myaru: (Dragon Age - Alistair)
If you set a thing on fire once, you're a pyro in the collective memory forever.

I was minding my own business at work one day when I opened the warming oven to retrieve someone's cookie and found a happy little fire dancing on the edge of the parchment paper. Since it's generally good policy not to piss off your entitled customers more than necessary, I grabbed the tongs, retrieved the cookie, and shut the oven. When we opened it again (my shift supervisor was kind of worried when I said shit was on fire) it had gone out.

As it turns out, according to the person in charge at the time, you're supposed to grab a soaking wet cloth - probably from the sanitizer bucket, which seems like a bad idea to me, but WHATEVER - stick your hand into the oven, and smother the fire with the wet towel.

Sticking your hand in the oven sounds perfectly safe. Like a fantastic idea, even! Especially when something is burning.

I have my doubts as to the validity of this approach for the situation above, but a wet towel will probably put the damn fire out, so I'll give it that much credit. And I found out later that this isn't an isolated problem, so the way I see it, put that fire out any way you can do it, and discuss the merits of burning your skin off afterward. Then you can ask yourself why Starbucks hasn't formulated a cookie that won't spontaneously combust.

Fast forward several months. (At least this doesn't happen every one or two, am I right?) I'm pre-heating my oven, which I haven't used since early spring; it beeps to tell me it's ready, I open the door, and-- fire.

First thought: What the fuck, there's nothing in there to burn!

I slam the door shut.

Second thought: Shit, A FIRE. WHAT DO I DO.

Third thought: The internet will know. Ask Google!

Google told me I was right. I tried to be patient while the pretty little flames got smaller, and decided to text "lol, oven fire!" to my husband, because I do like to brighten his day whenever possible.

We went out to dinner that night.


First thing my former coworkers tell the noob baristas when I walk into the store now? "That's Amber. She sets things on fire! :D"

myaru: (VP - Mystina)
It's really more of a reminder.

Eyeroll-worthy subject line: "His equipment will stay hard for hours."

Taking it to the next level: "My husband Mike stayed hard for five hours with this pill."

Lesson: establishing intimacy by introducing characters by name will encourage a closer connection between your reader and the story whether they want it to or not.

Also, choosing your point of view carefully really helps.

(It's astonishing how much more the second subject line disturbed me. I mean, I'm no stranger to spam flooding my inbox. :P)
myaru: (XG - True Miang)
Seriously, it's annoying. It makes me want to cry. This is the one time I will wholeheartedly approve of vague descriptives like 'dark' or 'pale' for hair, or something, ANYTHING, as long as it isn't "bluenette."

For some reason I didn't encounter this until Fire Emblem fandom-- which is weird, because I've been hanging out in JRPG and anime fandoms for a really long time. I wonder if it's a recent thing, or if I was just lucky, maybe? Although, haha, it probably wouldn't have bothered me ten years ago. In fact, I'm not even sure I can say I wouldn't have jumped on the bandwagon, although I don't think so...

I've been listening to the Valkyrie Profile arranged albums lately (speaking of blue-haired characters), and am suddenly feeling really nostalgic for the original game. Makes me want to play it again. And then I think about those stories I wrote with [personal profile] mythicbeast, and how much fun those were (...and how easy it would be to file the serial numbers off Clockwork Snare, but that's neither here nor there), and I want to do more of that.

Also, the explosive Hugo Award bullshit convinces me beyond a doubt that just about nobody who reads in-genre will ever like my pretentious original fiction, but I'm okay with that.

Anyway, uh, been doing a lot of freelance work, hence the radio silence. Sorry about that.
myaru: (Saiunkoku - Shuurei talks a lot)
So, theme. Cutting the last post off here sort of inflated expectations for the theme post, so prepare to be disappointed. I only have a few things to say about it and none of them are particularly awesome. In fact, I can summarize everything I want to say in one sentence: I believe theme is an equal but separate force to elements of craft like characterization, plot, and setting.

Like I mentioned in the last entry, I often find myself having to choose a theme, or at least a thematic idea of sorts, to direct my choices for a story I'm building from the ground up. The elderly female naturalist studying that alien world will grow differently based on which direction I choose - environmental, feminist, and so on. The conflicts she's confronted with may not be quite the same between one theme and the next, and the audience might be vastly different. (How many average male SF/F fans are concerned about feminist issues? Maybe more than I think, but that wouldn't be too hard.) So in the beginning, theme has a part to play, and functions sort of like a stage for everything else to take place on. But it doesn't end there, because as you write a story, it changes, and the theme you start out with might not be the one you finish with.

In school, we were encouraged to start with characters and plot points, and leave messy problems like theme for the revision stage, after we had analyzed our stories a couple of times and figured out what we were trying to say. But it often seemed to me that other writers already had a set of themes they were interested in, which tended to show up in their stories regardless of what they thought they were writing about. For example, I'm very attached to the idea that what society calls "evil" is the result of being human, a manifestation of our least-admirable traits and desires, not a nebulous, spiritual source of evil. When I look at my most developed original stories, I see this coming up in every one of them. Characters like Krelian, Lehran, or Maglor probably appeal to me so much because of this personal theme, so it shows up in my reading preferences too. While I rarely start with this theme in mind, it's safe to assume it'll pop up in a certain percentage of them and dictate choices I make, and thus be there for me to polish up later.

My original beef with the statement that Miyazaki wrote theme-driven stories was rooted in this: stories often suggest themes (which is why you can find so many to argue when you're writing for a lit class), and part of the process of refining your work is choosing that theme and playing it up in all aspects of the work (character, plot, setting, dialogue) so it seems that single idea drives everything. He may or may not have started out with a theme in his pocket, but he definitely ended with one, so it directed the content of the final product. Maybe it's a sign of more skill than I possess that he can choose a theme from the beginning, write his story, and play the same theme up in the final draft, but if he did that, if his theme directed all of his character choices, all of his setting and dialogue decisions - does that make it any less a character-driven story? Because when I watched Spirited Away, I did not see a theme-driven story; I saw Chihiro's story. Because the theme was so pervasive, it became more than a motor to drive the story. Rather, it was the frame of the car, which contained all the other parts and mechanisms, while Chihiro was at the wheel. (Yikes.)

I said in a comment to someone that I believe Miyazaki is awesome enough to start with a theme and sneeze out an entire story, complete with characters and what they say and do, all in the space of an hour - but if he can do that, it's experience that makes it possible. Starting with theme does often produce stories that are boring as hell when you read them at the workshop level, but I also doubt the stories I read in college workshops were anywhere close to being finished. Who's to say the boring-ass, theme-driven story you just read for class won't turn into a character-driven, seriously theme-y piece in two more drafts? Nothing.

This is probably very different from what I would've said two years ago. I should go back and look.

Anyway, a theme has no story or personality, and is therefore useless by itself. Without other elements in play (say, a character already made), it can't suggest a story to you, and the characters you might create based on a theme like "there's no such thing as evil, only humanity" are probably not immediately compelling. This is why, when I started thinking about it seriously - and that wasn't too long ago, so my views will probably change a lot as I go - I saw theme as a frame or a stage, something that influences the production (you don't want to walk off into the wings when you're still saying your lines), and not something that might drive a story to the exclusion of the other elements.


Maybe that sounds like an easy answer. The rote, proper answer, straight out of the writing program, is that you can't have a successful story without any of these things, but there are writers out there proving that wrong all over the place. If you're good enough, you can make a story happen without all the other baggage, I'm sure, and make people grateful for it, too. But that harkens back to another thing they love to say in class: you have to master the rules before you break them.

I can see how that might be a problem. It is for me! All the time.

As for theme, and whether it can drive a story by itself, maybe it's just how you think about it. That'll never happen in my conception of story elements as it is right now, because I just don't view it that way. And if I'm completely honest, I almost never consider theme at all - but it keeps showing up, even when I don't want it there.
myaru: (Utena - Juri)
Some time ago [personal profile] queenlua wrote about different approaches to writing, in which she outlines the three main elements that might drive a story: character, plot, and theme. "If plot is what's driving a story, the first thing the author thought of while writing the story was probably, "Wouldn't it be interesting if X happened?" [...] If character is what's driving a story, then the character, or the dynamic between some set of characters, is what the author was probably thinking of..." - these two lines caught my attention at first. I wanted to respond at the time, but was still stuck in my LJ-adverse phase, and in any case we barely know each other. I'm fine when people I barely know reply in my journal with something that spans four comments because it means I wrote something worthy of discussion, but I'm also a hypocrite, and am not fine with doing that myself in someone else's journal.

Then, somewhat more recently (for me, a noob to her journal) [personal profile] dawn_felagund wrote on a similar topic: plot arising from character, and conversely, characters arising from plot. As she notes, the word "story" is usually defined as a sequence of events, while things like character motivation are extra, and therefore absent from the basic definition.

I'm going to hit on the plot-writer vs. character-writer bit first, because theme is a different beast.

