October 28, 2005

Stock Spec Fi and Farthana

Okay, I'm back. Found something far freakier from the place I just blogged to earlier. A "speculative" fiction site called strange horizons, which I haven't really checked out yet. What's really interesting is their list of stock plotlines which they will NOT accept from writers:
The original link to the site is here. However, I'm reproducing the same thing here cause I'm too lazy to paraphrase. However, as the legal maxim goes, res ipsa loquitor.
Strange Horizons
Fiction Submission Guidelines: Stories We See Too Often
This is an attempt at classifying the kinds of non-horror plots and themes that we receive too frequently. We have a separate page for horror stories.

Main plot types are numbered; subspecies and variants receive letters.

Of course it's not impossible to write a good story with one of these plots or themes; it's not that these are inherently bad plots, merely that we see too many stories that use them.

  1. Person is (metaphorically) at point A, wants to be at point B. Looks at point B, says "I want to be at point B." Walks to point B, encountering no meaningful obstacles or difficulties. The end. (A.k.a. the linear plot.)
  2. Creative person is having trouble creating.
    1. Writer has writer's block.
    2. Painter can't seem to paint anything good.
    3. Sculptor can't seem to sculpt anything good.
    4. Creative person's work is reviled by critics who don't understand how brilliant it is.
    5. Creative person meets a muse (either one of the nine classical Muses or a more individual muse) and interacts with them, usually by keeping them captive.
  3. Visitor to alien planet ignores information about local rules, inadvertantly violates them, is punished.
    1. New diplomat arrives on alien planet, ignores anthropologist's attempts to explain local rules, is punished.
  4. Weird things happen, but it turns out they're not real.
    1. In the end, it turns out it was all a dream.
    2. In the end, it turns out it was all in virtual reality.
    3. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is insane.
    4. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is writing a novel and the events we've seen are part of the novel.
  5. An A.I. gets loose on the Net despite the computer it was on not being connected to the Net.
    1. An A.I. gets loose on the Net but the author doesn't have a clear concept of what it means for software to be "loose on the Net." (Hint: the Net is currently a collection of individual computers, not some kind of big ubercomputer; software doesn't currently run in the wires between computers.)
  6. The future is soulless.
    1. In the future, all learning is electronic, until kid is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a book.
    2. In the future, everything is electronic, until kid is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a wise old person who's lived a non-electronic life.
  7. Protagonist is a bad person. (We don't object to this in a story; we merely object to it being the main point of the plot.)
    1. Bad person is told they'll get the reward that they deserve, which ends up being something bad.
    2. Terrorists (especially Osama bin Laden) discover that horrible things happen to them in the afterlife (or otherwise get their comeuppance).
    3. Protagonist is portrayed as really awful, but that portrayal is merely a setup for the ending, in which they see the error of their ways and are redeemed.
  8. A place is described, with no plot or characters.
  9. A surprise twist ending occurs. (Note that we do like endings that were unexpected as long as they derive naturally from character action.)
    1. The characters are described as if they are humans, but in the end it turns out they're not humans.
    2. Creatures are described as "vermin" or "pests" or "monsters," but in the end it turns out they're humans.
    3. The author conceals some essential piece of information from the reader that would be obvious if the reader were present at the scene. (This can be done well, but rarely is.)
    4. Person is floating in a formless void; in the end, they're born.
    5. Person uses time travel to achieve some particular result, but in the end something unexpected happens that thwarts their plan.
    6. The main point of the story is for the author to metaphorically tell the reader, "Ha, ha, I tricked you! You thought one thing was going on, but it was really something else! You sure are dumb!"
  10. Someone calls technical support; wacky hijinx ensue.
    1. Someone calls technical support for a magical item.
    2. Someone calls technical support for a piece of advanced technology.
    3. The title of the story is 1-800-SOMETHING-CUTE.
  11. Scientist uses himself or herself as test subject.
  12. Evil unethical doctor performs medical experiments on unsuspecting patient.
  13. Office life turns out to be soul-deadening, literally or metaphorically.
  14. In the future, criminals are punished much more harshly than they are today.
    1. In the future, the punishment always fits the crime.
    2. In the future, the American constitutional amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment has been repealed, or is interpreted very narrowly, or is just ignored by the author.
  15. White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk.
  16. A party of D&D characters (usually including a fighter, a magic-user, and a thief, one of whom is an elf and one a dwarf) enters a dungeon (or the wilderness, or a town, or a tavern) and fights monsters (usually including orcs).
    1. A group of real-world humans who like roleplaying find themselves transported to D&D world.
  17. An alien observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect.
    1. The alien is fluent in English and completely familiar with various English idioms, but is completely unfamiliar with human biology and/or with such concepts as sex or violence.
    2. The alien takes everything literally.
  18. Space travel is wonderful and will solve all our problems. (We may agree that space travel is pretty cool, but we'd rather that weren't the whole point of the story.)
  19. Man has an awful, shrewish wife; in the end he gets revenge on her, by (for example) killing her or leaving her.

That's a lot of stock writing. Though a few of these seem too generic to condemn straight off as stock, I can imagine myself tearing my hair out over the nteenth story about D&D characters named something like Bolar Ironbowels or something tearing bodyparts and loot out of an orc. However, I would be glad to see someone like Farthana the Pregnant Cow (apologies to Gaurav and Annie) wandering around...

October 27, 2005

Peanuts and Lovecraft?

Where on earth did someone think this up? Pretty fun combination, if you like your Peanuts laced with H P Lovecraft.