(Interlude: debating love stories)
********* Author's note: The commentary below first appeared in the original posting of 'Debating Love' in August, 2006.
---------------------------------- I know what you're all thinking: "Goddammit! What's wrong with you, boy? Some of us are enjoying this little story of yours. Go work on the rest of the chapters! We don't need no bloody interlude."
Well, I'm not able to work on the story right now, but I am working on it when I do get the opportunity. Chapter 5 is, in fact, underway.
In the meantime, however, I do have a few thoughts about some specific stories in the Nifty Highschool section that I want to share. In some cases, I've already told these things to the authors directly, but I think putting them out in public would be good for stimulating a debate, especially between readers and writers and among writers themselves, about what makes a good story.
1. "A Class of His Own" by Comicality.
Reading this story many years ago was the first time I realized that Nifty could be about more than sex. The author put so much real feeling into the characters that I completely bought into it with my heart.
The best things about the story are the ways the story deals with the self-doubt and the awakening joy of romance simultaneously. The main character and his love interest are both likeable and the scenes between them click with spirit and sweetness. The sex is hot, too.
There are a couple of problems with the story, however... The current Nifty posting of "A Class of His Own" is a revised version. I don't have the original to compare it to in any concrete way, but I remember liking the original more. I can't tell you why.
Also, "A Class of His Own" has just gotten its 12th chapter. I stopped reading at about chapter 9. I think this story should have ended long ago. The theme of the rich prince and the peasant boy and their meeting across the gulf of social barriers has been well examined. Instead, the story is meandering through a mediocre, soap opera life now. I am a firm believer that these open ended stories can only hurt themselves when they go past their natural climax.
2. "Face at the Window" by It's Only Me from Across the Sea.
This is the finest (completed) erotic teen love story that I've ever come across. The opening is just a little bit slow, but the main character has a unique and engaging voice and he carries you through the story with his narration.
I cannot praise it enough and instead of telling you its finer points I will just say that it is available at iomfats.org. And at the Nifty address above too, of course.
The most important thing to know about "Face at the Window" is this: DON'T READ THE SEQUEL.
Iomfats.org arranged a story contest for other authors to write a sequel to the story and have posted the winning sequel at the website. The sequel is actually well written with good characterization, but it completely destroys the spirit and feeling of the original. The problem is that the concept of a sequel to the first story is fundamentally flawed to begin with.
The original ends with just the right heart-thumping note of bitter-sweet uncertainty. Both characters have grown and learned and been fundamentally touched by meeting each other. That moment was the true end to a story about one stolen summer of young hearts and hot lust.
Writing a sequel to this story was like writing a sequel to `Titanic' or `Romeo and Juliet' or `Gone with the Wind'. (Yes, I know there actually was a sequel to `Gone with the Wind'. If you've ever read it, then you also know what a disaster it was.)
3. "Henry in the Outfield" by Michael Arram.
Henry is one of the sweetest, most likeable characters in Nifty history. His story also does a great job of balancing the romance, the sex, the characterization, the portrayal of his life at school and at home and a damn interesting ghost story mystery. This writer has a gift for suspense.
The problem is the denouement of that ghost story. What was set up as creepy and tragic turns out to be, I'm sorry to say, farcical and unrealistic. I think I may have already given too much away saying just that, so I won't tell you more.
There are two sequels to "Henry in the Outfield" and, surprisingly, I like them. That is because the love relationship in "Henry in the Outfield" has a lot of room to grow. In fact, the author makes a courageous choice at the end of the first sequel, "Henry in High Politics," that jarred me at first, but has struck me as more and more natural to Henry's growth as time has gone on.
The third sequel, "Henry in Finkle Road," is ongoing. And going, and going, and going...
It's still a fun read, but I think that the author has tried too hard to include cast members from the other Michael Arram stories and has thus lost focus on his primary asset, the likeable and wonderful Henry. I also think that the supernatural/ historical mystery that the story focuses on has been too slow to develop. This story is twice as long as it needs to be for what has taken place.
4. "Someday Out of the Blue" by LittleBuddhaTW
This story starts with the clichéd ball-slamming-into-the-face-of-the-geeky-boy premise, but pulls it off well and develops it even better. The passions and emotions of the main character, especially regarding his music, are the key to the story.
One of the best and most surprising things about the story is the way it sets up a love triangle very early. There is no villain, just complicated and entangled feelings that leave the reader himself unable to decide how he thinks it will (or should) work out.
This story, unfortunately, is another that has gone way past its natural end. I would say somewhere about the talent show scene, or soon thereafter, would have been a good place to sew everything up.
Instead, we get additional characters coming in and more outside events affecting the lives of the characters. Love stories like this lose dramatic power once the romantice relationships have been settled into some stability. If it's a romantic story, then the romantic climax is the story climax.
5. "The Pleasure Boy", by Jae Munroe.
Not a highschool story (they didn't have highschool in Roman times). But, it's about young love and does a good job with it. The main character and his love interest are wildly different people in a master-slave relationship, which makes romance delightfully complicated and hard to even define. In addition, the constant interference of lust and physical need stir the conflict even more.
This story has a point to make about pride. For the most part, it succeeds. The chief failing of this story is that the excessive pride can seem contrived and the ups and downs of the relationship seem to be based more on unrealistic actions by the characters, rather than the feelings of the characters themselves. This is a fault mainly with the middle chapters. The beginning and end more than make up for it.
6. "Laika", by EleCivil
Perfect. So far.
It is ongoing and the author assures me that he knows exactly where the story is going and how it will end.
I can't wait.
7."Paul and Simon", by The Scholar
Okay, so I'm not sure if this story is actually posted at Nifty, so I've put the iomfats.org address above.
These stories are light on sex, but great on showing the interplay between the two boys in question. It's especially good with the dialogue.
8. "Loving You, Loving Me", by email@example.com
A damned good ongoing story. The scenes between the two boys are excellent. In fact, the entire scene where they are trapped in the forest path in the rain is positively transcendent in its description of the boys and their fun. The author also knows how to deliver physical descriptions of the boys which rise above the superficial and actually define the characters.
Formosa1984 does have a tendency to go with clichés, however, (starlight and beaches etc), but I forgive him because he does it so well.
The only real fault in the story is the main character's long-winded internal voice. After a few chapters, I wanted to slap him upside the head and say, "Alright! We get it. You're lonely and you're an outcast! We understand, already!"
This is, of course, not a comprehensive list of the good and interesting stories at Nifty's Highschool section, but they're some that have gotten my attention. I know it may seem presumptuous to pontificate on these stories out of the blue, but my intent is not to criticize for the sake of making the authors look bad, but to spur debate about what makes stories work.
To be fair, however, I'll now turn my Lit Major eyes on my own story...
9. "Debating Love."
-I think I have captured the distinct personalities of the individuals. I also think that I have managed to write characters who are as intelligent as I know kids can be as well as immature and childish as I know they can be.
-I also think that I have done the humour right, which is something I never had much confidence in before.
-At times I feel my prose is awkward and I work hard at that, but sometimes it seems that flow eludes me.
-The characters do have a tendency to let the subject matter of their arguments overshadow the story itself.
-I'm also deficient, I feel, in the physical descriptions department. A supposedly erotic tale should have some interest in what the characters look like, but I somehow can't seem to present them in this way. I suspect the weakness is that I myself don't have a clear picture of what these boys look like.
So, I'm done with the interlude.
Feel free to talk among yourselves :-)