When I read the first post, my first thought was, "I'm both, it just depends on the context." As I've tried to get away from fanfic the last six months or so, I've noticed huge differences in how I approach my original work compared to fan work. When I'm approaching a fanfic, I primarily take the tack of, "What would happen if X and Y were locked in a prison cell together?" and run with that inspiration. Sometimes I start with plot ("How would Tellius end up in a world war and awaken the goddess if the Serenes Massacre never happened?" - which is not the plot of the Chronicle, but could be), but most of the time I'm interested in character interaction.

With no established characters ready, I can't do this with original fiction. With no fully established setting to work with, in addition, I can't even start with more than a bare-bones plot. "An elderly naturalist is pulled out of retirement to study flora on an alien world." It has potential. There's a character - sort of - and a setting-- sort of. But I came up with this to fit the requirements of a call for anthology submissions, so the character isn't even really my idea. They asked for older protagonists, and the setting has to be fantasy or SF; I could've gone anywhere with those guidelines, but the story prompt above (because that's what it is, a prodding to go further and come up with real ideas) is not very creative. They might get five stories with the same premise.

I didn't have much to go on until I considered what kind of story I wanted. You might say I started thinking about theme: is this going to reflect environmental concerns? Should I try to address the issue of colonization, how it can destroy ecosystems? Or will this be a story about age discrimination, or about trying and failing to enact change? Consider writing a fanfic AU for a minute - when you throw a character you know into a different setting or situation, part of the interest (for me, anyway) is to see how they react to different decisions, or explore what changes will happen if you throw them into an environment that would shape them differently. In the same way, it seems to be that this elderly female naturalist will become a different character depending on which situation I throw her into, so at some point - usually the beginning - I need this basic idea, this theme, to direct my characterization and setting details, even if the story ends up changing and suggesting a different one later.

Digression: I see a huge appeal in creating a world and set of characters, and then writing a million books about them - even if the stories end up repeating themselves eventually. That would be a huge advantage when sitting down to do the actual writing. I wouldn't run into the above problem at all. That, I feel, would be the sure way to maintaining one's income. And if the series becomes self-referential and starts fan-pandering, well, you do want to maintain your fanbase, don't you?

Anyway, as I kept thinking about the question of what drives a story, and how that affects its appeal, I came to the conclusion that for me, in my jumbled-up opinion, it all eventually comes out to the same thing. You may be a character writer, but characters create plot-- they have to, in most cases, or people lose interest. If your character sits and stares out a window and does nothing, and doesn't think about much, nobody gives a damn. If she does something-- plot. Instantly. Bam. She does something, and there's going to be motivation in there somewhere, which is created by history, which in turn creates the present situation, and plot. I was told over and over that conflict makes plot, but I think it's more accurate to say character makes plot, and most characters, like most people, are going to be conflicted about something. People create conflict, and the rest is just nature.

Likewise, plot can't happen without a character. You can take a plot-based approach, but it seems to me that in the course of writing your story, you'll take that character you created to fill a role and make him evolve almost by accident. In my experience, one can create a thoroughly thought-out character, fill in all the blanks on the personality and history sheet, and still not know anything about them until you start writing, at which point they take on a life of their own. You never (well, I never) end up with the same character you started out with. And presumably, as you write and get to know these people, you will care about them at least as much as the plot.

So I guess to me, the idea of being a plot or character writer doesn't make sense, because to me they are exactly the same thing. My bare-bones plot up there suggests a character by default. If you cut it in half and pretend that "to study flora on an alien world" was the only idea I had, well, I need someone to enact the plot. No getting around it. But even if I have a whole plot mapped out, and start with that driving my process, the character will eventually become the most important part of the story, and therefore be the driving force. I think this is a matter of layers - the first draft, or first layer, is driven by one thing; the next one might end up driven by something else. But the finished product will probably be moved by each in equal measure.

That's all idealism up there. And I can't lie and say I've never come across a plot writer, because Arthur C. Clarke is one such, and Tolkien didn't spend too much time on individual characterization as I recall. It's there, but clearly is not the focus, especially in something like The Silmarillion. I may love Maglor, but if I'm going to write a story about him, I have to make shit up right and left. All Tolkien gave me were events and some indicators of feeling. If I work only with that, I'll write a cliche.

I'd say more about theme, which was the whole point of writing this entry, but that'll take another six or seven paragraphs, and this is already too long.
myaru: (VP - Mystina)
I wish I could say I've been doing tons of work, but really, I've been doing some work (not the work I should be doing), sometimes the minimum, and not always because of backaches. But! At least for once LOTRO wasn't the cause of my slacking.

For a while now I've been trying to figure out whether I'm the kind of writer that works well with an outline, or better without one. After a dozen or so stories I still can't tell.

The problem is, while I tend to stay more focused if I start with an outline written out, I almost always wander off before the end of chapter one. One chapter is enough for me to realize the structure of my story - as represented in that outline - might be correct, but is still completely inadequate for actually guiding what I write. I still stare at the most recent scene break and wonder what the hell I'm supposed to write next to bridge the gap between point A and point B, even if A and B are in the same chapter and I know exactly what they're supposed to be. As I get farther into the story, this gets worse; most of the content ends up being completely off-the-cuff, though it still ends up hitting all the proper points laid out in my outline, just not the way I originally envisioned it.

The outline, I guess, ends up showing me how much I don't know about what's going to happen, when initially I thought it was supposed to do the opposite. Was this a problem with the way I was looking at outlining as a tool, or is this just one of those things that happens to writers - what they call "the story taking on a life of its own," even though I consider that a completely different phenomenon? Because I'm not talking about the plot changing on me, per se, or characterization changing, which is how I've always interpreted that phrase; I'm saying none of that was in the outline to begin with, even though my page of bullet points covers all of those things that are supposed to be Plot. And they are the plot. But they're apparently not the meat of the story.

It's possible I still do not understand what a plot is. I wouldn't be surprised.

However, there have been stories where, when faced with this problem, I created scene-by-scene outlines as I went along, so I knew were I was going to achieve my chapter goals. That helped me a lot when I was still writing the Summer Chronicle, which grew a sprawling plot I was completely unprepared for. There were so many things I wanted to do, so many events and conversations to cover, that I started each chapter with a mini outline.

Maybe I should do that more often. That would indicate I work well with thorough, even exhaustive, outlining.

On the other hand, I have also experienced that awful feeling of dead inspiration after writing an outline - I realize I don't really need to write the story once it's done, because I got it out on paper. (Or-- is it that the story never needed to be written and wouldn't have worked, and that dying inspiration is actually my subconscious editor telling me it can't work? Who knows. I've gotten used to not listening to that editor because she's a bitch. You really have no idea. If I said half the things I think, about my own stuff and other people... :D)

The Summer Chronicle is an interesting example for me, actually, because it's a work of fan fiction that forced me to create a lot, and so in a way I feel it straddles the line between purely fic and original, simply because it made me work as hard as I believe I should for every story - which I don't often do for fan fiction. I was so motivated to work on it, though; I still haven't figured out how to replicate that motivation for anything else. What made me want to think about it so much, so hard, so often? I don't feel motivated to think about other stories 24/7, which really is how often and deeply I thought about SC for most of its life, and so when I work on my outlines or start my chapters, I just... do not have the level of detail mentally worked out that I require for writing scene-by-scene outlines.

I think this may be a by-product of my tendency to create character types I like, but neglect to actually develop them before I write. So in short, it's still a characterization problem. I look at something like Rule Number One, realize I actually put some effort into creating a voice for Marcia, and see that I do not often do the same for original characters. Having that voice is a big step toward knowing how said character will react, which is kinda sorta key in deciding how a scene will play out, am I right?

Hahahasigh. But thankfully I can't blame it all on not knowing anything about characterization - when I'm starting a new story I haven't hammered out setting either, sometimes. The answer is probably that I need to do more of that preliminary work than I have actually been doing, and it makes sense I wouldn't realize that at first when fan fiction doesn't require that step most of the time.

So, what do the rest of you do? Do you like outlines? Need them? Hate them? I used to consider them a stupid restriction, and now writing without them makes me cry.
myaru: (Miang - I want to be myself)
"One Hundred Essays on the Creative Process" is just a really pretentious way of saying, "I'm going to write a bunch of posts about my attempts to become a better writer." If there's one thing I write about all the time, it's, well, writing. (And me, and myself.) And sometimes the best way to work out a dilemma is to talk about it. I run into writing-related dilemmas practically every day.

Also, before we get ahead of ourselves: these are not going to be real essays. I loathe essays! I'm not going to write formally. In fact, the writing might not be great or even good, because the things I'm trying to write about are hard to even think about, in some cases, never mind putting them up in text. I will, however, attempt to keep angst to a minimum.

