a false softness in that review, I would not have put my knuckles into learning good, solid writing and storytelling. That learning continues, and will as long as I write. And that first experience continues to be a prime motivator for that lifelong learning.

RichardGarfinkle
02-09-2013, 07:22 AM
It's probably better to ask them who the story is meant for and how the writer expects it to come across for this intended audience. That gives a beginning to point out the difficulties as you see them. It's also possible that the writer may have some ideas in this direction that you didn't see.

profen4
02-09-2013, 07:29 AM
Writing is never a waste. It's all about learning. I would suggest erring on the side of compassion. Many people's first attempt is lacking, that doesn't mean you get to curb-stomp their dream. Give a couple pointers, if you have some to offer, or point them in the direction of someone in the know, and wish them well.

As for what to do if it's been published, I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean someone's asked you your opinion of something they've self-published and you purchased the book without knowing it was self published?

Putputt
02-09-2013, 07:35 AM
I've never done that before, but only because I thought Twilight was painfully bad. If I'd come across it as an unpubbed MS, I would've thought, "Oh god, this will never make it."

And I'd be dead wrong.

I think plenty of best-sellers are unsalvageably bad. I'll give you a list if you want... :D

So now I just keep such strong thoughts to myself. I may tell someone who asks for crits where I think their MS needs improving, but I wouldn't say, "It's not salvageable" because the truth is something I think is trash may be a great book to others, and vice versa.

Unimportant
02-09-2013, 07:52 AM
This is not about stories which are badly written. This is about the story's core concept or basic plot outline being something you cannot fathom why anyone would ever want to write it, much less read it.
If I were asked for my opinion, I would just say that it's not the kind of story I like to read, so I can't give helpful feedback. Given the gamut of reading tastes in the world, I doubt there's any core concept that no one would want to read. So the author needs to find their niche audience and get feedback from them.

Mr. Anonymous
02-09-2013, 07:59 AM
A story isn't a story until it's written.

Before that it's just an idea.

Everything comes down to execution. I would never tell someone their idea isn't worth pursuing, because I have no idea what their execution of this idea will look like.

I have read outlines/pitches that just didn't interest me at all, but usually the reason I wasn't interested wasn't because the idea was bad, necessarily, but rather because 1) I lacked interest in the subject matter or 2) the way the outline/pitch was written did not inspire in me any great faith in the writer's abilities. But even if 2 is the case, the only way to improve is to write, so, I think the answer is not to discourage someone, but rather, to tell them to go for it. Who knows? Maybe they'll surprise you.

sunandshadow
02-09-2013, 08:09 AM
As for what to do if it's been published, I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean someone's asked you your opinion of something they've self-published and you purchased the book without knowing it was self published?
Not even self-published, but I've seen some small presses publish a book which is packaged to sell with little relevance to the contents. They don't care if it satisfies readers because there won't be a sequel. Or, it's possible an otherwise decent press has one bad manuscript pushed through due to nepotism, or a purchasing editor having a weakness for one type of story even though they otherwise make pretty good choices about what to publish.

ChristinaLayton
02-09-2013, 08:10 AM
I've never done that before, but only because I thought Twilight was painfully bad. If I'd come across it as an unpubbed MS, I would've thought, "Oh god, this will never make it."

And I'd be dead wrong.

I think plenty of best-sellers are unsalvageably bad. I'll give you a list if you want... :D

So now I just keep such strong thoughts to myself. I may tell someone who asks for crits where I think their MS needs improving, but I wouldn't say, "It's not salvageable" because the truth is something I think is trash may be a great book to others, and vice versa.



Your comment about Twilight


I keep reading naysayers of Twilight saying, "But this is horrible! How this could ever be published I will never understand!"

and my favorite...


"Did anyone read this book before it went to print?"


But what people fail to understand is that Twilight wasn't published because it was good, but because it was wish fulfillment for teenagers in it's maximum form. It gave young girls the opportunity to experience everything they've ever wanted in a book.


1. To be loved and accepted by anyone in school. The only person in the entire school that doesn't like you is not that important anyway.

2. To be the boss at home. Bella doesn't have to tell Charlie when she goes out or where she goes. She just lets him know she's going somewhere and doesn't even give him the details. "Um, Dad, I wanted to let you know that I am going to (I forgot where) for the weekend." And then in her narrative she goes on to say that 'asking for permission set a bad precedent, but she didn't want to be rude, so she added in, 'if that's okay'. :Soapbox:

3. For the hottest guy in the entire universe to be hopelessly in love with you although you're a, and I quote, because that's not what Bella really is, a 'Plain Jane'. Please, after describing her physical features with such self-praise she's a Plain Jane? I'm a Plain Jane.

4. For the other hottest guy in the universe to be hopelessly in love with you and fight for your love to the death.

5. To treat your best friends like trash and get away with it because they keep kissing your feet and including you in their activities.


So many other total wish-fulfillment aspects, but it would take me forever to write up this post, so I will move on to my opinion on the OP's question.

Just tell them the truth, but don't stop there. Tell them why you think their story is 'unsalvagably bad'. Chrome is marking that word as misspelled and it's not someone's uncommon name in the dictionary so I'm not sure if that word even exists, but tell her what you think is wrong with their story. Don't be rude about it either. Perhaps that will drive her to rewrite it because the thing is that if you give her destructive criticism and are not tactful about it, she'll dismiss your advice and continue to believe she's the best writer that's ever existed.



Good luck and please let us know how it turned out.

Christina.

Polenth
02-09-2013, 08:12 AM
There have been times when I've told someone I don't think they can fix a story. It's always been in cases of a prejudiced central concept. There isn't really a way to fix a story where black people turn out to be literal sub-human demons, who reveal their true nature and take over the world. But such stories often do sell, so though the story may not be fixable, it might be saleable (even if I wish the author would reconsider).

