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If Dante Had a Beta Reader

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Dear Dante (do you mind if I call you Dan?),

First of all, I don't want you to be crushed by what I write below. I think you have a really good fic here, with lots of interesting characters and fantastic action. With a little work, I think you can make it good enough to post at historic_slash.

(By the way, I don't want to receive any more "I am a published author" letters from you. Stuff you can get away with in pro fic, you'll get slaughtered for in fandom. I'm trying to save you from flames – remember that.)

Let me start by giving you the bad news: Your story has some major problems.

Problem #1: Your American fans can't read this.

You're writing poetry? In Italian?

Good God, man, do you want to exile yourself to the wilds of FictionPress.com? I mean, you're under enough of a disadvantage in the fanfic community already, being an originalfic writer.

Nobody cares about poetry except the filk fans, and they're too small a readership to court. As for the Italian fans, you'd know better than I do how many of them exist, but I sure haven't encountered them at LiveJournal, so there can't be very many of them.

I've taken the liberty of translating your story into English prose. This is above and beyond the call of duty, so in exchange, would you mind betaing my latest Torchwood mpreg fic? Thanks. Chapters 1 through 55 are attached. I'll send you the rest later.

Problem #2: Self-insertion.

You do realize, don't you, that your main character is a total self-insertion? I'm going to leave aside the itty-bitty problem that you gave the protagonist your own name. (Please. Could you be more obvious?) Even without that, it's clear as day that he's an idealized version of yourself. I mean, practically every stranger who meets him knows who he is, some higher-up has arranged for him to get a special tour of hell (you never say who she is, by the way – you need to change that), and for heaven's sake, all those passages about what a wonderful writer he is . . .

This is going to take more than a name change to resolve. I suggest that you go through the manuscript line by line and remove any passages which suggest that Dante (the character) is anything but an average Joe.

Truth to tell, your manuscript is littered with Marty Stus and Mary Sues. I mean, just look at Virgil. It's positively embarrassing how Dante gushes over him in Chapter One. And when you get to the sequel, and Statius is going all fan-girlish over him too . . .

Beatrice comes close to being a Mary Sue, but you save her in those scenes toward the end of "Purgatory," by adding in some rather spicy domestic discipline stuff. That should go over well with the femdom fans, but why did you stop short of having her spank him? Don't censor yourself!

Problem #3: What genre are you writing?

I thought at first that this was a prisonerfic story, but then you release Dante from prison (i.e. hell and purgatory) and send him into outer space at the end of Part Two. (By the way: Be sure to finish writing Part Three before you start posting this. Nobody likes a WIP.) So what genre is it now? Sci-fi? Maybe you can get away with writing in that broad a genre as a pro fic writer, but fanfic readers demand more specific categories.

My suggestion is that you turn this into a slavefic. It would only take a little tweaking to make Dante and Virgil slaves rather than prisoners, and the slavefic readership is really huge. Plus, slavefic readers don't seem to mind reading about ex-slaves, so you could free Dante at the end of Part Two, the way you'd planned.

(Oh, and you asked about the story titles. "Hell" and "Purgatory" and "Paradise" are okay, if a little bland, but I think you should consider switching to a different nick. Your readers might think you're writing in the fandom of Dante's Cove.)

Problem #4: This is gen.

Um . . . look, I wouldn't complain if you were writing this as pro fic. I mean, I know that gen is really popular with pro fic readers.

But there just aren't many fanfic readers who are interested in gen. And I don't know of any readership for original gen.

I'm tempted to suggest that you label this as original het (not that there's much of a readership for that either . . .). But the thing is, your het plotline is really weak, and you don't do a very good job with female characters. (Aside from Beatrice's Xena moment, I mean.) This whole thing with Dante treating Beatrice like trash, and her still loving him . . . Jeez. And then you don't even bring her onscreen for 63 chapters! You just have Dante sighing constantly over her, like she's a damn Madonna.

(The singer, I mean, but were you trying to hint that Beatrice is like the Virgin Mary? If so, whoa nelly, you've got a major problem on your hands. Fandom Wank will tear you to bits if they think you're writing Fundamentalist fic.)

Anyway, you've really got to do a better job with your female characters because, well, you're a guy. I know, I know, it's not fair; female authors turn out badfic all the time. (Did you read Cecily's latest femslash?) But the fact is that fandom is women's territory, so you're going to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us.

Making this a het story would only spotlight your inability to write plausible female characters. Anyway, it's quite obvious to me that you're writing a slash story. You haven't admitted it to yourself (a little internalized homophobia, hmm?), but the subtext is so loud that it screams. "Virgil had left me, and nothing could keep my dew-washed cheeks from turning dark again with tears. . . ." That's drop-dead gorgeous. Just add a sex scene between Dante and Virgil, and you'll have the original slash readers Friending you like crazy.