Anyway, the words "creative process" can cover a lot of interesting things besides craft or advancement concerns - like, oh, how the Silmarillion is an awesome example of world-building (which is really about someone else's creative process)! Or how video games like Persona 4 have inspired more interesting characterization exercises than anything I ever had to do for my classes. (Whether they work or not is another story, but that's worth posting about once I've tried.) How about Aragorn and movie adaptation? Fun can be had with these topics. All of them can be spun to apply to my writing process. Story analysis is super-important when it comes to learning craft, after all. Victory!

Yeah, it took me a week to come up with this idea. Titles: they still evade me.

For reference: the 100 Things blogging challenge that inspired this project.


Critique is on my mind because I have to take the original project I'm supposed to be working on and start editing in changes, some of which were suggested or inspired by critique. Once that's done, I'll probably have to put it up again for another reading, because this is draft seven, and I am way too close to this story to see it clearly, at least in my opinion. As my "vision" has gotten clearer to me, the perspective of the reader has gotten away. I think this must happen with every long project I work on. I vaguely remember the same thing happening with my Summer Chronicle fic.

School got me used to critique. At the very least, I'm not a complete prima donna when I get the criticism I signed up for, and I try to thank my critics when that option is available. I try not to argue. I try not to give in to the urge to explain what I really meant by this passage, etc., because that always, always turns into, "this is why I'm right and you're completely wrong, and I just wanted you to know that." But critique is still really hard for me to deal with: I have to take a day or two after getting one to let the immediate, emotional reaction die down, because it has never stopped feeling like "there are problems with your story" equals "there are problems with you," just like story rejections can also feel like a rejection of oneself. It isn't like that. I know it isn't. Every time I've had the opportunity to play editor for something, my rejections have had nothing to do with who the writers are or what their worth as people is supposed to be. It was always just that the story didn't fit my needs.

Emotion and logic just don't get along. My emotions say there's something wrong with me every time a story of mine is imperfect, and lately I've started to realize that this feeling isn't quite the same as getting rejected / being a reject; it's more like the feeling of being wrong. It's like having proof that you're wrong dropped in your lap, in front of a bunch of people who expected you to be right, and their respect for you as a person is directly related to how right you are - or aren't, now. You should know this, the feeling says. You've been studying this for ten years and you still can't do it? You're a failure.

Every single story. Every single critique! No wonder I'm depressed all the time, right? I've never written it down quite like this before, and looking at the feeling in plain text makes me want to wince. But my preference for critique from people I don't know (eg. fellow students) makes more sense now; I don't care as much about the opinions of strangers, so I can look at their critiques with a clearer mind.

I hate being wrong. I hate hate hate it. This probably has its roots in family drama I won't mention here, but I mean, nobody really likes being wrong that I know of. It sucks to realize you made a mistake, and people aren't nice when they let you know it. Being told I'm wrong, especially about something I'm supposed to know or be good at, is like a punch to my Shadow-of-the-Colossus weak spot. All my life I've placed too much emphasis on my work as a representation of self-worth, and not enough on qualities I might have as a person. (Your guess is as good as mine, actually; I can't think of any good ones.) I have no idea how to combat that, so I have to try the secondary problem: why am I looking at a flawed draft like it means I've done "writing" wrong? No matter how often I see other writers talk about how flawed their early drafts are, I feel like my flawed, early drafts are just not the same thing and therefore not okay.

So with all of this in mind, my writing problem at the moment is this: I'm afraid to look at the last draft of the story I mentioned earlier because I know I'm going to see I'm wrong, and I don't want to. I'm afraid to see I've done it wrong. Really, I'm just afraid to see it. At all.

I can't edit this story and make it not-wrong unless I look at it.

It took me a month to figure out "fear of being wrong" is what was really bothering me-- to which I say, fuck that. Fuck that.

Except I still haven't looked at it yet.


Goals for fixing this:
1. stop thinking of being critiqued as being wrong.
2. look at the goddamned story and swallow "being wrong" if I have to so I can get it done.
3. I might want to look into the psychological issues associated with fear of being wrong someday, when it won't cost me $135 per appointment. lol insurance!

This is harder than it sounds. We all have our different perspectives and problems; for some people being critiqued (or being wrong) is no big deal, and I only wish I could be one of those people right now.
myaru: (Miang - I want to be myself)
There are at least ten people in the wings who will look at the title, see my name beside it, and crack the hell up. But this post isn't quite what you think it is! We all know a lecture on PR from me would be a disaster. :P What I'm more concerned about, in light of recent developments in one of my fandoms, is when and where it's appropriate to ask for such a thing in fandom (public) and personal spaces.

Actually, the crux of the issue is when it's appropriate to open your big mouth versus when it isn't. Consider:

Before blogs and Livejournal (or like services) became the center of fandom activity, there were websites. Personal websites, archive websites (all fan fiction, or fan art, or information and scripts from a TV show, etc.), or news websites that happened to dabble in fic and art - for example, RPGFan. This is before Deviant Art and Fan Fiction.Net. You submitted your fan work through "gatekeepers," staffers or site owners who had control over the archives in question. I suppose the equivalent to these gatekeepers would be administrators now - or LJ staff, I suppose, though I think this comparison is imperfect, and better suggestions are welcome.

Now imagine, dear readers, that we're looking at a site like RPGFan, or even a very specific fandom-oriented website like Serenes Forest. Imagine you load the website to check for the newest update, and find along with it a rant from the editor or maintainer about how idiotic people are for continuing to make their submissions in MS Word format when he specifically asked for text-only formats.

Is your section update, or your archive update, the proper place for a rant like that? No. Not even close.

During the early period of my fandom "career," ten to fourteen years ago, I was involved with or creator of each of the website types I listed up above. I was fan fiction editor at RPGamer creator and maintainer of Guardian Angels, my Xenogears archive. Picture it again: an update made to the fan fiction section of a large gaming site, a community which saw thousands, maybe tens of thousands of hits a day from RPG fans everywhere, in which the section maintainer bitches about the ratio of FF7 submissions to everything else, or the seeming inability of writers to follow simple instructions for fic submissions.

Appropriate? No. Really, no. Bad idea.

I did it anyway! If fandom_wank had existed back then, I would have my own tag.

Fast-forward to Guardian Angels, my smaller-but-still-fairly-visible Xenogears website. I got into the fandom during the very beginning stages - before the game was even released, in fact - and ended up being a part of the formative collective of websites and personalities.

I did the same thing. Sometimes on the website, sometimes on the forums, where I maintained a constant presence - but it doesn't matter, because both GA and the forums were public places where I should have kept my mouth shut. The forums not so much, maybe; arguments, discussions, and rivalries are all pretty common on that platform, and I suppose if you're going to talk casually anywhere, it should be there. But should I really be soap-boxing there about the elements I find dumb in Xenogears fan fiction when I run an archive that claims to be THE place to go for Xeno fic?


Now we have LJ. I started this journal for a lot of reasons, but one of them involves creating a personal space in which I could rant to my heart's content and not risk hurting someone's feelings, pissing a rival maintainer off, or things like that. This IS my soapbox. I know a lot of other people use their journals the same way. But since blogging has become more popular, the context has changed a little. So I have a question:

Are blogs and LJs still personal spaces, to be used accordingly-- or are they now personality or fandom collectives, in which one should expect to follow a mode of conduct in the interest of your thousands of readers?

I say yes, they are still personal spaces. No, you should not worry about PR when you're posting about your trip to Disneyland. Someone in the world may be offended that you think the teacups are a dumb ride, yes; maybe that someone grew up dreaming of riding them with their long-lost sister, and when that finally happened it was the most wonderful moment in her/his life. But it isn't your responsibility to tiptoe around that imaginary reader in your personal space. There are always going to be delicate souls in our communities - the types that just can't read any criticism, whether it's aimed at them or not, without seeing it as a personal attack on themselves. You can't do anything about that, and I would argue that it's not your responsibility to try.

As to the matter of what we should or shouldn't be putting on our journals, and in what tone - I still think it's "appropriate" to write whatever we want. The question becomes: how much of an asshole do you want to be? Because you can be a jerk in a personal space, on a personal level, and it isn't about personal-vs.-public space, but your own interpersonal relationships and the way you handle them.

So what determines the nature of your LJ space? How do you decide which context you're working in - public or personal - and how do you interpret your obligations in that space?
myaru: (VP - Shiho)
I was thinking about FFX fiction the other day for some reason, and why I never got involved. I happened to follow a few really good writers who produced fic for this game. I remember them being very cliquish, and I was pretty sure the worst of them was still a much better writer than I was, which may have been true. Or not. I haven't gone back to compare, if the websites even exist now. Why bother?

Sometimes I still compare myself to other writers. It's hard to stop. I don't even do it consciously. But I hate the way that creeps up on me, because inevitably my mind will turn to people I actually know and like, and I hate the way that feels. I'm not crazy about mental comparisons with professionals, either, for obvious reasons.

