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Ottservia

The subjectivity and objectivity of narrative critique/analysis, or what makes a story good?

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Something I've been thinking about a lot these past couple of years. Is there a way to truly define an objectively good story? Now obviously when it comes to narrative critique and analysis there is a huge subjective component as what one values in a story varies from person to person. Though with some stories we can indeed see some kind of general consensus that a story is "bad" or "good". Why is that I wonder? Is there really a way to truly objectively judge the quality of a piece of fiction? Like what makes a plot good? what makes a character good? is there really a way to tell? I'm just really curious. 

Personally I like to focus on the themes and ideas behind the story to gauge it's quality because those are the things of which everything else a story is built on when you think about it. I mean what makes a character  relatable are the things about them that allow us to understand them. Likewise stories I find to be very similar in that a story is only able to invoke emotions within us is because it conveys values that we can understand. This is a topic I've been chewing on for some time now and I've yet to truly find a definitive answer. So what do you all think?

Edited by Ottservia

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Juicy. Given this was literally my degree, it would be almost irresponsible of me not to weigh in.

Sure, objective good exists. It may not always be clear and obvious, or easy to pin down, but you can do something well or badly. And there's plenty of solid criteria you can nail down.

Part of this relates to genre. You can write as technically adept a piece of fiction as you like, but if it's sold as a romance and the love interests don't get together, you have failed. You set out an expectation to your reader, and if you don't fulfil it, you sold it to them on a lie. Every genre carries expectations with it. If it's crime, there's gotta be a crime, and the crime's gotta be solved, and the reader's got to be able to follow the logic as the protagonist unpacks it. If the reader never gets what happened or how the villain did it, regardless of any other factors, it's a bad crime. Et cetera.

Part of it, especially characterwise, relates to consistency. Do their actions reflect their personalities and abilities? Or are their actions out of place with who they are established to be? Are we told one thing ("Jenny is such a great person!") and shown another ('Jenny gunned down thirty civilians')? Also, protagonists have to be charismatic enough to follow, and generally it helps if they're not utter shitbags. They can still be bad people, but there's a reason Black Company follows the essentially decent physic Croaker rather than any of the war criminals he rubs shoulders with. The death knell of any piece of fiction is the reader deciding, "I don't care what happens to these people."

And then there's technique. Is it crisp? Concise? Does it flow well? Does the tempo shift according to the mood? Anyone can tell that a simple block of text in a single sentence without a break when someone just keeps talking and talking and talking more and more repetitively about things that nobody cares about is going to get readers to disengage because when will the sentence get to the point or offer room to breathe or ... You take my point. Some things are good to read. Some things are not.

Enjoyment is more difficult to pin down. Apparently there are people who find their lives improved by having read Oryx and Crake, which was the most miserable waste of a couple of afternoons I've had the misfortune to sit through. The bitch of a set text, and all. But I think this ties into genre again; you aren't picking up a fantasy to have Deep Thoughts, first and foremost. Any Deep Thoughts will need a spoonful of honey to go down. But when I read, say, The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Asne Seierstad... which is a really good book, by the way, but it was never going to be a fun time!

If it flows well, it makes internal sense, it's interesting, and it fits the key genre expectations of the audience; it's good. If nothing makes you want to turn to the next page, and you can't see a reason why anyone else would want to turn to the next page, it's probably bad.

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2 hours ago, Parrhesia said:

Part of this relates to genre. You can write as technically adept a piece of fiction as you like, but if it's sold as a romance and the love interests don't get together, you have failed. You set out an expectation to your reader, and if you don't fulfil it, you sold it to them on a lie. Every genre carries expectations with it. If it's crime, there's gotta be a crime, and the crime's gotta be solved, and the reader's got to be able to follow the logic as the protagonist unpacks it. If the reader never gets what happened or how the villain did it, regardless of any other factors, it's a bad crime. Et cetera.

Does that mean Schooby Doo stories are objectively the best crime stories possible, as they're very structured in nature with expectations that are always met? And what about stories that straddle several different genres? What about the romances where one of the leads dies at the end? Is that a new genre of Tragic romance? Was the first story to do that an objectively bad story for going against the genre until enough other stories followed the same formula (which they would only do if the original story was considered good) until a sub genre is made retroactively making it objectively good?

