Castigation #1: Reading fan fiction

…holy FECKING GODS. I’m reminded why I don’t do this often.

Do people not realize that their use of language reflects their entire existence? When you’re online, it’s your entire being–personality, education, background–accurate or not. Photographs and aliases are faked and changed, but language is the complete interface of how you convey all your thoughts (visual arts notwithstanding) to the world. I’m not even kidding here. The sophistication of your language represents your maturity and communication ability in relation to human society.

Accuracy of representation is moot; it’s entirely true that what clothing you wear could be affected by monetary limitations rather than personal taste. But the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is perhaps one of the most impractical things to suggest, because no matter what you do, it’s essentially biologically wired into you to take any physical presentation and interpret it on the spot, not matter how inaccurate it is. You do it for Web sites; you do it for the kids who wear the skimpiest clothes in middle school; you do it for that ridiculously shiny, pink-covered book in the grocery aisle, which, for all you know, could be a philosophical cogitation on quantum mechanics.

Here’s a secret: Animals judge their natural world on an external basis, and this is why mimicry exists. Here’s a better secret: All marketing companies take advantage of this idea, which is why pink is still a “feminine” marketing ploy. Go sell a pink deodorant to a man and tell him “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” Yeah, I’m sure that will work. Socialization works with our existing biological propensities.

Don’t bother with the argument that it’s the “story” that counts and not the technical accuracy of the language, because let me tell you: Without language, you have no story. Honey, if you write like an 11-year-old (many of the school districts I know of require students to be able to identify run-on sentences by the 7th or 8th grade–yes, that’s maybe 12-14 years old)–I don’t care if you’re 22 and in college–you will come off as an 11-year-old. (Well… I suppose some with pedophilic leanings may actually want to do this, but that’s beside the point.) It’s difficult or impossible to read and fully understand your intent if you try to convey more complicated ideas. It’s just as difficult to take the story seriously when you continuously use “ur” instead of “you’re.” Oh, let me tell you what “Ur” is (dictionary):

A city of ancient Sumer in southern Mesopotamia on a site in present-day southeast Iraq. One of the oldest cities in Mesopotamia, it was an important center of Sumerian culture after c. 3000 B.C. and the birthplace of Abraham. The city declined after the sixth century B.C.

Now, I’m not talking about pure intelligence; certainly, there are people who have severe forms of dyslexia or people who are mathematical geniuses and who couldn’t tell you the difference between a dependent and independent clause to save their lives. However, if you are trying to teach someone the purpose of calculus integrals and cannot form a coherent verbal explanation, it is the same as not knowing it.

In that context, that is the nature of the language interface I’m talking about. I’m talking about the presentation of your thoughts.

There is a gray area when it comes to “conversational text” on the Web, most notably forum posts, blogs, comments, and things like that, but I don’t care about those things. A work of fiction or nonfiction does not fall into that category.

Why? Like I said, without language, you have no story; language rules are the most stringent in the written form, but not so in the oral form unless you’re talking about an oral and scripted communiqué or something. (Listen to people speak, and you’ll realize the vast majority will never use proper grammar. There are reasons for this.) Let’s consider forum/blog/BBS/comment postings to be conversational and thus “oral” in nature. Many of the proto-linguistical elements in that setting replace other forms of human communication–specifically prosody and kinesics–and I find that interesting.

Writing, on the other hand, is static. It’s the art of solidifying a thought that will communicate your intended meaning and information to the reader. As an art form, it requires practice, effort, and study. You are supposed to be able to use the rules and properly mold your expression. These rules exist precisely for people to clarify their thoughts in written form. Yes, there are huge differences among their, there, and they’re. Writing a piece is not conversing orally with the reader. It is presenting to the reader.

I realize that American kids these days really don’t like to read (unless it’s Harry Potter, which is better than nothing but still not so great), but I do find it hilarious when I come across the occasional writer-wannabe comment that they don’t like reading books, but they want tips on how to write well. Excuse me? Ha ha ha. They go hand in hand. My current writing effort may be my first foray into fiction, but I had read a book a week since late elementary school through high school, and that’s not even considered a lot to some of my friends. Tip: Libraries are FREE. My language skills were good enough to be (actually) collegiate before I started high school. Of course, technical skills alone can never cover for creative ability and story intuition, but they should be the starting point or developed congruently.