So anyway, cliquish writers in FFX fandom. I wrote a few fics - fragments, scenes, but no real stories - and never tried to post them anywhere because I was afraid of judgment from this group of people. I had a website that nobody visited, so I just put them up there. I never spoke to these people. I don't think they had any idea I existed, but I was still afraid of them, and didn't want them to find my stuff.

The end result was that I never wrote any serious FFX fiction, and I never spoke up in fandom - ever. Even if I had... well, I was fairly visible in the Xenogears fandom back in the day, and I know I forgot most of the people who emailed me unless they were frequent contributors to my site, or happened to talk to me a lot on the forums. I was very judgmental about forum conversations, but hardly ever read the fics submitted to my fansite, and never pegged any authors as 'the bad ones,' or made fun of submissions. And to these FFX fans, I probably would have been one of those forgettable people. I wasn't an awful writer - nor was I the best, but I was decent - so I probably wouldn't have drawn hostility or flames. I just didn't feel I could live up to their standards if they happened to notice me.

Of course, having never talked to them, I never did find out what those standards were. I read their blogs, but blog posts are by nature very generalized unless you name names and get very specific, which people (myself included) avoid because it's the bitchy thing to do. You can look at their fiction and extrapolate from there (I did), but what people write isn't always an indication of where they set the bar of their tolerance for other work.

So I dodged the bullet of their judgment, I guess, and in return lost a potentially valuable experience. That is, if they would've judged me at all. I was banking on an assumption I had no evidence to support.

Now? I don't even remember their names.

Sometimes I just can't get over the fact that I was so afraid of nothing - that I don't even remember who they were now, but I still have that knee-jerk reaction to back away from FFX fandom. Or Vagrant Story fandom. Take your pick, it happened with both.

If I did remember them - now - I'd probably tell myself one thing: if they don't like what I write, fuck them. They can go to hell. That's what I say to myself every time I enter a new group and start writing. I don't always feel it, but I always say it, because letting myself be scared away by a possibility, something that is essentially conjured from the ether of my imagination, means I'm defeating myself. Insults and bad reviews - and yes, even concrit - can hurt, but at least they mean I produced something. I'm supposed to be a creator, so not creating is always the worst outcome.

Besides, dead silence is bad in other ways.
myaru: (FSN - Bazette)
What's this? LJ access? I've only wanted to edit that paragraph in my last entry for three days now.

It'd be great if Livejournal's status page said more than "We're working on it! :D" when these things happen. Something like, oh, "we think the problem is an epic hacker attack, and we're aiming to have the site back up in a week!" within the first twenty-four hours. Just saying. I'm not surprised to hear the recent problem is a DDoS attack, considering what happened last time LJ had an outage, but what people were saying at the DW status update was true - it's a lot easier to be patient when you know why, and are not left guessing whether your journal will still be there when the site comes back again.


It only occurred to me two weeks ago that a couple of characters I've worked with on and off for the last decade have no depth. This probably escaped my notice because I let the story sit on a shelf for the last ten years - literally - and only just now decided to use them for a character exercise, which is what prompted this revelation. I don't know what to say to myself. Maybe, this is really sad, what were you thinking? Oh wait, YOU WEREN'T? Or: no wonder that story never worked out!

Seriously, no wonder. No wonder it felt so flat - forgetting for a minute that it didn't have any structure either, which might've contributed to the problem.

I wasn't so great when I was eighteen, guys. That's when I started writing fan fiction online, and reading my old work makes me want to slam my forehead into the keyboard until it goes away. Also? That's when I started the story I'm talking about up above.

No wonder. :|

I talk now like I'm an awesome writer, but in reality, what I'm thinking is that I'm competent - I wouldn't be here talking about it otherwise - but shouldn't be bragging, because I don't have the following or publication record to support that kind of thing. I get the feeling people often interpret this the wrong way, and think that because I'm saying I can write, what I'm really saying is that I'm more awesome than they are. On the internet, it seems like you can only do one of two things: lament about how much you suck, or brag like your ego is the size of Texas, and there's no room for just acknowledging your skill, or lack of, and moving on. I don't know where I am now in terms of skill; that's hard to judge when looking at yourself. Improvement and regression are much clearer to outsiders. But I know that I'm not terrible, and won't pretend I am just to get sympathy-- or to play nice.

Playing nice is what you do in school; you talk to your classmates, and when someone says, "I did such a terrible job on this essay. I'm going to fail so hard," you reply with, "yeah, me too - I did it all at the last minute" so you don't get beat up, even if that's a lie. You don't say, "Sucks for you, dude, because I did mine ahead of time and it's awesome." Even if it's true. Because saying you did a good job on an assignment is arrogant.

Saying you think you did a good job with Story X is arrogant.

Actually, almost anything you can do is arrogant. Not opening your big mouth because you don't have anything smart to contribute? Social tradition says you're being arrogant for holding yourself aloof from all the peons. Eating by yourself because you have severe dietary restrictions and don't want to be tempted by that pizza? Well, you're just being arrogant by not participating in conversation with your coworkers/classmates! Not raising your hand in class? You must be stupid.

It's amazing how much social pressure there is to conform. It reminds me of a proverb we studied in Japanese: deru kui wa utareru - the stake that sticks up will be pounded down. Or, in smoother English, "difference is forced into conformity" - in other words, if you don't do exactly what everyone else is doing, you're wrong. Especially if you rise above them.

(Not saying I'm rising above anyone here - just that it's not unusual to see groups hate on people who get better grades, make more money, are prettier, and so forth. I've observed it many times and have thankfully never been the target of such a sentiment in person, as I'm not any of those things. :D)

I consider myself socially awkward, but I'm not stupid; I can tell when I've said the wrong thing, I can tell when not to talk about a topic, I can tell when someone is making the assumptions listed above. Most people are not very good about hiding what they're thinking. Even on the internet, it comes out in little slips of vocabulary or tone. Or, if you're unlucky, you have friends willing to share comments you've made about a person elsewhere-- say, over AIM.

My instinct is to conform, and in real life I may do that to keep a job, avoid pissing someone important off, etc. But online I think I'm done with that.

So what do the rest of you think about conformity, and how it should affect social activity? I'm interested. It doesn't have to be about fandom, as this post isn't aimed at that, but fandom is a social activity as well.
myaru: (VP - Silmeria kicks your ass)
Despite recent talk elsewhere about disliking disclaimers, I've been thinking of making a sticky post with links to things like the personal policies post I made a while back, where to look for updates to fandom projects (eg. translations), things a newcomer might be interested in but reluctant to ask for whatever reason. It's a good opportunity to write about what's going on when I talk about writing - a disclaimer, in essence. The only one I'm going to make.

Most of you know I write fan fiction; some of you even follow it on occasion. I used to read a lot of it elsewhere, too. Most of the people on my list, or who watch this journal from elsewhere - if anyone does at all - associate me with fanfic. Fair enough, since I've spent so much time doing that the last decade or so.

But here's the thing: I take writing seriously. I'm worried about my plotting, the realism of my dialogue, potential cliche, the fine points of characterization. These things are always on my mind, whether I'm writing my own stories or reading someone else's work. And when I talk about what I read, they'll come out in my commentary and criticism, because this is how I think about writing. It is not me thinking I'm better than you, that you shouldn't write, that everyone needs to do things the way I do - it's just my opinion, and it's the way I would do it. Period. That's all.

So let me be perfectly clear:

When I talk about writing here, I'm applying my own standards-- and I'm not always talking about fan fiction. I am not going to lower these standards just to make a few people in fandom feel better. For those people, fan fiction is whatever - fun, meta, I don't know - but for me writing is a skill I'm serious about, and I'm not going to stop talking about it that way, or apologize for doing so.

This is not about you. I don't care what you write, how you write it, or what your preferences are. If I choose to write about, oh, how to best divide longer stories into chapters, and I criticize a technique you happen to use, it is not about you. If I criticize the use of cliches in fiction, it is not about you and your use of cliches, whoever you are. It is about me, my opinion on them, and why I don't want to use or see them. This is the most self-centered journal you've ever read.

When I look at this issue and see complaints like "the elitists probably hate what I write," I don't see the problem resting with this imaginary group of snobs, but instead with the people gnawing on their own insecurities. You can take what I say personally, but be aware that you're taking that burden on yourself, because I'm not writing about you. I'm not invalidating your fan fiction, or your existence, and you might want to question why you feel I have the power to do that before complaining that the Elitists don't want you to write. By definition, we Elitists are such snobs we don't even know you exist. Further, demanding we curb our elitist propaganda is contradictory to the other prevailing sentiment in fandom, which is all about how terrible it is that people feel pressured to hold their opinions in to avoid drama.

That I need to be nicer when I talk about/refer to fan fiction is beyond question. I get it. But I'd like it to be clear that my intent as the author of any given essay isn't necessarily the same as your interpretation of it. The internet is not all about you, reader. Check yourself the next time you have a knee-jerk reaction to what you're reading. Is that sentence really about what you wrote last week? Really?