Something like poor writing or a premise that doesn't appeal to me... I'm not going to tell someone it has no hope. They might rewrite it someday to be better. It might appeal to someone else. All I know is I don't like it, and that's what I'd say if they asked.

Karen Junker
02-09-2013, 08:17 AM
I have told people that, in my opinion, their work is not yet to publishable standard. They have 1) Self-published or 2) Been published by a small epublisher or 3) Been published by a large NY publisher. So it just goes to show there's no accounting for taste. The last query I read that I thought was a completely bad idea is now a bestseller and is being made into a movie. Lately, I've taken to just being polite and noting the typos.

DancingMaenid
02-09-2013, 08:28 AM
I don't think a "bad" concept is a waste of someone's time. The only time when writing is wasted is when you aren't getting anything positive out of the process.

Instead of outright telling someone their idea sucks, I think sometimes it can be more effective to ask questions to try to get them to think about how their idea is (or rather isn't) working, or point out specific things that annoy you.

For example, I think saying something like, "The whole story hinges on a premise that's unbelievable and ridiculous" will put some people off with its bluntness, because chances are, the writer doesn't see why the premise is unbelievable. And it may not give them a whole lot to think about.

But saying, "Why are the ghosts corporeal most of the time, but incorporeal other times? And how is it it possible to kill them with guns when they're already dead? Also, I really don't understand why ghosts would want to rob a bank. Surely they don't need money?" gives some specific examples, and hopefully forces the writer to consider how much sense the story makes.

They might still dismiss it and defend their choices. But in my experience, having people point out inconsistencies and stuff that didn't make sense was a good learning experience for me over time. Eventually, I figured out that if I had to explain or justify stuff that was happening in my stories, there was probably a problem.

Putputt
02-09-2013, 08:34 AM
Yep, I agree with this. TWILIGHT succeeds because it found its core audience and gave them what they want.

But because these aspects of the story are not something I look for as a reader, I fail to see its attraction. So if I were to see it as an unpubbed MS, I'd think, "No. I would not put my money on this." And like I said, I'd be dead wrong.

What TWILIGHT has taught me is that the market is too diverse for me to know for sure and be confident enough to actually tell someone their MS is unsalvageable.


Your comment about Twilight


I keep reading naysayers of Twilight saying, "But this is horrible! How this could ever be published I will never understand!"

and my favorite...


"Did anyone read this book before it went to print?"


But what people fail to understand is that Twilight wasn't published because it was good, but because it was wish fulfillment for teenagers in it's maximum form. It gave young girls the opportunity to experience everything they've ever wanted in a book.


1. To be loved and accepted by anyone in school. The only person in the entire school that doesn't like you is not that important anyway.

2. To be the boss at home. Bella doesn't have to tell Charlie when she goes out or where she goes. She just lets him know she's going somewhere and doesn't even give him the details. "Um, Dad, I wanted to let you know that I am going to (I forgot where) for the weekend." And then in her narrative she goes on to say that 'asking for permission set a bad precedent, but she didn't want to be rude, so she added in, 'if that's okay'. :Soapbox:

3. For the hottest guy in the entire universe to be hopelessly in love with you although you're a, and I quote, because that's not what Bella really is, a 'Plain Jane'. Please, after describing her physical features with such self-praise she's a Plain Jane? I'm a Plain Jane.

4. For the other hottest guy in the universe to be hopelessly in love with you and fight for your love to the death.

5. To treat your best friends like trash and get away with it because they keep kissing your feet and including you in their activities.


So many other total wish-fulfillment aspects, but it would take me forever to write up this post, so I will move on to my opinion on the OP's question.

Just tell them the truth, but don't stop there. Tell them why you think their story is 'unsalvagably bad'. Chrome is marking that word as misspelled and it's not someone's uncommon name in the dictionary so I'm not sure if that word even exists, but tell her what you think is wrong with their story. Don't be rude about it either. Perhaps that will drive her to rewrite it because the thing is that if you give her destructive criticism and are not tactful about it, she'll dismiss your advice and continue to believe she's the best writer that's ever existed.



Good luck and please let us know how it turned out.

Christina.

rwm4768
02-09-2013, 09:07 AM
I don't think I could ever say that to anybody because it is such a subjective thing. Many people here claim Twilight would qualify as such a story, but look at its success. The same could be said for Fifty Shades of Grey. I don't think you can truly say a story is that bad unless you've actually read the story. What seems like the most cliched story on the surface could work in the way it's told.

Susan Littlefield
02-09-2013, 09:10 AM
I've read traditionally published books that I thought were horrible.

So, is this book truly horrible or is it just not for you?

ChristinaLayton
02-09-2013, 01:12 PM
Yep, I agree with this. TWILIGHT succeeds because it found its core audience and gave them what they want.

But because these aspects of the story are not something I look for as a reader, I fail to see its attraction. So if I were to see it as an unpubbed MS, I'd think, "No. I would not put my money on this." And like I said, I'd be dead wrong.

What TWILIGHT has taught me is that the market is too diverse for me to know for sure and be confident enough to actually tell someone their MS is unsalvageable.


I have many manuscripts that are unsalvageable, but I don't delete them from my hard drive. Some are 92,000 words, some are 100,000 words, 80,000...you know, and I am not going to delete all that hard work I did. I have like three monsters that are over 220,000 words each. What do I do? I leave them there as something I wrote and rewrite them, completely. I change everything, characters' names, plots, where the stories took place, etc, and then I show my 2nd version to a beta. I have a beta that tells me one of the stories she's reading is amazing. :e2cheer: We're working on a story together right now.

Twilight is bad. I'm not just talking about bad writing. There are a lot of books out there that were commercially published that were badly written. The only one I could think of is Twilight and another book by Shannon Drake named When We Touch. Twilight is bad because it presents horrible things as if they were good.

