During the three years that I have been heavily involved in fandom (reading/writing fic, roleplay, moderating writing contest communities), there is one thing that has stood out to me more than anything else. One thing that seems to be prominent amongst close groups of friends sharing the same fandoms:
It is something that not only debases the entire fandom, as a whole, but shows a lack of respect and admiration for the very friends whom the offenders so readily praise. Yes, it is perfectly normal to feed your friends harmless white lies in order to satisfy their need for validation. (That dress looks good on you! No, your ankles don’t look thick in those shoes. Yes, he seems like a nice guy.) But would you tell your friend that he/she is doing a good job on something that they are clearly failing at? Or would you point out where they could possibly improve, so that they can do a better job in the future?
We would like to think the latter is the logical option. Because friends aren’t supposed to lie to each other, see each other fail and turn the other cheek. Friends are supposed to be open and honest with each other, even if it may sting a bit. To use the old, tired, overused phrase: “That’s what friends are for.” (No, I’m not citing that. It’s public domain by now.)
And yet, with this basic knowledge, fandom lacks this more than anything that I have personally ever seen. Why is this? Is it that as writers, we are truly so competitive that we would gladly see our friends fail in order to make ourselves look better? Or is it more of an emotional issue, wherein we don’t want to hurt our friends, and so we feed them spoonfuls of smiles and bullshit, pat them on the head and tell them that their tired garbage is brilliant? Or is it that we are so self-absorbed that we simply can’t be bothered to take a day out of our lives to possibly assist another person with improving something that they clearly have a passion for?
I like to think that it is a bit of all three, which when combined, make for a community that is composed of many good writers, and many mediocre/bad writers who think that they are brilliant. Granted, there is also a level of skill and natural talent to be considered. One person is not necessarily going to ever be as good as or better than the next, but there are things that can be prevented.
Tell your friends if they spell something incorrectly.
The average writer is not an English major and due to this, there will be mistakes in their writing. Perhaps they throw an extra letter in somewhere habitually, perhaps they suffer from the their/they’re/there/your/you’re disease. Enough prodding and reminding from you can assist in rectifying this oddly common problem. Your friend, being a writer or aspiring writer, should take this in stride. There is no arguing against spelling unless you’re British, in which case, assume that each and every way that you spell a word is correct.
If your friend asks you for your honest opinion on something, give it.
Perhaps you are shy, perhaps you honestly hate everything that your friend writes and know that it will crush their soul to point it out. Do it! Let them down gently if you must, but do it. Tell your friend that their characterization is terrible, that their OC is a Mary Sue, that their sentences bore you to death and their plot is shallow. Tell them that they fail at writing porn. Tell them. Because if you don’t? They will continue to write the same garbage a million times over, because in smiling and nodding, you are creating a disease inside of them. The disease called misguided ego.
Abandon the rule that says if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.
This is a pansy rule. This is a rule made for people who don’t want criticism. This is not a rule for writers. Telling someone that their story is boring is not the same as telling someone that their oil painting is garbage. Visual art is in the eye of the beholder. Good writing, fortunately, is not.
Your friend may be upset at first, but in time, they may take your criticism into consideration and it may actually help them improve. If not? That is their burden to bear. If they’re content being mediocre/horrible writers, then it will be what it will be. But when that time comes when someone finally rips into them (and oh, it will happen), when someone finally opens one of their fics and furrows their brow, sets their coffee down and goes, “What is this,” (not in a good way), you will never have to live with the guilt of knowing that you smiled, patted your friend on the head, and sent them out to be eaten alive by someone much more honest than you.
I have no idea who these people are.
Tell your friends if they suck. It will not only assist in improving their writing, but it will make the piles and piles of fanfiction strewn out in front of the rest of us on a daily basis a higher quality pile. You’re not just helping one person. You’re helping the world.