Edited by Jotari

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13 minutes ago, Jotari said:

Does that mean Schooby Doo stories are objectively the best crime stories possible, as they're very structured in nature with expectations that are always met?

I mean, you could read what I'm saying or you could strawman me. Yes, they meet reader expectations and do their job. No, this isn't the only criterion, which was why I outlaid a variety of criteria, and said that they weren't exhaustive.

14 minutes ago, Jotari said:

And what about stories that straddle several different genres? What about the romances where one of the leads dies at the end? Is that a new genre of Tragic romance?

It's probably not a romance at all, bluntly.

16 minutes ago, Jotari said:

Was the first story to do that an objectively bad story for going against the genre

If it was marketed and sold as a straightforward romance, and they don't live together? Yes, it's a bad romance, though it might well have other merits. The OP asked for ways to objectively measure texts; whether or not it fulfils the expectations of its genre is one such way.

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51 minutes ago, Parrhesia said:

I mean, you could read what I'm saying or you could strawman me. Yes, they meet reader expectations and do their job. No, this isn't the only criterion, which was why I outlaid a variety of criteria, and said that they weren't exhaustive.

It's probably not a romance at all, bluntly.

If it was marketed and sold as a straightforward romance, and they don't live together? Yes, it's a bad romance, though it might well have other merits. The OP asked for ways to objectively measure texts; whether or not it fulfils the expectations of its genre is one such way.

I'm not trying to strawman, just trying to challenge your point. Let's expand to all your points and see if an average Scooby Doo episode fulfills them.

3 hours ago, Parrhesia said:

Part of it, especially characterwise, relates to consistency. Do their actions reflect their personalities and abilities? Or are their actions out of place with who they are established to be? Are we told one thing ("Jenny is such a great person!") and shown another ('Jenny gunned down thirty civilians')? Also, protagonists have to be charismatic enough to follow, and generally it helps if they're not utter shitbags. They can still be bad people, but there's a reason Black Company follows the essentially decent physic Croaker rather than any of the war criminals he rubs shoulders with. The death knell of any piece of fiction is the reader deciding, "I don't care what happens to these people."

I'd say Scooby Doo is very consistent in characterization. I guess we don't really know what's motivating them to do all their mystery solving in the first place, but under any circumstance Scooby and Shaggy will always be scared, Vilma will always be analytical, Fred will always suggest splitting up and Daphne will always be, generally useless. Are they charismatic as characters? Well that's something that's hard to measure objectively as charisma is based on person to person interaction which is going to add a certain degree of subjectivity. But the show has managed to stick around in some form through several generations of children, so they must be endearing to some degree.

3 hours ago, Parrhesia said:

And then there's technique. Is it crisp? Concise? Does it flow well? Does the tempo shift according to the mood? Anyone can tell that a simple block of text in a single sentence without a break when someone just keeps talking and talking and talking more and more repetitively about things that nobody cares about is going to get readers to disengage because when will the sentence get to the point or offer room to breathe or ... You take my point. Some things are good to read. Some things are not.

They manage to fit an entire mystery with clues and such into about a twenty minute episode, so concise yes. Flow well? That's probably an episode to episode thing, not sure, haven't watched an episode in like fifteen years. The tempo does shift according the mood though, with slow openings and a dramatic zany chase near the end as it hits its climax.

Now, on to the mixing and subdividing of genres. Would you say this is not generally considered a romantic movie?

Image result for titanic movie poster

From marketing to scoring to cinematography, I think it very pointedly is advertised as a romance. And yet the male lead dies at the end. This goes against the grain of what you define as romance. But I don't think it defies any expectations, the movie is set on the Titanic which is widely known to sink. So the possibility of tragedy is definitely a possibility going in. Wikipedia calls it an epic romance and disaster film. So it's at least straddling two genres or at the very least a sub genre of romance (though I expect tragic romance is probably the super genre of modern romance as romance ending in tragedy is as old as mythology). And of course it need not be pointed out (though I'm doing so now I guess) that this film was very commercially successful and critically acclaimed. Now perhaps this doesn't destroy the underlying logic of your argument. What you say still makes sense if the genre of romance is just wider than the rigid definition you provided. Though if you accept it's an entirely separate genre, then the question of whether things are objectively bad when they first appear before the genre is codified and whether they can become retroactively objectively good in hindsight applies. I'm not bringing this up as a dismissal either. If you bring genre into objectivity then it means things inherently don't exist on their own. Their worth exists in comparison to other competing narratives. Like the example that some people consider Seinfeld Unfunny because so many subsequent shows have been inspired by it, the humor that was new in the 90s has become stale decades later.