1. Stalking. It's OK to watch someone sleeping without their consent! :e2cheer: Oh, yeah, when Bella found out Eddikins was doing this to her, she was like "Oh, how romantic!" Let me tell you something, as much as I adore Adam Lambert, if I caught him watching me sleeping, I would chase after him. Not with my arms extended and my lips puckered, but with an ax.

2. It's OK for your boyfriend to tell you what to do.

3. It's OK for your boyfriend to read your every thought.

4. It's OK for your boyfriend to force you to do things you don't want to.

5. When your boyfriend dumps you, you just sit there staring out your window for a whole year. You don't shower. You don't sleep. You don't eat. And you still survive!! :e2cheer: When he comes back, you can live again!

6. It's OK to drag another guy along knowing you don't love him and you're in love with your boyfriend. "Ah, Jake, but I'm going to use you for my amusement! Yes! Kiss my feet! Adore me! Why aren't you praising me?"

7. Sex is horrible, but you crave it anyway. :Trophy: You implore your husband for torturous sex! :e2headban: Painful sex is the bomb, man! I want me some!

8. It's OK to give birth to your child even when you know it's killing you.

9. It's OK to fall in love with a child.

10. It's OK to bribe someone to get what you want.

The list is interminable, so I'm going to stop there.



I don't think I could ever say that to anybody because it is such a subjective thing. Many people here claim Twilight would qualify as such a story, but look at its success. The same could be said for Fifty Shades of Grey. I don't think you can truly say a story is that bad unless you've actually read the story. What seems like the most cliched story on the surface could work in the way it's told.

I want to rewrite Twilight, and make my MC as a controlling, abusive and invasive freak. I won't, but I want to. Oh, man, if they knew this was Twilight fanfiction, and I got published, they'd hate me for shattering their perfect Edward Cullen into 1 million pieces.


I've read traditionally published books that I thought were horrible.

So, is this book truly horrible or is it just not for you?

My interpretation is that she doesn't agree with the plot and it's something that should've never been written. She said, "My problem is not bad writing, but that I think this plot should've even been written." I'd have to read the book to know to be honest.

Mustafa
02-09-2013, 02:35 PM
Twilight is bad. I'm not just talking about bad writing. There are a lot of books out there that were commercially published that were badly written. The only one I could think of is Twilight and another book by Shannon Drake named When We Touch. Twilight is bad because it presents horrible things as if they were good.

.

May I gently tell you how sad I find it that every time bad writing is mentioned someone jumps up and down and start stomping their feet about Twilight and the moral horrors it's unleashed upon our poor helpless youth? You need to give kids a bit more credit. Perhaps you need to give SM a bit more credit too.

You didn’t like it, cool, we get it. I wasn't really a fan of the series myself (for entirely different reasons than you pointed out). But guess what? A great many people did like it. A great many people who know what they're talking about, who work in the industry, liked it.

If you think you could do better, as you have said you believe you could, go ahead. Do better.

To the op: I think there is such thing as bad writing. If your friend has made some bad writing choices, help her by suggesting some good books. If you don't like her story, it doesn't mean somone else won't, right? Or is there something inherrently flawed in the storytelling?

Katrina S. Forest
02-09-2013, 05:13 PM
I've only read one thing I'd consider unsalvageable, and that was when one of the members of my crit group brought in what read as thinly-veiled hate speech. With members of the group targeted present.

The author didn't come back to the group after that.

Jamesaritchie
02-09-2013, 06:41 PM
Not even self-published, but I've seen some small presses publish a book which is packaged to sell with little relevance to the contents. They don't care if it satisfies readers because there won't be a sequel. Or, it's possible an otherwise decent press has one bad manuscript pushed through due to nepotism, or a purchasing editor having a weakness for one type of story even though they otherwise make pretty good choices about what to publish.

Just because there's no planned sequel does not mean a publisher buys and sells anything it doesn't think will please a lot of readers. That's just nonsense. No publisher intentionally buys a bad book, not through nepotism, or any other way.

And there is no such thing as an idea that can't be turned into a wonderful novel. Horribly bad execution is what stands between an idea and publication, never the idea itself.

KateJJ
02-09-2013, 07:47 PM
Twilight is bad because it presents horrible things as if they were good.


7. Sex is horrible, but you crave it anyway. :Trophy: You implore your husband for torturous sex! :e2headban: Painful sex is the bomb, man! I want me some!

8. It's OK to give birth to your child even when you know it's killing you.


The list is interminable, so I'm going to stop there.



Look, I don't like Twilight and I don't disagree with most of your list but at least these two items could very well be something that absolutely normal head-screwed-on-right people have to face head on and deal with. Ever known a woman who's had to make the decision between her baby and chemo treatments? Probably not but they do exist and the ones who choose the baby have made a perfectly valid decision.

Twilight raises a lot of disturbing questions. You and I might not always agree with the answer but the fact that it's done so well suggests the questions themselves just might resonate with a lot of people out there.

James D. Macdonald
02-09-2013, 07:57 PM
Is it ever okay to tell someone their story is unsalvagably bad?Probably not. I might, however, say "Maybe it's time to start working on something new."

theDolphin
02-09-2013, 08:11 PM
Some great variety in the responses to this questions and I think that both sides have some merit.

I tend to regard critiquing as an honor and responsibility, no matter who is asking it of me. When asked to critique, I like to read through something once as a reader, before I start to examine it more critically, so I only take on a critique when I know I'm going to make the time to give it the attention it merits.

This is partially due to an awareness that one person's "unsalvagably bad" may be another's favorite novel of all time. Given that, my critiques always focus on constructive criticism with concrete examples.