Naturally, there are some exceptions in the stringency test: people for whom English is not their first language** (in which case I generally applaud their efforts to try a different language, because the vast majority of Americans never learn a second and never master their first); people whose socioeconomic background severely limit the quality of their education (there’s nothing to do about that, especially if even libraries don’t exist). But I’m not talking about such individuals. What bother me the most are such endeavors by people who are in late high school or in college (or even graduated) and for whom English is their first language. Ew. T_T

By the way: Reading manga doesn’t count because it’s an “oral” format. Really.

[consumes a root beer float]
Excuse me. Okay, I feel better now. That’s not to say that I haven’t read very good fan fiction pieces, of course. Here’s some root beer. I’m going to take a nap now. :)

*I suppose I should point out that I know my writing isn’t perfect either, but it’s certainly better than most of what I’ve skimmed so far. ^_^;

**apollyon-0 had this to say about ESL: “…(T)here’s a point where ‘English is not my first language’ becomes just an excuse for half-assed editing. :D” The relevance here is that English isn’t apollyon-0‘s first language either, but if you read the translations on his/her site, you might think otherwise. There are flexible margins of error for personal effort and schooling quality in this case.

I suppose the most logical thing to believe is this: As a professed fan fiction “author,” the responsibility for maintaining language quality falls upon said so-called “author” and no one else. (Don’t get me started on the quality of beta editing, either.) Okay, I’m finished.


14 thoughts on “Castigation #1: Reading fan fiction”

  1. I know exactly how you feel. Some fics may be absolutely amazing story wise, but I cannot stand poor grammar, and that turns me off from reading them.
    Btw, can’t wait for 1.7 to be out

    1. 1.7

      It’s coming along–I promise. :3
      Actually, I ended up finishing the omake chapter before 1.7, which is unfortunate because it should be read after 1.7. ^^; Hopefully by tomorrow night, really…

  2. If online personality is defined by language, I think it’s fair to say that Leet speakers are the serial killers of the internet.

    This is actually a very interesting argument, saved from potential rant!dom by virtue of the fact it is both based in internet psychology and coherent, which is no mean feat. Plus, I totally agree with you. People who spell like eleven year olds who are not eleven year olds are icky. Super icky, in fact.

    And, on a fangirlish note, yay chapter 1.7! I’ve posted here a couple of times before, but never with an identity cause I forgot it. So, hello!

    1. serial killers

      I don’t know why, but I found this very, very funny when I read it. :P

      (I also hope posters don’t respond to this as a potential ‘chilling’ effect, because I really do separate conversational writing from formal writing… within reason. :P)

      And hello!

      1. I don’t know why, but I found this very, very funny when I read it.

        Yay! Well, I’m willing to pass it off as comedic genius if you are. ^^

        And, btw, if posters aren’t put off by that icon of yours, no rant could ever deterr them. In fact, you’d probably need at least three legions of the undead; Mikoto=FEAR. DX

  3. Sometimes it’s like taking a joy ride in a lot full of invisible speed bumps. Driving’s fun, but the arse hurtage isn’t. Reading fan fiction is similar.(Instead it’s not your ass hurting.)

    People may have good idea, but unfortunately, we can’t read minds. But yeah, I like to encourage and support writers who write good stories when I see effort is put into it. (even if I tend to lurk sometimes)

    With that said, I’m looking forward to Chapter 1.7 and that omake :D

    1. Driving’s fun, but the arse hurtage isn’t.

      Maybe if I put springs under the seat… like a sugar high. Or alcohol.
      I know! I’ll get drunk before reading a whole bunch of random fanfics. That would be fun. (I can then write reviews of them while I’m drunk too. Hell yes. :P)

  4. Hello

    Hi. :)
    I just read this today because I was curious and I know this comment is very late. (^^;) Please don’t hate me. (^^;)
    In my country English was the first language until some nationalists and radicals argued to change it and make the local language the first language instead. Of course the gov’t consented and let them change it until they realized a few years ago that we were better off learning English first so they switched it back to English. But because of this most of the youth in my country cannot speak proper English. Neither can they speak proper Filipino. I happen to be one of those people.
    So at the risk of sounding weird or creepy I am saving this entry.
    This is because you have inspired me to work harder in my coherence, grammar, vocabulary, and everything else related to all languages(and not just English). Thanks. :)

    1. Re: Hello

      Hello, Alida

      LOL, it’s okay–comments are timeless. :)

      I think many may be surprised that English isn’t actually the United States’ “official language”–that is, nowhere in our Constitution or other government documents does it explicitly say that English or any other language is the official, national language. Of course, everyone knows better (i.e. English is “de facto”). :P

      I didn’t realize the Philippine Islands switched like that–wow, that’s inconvenient. Maybe they could have two official languages and have them taught together? I know some countries have more than one national official language. Oh, well, as long as a government is consistent and keeps high standards, then I think things should work out.