Just a wild guess here, but: probably not.

In short, I'm not going to add disclaimers to anything. My opinions are what they are. I'm going to talk about them. I'm not fooling myself into thinking they're important beyond my own blog, and I don't see why anyone else would either. If you just can't stomach these posts, move on, find someone else to read, and we'll both be happier.
myaru: (Miang - I want to be myself)
Far back in the mists of time (i.e. maybe a few months ago?) I remember reading and maybe even participating in a discussion about the writing quality in fan fiction, and the habit of a certain subset of fandom of using trigger phrases and cliches to inspire reactions in their readers. I think the criticism was originally aimed at SSB fan fiction, specifically about the Fire Emblem characters, and it was probably in [ profile] mark_asphodel's journal. I looked, but couldn't find the original conversation. You're going to be stuck with my half-remembered contemplation of it instead.

Also: this is not a lament about the quality of FFN fic, reviews, or anything like that. It's something that occurred to me when I was laid up with foot problems last night.


The issue I'm thinking about here is what you might call "good writing" versus "bad writing," which are pretty subjective terms. According to my writing program, literary fiction is good and genre fiction is bad; according to fandom elitists, fan fiction with a well-structured plot is good and fluff is considered bad, although in general, I think most people will judge based on the elegance of your sentence structure and whether or not they get bored.

In a perfect world, the quality of one's fiction would determine how popular it is, how many awards it wins, and how many reviews it gets in the case of fan fiction. The professional world is probably better about this (i.e. you won't see a shitty story win a Hugo), but we've all come across books that make us question how on earth the author ever got published. Fan fiction is even worse because there aren't any filters (editors - with the assumption that their taste is correct) between us and the fic being displayed in the archives these days. But this doesn't seem to be a problem - "bad" stories get hundreds of (positive!) reviews all the time, so clearly someone is reading and enjoying them. Likewise, quality fiction gets ignored on a daily basis. This boggles me in both contexts, but has been especially irritating over the years in the fan fiction community, where one is expected to improve oneself, but not necessarily rewarded with success for doing so.

So look, it has always floored me that, for example (I'm pulling this out of my ass), a fangirly Naesala story can get two hundred reviews in spite of the rudimentary skill evident in the writing. The author might be able to spell, maybe she has a fair grasp of grammar, but her writing consists of cliche after cliche - Naesala is always running his hand through his hair (because that's what he did in that PoR cutscene, and it's hot!) and Leanne is always fluttering her pretty heron wings and speaking in broken sentences, and they're madly in love because the author tells us something like, "he loved her so much he couldn't sleep," or another better cliche I'm not thinking of, because it's hot and I'm feeling brain-dead.

To me, that's awful writing. To most Naesala fangirls, the triggering phrase Naesala ran a hand through his hair and grinned inspires instant squealing and optional panty-creaming because that gesture is perfectly in tune with the game - in fact, it was in the game. No thought or imagination necessary. Meanwhile, another Naesala fan is over there ripping her hair out over the perfect way to depict his sexy arrogance without rehashing what is essentially a script point, and the response to her effort is quieter, if it's there at all.

So-called "crappy" fan fiction is so popular precisely because it replicates something in the reader's original experience of canon - a real image, in Fire Emblem's case, or maybe something reminiscent of a sentence or passage from the original book, and so on. In fan fiction that can work because we have those existing images in our minds; in context it might not equal bad writing, because in fan fiction your ultimate responsibility is to canon; even if you want to write an AU, you're starting with an authentic canon character, and trying to decide how that character would change from canon in a steampunk setting, or a high school setting. If you're trying to fit your fic into existing events, you're even more a slave to the original work. And who is to say that, when Naesala rescues Leanne from the Twisted Tower in FE9, he isn't making his trademark hand-through-hair gesture, because that's just what he does, and even the developers would use that as characterization shorthand if the character models were more elaborate?

That doesn't make it good writing, but might make it good fan fiction according to a general fandom consensus - as much as a fandom can agree on such a thing, anyway. Like I said above, quality is subjective to an extent. Genre - or lack of - does not determine quality. Neither does entertainment, but the latter is how many people I know determine whether a movie or book is "good" or not. And to tell the truth, I'm willing to fall for it myself, if it means I'll get to see work for a character or pairing that rarely gets fic.

I would say this isn't true of professional fiction, but isn't it? Not all genre fiction is bad, but I can open a Dragonlance novel, for example, and find plenty of passages that tell me how characters are feeling instead of showing how and why. Bad writing, according to my teachers - and yet it's functional, and millions of readers out there don't care, and will sympathize as much with that example as with a well-executed depiction of his disappointment. And I suppose there's a time and a place for everything, including telling-not-showing. You can't depict everything in super-specific detail. Your readers will get tired.

However, thinking about it this way tempts me to resort to stupid cliches. I won't, because writing something like "I don't know empress," Naesala said sardonically, hand running through his hair. "How much am I worth to you?" would make me cry, but attempting to do better all the time is awfully unsatisfying when it doesn't also result in better response. And with that in mind, I think the attitude in fan circles that all writers should listen to critique and better themselves is kind of hollow, because expectations set the bar low, and most fanfic writers want attention and people to fangirl with, while most readers are satisfied with setting the bar mid-level at best. Quality appears not to be the point-- at all. Quality appears not to be the point-- at all. Rather, the point seems to be replication of the original material ad nauseum.
myaru: (Saiunkoku - Shuurei talks a lot)
If I wait for the side-by-side analysis I'm too lazy to do right now, this will never get written. I spent some time comparing each book's characterization chapters for reference - that'll have to do.


In a nutshell, I believe The Fire in Fiction is aimed not at teaching you the basics of writing, but of revision. The book begins with the expectation that you have a novel manuscript written, possibly rejected a few times by agents or editors, and tells you how to refine the most common problem areas: characterization of protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters; dialogue, tension. An entire chapter is dedicated to figuring out which scenes absolutely must stay, and which ones need to be cut-- how to make every scene count from the beginning of your process so you don't have to cut. He had an interesting chapter on writing humor and hyperbole which, though I didn't agree with most of his examples, was still educational.

The exercises ask a few questions about your character (or scene, or tension), walk you through whatever process he wants you to use to refine the thing in question, and then make you rewrite your scenes. On second look I don't think these exercises are necessarily different (in format or type) from the ones in my textbook, but they're effective with the book they appear in, and that's what counts.

So, as my comparison text, I used Writing Fiction: a Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French, which is what we used in my craft class and a pretty decent book - if a little long and, well, textbook-y. I spent two hours re-reading the two-part characterization chapter (my mind kept wandering), and then skimmed the first two chapters of the Maas book, which are also devoted to character, and this is what confirmed for me that The Fire in Fiction is not about teaching you how to write.

The Burroway book spends the first part of its character chapter on how to express a character in fiction from the bottom up. It covers physical description and personal environments, and how they characterize; it talks about characters needing a desire, and a way to change during the course of the story. Then, for the majority of the section, it talks about dialogue and all the ways that serves your purposes when you're trying to develop a character. The second part moved on to direct and indirect description (i.e. how the author describes/passes judgment on a character blatantly, how to do it through another character), and then talked about internal conflicts and contradictions.

Maas follows the same format... sort of. But where Burroway says, "This is how you create and develop a character," The Fire in Fiction sits you down and tells you, "Go find your secondary character's introduction. If you can't answer these three questions, figure it out, and then rewrite your intro to include all of that information." His approach is fundamentally different; he's trying to fix the common errors he sees in manuscripts - pieces which he admits often have the makings of good stories but simply lack something essential - before they ever get to him, so to speak.

But this is where my beef with the book comes in. His tone is generally conversational and easy to follow, and I found his book much easier to focus on than the textbook, so that's a point in his favor, but that easy-going tone of his devolves into snark quickly. In both the main text and the exercises I was met with statements like, "Are you doing X? Good, but I'm still not convinced you mean it, because nobody ever means it." Or, you'll be doing a list of exercises, answer a question or write a scene, whatever, and the next point is "did you do it? Really? I don't believe you! Suck it up and do the work!" It's insulting and irritating, and usually in a place I as a reader wouldn't have reached if I were not serious about doing the exercises and improving my work. Furthermore, while I'm sure he does get a lot of crappy manuscripts, that doesn't preclude effort on the part of all of those authors; that doesn't necessarily indicate that nobody is trying, learning, or serious.

These were rare moments, but if I'd had a physical copy of the book, I'd have thrown it.

Despite the attitude, Maas has delivered a good book. I followed the exercises until chapter six with a short story I was developing as I went along, and the exercises are usable when you're working from scratch without an existing manuscript, but I think they're most effective if you have something you want to edit instead. Also, his instruction is clearly aimed at longer works with dozens of scenes, and while it still works with shorter stuff, the discussions on maintaining tension, for example, assume you're working with a lot of text. Overall I found that focus very helpful, since every other book I've read is aimed at short stories, and the needs of shorts and novels don't always mesh. I also found his examples and explanation refreshing - like they were a different angle on something I'd already heard. The Kindle formatting was messy (block quotes and exercise lists were borked), but tolerable.