How did "unsalvagably bad" break down? Were there significant holes in the plot, or was the pacing off? Was characterization not flushed out, or was the grammar poor? Rather than focus on a purely subjective, response to a piece I would focus on those types of specifics. If you want to express your own emotional response I do think that's fine too, but when I do that myself I always frame it as only my opinion, which they should feel free to use or disregard at their discretion. :)

Bufty
02-09-2013, 08:38 PM
If it's 'unsalvageably bad', it's not going to be much fun critting and I doubt any honest critique is going to mask the amount of corrective surgery needed. The recipient will probably either go nuts on you, or fit the blinkers and latch on to whatever small crumbs of praise can be scratched up.

JoBird
02-09-2013, 09:33 PM
In my humble opinion, I don't think so.

When I first starting offering critiques I was pretty blunt. But I had a chance to talk to a writer who told me something that's lingered with me. He said that I shouldn't give a critique *until* I saw something good in the story. It took me a while to accept the wisdom in that. I now believe it, fully. If I can't see what's good about what I'm critiquing, then I'm not ready to critique it.

The writer of the story thinks the idea is good. There are bound to be others who think so too, at least conceptually. As a critic, it's better to speak on issues that didn't work for you, and--as DancingMaenid put it--express your concerns about logical inconsistencies.

kaitie
02-09-2013, 10:02 PM
This is just my personal opinion, so I'm sure others will disagree.

Unless I was beta reading a book, no, I wouldn't say anything. And even then, I would word it in the sense of "There are a lot of issues that might not be worth trying to fix right now" and suggest they work on something new. I'd also try to point out the concept problems because it's always possible that doing so means they'll recognize the problems and find a way to fix them.

I've only ever seen one book that I think was unsalvageable, and that was for a query I critiqued for someone years ago. The problem was that the plot focused around a medical issue and the author's understanding of the issue/plot focused around it was completely scientifically unsound. Basically, they'd had a cool idea and wrote it without doing the research first and realizing that the sort of scenario they described was impossible.

I knew that book didn't really have a chance, but I was a casual person helping out with a query. It wasn't my place to say it wasn't possible, and they would know after a few dozen query letters that it wasn't anyway. And how many among us didn't query a book that wasn't ready yet? There is something character building about the ability to get rejections and pick yourself back up, and it's a skill a writer needs if they want to succeed.

I wouldn't tell someone something was unpublishable unless there was a darn good reason for me to say so. Besides, unpublishable only applies to a particular draft. Most things could be improved with enough effort. Saying it's unpublishable (even if it's true for this draft) is like telling someone that there's no hope. I prefer to put things in a way that encourage rather than discourage, and I worry that something like that would discourage.

ap123
02-09-2013, 10:03 PM
the market is too diverse for me to know for sure and be confident enough to actually tell someone their MS is unsalvageable.


This.

Tepelus
02-09-2013, 10:28 PM
I want to rewrite Twilight, and make my MC as a controlling, abusive and invasive freak. I won't, but I want to. Oh, man, if they knew this was Twilight fanfiction, and I got published, they'd hate me for shattering their perfect Edward Cullen into 1 million pieces.


Already happened with FSoG. James beat ya to it. And it's adored just as much if not even more so than Twilight. Go figure.

phantasy
02-09-2013, 11:54 PM
Don't do it. Everyone has different tastes and is at a different skill level. If you want to help them get better, continue to read it and give constructive tips. Don't waste their time by saying it sucks and you have no idea how to fix it.

If you feel overwhelmed/bored by it, tell them you probably won't be much help and move on. Don't just crit for the sake of showing off how much you know(or don't know).

ishtar'sgate
02-09-2013, 11:57 PM
I may tell someone who asks for crits where I think their MS needs improving, but I wouldn't say, "It's not salvageable" because the truth is something I think is trash may be a great book to others, and vice versa.

This. We're never going to appreciate the writing of every author. It just won't happen.

milkweed
02-10-2013, 12:04 AM
Writing is never a waste. It's all about learning. I would suggest erring on the side of compassion. Many people's first attempt is lacking, that doesn't mean you get to curb-stomp their dream. Give a couple pointers, if you have some to offer, or point them in the direction of someone in the know, and wish them well.

As for what to do if it's been published, I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean someone's asked you your opinion of something they've self-published and you purchased the book without knowing it was self published?


This^ When I posted the intro to my book in a thread here, it's the post the first three sentences of your book thread, and it was pointed out that I used no less than a half dozen words to describe "hot" it was an ahaha or oh crap moment for me! I went back through and was amazed at how many times I was doing this in my MS. Cutting out those excessive words made the work flow better.

kaitie
02-10-2013, 12:16 AM
I had someone tell me once that I couldn't tell a story. Writing was good, just the story part was a problem. Not specific issues with that story, or ways to improve, but just that maybe I couldn't tell a story. In a way that sounded an awful lot like "you just don't have the talent it takes to do this thing you're trying to do."

I don't think that's what he meant, looking back, but I didn't write for the next three years because I trusted the word of someone I looked up to. I think now that there are better ways that he could have told me the same thing (basically that the concept sucked) that could have pushed me to do better rather than destroy my confidence.

An awful lot of confidence destroying happens in writing as is, which is why I think it's so important to be aware of the influence of what we say. And you know, as writers, we should all be able to tell someone something negative in a way that is useful. If we can't, maybe we should go back and look at our own shortcomings.

lolchemist
02-10-2013, 12:33 AM
Don't, because you are already wrong. There is at least ONE human being on the planet who loves the heck out of this book and that's your friend. Maybe the book will never be published but so what? Your friend obviously enjoys writing it, so let them.

And let them figure out that it's an unpublishable pile of sewage by themselves too when 100 agents reject them with personalized notes saying "NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN!" and their self-pubbed book doesn't sell one copy.

bearilou
02-10-2013, 12:40 AM
You ever have that feeling in reading someone's ms and asking yourself 'where would I even start in pointing things out there's so much wrong with this?' Just thinking about where to start can make you tired and question if it's even worth it to try.

