Now I love h/c (hurt/comfort) fics as much as the next person. I mean I'm a big fan of angst. Love angst and that is often accompanied by some h/c. A good healthy dosage of angst can really help a story come along. Hell, in some pairings the angst is necessary to overcome some shit from canon. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing though. Some writers tend to cross the line from hurt/comfort right into out and out torture.
A while back I read this one series of stories (that I think prompted a bitch on this subject) where the writer(s) crossed that line from h/c to just torturing the guys. The line is a subtle one and is crossed easily. Here's a tip: If there is more hurt going on than comfort, it's moved into the torture arena. This series of stories I'm using as an example started out good enough. I had read the first couple of parts that were posted to the lists and liked them well enough. When I came across a site that had more parts to the series posted I was excited about it. I ended up being disappointed.
The way the characters were written in this series of stories they didn't have very much self-esteem to begin with (though in the canon that's not really true for one of the guys and the other only slightly), as the story progressed both of the guys self-esteem only got worse. Due heavily to the level of shit heaped on them. The guys had several misunderstandings, which led to them breaking up. (I mean heaven forbid they should talk and 'listen' to each other for five minutes and the problem would have been solved. Whatever. Don't bother having them do that.<that's sarcasm in case you didn't catch it>) The writers went on to have one character beaten and raped, not just raped, but gang raped. One character became an alcoholic and the other a drug addict, in about a week's time. I mean it got worse every story. It was like watching a train wreck. 'The horror, the horror'; you tried to look away, but just couldn't.
At some point my mind just kicked in and refused to think these two guys were alive anymore. The depths of depression they had sunk to coupled with all the shit that had happened to them, I couldn't picture them breathing anymore. They would have killed themselves by then in real life. No one could take all that, be in that low an emotional place, be suffering from such bad self-esteem and not at least attempt suicide. Though we, of course, are talking about a work of fiction here and not reality. So as per the writers whims, they could keep them alive for as long as they wanted and heap as much shit on them as they felt like. Like this helped matters at all.
The simple truth was the writers had dug themselves into a hole and not left their characters a way out. It is basic story plotting that you have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In other words you take some characters, you throw them in to a situation of conflict, and then you get them out of said conflict. THE END. You have to leave yourself and your characters an out. You can't just drag things on and on. It makes for a bad and boring story. The readers will lose interest after a while if the intrepid heroes never make it out of the jam they are in. You have to avoid backing yourself into a corner with no visible means of escape.
I learned this lesson years ago. I wrote an original fic, wasn't very good so don't ask (it was early in my writing days), wherein I learned this little truth. It was a vampire story and I got my two lead vamps stuck out in the desert with no where to run, no means of shelter, and the sun rapidly on the rise. My solution was actually to have them dig a hole and bury themselves until night fell. It was a hole they could get out of, however. (Bad pun. Shame on Clio.<g>) Whatever the situation you throw your characters into, leave yourself an out. Don't get them into situations if you can't write them out of it. Have the out already in mind before you write them into it.
I have seen many series go bad, because the writers were making the plot up as they went. Stories change as we write them, some turn out to be very different from their initial conception as time goes on. When you write a story and post it to the net, it's out there. I think writers get stuck in thinking that there is no changing it. 'Even if you post a revised version, people still remember the first one. So why bother?' Thus, writers are perhaps often reluctant to post revised versions. Which is to bad. Sometimes you have to change things early on to get the characters out of a fix you've gotten them into later in the story. Sometimes changing something in the beginning is the only way to save them in the end. I think writers shouldn't be reluctant to repost some revisions if that's the only way to have things work out.
Never put any character through so much torture they will never recover. I've read stories where characters are just raped repeatedly. There is no recovering from that. It is hard enough to recover from being raped once. Some people never do. I had a great aunt who was raped, some guy broke into her apartment and attacked her. She was shattered, it took years for her to recover. It's no different for men than women. It's unbelievable for them to recover after about a minute.
Don't dig yourself into a hole you can't get out of. Leave you and your characters a way out of the situation. Start out slow, let the tension build up and crest in the middle, and then let it ebb and flow back down when the solution to their conflict is achieved in the end. Never dig yourself into an impossible hole. If you do, dig yourself out. Even if it means re-writing things. It's better to repair a story than to have it turn to shit, because you don't think you can re-write it once you've posted it to the web. Sometimes you need to fix them. That's the part of the process of writing.
I've never seen a writer who wouldn't change some little thing in every story they write, even the pros. We'd all do it differently in the end if we had a second chance. Don't re-write it perpetually though, only if you really need to. The trick is learning when you need to re-write it and when you don't.
Invest in beta readers who will tell you the truth even if it might hurt. That's the best asset you can have. As well as, being strong enough to take the truth. Even if it's ugly. Sometimes beta readers and friends don't always tell us that a story is starting to suck when they should. They want to protect our feelings. Are they really when in the end people are talking about us behind our backs, though? I don't think so. Maybe as readers we shouldn't be so afraid to send constructive feedback. I'm not talking about flaming. Actual tips on how to improve. Strengths and weaknesses of the writer. What was good and what was bad.
You need a thick skin
in writing, not everyone will like everything you write. There are two
basic rules for writing. Write what you know. Write what you like. Just
seek to hone your craft and do better next time. That's all any of us do.
We do this for fun and enjoyment. That's the only reason we really should
do it. Doesn't mean we can't seek to do it well too. I hope these tips
will help to encourage writers to create some better h/c fics. Instead
of the torture fests they can become if done improperly. There are many
good ones out there, let's hope there will be more. I hope some of this
may help people in writing better ones.
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