Recently, we’ve had quite the influx of new sporks. Seems like all the cool kids are writing them these days. I, either being uncool or even cooler than the cool kids (I’ll go with the latter), have decided to take a different tack. I won’t write a spork. No, no, I will write how to write a spork.

The first question you should ask is, who are you to tell me how to spork? In some other reality, I might be able to point to the enormous library of sporks I’ve written, the accolades I’ve received for critical analysis, the papers I’ve had published in literary journals proclaiming my immense wisdom. Unfortunately, I live in this reality, where I’ve never actually written a published spork. Instead, I can only say that I’ve read an awful lot of sporks, some bad, some good, and it’s given me a general idea of what makes them work.

Also, I asked some people, because it’s much easier to get other people to think for you.

With that out of the way, let’s get into what I have imaginatively entitled The Seven Rules of Sporking. Because they’re rules about sporking and there are seven of them. You are in the presence of creative genius, ladies and gentlemen.

The Seven Rules of Sporking

  1. Read the book first.
    I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a spork that started strong, went two chapters, and was immediately abandoned because the writer realized the book wasn’t actually all that bad. (Actually, pretty sure it was three times.) The reality is that it’s very hard to tell if a book is truly horrible without having read it yourself. I don’t mean that you skimmed the first chapter or someone else told you it sucked, I mean that you need to sit down and take the time to go through the entire book yourself. It’s the only way to be sure.

    If you have multiple trusted people tell you a book is terrible, I suppose that would also do. Even in such a case, though, I would still encourage you to read it fully. You can make much more interesting comments on a work when you know how it fits together as a whole—and it saves you from nitpicking about things that are explained later.
  2. Pick the book carefully.
    It’s theoretically possible to spork anything. Rorschach’s hilarious Lord of the Rings spork (still taken seriously on occasion) is proof of that. But sporking something okay or good takes a lot of skill, skill an inexperienced sporker probably doesn’t have. It’s easier, more entertaining, and more defensible to pick something legitimately awful, and with all the easy targets out there, why settle for less?
  3. Remember the difference between amateurs and professionals.
    I’m not going to tell you not to pick on amateur writing. It can be just as terrible as—usually worse than—stuff that’s actually published. But remember that in amateur writing, there are no gatekeepers. There was no paid editor, probably not even a moderator who so much as glanced at the work before it was posted. And amateurs are, well, amateurs: inexperienced and undeveloped. So yes, their writing is typically going to be worse than professional stuff. Rather than rip on aspiring authors, my suggestion (not a hard-and-fast rule!) is to focus on rotten published writing instead—especially if it’s from a traditional publisher, in which case there is no excuse.

    Unless the amateur in question is really, really pompous. Then they’re just asking for it.
  4. Know about the author.
    Obviously you need to know a thing or two about a book to spork it. But you should also learn something about the author. I don’t just mean biographical information, like Twilight came from one of SMeyer’s dreams and she’s a Mormon. I mean try to find out what the author meant by their book, what it was supposed to be about, and anything the author’s said about it. You’ll come across as better informed, and hey, maybe you’ll find out the author’s actually a nice person who just sucks at writing, like Paolini. Or maybe they’re a conceited idiot, like Stanek. Either way, it’s a plus for you.

    While you’re doing this, though, be careful not to pull the author’s personal life too deeply into your spork. It’s fine to poke fun at silly things the author has said about their work, but when it starts getting into mocking their appearance, their religious beliefs, their family, etc., you’ve gone too far.
  5. Pick a style and stick with it.
    If you’ve read a lot of sporks, you’ll notice there’s a few typical formats. (If you haven’t read a lot of sporks, you probably should before you try to write your own.) There are scripts, which can have multiple people reacting to a work (either real people or imaginary ones). There’s image-heavy sporks, which rely heavily on reaction images. Finally, there’s text-only ones in prose format, where images are used rarely, if at all. Figure out which one works best for you (or come up with something entirely different) and stick with it.