I think we need to be aware that the problems in someone's 'unsalvageably bad' ms may simply be so many little fixable things once they're pointed out but in pointing them out, it would...well...savage the ms (and possibly the writer's confidence) into tatters.

That's what I think of when I think of an ms that can't be salvaged. Maybe it can, at a later date, by a stronger, more confident writer but as is, at the current level of the writer, they may not be able to.

I read one like that. Everything that could be wrong with it, was. Grammar, spelling, punctuation that defied explanation, formatting with two characters talking in the same paragraph, POV and tense all over the place, walls of text, story structure a mess, plot and characters so cliche it made my teeth hurt...it was like looking at a string and knowing that if I started pulling, the entire thing would unravel. All of that apparent to even this poor reader's untrained eye and generously forgiving nature of many writing slip ups.

I was close to telling the author that, no, this was not good. I opted to praise her on her having completed a book (something not many have done), point out a couple of things that she could easily fix that were fairly 'tame' (punctuation and grammar) and encouraged her to get Self-Editing for Fiction Writers to help with that (encouraging that option, since I was not an 'experienced' editor/beta), and hoped for the best that in getting the book, she'd realize that maybe she really did have more problems than what I pointed out.

But the alternative was to point it all out and watch it overwhelm her as it did me and I couldn't live with myself if I managed to wreck someone's dream of writing. All I could do was point her in the direction of self-improvement. :/

thorjansen
02-10-2013, 12:47 AM
I think this is one of those sticky wickets, and it all depends on how the writer takes it. On the one hand, brutal honesty is always more valuable than false praise. However, as others have said, what sinks your boat could float someone else's. If the writer takes your advice to heart and uses it as a learning experience, great. If you crush the writer's spirit and he/she stops writing because of it, that's not good. I'd be careful how you phrase your words and note that it's just your opinion, and that it might be prudent for them to seek further opinions.

Almondjoy
02-10-2013, 12:48 AM
I don't think anything is ever salvageable, honestly. Echoing what some other people have said, I think that within the midst of all the bad, there's almost always something good. If you think that there is nothing to be done to fix, then perhaps the book just isn't for you. But I think that there must be something that the writer did correctly, whether it be that they're well-researched, or the concept is good. You can always tell them that, "I love your concept, but this needs work, especially in blank and blank area." Then go on and tell them exactly what made you think the work was bad, perhaps giving some suggestions on why. Because at the very core of each novel, there has to be SOMETHING good and salvageable.

Good luck!

lolchemist
02-10-2013, 01:08 AM
I was trying to come up with the most ridiculous scenario in my head possible about like what would have to be in this hypothetical book before I dug my heels in and said 'GURL, NO! PLEASE STOP!' But even a book filled with gratuitous feces and bestiality and rape can be published, for example as bizarro fiction or some kind of fetish erotica. So... Yeah, it's just like what RichardGarfinkle said about asking them who they think their readers will be. I mean... If they say 'Everyone aged 5-125!' we might have a problem... But if they've actually researched the demographic and the publishers and have located books with similar content that have succeeded then just leave it alone.

FoxyLoxy
02-10-2013, 01:12 AM
Just want to say, as a newcomer to the forums, I have found this thread very interesting, I don't have a comment as such, on the OP's question, but I'm loving the diversity of this site.

Sirion
02-10-2013, 01:21 AM
The first novel I ever wrote was unsalvageable. I think a lot of people's are. Sometimes I read a bit of it to remind myself that no matter how awful I think my work is, it's not that bad.

Tell your friend to practice, practice, practice, read a lot, then try again with a new story. That might soften the blow.

kaitie
02-10-2013, 01:52 AM
I think this is one of those sticky wickets, and it all depends on how the writer takes it. On the one hand, brutal honesty is always more valuable than false praise. However, as others have said, what sinks your boat could float someone else's. If the writer takes your advice to heart and uses it as a learning experience, great. If you crush the writer's spirit and he/she stops writing because of it, that's not good. I'd be careful how you phrase your words and note that it's just your opinion, and that it might be prudent for them to seek further opinions.

There is another option between being brutal and lying, though, and that's using tact and experience to tell you what the writer should know.

I've done some critiques before for people who had tons of problems. Rather than point out every single error and problem, I started small, sort of what like bearilou did. You can pick out what the most important errors are right now that can be corrected. It might mean pointing out a big plot failure, or maybe the grammar needs work, or too much tell not show, etc. You can pick out a couple of things you think the author can work on and send them to do that. When they finish that, the next element can always be addressed.

The other thing is pointing it out in a constructive manner. I'm not just talking about avoiding being the Simon Cowell of the bunch. I mean explaining why something isn't working and offering suggestions. I find it infinitely more helpful when someone tells me what's not working and offers ways to fix it than when they just tell me there's a problem. I might not agree with the suggestion, but it helps me start brainstorming in the right direction at least.

I've given some pretty rough critiques in my mind, and there have been times that I felt like I was tearing something to shreds, but I also work to do it in a way that isn't soul destroying. It also is great to point out anything good that you see, not necessarily to take away some of the sting, but because it's just as helpful to know what does work as what doesn't. If all you get is negatives, it's easy to think every aspect is awful, but if you know that something you did is working, you can use that knowledge to help improve other parts.

It's never fun to give someone a negative critique, but I think tact is often a forgotten art form. Most negative statements can be said in a way that's useful rather than hurtful.

milkweed
02-10-2013, 05:00 AM
Another approach that might help and I use this all the time in the Fine Art world is to ask them what kind of crit they are looking for? If I were to ask for one I'd be asking about grammar, punctuation, etc., NOT whether or not my story sucks.

lolchemist
02-10-2013, 06:19 AM
Another approach that might help and I use this all the time in the Fine Art world is to ask them what kind of crit they are looking for? If I were to ask for one I'd be asking about grammar, punctuation, etc., NOT whether or not my story sucks.

