When Bad is Good

I had dropped the issue of badfic off my backblog list, but Lori linked an amazing article on the subject by Nick Lowe, The Well-Tempered Plot Device. It cannot be described, only excerpted:

…bad writing is governed by subtle rules and conventions of its own, every bit as difficult to learn and taxing to apply as those that shape good writing.
And while I’m about it I’ll propose a new definition of magic, account for the existence of Lionel Fanthorpe, and show you a way to derive pleasure from Stephen Donaldson books. (Needless to say, it doesn’t involve reading them. But neither does it involve burying them under six foot of badger manure and napalming the lot, which you might think the obvious answer.)

Yes, I did think that was the obvious answer. I’m not alone! (By the way, I’m blogging as I read the article, for that elusive first impression.) Ah, clench-racing… All I need is a few Catherine Asaro novels and some gullible friends and I can take up gentled-racing.

…I like to term this kind of thing Collect-the-Coupons plotting. It would be much too complicated to have three goodies overcome the whole usurping army, or at any rate it would be far beyond the plotting powers of a Lin Carter. So what you do instead is write into the scenario one or more Plot Coupons which happen to be “supernaturally” linked to the outcome of the larger action; and then all your character have to do is save up the tokens till it’s time to cash them in.

Obviously, this is an artifice which lends itself particularly well to fantasy writing, and is capable of widely varying subtlety of application. I think The Lord of the Rings, or Lord of the Plot Coupons, is the chief villain here, unless you want to trace it back to Wagner and his traditional sources.

Yes, the man is a genius. He goes on to explain how the author himself can appear in fiction:

One thinks irresistibly of Gandalf’s famous words to Frodo when explaining the logic of The Lord of the Plot Devices: “I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.” Frodo, unfortunately, fails to respond with the obvious question, to which the answer is “by the author”. […]
But actually, it’s not always necessary for the author to put in an appearance himself, if only he can smuggle the Plot itself into the story disguised as one of the characters. Naturally, it tends not to look like most of the other characters, chiefly on account of its omnipresence and lack of physical body. It’ll call itself something like the Visualization of the Cosmic All, or Seldon’s Plan, or The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or the Law, or the Light, or the Will of the Gods; or, in perhaps its most famous avatar, the Force. Credit for this justly celebrated interpretation of Star Wars belongs to Phil Palmer; I’d only like to point out the way it makes sudden and perfect sense of everything that happens in the film. “The time has come, young man, for you to learn about the Plot.” “Darth Vader is a servant of the dark side of the Plot.” When Ben Kenobi gets written out, he becomes one with the Plot and can speak inside the hero’s head. When a whole planet of good guys gets blown up, Ben senses “a great disturbance in the Plot.”

Was that deep or what? Unfortunately, it doesn’t help me much. Although I approve of pulps and plot devices, I have a tendency (in original fiction) to implant my plot devices in the characters’ brains or genomes. If you don’t look too closely, it passes for characterization.

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