I read an article:
that sheds some light on the idea of talented vs. good writing. The former is, as a general rule, not technically perfect.
Mechanical issues are forgivable, particularly if it's in the cause of some other ends.
At the same time, though, persistent, pervasive issues in spelling or grammar indicate some other things. This is big for me - I studied Applied Language and Discourse, and analyzed any number of works in terms of what the mechanics of the work imply about the process, the writer, the context the writer is crafting the work in, and what the writer's communicating to the audience. I could go into a great deal of depth on the subject, but the long and short of it is that it indicates a kind of laziness. If an author can't be bothered to do a spellcheck, why should a reader be bothered to invest in their work?
Okay, that's a bit hypocritical - I can't always spellcheck, or I forget in a rush - but I do think I have less errors per 1000 words than most.
Nobody's perfect, we're all learning, but an author who's taken the time to polish their chapter is also telling me that what they're doing has a degree of deliberateness. Whether the person who's reading the review is looking at things like that or not, I point out the existence of pervasive errors where I see them so they can make an informed decision. The mechanics of the writing are one of the most fundamental things to a serial, and that expresses a lot.
Maybe it sounds mean, but I look to Sturgeon's Law when I think about reviews. '90% of everything is bad', to paraphrase. Serials are accessible. Starting a serial is easy (and so is the act of abandoning one). It stands to reason, then, that there's going to be a good number out there that aren't stellar, and it's going to be a rare one where the author truly invests something into it. I don't start out thinking 'this is going to be bad', and I think carefully about the parts of a serial that work and that don't work before making a judgement call. When it comes down to it, though, I don't want WFG's reviews to span 3.5 to 5 stars (like how video games will rate even a terrible, nigh-unplayable game 65%). A 1.5 star work is unreadable, and I've rated stories that low. A 2 star work crosses the threshhold to 'I could finish it but I didn't enjoy it', and a 3 star work is where you've got that glimmer of quality. By the time you're up to 4.5 stars, you've got something which is just misisng a little element, a rewrite here and there to tie things together and make it top notch.
But a 5 star work... that's something that would have to capture me. A work where I'd have to reach to find something wrong with it, which infuses me with excitement for the story and the writing. That's a high bar to set, I know, but I think we have the ability to achieve it. I'm hoping people will achieve it, because I think serials need a few breakaway hits to appear one after another to really break into the public consciousness.
I know I might come across as harsh, but I'm just trying to call it as I see it - I think it's the only honest way to handle it.
I don't write with a theme in mind. I think the key thing to do is to tell an engaging story, to give it dimension and characters and direction. Provided you're being fair and being consistent, it'll develop its own themes. I started writing Worm to tell the kind of story I'd want to read, and because I'm a particular person with particular tastes, it wound up reflecting those tastes and ideas and became something unto itself.
I took a long time trying to figure out where to start Worm. For those who've read the story, I had drafts that started in the midst of the bank robbery, in the middle of the Extermination arc (for serious) and waaaaay back when she first got her powers. I think the key thing is to start as close to the heart of the story as possible. Gavin, I recall you gave me a hard time for not starting Worm at an earlier point, but I think the essential thing is to get things moving.
As far as starting a story, I'm a seat-of-my-pants writer. The key elements to have in mind are the beginning and end. I need to have a general sense of how everything works. The rest will sort itself out.