Edited by Jotari

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I genuinely don't know what the first half of your argument is about. I haven't seen an episode of Scooby-Doo in my life, so the whole 'well this cartoon from the 1960s fits!!' gotcha doesn't really land for me. What is your point?

The Titanic is kind of a special case. It's all about expectations, and not betraying them - sometimes subverting or playing with, sure, but never betraying. Anyone who thinks the fucking Titanic is going to end well needs to get out from under a rock. There's a reason Romeo and Juliet is filed under tragedy, not a (romantic) comedy. Two people fucking does not a Romance make.

44 minutes ago, Jotari said:

If  you bring genre into objectivity then it means things inherently don't exist on their own. Their  worth exists in comparison to other competing narratives. Like the example that some people consider Seinfeld Unfunny because so many subsequent shows have been inspired by it, the humor that was new in the 90s has become stale decades later.

Bluntly, I don't see the issue here. Many old comedies have aged poorly, many supposed 'classics' no longer resonate.

Edited by Parrhesia

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37 minutes ago, Parrhesia said:

I genuinely don't know what the first half of your argument is about. I haven't seen an episode of Scooby-Doo in my life, so the whole 'well this cartoon from the 1960s fits!!' gotcha doesn't really land for me. What is your point?

My point is that something many people wouldn't think of as of objectively high quality fits your criteria. It's not a gotcha. You seem to be under the impression that I'm trying to trick or outwit you in some way.

37 minutes ago, Parrhesia said:

The Titanic is kind of a special case. It's all about expectations, and not betraying them - sometimes subverting or playing with, sure, but never betraying. Anyone who thinks the fucking Titanic is going to end well needs to get out from under a rock. There's a reason Romeo and Juliet is filed under tragedy, not a (romantic) comedy. Two people fucking does not a Romance make.

I would posit there are dozens upon dozens of special cases and exceptions that defy your criteria and many that follow your criteria and aren't considered good due to being predictable and stale. You've only given me two genres, I'll throw out the movie Blowup as an example of a successful mystery with no resolution.

37 minutes ago, Parrhesia said:

Bluntly, I don't see the issue here. Many old comedies have aged poorly, many supposed 'classics' no longer resonate.

No issue. I told you I wasn't bringing it up as a dismissal. It is my point. Although just for the sake of Devil's Advocate, I'll ask, can something truly be objective if it's subjective to time?

Edited by Jotari

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Just now, Jotari said:

My point is that something many people wouldn't think of as of objectively high quality fits your criteria. It's not a gotcha. You seem to be under the impression that I'm trying to trick or outwit you in some way.

It's the impression you're giving off. In any case, I stand by the point. It does everything it sets out to do, it is everything it sets out to be. It Fits The Genre. Whether it's actually any good beyond that...

Just now, Jotari said:

I would posit there are dozens upon dozens of special cases and exceptions that defy your criteria and many that follow your criteria and aren't considered good due to being predictable and stale. You've only given me two genres, I'll throw out Blowup as an example of a successful mystery with no resolution.

If the overall point is that something can fulfil all genre expectations and still be bad, then, yeah, I never said it couldn't. And genres can blend, to a degree I largely glossed over in the first post. And if the point is that something can break genre convention and still work as a text, then sure, just so long as it's fucking good. And romance is probably the single most formulaic adult genre, which is why I used it - that's not shade, it's just fact.

Genre shapes perception. My Immortal, if written sincerely, fails at... at being whatever it was meant to be. But realistically, My Immortal was probably written as an absurd comedy, at which it succeeds. As melodrama, every line falls totally flat; as entertainment, every line is a joke, most of them good. If you sell something as historical fiction and it takes place in space, it could be a fucking good space opera, but the person has invested their time and money in an experience that you have failed to deliver, and they're probably gonna leave disappointed.

Just now, Jotari said:

No issue. I told you I wasn't bringing it up as a dismissal. It is my point. Although just for the sake of Devil's Advocate, I'll ask, can something truly be objective if it's subjective to time?