Overall: useful book, but his attitude may turn you away. I'd suggest it for revision of existing stories instead of learning how to write one from scratch. This is not a basic instruction book.
myaru: (Utena - Juri)
Holy hell, it's almost the end of March. Where does the time go?


Today the topic making the rounds is reviews. Perhaps this is my fault, because I've been thinking and writing about them lately, and navel-gazing in an attempt to figure out what my problem is. The anonmeme is apparently psychic, and started stirring shit up-- according to others. (Obviously the anonmeme doesn't care about my locked entries which it can't see, but the coincidence is funny.) And eh, that's what anonmemes do. Frankly, I feel like it has stirred more trouble since its genesis than we had to put up with before, and it doesn't seem terribly constructive. YMMV. You all know how I feel about anonmemes.

One friend says we should stop whining about the death of FE fandom, which is probably true - a low review count doesn't mean the fandom is dead. Another talked at length about why reviews are so scarce, and what we should all be doing to change that. (And I do agree with many points, for the record.) Others have posted on the same topic, but I've been busy entertaining today, so I'm going to jump straight to the part of the entry where I'm going to piss people off:

It's one thing to say we should start reviewing, and another thing - apparently - for people to practice what they preach. I've seen this entry several times in the last year, saying the same thing: instead of complaining about not getting any reviews, get out there and start handing reviews out to other people! Fandom means participation! Think about how much you want responses to your work and then make someone else's day by giving!

Less than a week later, the same people make excuses on their journals. Sorry, I've been busy, sick, had a fight with my mom, had work, etc. I just didn't get around to reviewing your stories. I totally will! Just not right now. Meaning never.

Here's the thing about that: it's okay. We have lives. If you're sick, you should be resting and recovering, not dragging yourself out of bed to read and review someone's fanfic. In fact, you are in no way obligated to review anything. Neither am I. If you promised, well - get better and then think about keeping your promise or not.

And then, seriously consider not promising next time if you don't often feel moved to review. Stop whining about how few reviews you get if you're not willing to review for others (I usually review when I read, but should stop bitching anyway), and stop getting on your soap box to tell the rest of the fandom we should start reviewing, or doing this or that, when you don't follow your own advice.

Everything about this discussion bothered me. Part of it was the hypocrisy up above, and part of it is actually on another topic: newbies and snark.

I am not the anon who started that thread about the ~mysterious person~ who dissed something her friend likes to write, and then ranted about older fans who snark newbies. (Or maybe the second topic was a different anon? Who can tell.) Anon bitching is for fucking cowards, so I'm going to say out loud, with my name signed, that regardless of how much shit that thread stirred up, I think the OP was right.

How necessary is it, really, to snark fic you think is bad-- at length? Ask yourself. Is this constructive? Does it make fandom better? Does it improve the quality of fic out there? Does it erase bad characterization? Does this make the fandom feel friendly to newbies? The answer to the last question is probably no, and honestly, if you complain about the death of the fandom and then turn around and snark the newest Mary Sue fic in the archive, you're a hypocrite and only have yourself to blame for what you consider the demise of your beloved fandom. Truly, the demise is relative if you can find fic by new authors to snark in the first place.

As someone who used to snark fic quite often, and in public, I understand the kind of image one creates for oneself by doing so. (Hint: it isn't a good one.) I also understand that it hurts feelings - and no matter how terrible you think a Sue fic is, writing and posting it is not a crime that needs to be punished. You can roll your eyes at the summary, laugh at it over AIM, and then let it go. You can read it, snicker about it, and then close the thing with no one the wiser - certainly not the poor author. This has been said before, but I'll say it again: today's Sue ficcers are tomorrow's amazing writers. When I broke into fan fiction back in 1998, the first thing I did was write a series of Mary Sue fics.

Am I still writing Sue fics?

They'll get over it. Meanwhile, why the fuck are you reading stories you know you'll hate? How many reminders do we need that there's a back button and we should use it? For that matter we older, supposedly smarter fans should be able to tell just from the summary that something is going to be "bad." Why click on it?

Oh, right. It's fun to make fun of people. Well, okay. You do that. The noobs will go over there - probably - and create the kind of fandom space that actually welcomes them. Or they'll leave because they don't have time to put up with this shit, and we'll lose a potentially good part of our fandom. Is that what you want? Do you want to discourage or alienate people and shrink the fandom down to its tiny, stagnating core?

You are not helping. And you're not making the rest of us look any better, either, because we're guilty by association. One fan snarks, and the entire circle is assumed to be doing the same every day, all the time, snark snark snark.

Count me out.


So. A few of you in particular have been snarking lately, and this is not me passive-aggressively saying I hate you. I don't. I haven't been reading the snark because it doesn't interest me, and the fics it's about are usually based on games or fandoms I'm also not interested in. I'm not trying to lecture you. In fact, this entry is every bit as hypocritical as what I'm criticizing. But this was kind of ticking me off all day, and I just now realized why. Naturally, the whole world needed to hear about my revelation.
myaru: (Utena - Juri)
A few of us have been musing for a while over what separates successful fandom communities (in our case, fiction-based) and the ones that die. Part of it depends on the fandom, of course: a community for something like Bleach is going to have a bigger pool of writers/artists to draw from than Saiunkoku does. Another part of the equation is the source material: how well it's translated (if that applies), how much of it is available legally, illegally, how much material is inaccessible. The latter set of problems is unique to translated media, since a Western TV show or game will be published in our native language in NA to begin with. (Right now I'm assuming an English-speaking audience here because the communities I have in mind are run by English-speakers, and most of all - because the only other language I know is Japanese. I know there are communities in other languages, but can't examine their data by myself, so I'll need feedback from others to take those into account. Literally, I don't know where to start.)

Anyway, I was comparing the success of communities I've been a part of personally, since those are the only ones I can talk about with any authority.

1. Deus Ex Machina: A Xenogears Tale (four years + high activity)
2. Xenogears: Waves of Time (maybe a year + sparse activity)
3. Fushigi Souden 2 (two years? + regular activity)
4. Illusion of Memory (two years + uneven/regular activity)
5. Suikoden: Pro Patria Mori (a year + uneven activity)
6. Ebony Silks (three years + high activity)
7. Inu Yasha Quotes (two years + sparse activity)
8. Blind Go (four years + regular activity)
9. Saiunkoku Challenge (two years + uneven activity)
10. La Corda Fics (three years + sparse activity)

Some of these cater to small fandoms, especially Saiunkoku and La Corda (9-10), and Illusion of Memory (4), which was based on the first Valkyrie Profile long before we had word of a sequel. Inu Yasha is a huge fandom, but the two communities listed here (Ebony Silks and Quotes, 6-7) are for a smaller subset of fandom for Sesshomaru/Kagome fans. Fushigi Yuugi might've had a big fandom, but it didn't feel like it to me, I suppose, so I consider it mid-sized, along with the others.

If large pools of fans and available (and continuing!) material are necessary for success, than the Suikoden community should have done well, and XG: Waves of Time should've also had a chance. The opposite would be true of Blind Go, which caters to a mid-sized fandom, if not downright tiny - Hikaru no Go. The manga is finished, the anime is finished, they aren't releasing any supplementary material nowadays, yet BG still runs strong for most rounds. It seems to get a lot of interest, at least, and as far as fan fiction goes, my Hikago fic gets more attention on FFN than practically anything else I've ever written. Both Saiunkoku and La Corda fall right into the small fandom + no participation category, and I believe that's partly because most of the material is in Japanese, and the stuff licensed has not been released in full.

To get to the point, the glaring problem here isn't necessarily the size of the fandom, or how much material we have - Suikoden and Xenogears are both fandoms that depend on fan translation to get the sourcebooks into English, just as Saiunkoku and La Corda do. They have a greater pool of fans to draw from, and yet most of the communities up there were not successful.

I think the timing of their creation is the most important element. Xenogears DeM did better than Waves of Time, which came after; maybe the pool of people interested in that style of writing were already involved in the former; I know I was, though I tried both. DeM had a more creative concept, but that didn't help the Valkyrie Profile or Suikoden groups, so I don't think that's a deciding factor. Fanatic fans will beat your door down to apply for a character they love even if the project they're getting involved in just repeats the plot of the game/anime. The success Deus Ex Machina experienced had a lot to do with starting at the very beginning of fandom, when Xeno-centric writing groups didn't exist yet. Suikoden PPM was based on the first three games of the series, yet came some time after the fifth was released, when obsession for Suikoden III specifically was low. (Suikoden III is a controversial game in-fandom, too, but that's a separate issue.) Fushigi Souden 2 came around long after the heyday of the fandom, at a time when sites were closing or disappearing - it was revived somewhat by anime releases, but not that much, it seems to me.