      Not weird or creepy–I’m really quite flattered. :) Good luck, and keep it up.

        1. Re: Hello

          Hi this is Alida :) and sorry for the very late reply ^_^;
          I decided to register and join LJ now. I’ve been thinking about it doing it before but I decided that now was the best time to start practicing since I really need to improve.

          My country doesn’t really have a lot of languages. It basically has just two- English and Filipino- except that Filipino is a the standardized local language(?). Our local language has a lot of dialects (Visayan, Kapampangan, Ilocano, etc.)but the main basis for Filipino is the Tagalog dialect which is a problem because the other regions/states think it’s biased. Well it’s mainly because of this regionalism that other people are not so fluent in Filipino.
          That’s why I guess it is because of these and other circumstances that we are not completely fluent in both English and Filipino. And people have debated on which language should be prioritized which caused more confusion. There is no way one can make a simplified explanation as to how and why my country is like it is today. I become dizzy just thinking about it. Then again I guess it’s the same for every country.

          Thank you for the encouragement, your entry is now beside my readings in English class. :)

          Oh… may I temprorarily become a fangirl and say that I like reading your fiction and will wait for and read the upcoming chapters despite the fact that I have school? ^^U Eh. I just did…

          1. Re: Hello

            No worries. Nothing is late on this blog. :) My LJ options are set to send me an email whenever anyone comments, so nothing is lost.

            Ahh, dialects–that makes sense to have a lot of dialects under the main two languages, though I am personally confused as to the differences between “dialect” and “language” in the linguistical sense (I suspect many linguists argue over the differences as well).

            but the main basis for Filipino is the Tagalog dialect which is a problem because the other regions/states think it’s biased. Well it’s mainly because of this regionalism that other people are not so fluent in Filipino.

            I think the bias issue is very real and underscores the implied power of language. When a group in political power enforces their language over the government structure, obviously, anyone who is not fluent will get the short end of the stick. And it doesn’t matter whether the group is a majority, either.

            In the case of the Philippines as in many other countries, I’m sure, colonialism probably played a part in imposing power and/or cultural inequality with languages. ^_^; Cultural pride vs. colonialism?

            The language-as-power also illustrates the current feeling over English in the world. Let’s face it: The United States has a pretty bad reputation for strong-arming people! (I swear I voted for the other guy.) Obviously, having English as the de facto standard at international meetings will rub some people the wrong way.

            So you have two opposing groups when it comes to picking languages. Some people will support a de facto language like English, arguing that the more people become fluent in it, the greater unity the world will experience. Others will support multilingualism, arguing that translation will always occur, and national pride can always be retained.

            Sorry, I think I went off on a big tangent. ^^;; But I’m very flattered and happy my rant has actually affected someone positively; that’s really the last thing I expected, to be honest. :P

            Your written English is quite good, by the way. :)

            1. Re: Hello

              (P.S.: Working towards full fluency with any language is wonderful, not just English, of course. I’m pretty sympathetic towards linguistics–having just one world language, although practical and possibly good for humanity, would also be awfully boring. ^_^;)

              1. Re: Hello

                Thank you :) I try. It also helps that my English teachers are fluent in English and also have a penchant for terrorizing first year students. ;)

                You are right when you say that the battle between cultural pride and colonialism are partly responsible for the current situation. Although colonialism here would mostly apply to American colonialism – the Spanish never taught us Spanish even though we were under them for 300+ years. ^^;

                I agree that language is powerful. What else could explain as to why I am here replying to your post?XD Your (can I call it an article? XD) post was very convincing and concrete- two things (I was taught) that are important when it comes to writing and speaking in any language.
                Also, how else can you explain why two books written by a young doctor inspired thousands of Filipinos to rise up against the Spanish?

                Ah…This is getting too long ^^; I’m afraid I have to bail out now before it becomes long and outdated ^^;

                Thank you for your post and this discussion, it really has been educational.

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