Yes. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Every text is part of the greater conversation, and part of the context in which it was written. And some things age better than others; most of Shakespeare's plays still work fine today, and are famously resilient to adaptation, but Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona are a hard sell to anyone who thinks women are people. I'd say technique ages, too. If I'd submitted Les Miserables as my final assignment, my convenor would've punched me in the face. Watching Monty Python today makes me want to punch myself in the face, though comedy is probably the hardest thing to judge from an objective standpoint, with the most variance between people, and the quickest to age.

There are grey areas. But the OP asked for objective measures, and objective measures exist. So what framework do you offer?

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29 minutes ago, Parrhesia said:

It's the impression you're giving off. In any case, I stand by the point. It does everything it sets out to do, it is everything it sets out to be. It Fits The Genre. Whether it's actually any good beyond that...

If the overall point is that something can fulfil all genre expectations and still be bad, then, yeah, I never said it couldn't. And genres can blend, to a degree I largely glossed over in the first post. And if the point is that something can break genre convention and still work as a text, then sure, just so long as it's fucking goodAnd romance is probably the single most formulaic adult genre, which is why I used it - that's not shade, it's just fact.

And there's the rub. How are we to define objectively good. You've tried to suggest objectively good comes from conforming to genre expectations, but if there are many good stories that don't do that, and there are many bad stories that do, and there are many genres that are hard to definitively define then it's not a great standard for objective quality.

29 minutes ago, Parrhesia said:

Genre shapes perception. My Immortal, if written sincerely, fails at... at being whatever it was meant to be. But realistically, My Immortal was probably written as an absurd comedy, at which it succeeds. As melodrama, every line falls totally flat; as entertainment, every line is a joke, most of them good. If you sell something as historical fiction and it takes place in space, it could be a fucking good space opera, but the person has invested their time and money in an experience that you have failed to deliver, and they're probably gonna leave disappointed.

That might depend on the person. I rather enjoyed the Disney animal envisioning of Robin Hood. Then again what do we class Robin Hood? It takes place in a specific time period in the past, which means it would fit into Historical Fiction. But it's a story that's been consistently popular since the time in which it set. Which means it was originally an adventure novel that's morphed into a historical fiction. Of course I'm sure one aspect of historical fiction we'd need to agree the genre needs would be a great attention to detail of historical accuracy (by now hopefully my contradictory ramblings have made it clear that I'm not on the attack as you initially took it and I'm just speaking my mind on the nuances of this as it interests me).

29 minutes ago, Parrhesia said:

There are grey areas. But the OP asked for objective measures, and objective measures exist. So what framework do you offer?

I don't know. Closest I could get is your third point you make in your original comment, the nebulous feeling of good technique. Though even then I'd have objections as Hollywood has successfully made pacing and writing techniques into a science and it's made most modern films rather soulless in my opinion (though again, the whole nothing exists in a vacuum comes into play as it probably only feels that way because the inundation of movies from a single source). I do think objectivity exists though, because I think there are things out there that are objectively bad, like as you say, My Immortal. But hell if I know how to determine it. It's why I clicked and commented on this thread. A few years ago I would have agreed with the OP and said it was themes, but then I read George R.R Martin's Vampires on the Mississippi Steamboat book Fever Dream, which utterly destroys any attempt to have any proper themes due to the entire conflict coming from super natural mind control (I'll throw out that In my opinion that particular book is very much historical fiction mixed with horror. A lot of the text is dedicated to the working of the Steamboat industry of the time). But that book wasn't all that popular and anyone who's read it in the past twenty years likely only did so from the author's fame from another work. So a case could be made that it's objectively bad even if I subjectively enjoyed it a lot. A better example of stories without themes that are popular would be the many, many action flicks where the main thrust is explosions and fight scenes (what's the theme of Die Hard? Family is important because terrorists might attack you? Doing what's right is better than doing what's safe? Eh I don't know, but I like the movie).

Edited by Jotari

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26 minutes ago, Jotari said:

And there's the rub. How are we to define objectively good. You've tried to suggest objectively good comes from conforming to genre expectations, but if there are many good stories that don't do that, and there are many bad stories that do, and there are many genres that are hard to definitively define then it's not a great standard for objective quality.