If you decide to go this route, you'll have to end the story after Virgil leaves Dante, though. Tossing Dante into Beatrice's arms looks like an afterthought, and slash readers aren't interested in het anyway. You'll be taking a chance, writing this story as a tragedy, but I'll bet that you pick up lots of deathfic fans.

Problem #5: That God character.

Are you planning to let us actually see this guy in the third story? If not, ditch him. He doesn't add anything to the tale.

o—o—o

Anyway, that's the bad news, but the good news is that your story is Angst Central, and you're great with the hurt/comfort stuff too. Loved the way Dante keeps fainting. (You're going to get teased, you know, for feminizing Dante, but don't pay attention to the critics. You've got nothing in your story that the canon writers of Starsky and Hutch haven't done before you.)

Here's the beginning of my beta notes. I have to confess that I thought your first chapter was the weakest of them all, but you do have a great opening line.

o—o—o

"Midway in the journey of our life"

Why "our"? Are you trying to be metaphorical? If so, don't.

"I found myself in a dark wood."

Ditch the "dark." Saying "dark wood" is a cliché.

"for the straight way was lost."

This is metaphorical, right? Ditch it. The first clause is more powerful if you end the sentence at "wood."

"Ah, how hard it is to tell what that wood was, wild, rugged, harsh"

This is too flowery. You'll pick up a few litslash fans along the way, but you'll turn off most of your readers. I suggest that you reread Strunk & White. Plain English is best.

"the very thought of it renews the fear!"

Show, don't tell. Don't tell me that he feels fear; show him trembling or sweating or whatever.

(And get rid of the exclamation point. Only teen newbies use exclamation points in narrative.)

"It is so bitter that death is hardly more so."

Again, you're telling rather than showing. Make me feel the bitterness.

"But, to treat of the good that I found in it, I will tell of the other things I saw there."

Yada, yada, yada . . . Skip that sentence. It doesn't add anything to the story.

"I cannot rightly say how I entered it"

Then why bother to say so?

"I was so full of sleep at the moment I left the true way"

You're being metaphorical again. Stop it.

"but when I had reached the foot of a hill"

What hill? Don't be vague.

"there at the end of the valley that had pierced my heart with fear"

You're being repetitive, and you're not making sense. You said before that the wood was what made him fearful; now you've switched and said it's a valley. Make up your mind.

"I looked up and saw its shoulders"

Whose shoulders? Your heart's? The valley's? The hill's? Don't use nonspecific pronouns.

"already clad in the rays of the planet"

The rays of the planet? Oh, for God's sake. I'm sending you a bunch of Wikipedia links so that you can brush up on your astronomy.

"that leads men aright by every path."

Ditch. The. Metaphors.

"then the fear was somewhat quieted"

Too many uses of the word "fear."

"that had continued in the lake of my heart"

This image doesn't work for me.

"through the night I had passed so piteously."

First of all, you need to do a better job at chronology. It wasn't till now that I figured out the character had been wandering around all night. Second of all, stop telling me what I should feel; show me what's going on so that I can feel pity on my own.

"And as he who with laboring breath"

Oh, God, now you're doing similes. This isn't the rarelitslash community, for heaven's sake.

"has escaped from the deep to the shore"

The deep what? You need to do a better job at proofreading your own stories.

"turns to look back on the dangerous waters"

Metaphor, metaphor, metaphor. Your readers will desert you in droves if you don't rein in your fetish for metaphors.

"so my mind which was still fleeing"

Nice image.

"turned back to gaze"

Or maybe not. Minds don't turn back to gaze.

"upon the pass that never left anyone alive."

How does he know this? Don't turn him into some sort of omniscient god.

"After I had rested my tired body a little"

Repetitive. If he rested, then of course he must have been tired.

"I again took up my way across the desert strand"

Whoa, wait. Where did this desert come from? I thought he was in a forest.

"so that the firm foot was always the lower."

See, now, this is where metaphors become ridiculous. If you're trying to imply that he's climbing up a hill, just say so.

"And behold, near the beginning of the steep"

Steep what?

"A leopard light-footed and very fleet, covered with a spotted hide!"

Terrific! Great turn of events!

(But get rid of the exclamation point. And you need a verb.)

o—o—o

That's as far as I was able to beta. I've got Yuletide Treasure coming up, plus the fic-a-thon, so it will probably be a couple of months before I can send you more. (Well, except for Chapters 56 through 128 of my story. I'll send those tomorrow.)

Really, I think you've made a great start. If you keep this up, readers won't pay any attention to your disadvantages (pro fic writer, male, etc.).

Yours in a rush,
Jenny

P.S. Have you considered turning this into a Harry Potter AU? (Dante = Harry, Beatrice = Hermione, Virgil = Sirius, etc.) You'd nab a much bigger readership than if you posted this as originalfic, and in that fandom, you'd be able to get away with a lot of the weak points in your manuscript (hero as Marty Stu, poor het, etc.). Think about it!