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[personal profile] yuletidefairy
I know some research and analysis has already been done on writing yuletide prompts (see thefourthvine on prompts and liviapenn on prompts). Today, I would like to put forth some of my ideas about writing yuletide letters (dear writer/author/santa/term of choice).

You see, I feel I have become something of a connoisseur, having perused a couple hundred in the last day.

Point the first: Be detailed about things you like.

Point the second: If you are going to include a list of things you don't like, it should be considerably shorter than the list of things you like, or you will suck all the positive energy from your letter.

Fictionalized example of a bad Likes/Dislikes yuletide letter segment:

I like:
anything, really!

I don't like:
the number 3
the letter Q
Bert and Ernie living together
holiday-themed stories
Captain Jack Harkness
lyrical, poetic descriptions
character death
Highlander: The Source

Clearly, I have added a few extras to this list to express my frustration, but a number of them are real things that people have said they don't like, including lyrical, poetic descriptions. That one blows me away, personally.

Here is my feeling about how you should handle it: instead of telling the writer what not to do, which strangles their creativity, shape your requests and likes list to preclude the things you don't like. Don't like lyrical, poetic description? Why don't you put "snappy dialogue" on your likes list, or "I find that brevity is the soul of wit--the more concise a story is, the more powerful"? If you don't want character death, why don't you ask for a happy ending, or fluff, or humor? That gives the writer ideas of what they CAN do instead of shutting doors on them of no you CAN'T.

I also think that if necessary you should fluff your list of likes with variations on a theme and trim your list of dislikes by consolidating similar items into single categories.

(And if there's a specific fandom where you're more afraid of what you might get than excited about it, maybe you should request something else.)

Psychologically speaking--when giving feedback on work someone has done, in fandom or in real life, it takes roughly three times as much positive feedback to balance one piece of negative feedback in the mind of the person receiving the criticism. We're wired to take negatives harder than positives. So I believe that for your writer not to feel constrained by your lists of likes and dislikes, your list of likes should be approximately three times longer than your list of dislikes.

Here is an good example of lists I found to be balanced, from [livejournal.com profile] shrift's yuletide letter:

I like stories with: banter, longing, found families, loyalty, curmudgeons, love, people being comfortable with each other, wildly improbable undercover situations, clashes, awkward moments, thwarting, old hurts, teasing, capers, domesticity, lust, intimacy, geeks, bad days, shield brothers, a comedy of errors, impositions, drunken propositions, unfinished business, first times, genderfuck, and self-confidence mixed with self-doubt.

My squicks are few (and often flexible depending on the fandom): character bashing (especially of female love interests), extreme embarrassment/humiliation, incest, betrayal, and excessive weepiness.

If you are writing a list of likes and are tempted to finish with "and lots of other stuff," stop, don't do that. Keep going. Keep writing things that you like. Even if they are redundant or specifics of a category you've already mentioned or things that seem silly and trivial, keep going. Greater quantity and detail of things you like is good. I mean, I look at [livejournal.com profile] shrift's list of likes and story ideas just pop out at me. Take any three of those and a fandom and it'd be a workable prompt.

You are trying to encourage your writer to creativity. Give them something to work with.

Point the third: And now I'm speaking specifically as the [livejournal.com profile] yuletidefairy, not your assigned writer, someone who never saw your original requests. For the love of Pete, mention your fandoms. *laughing* There seems to be this rumor going around that yuletide secrecy includes not telling the fandoms you requested. This is not true. You're not supposed to say what you're writing, or who you're writing for, but what you asked for is not a secret. It certainly won't be a secret when the archive opens on December 25th and everyone can see what story was written for you in what fandom.

Also, and this is where I think it helps your assigned writer as well as your humble fairy, if you say what your fandoms are, you can expand on how you feel about them. No matter how detailed you were in your request (and btw, I love people who copy over their request details into their yuletide letters), you should be able to say more. You all pimp fandoms, right? Do that. Say what you think is awesome, what your favorite moments in the canon are, which characters are made of win and why.

It helps. Really it does.

In summation: be positive. Be excited. Be happy. Ask for the things you want--all of them. Will you get everything on the list? Depends on how varied it is, but probably not. Will you get some of the things on the list? Yes. Will you get things you decide it's too much trouble to put on the list? Rarely if ever. Shoot for the moon; if you miss, you'll still land among the stars.
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