Yes, which was why it was one of many measures of objective worth I laid out. No single metric is ever going to successfully weigh a text's value. Literary analysis is hard, it's not a solved game, and it never will be.

32 minutes ago, Jotari said:

That might depend on the person. I rather enjoyed the Disney animal envisioning of Robin Hood. Then again what do we class Robin Hood? It takes place in a specific time period in the past, which means it would fit into Historical Fiction. But it's a story that's been consistently popular since the time in which it set. Which means it was originally an adventure novel that's morphed into a historical fiction. Of course I'm sure one aspect of historical fiction we'd need to agree the genre needs would be a great attention to detail of historical accuracy (by now hopefully my contradictory ramblings have made it clear that I'm not on the attack as you initially took it and I'm just speaking my mind on the nuances of this as it interests me).

Something tells me that when you picked up the G-rated fuzzy cuddly Disney animal adaptation of Robin Hood you weren't exactly looking for Wolf Hall.

 

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3 hours ago, Parrhesia said:

Something tells me that when you picked up the G-rated fuzzy cuddly Disney animal adaptation of Robin Hood you weren't exactly looking for Wolf Hall.

 

Would that be the same as the difference between RL Stein and Jon Carpenter?

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Whether a narrative is well-written is subjective. 

It's based on one's opinion and can't be proven through facts. While there are elements of good writing that are objective such as being factually consistent, for example, the number of siblings shouldn't change unless there was a birth/death but this in and of itself isn't sufficient proof whether the story is poorly written as a whole. 

 

22 hours ago, Parrhesia said:

Part of it, especially characterwise, relates to consistency. Do their actions reflect their personalities and abilities? Or are their actions out of place with who they are established to be? Are we told one thing ("Jenny is such a great person!") and shown another ('Jenny gunned down thirty civilians')? Also, protagonists have to be charismatic enough to follow, and generally it helps if they're not utter shitbags. They can still be bad people, but there's a reason Black Company follows the essentially decent physic Croaker rather than any of the war criminals he rubs shoulders with. The death knell of any piece of fiction is the reader deciding, "I don't care what happens to these people."

 

Whether a character is consistent is also subjective. Some people might buy the reasons why a character does what they do based on their previous characterization or decide it doesn't add up. 

Spoiler

For example, some people might think that Micaiah's actions in part 3 make no sense considering her part 1 actions but I'd argue they are perfectly in character. 

Your example also doesn't work because if the author is some evil person, they might think Jenny is a great person for murdering thirty civilians so it'd be consistent with their narrative's internal logic. 

Edited by Icelerate

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Bad writing isn't good just because the author thinks it's good. That's a meaningless point to make.

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12 minutes ago, Icelerate said:

While there are elements of good writing that are objective such as being factually consistent, for example, the number of siblings shouldn't change unless there was a birth/death but this in and of itself isn't sufficient proof whether the story is poorly written as a whole. 

Or, the author is being intentionally meta when they write the work. That's another exception.

I had to read Jacques the Fatalist. At one point, the narrator says something like: "Jacques and his master spent the night somewhere. Where? Why must you know you stupid reader who loves love stories and nothing else? Fine, I'll give you three options as to what happened and describe them in detail. Pick your favorite". And then many chapters later in the story, the narrator says something like "...because I just remembered Jacques and his master had spent the night at that place" and that particular place wasn't one of the options they presented earlier.

Surprisingly, this isn't quite so modern, its author is Diderot, the Enlightenment (1700s) Encyclopedia guy.

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On 8/24/2019 at 12:08 AM, Parrhesia said:

Enjoyment is more difficult to pin down. Apparently there are people who find their lives improved by having read Oryx and Crake, which was the most miserable waste of a couple of afternoons I've had the misfortune to sit through. The bitch of a set text, and all. But I think this ties into genre again; you aren't picking up a fantasy to have Deep Thoughts, first and foremost. Any Deep Thoughts will need a spoonful of honey to go down. But when I read, say, The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Asne Seierstad... which is a really good book, by the way, but it was never going to be a fun time!

Ehhh I don't really agree with this cause you can find a deeper meaning in most anything really. I mean so long as you have enough evidence from the text to back up your claim you should be able to prove the message or theme behind a given work.