This is SO true! There's nothing I hate more than when I spend half an hour correcting spelling and grammar errors to hear, instead of a 'Thank you' a 'No but I was going to fix those later! I wanted you to tell me what you thought of the conversation between character X and character Y?' and I just want to scream 'Well I couldn't even pay attention to that when you spel liek dis!' I learned from my mistakes, now I always ask what exactly it is they want from me.

katci13
02-10-2013, 07:00 AM
I'm sure anything can be salvaged if you change enough stuff about it.

Layla Nahar
02-10-2013, 07:12 AM
No. "bad" is your judgement. But 'boring' is your response. Or if not 'boring', then 'I had a hard time understanding it' or 'I had a hard time staying focused' or 'The main character whines all the time and I couldn't even finish it' are all just your response. If the writer want's to grow s/he can ask you to elaborate. And just because you couldn't salvage the same piece, doesn't mean that writer can't. JMHO

hlynn117
02-10-2013, 07:38 AM
Two fiction books that I recently read and really hated come to mind. Neither were badly written, and actually, I found them both to be well written. However, the one had back stories that would could you to bleed maple syrup; they were that sappy. The author also chose to bring up long, pointless reminders about HOW SAD these characters' lives were right in the middle of action I wanted to care about. At the 'mid book' climax, I was actively rooting for the a-hole character, who was supposed to be the villain, to just kill the rest of the cast. If I would've read that manuscript while it was unpublished, I would've been like, 'Dude, cut the crap because I hate all of your characters.' The book is selling well, although there are plenty of reviews that share my reaction to the book. (I'm also glad I stopped reading because I heard the sequel was more of the same.)

The second book that comes to mind was more of a 'memoir', although I heard a debate on how true it might actually be. (The author did very little, anyway, and it was basically pontificating, so there wasn't much to fudge.) If I'd read this manuscript, I'd been like, 'Yeah, I don't see how you're even qualified to write about this.' This book is apparently getting made into a movie, and people really liked it, and I sampled another one of the author's books, and his voice was the same there, too. Yeah, basically, I think he's a hack, but that doesn't mean his writing is bad or that his stories are incoherent. His prose is witty, I just find the topics he chooses to write about infuriating.

Basically, you can't predict what sales, and good writers can find a way to convince people their books will sale.

Marian Perera
02-10-2013, 07:52 AM
I wouldn't tell someone their story was terrible, but I have read one novel which I thought was hopelessly bad. With nearly every other book, there's something I like or at least I can see why others might enjoy it. This one was the exception. On the other hand, it was released by a vanity press, so it's not one of those books that's poorly written or offensive, but popular as well.

If the writer had asked me how to salvage the book, I'd have had to suggest changing the entire premise. I think some writers are good enough to pull off even the most outrageous or offensive premises, but by the same token, some writers are not.

James D. Macdonald
02-10-2013, 07:54 AM
I'm sure anything can be salvaged if you change enough stuff about it.

Sometimes "enough" is jacking up the title and sliding a whole 'nother story under it.

Few stories can't be fixed by using new words in another order to tell a different story.

muravyets
02-10-2013, 09:03 AM
I wouldn't presume to know what's unpublishable because... Twilight, among others. No accounting for taste, as was said above.

I wouldn't presume to say something is unsalvageable because who knows what someone might be able to do with a concept after enough rethinking and reworking and/or just plain starting over from a different angle?

But if I thought the writer was heading for real trouble with a manuscript, I'd tell them so. Like if I thought they were mishandling their concept, or flubbing the craft of writing, or having unrealistic expectations of themselves or the business, or setting themselves up for legal problems, I would try to explain that.

But if I thought it was drek just because I hated it, I would say it's just not my taste and let it go at that.

Although it if was something so hateful or foul that it made my skin crawl (like something an anti-semitic relative of mine once wrote but thankfully did nothing with), I may very well say that and then walk away from any further involvement.

quicklime
02-10-2013, 08:01 PM
I dont know that i have ever said something was unsalvageable and i would be damn uncomfortable doing so. Granted, i am known for my warmth and soft touch, but 1) who the hell am i to say if there is a market? 2) how would i know if an internet stranger i know nothing of could fix something? They could have tools i have no inkling of.

I HAVE told folks something they have needs fixing, and i have seen things where i seriously doubt the writer has and/or would bother to acquire the skill set they need to become successful, but even there i couldn't say "you cant ever learn to write" and especially "this is unfixable". I just dont have that level of certainty with so little known.

As an example the closest things I can recall to this were a query in QLH about a guy who was going to deliberately impregnate women where the OP was advised (by me, anyway) that yes, it could work, but he'd have to either fess to the MC being an asshat or in some other way address the "rapey" factor. He literally couldn't fathom what was wrong, so it never got fixed or addressed and a flounce ensued, but again, the subject wasn't "unsalvageable," it needed fixing. The film The Opposite of Sex and the book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, as well as Choke, were all about similarly fucked up, ugly characters. But the fix just wasn't done....

Hamilton
02-10-2013, 08:24 PM
There's always something salvageable from the wreckage, even if it's just a couple of ideas and a learning experience.

Bartholomew
02-10-2013, 08:51 PM
This is not about stories which are badly written. This is about the story's core concept or basic plot outline being something you cannot fathom why anyone would ever want to write it, much less read it. Something so wrong-headed or pointless and unsatisfying that it's just baffling why it exists. I find it disturbing how often I run into a writer who is either all fired up about a story idea like this, or has already spent a year or more of their freetime writing the manuscript. There's no way to tell someone they've wasted a year (due to their apparent utter lack of either common sense or artistic taste) without being cruel. So what do you say instead?