Hikaru no Go is a strange fandom. There are casual participants like me, who love the manga but have a limited interest in writing about it, and then there are extremely loyal fans that continue to write about it years and years later, when it seems nothing else can be said. Inu Yasha is still going because the author took forever to finish the damned series, so I don't think it has had time yet to run itself into the ground, although the communities I listed up above have seen a sharp drop in participation. Dokuga seems to be the only one left standing.

Dokuga isn't on my list because I don't really participate there, but it presents another possibility - that regular moderator participation and activity contributes to community activity overall. And I think that's true in general, but it won't save a community suffering from any of these other problems, as we see from Saiunkoku Challenge: we have a dedicated mod, pretty regular themes, voting, and winning, and yet almost nobody participates. This community is what made me start thinking about what could make such a difference, because the other elements don't explain it all. Unfortunately, it's also based on a fandom that's small and a source that has plenty going on in Japanese, but which most of us do not have access to except in bits and pieces of translation.

Another possibility is the participation of so-called BNFs, who tend to get all the good characters, win all the time (if it's a competitive community), or end up running the show by force of personality or productivity. Saiunkoku doesn't really have that problem, though.

Then there's something like FE Contest, which is successful (so far) in spite of the age of the series and the games generally represented in fic there. Fire Emblem is another strange community. It has some of the most dedicated and fanatic fans I've ever encountered - dedicated and fanatic enough to cling to a game for seven years and still write about it. I'm not criticizing: I did the same for Xenogears (which has a crapload of material to write about outside of the game), but I was a rare case. I will admit to being exasperated that more people don't branch out a little, but that's also an issue for another entry.

So. This is my long-delayed response to your entry on community participation, [ profile] imanewme, because I always meant to say something more on the topic, but was just as stumped as everyone else.
myaru: (Fire Emblem - Altina)
Sometimes I love FE so much it hurts, especially Tellius; at others, I hate everything. Right now I'm in one of those obsessive, loving moods-- for FE9/10 specifically. Maybe this is because Tellius was my first love. It seems I can never get away from it.

So, Serenes. This being a strategy rpg (and I add 'rpg' because I'm feeling generous with my genre terminology) we weren't given very much information about the culture, and a lot of what we do get only kind of adds up. I'm going to start with obvious stuff and eventually work my way to useless speculation about the structure of the heron clan. And since Lehran is the oldest heron there is, and the biggest troublemaker, I really have to start with him.

Bear with me. It'll be over soon. I swear I won't fangirl that much.

1. Lehran is weird, you guys. And this matters for his descendants.
There's a very Tolkien-esque design sensibility to the herons (their features, coloring, clothing), their language, and the very little bit we see of their artwork (the altar). They remind me very strongly of the elves as depicted in the LOTR movies, specifically, and while I think this is pretty obvious, I've never seen anyone discuss it. The pronunciation of Lehran's katakana name echoes a familiar name, as does his appearance when compared to the other herons, but I'm not reading much into this.

Part of the reason I speculated Lehran was different from other laguz (even other herons) in Call of the Heron is the ambiguity of his timeline. He is ancestor to Rafiel, Reyson, Leanne, and presumably Lorazieh. We don't know how old Lorazieh is, but since Lehran went into seclusion right after Begnion was founded, it seems likely Lorazieh was born before the three heroes got together and fought Yune. Lehran had to be an adult before that point, and must have already had some kind of relationship. Fandom seems pretty squeamish about remarriage (seriously, I recall forum topics where people were like, "but how can Lehran be ancestor of the herons AND the apostle? HE CAN'T HAVE REMARRIED, THAT'S EVIL."), never mind such liberal, sinful things like sex out of wedlock, but I see a few possibilities:

  1. The script is lying, and Lehran isn't ancestor to Lorazieh. However, I checked the original, and it definitely says 'ancestor' (whereas our version calls Lillia et al 'descendants,' which is a more flexible term) but doesn't specify Lehran as a leader, interestingly. More on that 'white-winged royal' thing later.

  2. Lehran had a fling. Maybe herons did it that way before the Massacre. Maybe they don't believe in marriage! Maybe he was a headstrong kid and there was an accident.

  3. Lehran was married before Altina, and his first (or second, or third--) wife parted ways with him - amicably, or I guess he could've gotten tired of being a family man, or maybe she went and died. Or, haha, maybe Lehran liked the idea of having multiple wives. WHO KNOWS.

  4. Something I'm not thinking of probably goes here.

[profile] r_amythest and I had a long discussion about this, and came to the conclusion that he might not be ancient, and that his "madness" after losing his abilities might've been exacerbated by teenage angst, but he would've had to be a busy teenager to father two lines in close succession. Not... totally out of the question, considering my usual heron headcanon.

2. Breeding
Other conversations we've had over the last month or so covered the issue of his age, which isn't just ambiguous - it's obnoxious with how inconsistent the information is. Designer Q&A says the bird tribes have a lifespan that tops out at around a thousand years. However, if Lehran is there to meet Ashera four hundred years after the game (though [profile] r_amythest argued the theme of the games points at it being 1200 years later instead), and this is after already being more than eight hundred years old (since he had to have time to mature before Altina's era) then he's already breaking records. Add to that whatever time he needed before Altina to father a line of heron royalty, and he's breaking records for the dragon clan (~2000 year life expectancy) too. And if Lehran can live that long, what about his descendants? (How about WHY he can live that long?) How old is Lorazieh? Does this oddness pass down the genetic line, or what?

And it goes on and on. )

God. All I've accomplished here is an explanation of my own headcanon. I was going to make up crazy things about heron culture, but this is way too damned long. I'll call it "part 1" and just never get to the second part.
myaru: (Tales of Vesperia - Rita)
1. On deleting your fics from archives.
Normally I don't take stories down just because I don't like them - someone out there always seems to have it bookmarked or linked to, even if it's only one person in a sea of people who haven't read the fic in question. My general rule is that I don't delete something that has comments or reviews. If it doesn't have either, I have no problem taking it down without warning. Lately, though, I've wanted to remove a few stories from my FF.Net account that fall into one of two categories: either I don't like them, or I think they need major revision, and until that's done I don't want them floating around for people to read.

So my question is: what's your opinion on deleting stories? Are you 100% against it, do you want a warning first, does it depend on the story...?

The problem with warnings on is that you never know when people will see them. You have control over two things: your stories, and your profile. The logical place (to me) to drop a warning for something like this is in your profile, so it doesn't take up space at the beginning or end of a story, yet you can't count on people visiting, or even bothering to read. Some people load their profiles with so much text, so many lists, memes, and useless information, that it's almost habit for me to skip reading and go straight to the fic list. I'm probably not the only one. And if you put it at the head of your next fic, that's not guaranteed to reach a wide audience either.

A week or so ago my mouse was hovering over the delete link for a few of my fics. I only stopped because there's no guarantee I'll ever get to the revisions I want to do, and one of these stories has alerts and favorites up the wazoo, so it seems unfair to get rid of it. The other two don't have either, but I still hesitated. It's not like they'll be gone forever; everything is still up at [personal profile] runiclore, and will stay accessible to the public. But even if they weren't, they're my stories, and where they go is up to me - so I don't know why I'm hesitating.

2. Persona 3: it's almost summer vacation! :D :D
I think I really like Hidetoshi - and Chihiro, and Mitsuru. I CAN'T WAIT TO GET KOROMARU ON MY TEAM AHHH CUTE DOGGIE FTW.

Anyway, damn, is it hard to balance all of these dumb friends and their late night phone calls, and I haven't talked to Maya for like, a month, and like-- hey, this is sounding like real life. Only my friends are smarter. Sorry Kazushi! We can't be really close, you know, since you weren't there for the Love Hotel Adventure, which was a serious bonding moment for everyone! (I am so amused. There's a setting you don't see often in RPGs. :P) The plot is finally picking up. I could've told you the full moon was significant from the first minute or so of the game, but I guess the huge green moon in those first few cut-scenes didn't register with anyone else in the party. I haven't checked, but I wonder if the moon phase affects your fusions in this game like it did in the original.

Speaking of the original, I should go get the PSP version. I never finished it on the PSX.

In P3 my character is dating Chihiro, and this is... weird. Apparently I need a modern setting to feel dissonance with male lead characters, since it usually doesn't bother me to play or read them, but in this case, the combination of high school setting and persistent second-person prompts (you feel tired, your relationship with ___ is getting stronger) is working magic to make me feel really weird and kind of uncomfortable to see my character dating anyone. It's not because she's a girl, but because of the conversations between the MC and his other friends about girls, and the fact that you manipulate your reply options to make them like you, that must be bothering me.