On 8/24/2019 at 11:03 PM, Icelerate said:

Whether a character is consistent is also subjective. Some people might buy the reasons why a character does what they do based on their previous characterization or decide it doesn't add up. 

No whether a character's actions come off as contrived or forced is subjective. A character's consistency is something you can objectively prove. Like if a character is established to not be able to move their legs in one scene but in the next they're sprinting with no explanation before, during, or afterwards. That's bad writing, I don't care what you say. 

On 8/24/2019 at 12:08 AM, Parrhesia said:

Part of this relates to genre. You can write as technically adept a piece of fiction as you like, but if it's sold as a romance and the love interests don't get together, you have failed. You set out an expectation to your reader, and if you don't fulfil it, you sold it to them on a lie. Every genre carries expectations with it. If it's crime, there's gotta be a crime, and the crime's gotta be solved, and the reader's got to be able to follow the logic as the protagonist unpacks it. If the reader never gets what happened or how the villain did it, regardless of any other factors, it's a bad crime. Et cetera.

I can kind of see what you're trying to say here(and I somewhat agree cause I believe something should be critiqued based on what it wants to to be and the story it wants to tell) but that doesn't answer one main question: what makes a romance a romance? What makes anything part of a given genre? what defines a genre? cause again like Jotari said some stories can have elements of different genres within themselves. Or hell if you're so concerned about lying to one's audience being bad what about a show like Madoka magica? That show was marketed as a cutsey and light hearted magical girl show but instead you get a story about the duality of hope and despair, the meaning of self-worth, and if it's truly okay to sacrifice one's own happiness for the sake of others, etc. I wouldn't consider that show bad by any means despite the facade it let on in its marketing. There's a lot that can be done from trying to actively subvert audience expectation. It's something to think about.

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On 8/24/2019 at 6:08 AM, Parrhesia said:

Sure, objective good exists.

I'm going to go ahead and say "No". Objective good doesn't exist when it comes to writing, as each individual's standards differ from another. What is a bad story for one person can be a fantastic one for another and vice versa. Saying that objective good and bad exist means stifling discussion, as contrary opinions are automatically disqualified and invalid, no matter how well founded they may be, meaning discussing good and bad would be absolutely pointless as the singular objective truth is already there. Seeing how there IS a discussion, I'd say that statement doesn't really work, honestly.

On 8/24/2019 at 6:08 AM, Parrhesia said:

Part of this relates to genre. You can write as technically adept a piece of fiction as you like, but if it's sold as a romance and the love interests don't get together, you have failed. You set out an expectation to your reader, and if you don't fulfil it, you sold it to them on a lie. Every genre carries expectations with it. If it's crime, there's gotta be a crime, and the crime's gotta be solved, and the reader's got to be able to follow the logic as the protagonist unpacks it. If the reader never gets what happened or how the villain did it, regardless of any other factors, it's a bad crime. Et cetera.

Genres will always overlap with one another, the borders of genre are not clear-cut, especially in modern day literature, where genre borders are deliberately broken and played with to subvert expectations.
There are many romance stories that people absolutely LOVE where the two leads don't end up together in the end. Romeo and Juliet, anyone?
There are many crime stories where the crime is never solved. Some old crime series loved to do that to show that police or detectives aren't some superhuman geniuses who can solve everything. That doesn't mean that the crime stories themselves are bad.

On 8/24/2019 at 6:08 AM, Parrhesia said:

The death knell of any piece of fiction is the reader deciding, "I don't care what happens to these people."

While this is true, the way to avoid this as a writer is a freaking minefield with the twist that everywhere you step, you blow it up. Because what's good for one person can be bad for another.

Let's take Fire Emblem Fates as an example and let's leave the general consensus that the entire thing is a badly written mess aside: I don't care what happens to the characters the story focuses on, the Nohrian and Hoshidan Royalty as well as Azura. Why? Because I dislike them as people and characters. I don't care what happens to them, because I can't care about them, because almost none of them are even remotely likeable to me. But they are by a wide margin the most popular characters in the game and many love them. Will I tell those people they are wrong? No, because they aren't. Will they tell me I am wrong? Maybe. Hopefully not. Because there is no single truth here.
The breaking point is different for every single person on this planet. Claiming objectivity in such a context is an argument that doesn't hold up to that truth, ironically.