    Remember that people come to have expectations when you’re doing a lengthy work like a spork. If you unexpectedly go from loads of humorous images to nothing but text, that’s going to be quite jarring for anyone following along. If you change your style, be sure it’s for a good reason—and explain it to your readers!
  6. Don’t force the humor.
    Yes, a lot of sporks are very funny. But if you’re just not good at humor, don’t try to force it. It’s fine if a spork isn’t gut-rippingly hilarious. While it’s true that sporking grew out of MST3k-style mockery, it’s not required that you stick to that formula. More sporks these days are about breaking down where a book went wrong, rather than just making fun of it. If a book is truly awful (which it should be, if you obeyed points 1 and 2), it’ll probably be funny on its own anyway.

    If you aim for humor but aren’t sure if you made it, I suggest you lay the spork aside for a few days, give it time to simmer, then go back and reread it. Maybe that hi – lar – ious pun you kept making with the villain’s name wasn’t quite as funny the forty-seventh time you repeated it.
  7. Read your comments.
    This one should be obvious. This is the Internet, after all, and there is nothing people on the Internet love to do more than tell someone else what they’re doing wrong (like you’re doing with your spork!). Read through the responses to your sporks carefully. If someone criticizes you, consider whether it’s a valid point of view. If it is, fix the problem. Don’t ignore it and go cry in a corner because of all the h8ers, or you’re no better than most of the authors whose works are sporked. Use that criticism to improve your craft. Writing good sporks, as with writing good novels, takes time and practice. Your first attempts will probably suck. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can start doing better!

    And remember that no matter how poorly-written the target of your spork, no matter how brilliant your arguments against it, someone still loves it. It might be the author, maybe a fan or family member, but sooner or later someone is going to find the spork and get upset. In these cases, don’t give up hope, and especially don’t start arguing with them. Step back and see if they have any valid points, and if not, keep on sporking!

In conclusion, think before you spork. Know what you’re talking about before you say it. And realize, as in all writing, that you are not perfect. You’re not me, after all.

Special thanks to Pryotra for #4, Azure for adding to #6 and #7, and everyone else who gave me feedback on the forums!

Tagged as:

Rude Criticism

  1. Taku on 28 February 2013, 00:51 said:

    Are you sure there aren’t 7Seven rules?

    This is a good article. It’s like a literary Cracked column. Similar balance of humour and content, I mean.

  2. Fireshark on 28 February 2013, 02:02 said:

    Probably the first article I’ve seen actually devoted to this. I like it.

  3. lilyWhite on 28 February 2013, 08:46 said:

    Are you sure there aren’t 7Seven rules?

    But if there were 7Seven rules, then they’d be stupid and make no sense whatsoever. XD

  4. swenson on 28 February 2013, 09:11 said:

    7Seven rules

    A pox upon thee and thy family, Taku.

  5. Brendan Rizzo on 28 February 2013, 11:17 said:

    I hope I haven’t broken too many of these rules by accident…

  6. Prince O' Tea on 28 February 2013, 12:49 said:

    The 7seven 7spork 7statements to live by dahling: Be aware of 7stupidity, 7savage everything 7stupendously, remind your audience of every 7stunningly obvious plothole, 7shut and 7silence up any 7slovenly 7slatternly fangirls.

    Plot twist: 7sounds cool even when you are actually talking about 8eights.

  7. lilyWhite on 28 February 2013, 12:52 said:

    Needs more abbreviations.

  8. Prince O' Tea on 28 February 2013, 13:13 said:

    I tried, but Tyra still hasn’t returned my thesaurus.

  9. Rorschach on 8 March 2013, 04:50 said:

    As someone who has been known to write sporks, from time to time, I feel compelled to mention an eighth rule (or, if you like, a subset of #6)

    8. Make it helpful.

    Most of us write and read sporks because they are fun to write and fun to read, but to be honest, aside from a temporary diversion, what is the point? The best sporks, IMHO, are the ones that truly analyze the source material – albeit in a humorous manner. They dive into why the book is failing at what it is attempting to do, and how the book could avoid it. Sporking, as an extension of literary criticism, should attempt to establish what went wrong in order to help other writers not fall into the same traps and make the same mistakes.

  10. swenson on 8 March 2013, 11:10 said:

    This is a good point, and I probably should’ve emphasized it. Sporks for the sake of sporking is fun, but the best sporks are really about why the book fails and how it could’ve done better. One of the biggest criticisms of sporks is that they’re just making fun of the author/material without offering anything new to the world; a spork that tries to go beyond that can avoid this criticism. And, in my opinion, be a great deal more interesting. The same jokes get stale after awhile.