And for bonus *headdesk*ing, what do you say or do in a situation where a manure pile like this has already been published, especially if you had the ill-fortune to discover what it was after you paid for it?

Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray exist. In a market that supports such dreck, I'd be very uncomfortable passing harsh judgement.

profen4
02-10-2013, 09:22 PM
Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray exist. In a market that supports such dreck, I'd be very uncomfortable passing harsh judgement.

Funny, you don't look uncomfortable ;)

Bartholomew
02-10-2013, 09:29 PM
Funny, you don't look uncomfortable ;)

Check my avatar.

hlynn117
02-10-2013, 09:42 PM
This is SO true! There's nothing I hate more than when I spend half an hour correcting spelling and grammar errors to hear, instead of a 'Thank you' a 'No but I was going to fix those later! I wanted you to tell me what you thought of the conversation between character X and character Y?' and I just want to scream 'Well I couldn't even pay attention to that when you spel liek dis!' I learned from my mistakes, now I always ask what exactly it is they want from me.

Yes, this, right here. When I send anything to be beta-ed, I specify what I want. The benefit of improving your style and grammar (and mercilessly line-editing yourself) is that your beta can ultimately focus on the story. I consider bad grammar and actual poor writing to be the first thing someone needs to fix. We can work on the details of sub-plots afterwards.

kkbe
02-10-2013, 10:07 PM
I can't see myself telling somebody, This sucks, man. You gotta put this sorry-ass shit out of its misery. No, I'd probably spend hours trying to fix the damn thing, prefacing every edit with something like, Might I suggest. . ., or, I'm not quite understanding. . ., or I think *this* should be *that*. . .

For hours and hours and hours. . .

buz
02-10-2013, 10:25 PM
But the alternative was to point it all out and watch it overwhelm her as it did me and I couldn't live with myself if I managed to wreck someone's dream of writing.

:( This has never occurred to me--that I might be pointing out too much.

Crap. I hope I haven't accidentally screwed anyone up. *shrinks into shivering pile of self-loathing in the corner*

(thanks for pointing this out bearilou :) )

milkweed
02-10-2013, 11:17 PM
I can't see myself telling somebody, This sucks, man. You gotta put this sorry-ass shit out of its misery. No, I'd probably spend hours trying to fix the damn thing, prefacing every edit with something like, Might I suggest. . ., or, I'm not quite understanding. . ., or I think *this* should be *that*. . .

For hours and hours and hours. . .


I just had a flash of "J" holding the neurolyzer saying just this to some writer!

James D. Macdonald
02-10-2013, 11:31 PM
Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray exist. In a market that supports such dreck, I'd be very uncomfortable passing harsh judgement.

There's worse that that ... far, far, far worse than that ... in the slush-piles of New York.

Go over to Smashwords and read the free sample of everything that was released in the past week. See what I mean.

thorjansen
02-10-2013, 11:34 PM
So much dreck, so little time.

BunnyMaz
02-11-2013, 12:08 AM
You can never say something is "unsalvageable". Not really. Some of my early writing was hilariously, painfully bad. I really regret discarding the only copy of the novel I wrote when I was twelve, partly because it'd be nice to look back on how far I've come since, but also because I could use what I've learned now to fix it. Would it take a lot of work? Bloody hell, yes! But there was some stuff in there I could work with, now.

A book I read a few months ago was bad enough, for me, that I had to be cajoled into finishing it by my other half, skimmed about a third of the middle, skipped an entire chapter to get past a completely pointless derail and it still felt like a struggle to read what little was left. The book was recommended to me by two people who loved it and thought it was incredible. When I gave back the copy I borrowed I just said it "wasn't to my tastes".

Atlantis
02-11-2013, 07:29 AM
This is not about stories which are badly written. This is about the story's core concept or basic plot outline being something you cannot fathom why anyone would ever want to write it, much less read it. Something so wrong-headed or pointless and unsatisfying that it's just baffling why it exists. I find it disturbing how often I run into a writer who is either all fired up about a story idea like this, or has already spent a year or more of their freetime writing the manuscript. There's no way to tell someone they've wasted a year (due to their apparent utter lack of either common sense or artistic taste) without being cruel. So what do you say instead?

And for bonus *headdesk*ing, what do you say or do in a situation where a manure pile like this has already been published, especially if you had the ill-fortune to discover what it was after you paid for it?

Well, firstly, everyone has a different opinion of what is good and what is bad. What you might find terrible another person might think is a master piece.

It's not to you to decide. Let them write their manure pile. They might surprise you and find success with it and prove you wrong. Or, more realistically, they'll find out in time that you were right and that the story is not worth any more time and effort. It will fizzle out on its own after the writer has grown and learnt some more about writing and publishing and what makes a good book.

Basically, what I'm saying is, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. You cannot make someone give up on a story if you think it is bad. Give them a honest critique and then leave the ball in their court and let them decide which path to take from that point on.

ladyleeona
02-11-2013, 08:43 AM
I've seen how much a story can change from one draft to another, so I would be wary to write anything off as unsalvageable. And I'm definitely not much of an optimist, but I like to think that where there's a will (and some dedication to craft) there's a way*.




*And I've got some utter shit clogging up my computer space, so, yanno, I'm hoping there's some...uh...hope.

nkkingston
02-11-2013, 03:23 PM
I HAVE told folks something they have needs fixing, and i have seen things where i seriously doubt the writer has and/or would bother to acquire the skill set they need to become successful

I've encountered this before, several times. "But I don't want there to be a pause there" is not a good reason for skipping commas in direct speech, or a list. "Spelling isn't important; you obviously understood what I meant" is also an issue. When you combine that with telling, passive tense, PoV shifts, cliches, caricatures, deus ex machina...