On 8/24/2019 at 6:08 AM, Parrhesia said:

And then there's technique. Is it crisp? Concise? Does it flow well? Does the tempo shift according to the mood? Anyone can tell that a simple block of text in a single sentence without a break when someone just keeps talking and talking and talking more and more repetitively about things that nobody cares about is going to get readers to disengage because when will the sentence get to the point or offer room to breathe or ... You take my point. Some things are good to read. Some things are not.

Also subjective, as I've laid out above. I absolutely loathe Theodor Fontane's work, many people love it. Some people hate Mark Twain's overly descriptive story-telling, others don't. Heck, I'm sure there are some that would call Shakespeare or Goethe boring (I know my English teacher disliked the former).

On 8/24/2019 at 11:32 AM, Parrhesia said:

There are grey areas. But the OP asked for objective measures, and objective measures exist. So what framework do you offer?

Sad thing is, these objective measures tend to fall apart very, very quickly if you examine them closely enough and even "experts" in the field are divided on this. The only framework one can really offer is their own, but it can't be applied to every other person.
I believe the takeaway here is that good and bad are inherently subjective concepts at least where art is concerned.

As a disclaimer, because I'm always paranoid about these things: I don't mean to attack you with this. Just offering my two cents as an apparent fellow literature major and as someone who is currently trying to write, but failing in a most epic fashion, because I hate my own stuff.

Edited by DragonFlames

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I say there is both an objective component and a subjective component to how we value narratives. Anything based in something personal is obviously subjective, while stuff that can be broken down is objective. 

Is there an "objective good" though? Good question; I'd have to say yes, but with a caveat: you have to define that threshold for good. Is it well-written, is it creative, is the subtext well-conveyed, etc. are all examples of shared standards we use for defining a good story. Where we disagree is each person's individual thresholds. 

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1 hour ago, DragonFlames said:

While this is true, the way to avoid this as a writer is a freaking minefield with the twist that everywhere you step, you blow it up. Because what's good for one person can be bad for another.

There's also stories that people actively say they don't like, yet can't actually stop reading/watching whatever. The kind of stories people make two hour rants about on youtube. Those stories seem to hit some kind of "I don't care about what happens to these characters" marker, but at the same time they clearly do care because it becomes something of an addiction.

1 hour ago, DragonFlames said:

Also subjective, as I've laid out above. I absolutely loathe Theodor Fontane's work, many people love it. Some people hate Mark Twain's overly descriptive story-telling, others don't. Heck, I'm sure there are some that would call Shakespeare or Goethe boring (I know my English teacher disliked the former).

Guilty for Goethe, but Shakespeare is totally rad. Really needs to be seen performed by high class professionals than read though.

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50 minutes ago, Jotari said:

There's also stories that people actively say they don't like, yet can't actually stop reading/watching whatever. The kind of stories people make two hour rants about on youtube. Those stories seem to hit some kind of "I don't care about what happens to these characters" marker, but at the same time they clearly do care because it becomes something of an addiction.

Yes, exactly. I remember one guy making an entire series on why a certain anime is bad. 12 videos of 25 minute average length talking about how bad the first three episodes of a specific anime are.

50 minutes ago, Jotari said:

Guilty for Goethe, but Shakespeare is totally rad. Really needs to be seen performed by high class professionals than read though.

I personally enjoy both, but I can't stand Kleist. Schiller also isn't my thing, really.
Definitely agreed on Shakespeare, though I thoroughly enjoyed reading McBeth, Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. Still, plays in general need to be seen rather than read in my opinion.

Edited by DragonFlames

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On 8/23/2019 at 10:01 PM, Ottservia said:

Something I've been thinking about a lot these past couple of years. Is there a way to truly define an objectively good story? Now obviously when it comes to narrative critique and analysis there is a huge subjective component as what one values in a story varies from person to person. Though with some stories we can indeed see some kind of general consensus that a story is "bad" or "good".

This might sound strange, but subjectivity also has a degree of universalism (well, not exactly universalism but there's a taste convergence for things that are perceived as "good"). All objective definitions for any area that deals with subjectivism (art, music etc.) draws from these elements that are perceived to influence the general opinion of its quality. That's how you come up with objective standards that, while definitely not perfect and still debatable, manage to highlight what makes subjective things bad or good.

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