It's hard to tell someone that though they've put years of work into a thing that it's unpublishable. That they've got to go back and learn the basics of spelling and grammar, then once they've done that there's the technical craft of writing, then learning how to make interesting, well rounded characters, then a plot that hooks a reader all the way through, then write out the whole thing again, and edit it over and over, and still brace themself for criticism and rejection.

It's a real advantage to start writing young, when everyone around you is equally bad and you can learn together in little increments. Looking back it doesn't seem so hard, but when you're looking ahead at it is seems a long, hard slog that you're sure all those other authors didn't have to go through and people are just nitpicking your writing because they want to hold you back and put you down.

And if you're critiquing, sometimes you just don't want to bear the brunt of all that. So you say "nice concept, you might want to check out this site about punctuation, really impressed you finished it". It's not that they're not capable of learning the skills; they're just not willing.

Stacia Kane
02-11-2013, 04:44 PM
I've encountered this before, several times. "But I don't want there to be a pause there" is not a good reason for skipping commas in direct speech, or a list.

I skip commas in dialogue all the time for that very reason; I want to indicate that it's said very quickly without a pause. I've done it in narrative as well.




And if you're critiquing, sometimes you just don't want to bear the brunt of all that. So you say "nice concept, you might want to check out this site about punctuation, really impressed you finished it". It's not that they're not capable of learning the skills; they're just not willing.

I dunno. There have been a few times where I've thought perhaps the person in question really isn't capable of learning the skills.

I've only once been given a piece of work I thought was tremendously bad. It was really, really not good. This was some years ago.

I asked the writer what his/her plans were for it, like was publication the goal, or was it just for fun? It was just for fun (and was unfinished, it was only a few chapters long). So I just said I enjoyed it, and pointed to the few bits I did enjoy, and left it at that. No point going deeper than that, really. Had the goal been publication I would have made some broad suggestions and seen how that went, but they were having fun writing something, and I figured it would be kind of cruel to start doing a line-by-line and listing every problem and issue.

nkkingston
02-11-2013, 06:01 PM
I skip commas in dialogue all the time for that very reason; I want to indicate that it's said very quickly without a pause. I've done it in narrative as well.

There's stylistic commas, then there's "Let's eat, Fred," commas that you pretty much never hear but always see because they're important for meaning. I've also have the conversation about punctuation inside the speech marks bring important, and I don't care that you "want the exclamation mark after 'she said' for impact".

Stacia Kane
02-11-2013, 08:29 PM
There's stylistic commas, then there's "Let's eat, Fred," commas that you pretty much never hear but always see because they're important for meaning. I've also have the conversation about punctuation inside the speech marks bring important, and I don't care that you "want the exclamation mark after 'she said' for impact".


Lol, yes, that is very different. :)

Roger J Carlson
02-11-2013, 08:45 PM
You can tell someone their story is unsalvageable if you're omniscient. Otherwise, you're better off just telling them how it affected you.

AndreaGS
02-11-2013, 09:25 PM
I always try to preface with ye ole this-is-just-my-opinion bit. The more I write, and read, and submit, the more I realize how subjective this whole business is. It's like asking several people whether or not they'd hang a piece of art in their home. Some people won't like the art, some will love it, and for some it won't match the walls.

As others have said, if there are a lot of basic errors, I hone in on some, so I don't overwhelm the writer. And I try to keep personal preference out of it. I still remember the critiques of my early writing, and I learned a lot of important lessons. But they were encouraging enough that I didn't stop writing.

I think the worst situation is when someone's writing clearly has a number of errors, you critique it, they want you to critique another bit of work, this next bit has the exact same errors...and so on and so forth.

At some point, there has to be a nice way to say "no."

Phaeal
02-11-2013, 10:25 PM
to.

...and encouraged her to get Self-Editing for Fiction Writers



This may well be the best thing you can do for the writer who seems unsalvageable because she hasn't learned the elements of fiction yet. This book is the best I've seen for doing that, and in an unintimidating fashion. And it even has Booth cartoons! With his signature dogs and cats!

Bad concepts? I'm not sure there's anything wacky enough that it couldn't pass muster with some people. Offensive concepts? Alas, they too may find audiences, and do every day. Concepts further screwed by execution? I've seen them on the bestseller lists.

As to the age-old Twilight or Da Vinci Code or FSoG condundrums, the answer is always the same formula:

Concept that scratches the reader in just the right psychic place and/or lets him believe what he wants to believe X Enough scratched readers to form a fissible word-of-mouth mass + (Publisher efforts) + Lemming effect = Mega Bestseller.

IMO, some megabestsellers are good, some suck. Obviously my taste does not rule the world. At least not until I perfect my harmonic mind manipulator -- too much snow to get out to the garage at the moment.

Phaeal
02-11-2013, 10:39 PM
I can't see myself telling somebody, This sucks, man. You gotta put this sorry-ass shit out of its misery. No, I'd probably spend hours trying to fix the damn thing, prefacing every edit with something like, Might I suggest. . ., or, I'm not quite understanding. . ., or I think *this* should be *that*. . .

For hours and hours and hours. . .

LOL, been there, done that, invariably overwhelmed the crit recipient, and to scant effect. Which is why I've adopted the Self-Editing for Fiction Writers do-it-yourself approach.

Basic competence can, and probably should, be learned on one's own. Between one's own fiction reading and books on craft and the Internet, the resources are out there.

Phaeal
02-11-2013, 10:47 PM
I've encountered this before, several times. "But I don't want there to be a pause there" is not a good reason for skipping commas in direct speech, or a list. "Spelling isn't important; you obviously understood what I meant" is also an issue. When you combine that with telling, passive tense, PoV shifts, cliches, caricatures, deus ex machina...



The tenses take deep offense at being called passive when they are ALWAYS working, be it in the past or the present or the future.

The voices, on the other hand, may include a certain concept that does nothing but lie on the couch and let things happen to him.