Besides that-- maybe it's the way I'm playing, but if you want your social links to go up, it seems you have to agree or commiserate with the other characters regardless of how you feel; technically you have the option to respond with your real opinion, but doing so may sabotage your stats with them, and the game encourages you to level those up for persona fusion. You don't HAVE to, but the rewards are too good to pass up, pretty much.

So, I like Chihiro as a character, and would have been nice to her regardless. However - and maybe this is influenced by my own guy friends, etc. - using a male character to respond to her this way, by comforting her or intimidating jerks away, trying to draw her out of her shell, makes it feel like the only reason he's doing it is to score-- so to speak. Most of my friends were male when I was in high school, and I never would have dated any of them - not after the crap I heard at the lunch table. Even though I know a lot of decent guys, I guess this influenced me more than I thought.

The bonus to all of this is that Chihiro represents the Justice arcana, and that means I get to make some badass angel personae. YES. I have an awesome Principality because of her. <3 Now if only people would stop calling me during the week so I could get over to the shrine and start the Sun link - Metatron is in that category, so I HAVE TO DO IT I HAVE TO.

Now I'm really looking forward to playing the portable version.
myaru: (Fire Emblem - Sanaki - stars)
Okay, so, I was going to make a big English-majory post out of this, but I'm too lazy for that - and I never was a very good English major, come to think of it.

Today I finished and inked that Sephiran drawing I mentioned and decided to get off my ass and finish the Sanaki art as well. While studying Sephiran's design, I realized something kind of funny: there's a lot of eye imagery in the details. The embroidery on his purple sash, the lining of his coat - which is stylized, so it's not immediately apparent, but if you compare it to the other examples I'm going to mention, it's definitely an eye.

The same lining appears on Zelgius's cape. It's all over Sanaki's costume: her headband (it's folded, so only half of the eye-shape is showing), on the purple scarf-thing (shit, what do you call it? >.>), on her red mantle behind the bow, and the half-eye repeats in patterns all over her clothing. I thought that was awfully interesting - and then I realized it was in Micaiah's Light Priestess costume too. The cuffs of her sleeves, as far as I remember off the top of my head, and she wears a red circlet that emulates Sanaki's headband; the pattern on her cloak, where it's pulled and clipped in the center of her chest, echoes the pattern on Sanaki's, with a similar eye shape.

Not surprising. The meaning is obvious: anybody with a strong connection to the goddess, symbolically or literally, is so far displaying this design element. That stylized eye is on Ashera's dress, and a jewel hangs from her headdress that inspires the same idea. With that in mind, it's notable that the senators all wear similar decorations, as they're also supposedly in the goddess's service, but their costumes never quite complete the symbol as far as I can tell.

I wondered if it might mean different things depending on whether the person serves Ashera, Yune, or Ashunera, but the latter doesn't display any of this imagery, and seems to be more about nature than about visions of the future, which is what Ashera and Yune represent. The Apostles, of which Sanaki is one, are supposed to "see" Ashera's dreams and be able to prevent natural disasters and such, and Micaiah's ability at the beginning of RD reflects that strongly. Also, the two goddesses are sort of like manifestations of different visions - one of order and control, one of change.

This came to my attention because I've always been bad at designing costumes, and I was trying to figure out how to do something different for Sanaki. Once the eye thing hit me the job became easier, although it's still giving me trouble.

So yeah. Look at me, reading too much into everything. :D I did come up with a few more details, but they're spoilery and don't add much to the point.

That said, I still don't know what to do with Sanaki's pants. Stupid things.
myaru: (VP - Alicia in blue)

31757 / 70000 words. 45% done!

My new word limit - 70,000 - is a guess, but it seems about right. Look at my completion percentage plummet! I might get myself something at 40K as a concession gift to make up for this. >_> I've been eyeing Carol Berg's Transformation, as I hear the trilogy starting with that novel is really good; this would also be a good time to grab one or two Trinity Blood novels, but I might save that for the very end, and just grab one entire arc, which I believe is six books. I have #4 of Rage Against the Moons, so that'd be a nice one to start out with. I also have my eye on Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven, because I'd like to see what people are doing with Chinese settings in fantasy - and, if necessary, see how they FAIL MISERABLY, but let's hope not.

If I had the choice, I'd grab People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy because it sounds awesome, but it doesn't come out until December. ;_;


Nanowrimo is out for me this year. While it does spur me to new heights of writing and word counts every year, it also makes me crash for two months after the challenge is over, which means for every fifty thousand word sprint I take in one month, two more months pass when I might write only five or ten thousand - if at all. I don't think it's a smart choice for me. I know it'll kill my productivity and burn me out, so it's not worth the rush.

Too bad. I'll feel left out.

We - myself, Zach - were talking about first drafts and how I write them, the other day, because it was on my brain; I've been looking at this first novel draft and realizing, as I write, that my pacing is really bad for the stretch that I just went through because I spend equal amounts of time and text on everything. This is something I'll have to note for myself now and fix later, along with all of my other notes: I need to pay more attention to clergy ranking, need to research bows, need to sit down and make a final, once-and-for-all chart of which archons do what, according to which runes, and stick with it.

While thinking about that, I realized that this part of the novel project is moving much faster, more smoothly. My average daily addition to the first part was around 900 words; my average this time is 1500 for real, not just in theory. I feel more comfortable with the characters. I've reached the part where I actually know what happens in more detail, as this part of my ancient story outline (hahahaha written in 1999 hahahaha) is much clearer than what happened at the beginning-- and, for that matter, what will happen after this stretch of storyline.

So, we were observing that I write my first short story drafts with really thick prose - I pack everything I possibly can in there, down to what kind of wood is in the walls and what kind of fabric so-and-so is wearing, because the entire time I'm writing, I'm thinking up details and possibilities that just didn't come to me in the outline stage, even if my outline is really detailed. Reading one of my first drafts can be tiring because of this. It's why I don't give them to Zach to read anymore; inevitably he'll come back at me with a criticism of my pacing, characterization, or my huge blocks of details, and that's fine - he's right. But I didn't put them there because they were going to be part of the final product. They're in there because I need to know what I was thinking when I do my second draft.

I've worked hard to convince myself that it's okay to write crappy first drafts. Some of you have known me for a decade or more - I bet you remember when I would angst over every sentence I wrote, tell you what a terrible writer I was, and spend a month writing a thousand words of fanfic. I put horrible pressure on myself to complete a perfect first draft every time I wrote, and as a result I almost never wrote anything. It also hurt more when someone came back at me with criticism. I wasn't willing to write more than one draft because I thought that if I didn't get it right the first time, I'd wasted my effort and should move on to the next project.

Needless to say, that's an unhealthy mindset. From 2004 until now, I've tried and tried to convince myself it's okay to rewrite, to have a rough draft that infodumps every other paragraph, to use placeholder dialogue if I can't think of the right thing to say this minute, and I think I've succeeded. What this means now is that I have to protect my first drafts. I can't let anybody read them. I will have no proof for my family that I've written 110,000 words for this project at the end of it. If I give it to someone to read there will be critical response, and that's not what I need at the first draft stage.

But. I do know that I need to research bows, clergy rankings, Byzantine artwork, and varieties of apples. I know it sounds strange, but that should improve draft two drastically.

When I explained all of that to him, I came up with this comparison: writing the first draft is like playing the game; writing the second draft is like starting the fanfic.

It makes sense to me, anyway. Playing the game is all about learning the canon. Once I learn the canon, I know exactly what to read up on, what to make up, and who to write practice character/background snips about. He observed a long time ago that all of my attention to detail, which bogs down my first drafts, comes out beautifully in fan fiction because I'm using it for the purpose of the story, versus dumping it out of my brain and just leaving it there. I think he's right, and I've been trying to figure out why it works so well in fan fiction and fails so miserably when I start an original project. (I think about this a lot, because one always comes so much easier than the other. Why? What's the difference? Excepting the obvious, I mean.)

Now, maybe I know. I think it's a solid theory-- for me. The proverbial light bulb came on, etc.
myaru: (Twelve Kingdoms - Youko wha?)
There are things in life (usually on the internet, in this case, but sometimes in print) that kick on my reflexive do not want filters, for example: motivational speaking, extreme optimism, holier-than-thou tone, unasked-for advice. I am extremely resistant to the concept of talking oneself into positivity - telling yourself the world is wonderful, that you are a wonderful person, that you can do it, that you believe in yourself. It isn't that I object to the idea of believing in myself, but rather that I think the above technique isn't reliable and generates false confidence. I find this particularly grating in the New Age reading some members of my family do, because it isn't about solving one's problems, reflecting, planning - it's about "opening yourself to the power of the universe" and then sitting and waiting for good things to happen.

This is relevant, because when I'm confronted with, say, a motivational essay related to writing, I immediately associate it with somebody's New Age pep talk and dig my heels in. For the record, I'm not dissing new age stuff... much. Maybe I've seen the wrong examples, that's all. And unfortunately, I developed a deeply-rooted, violent knee-jerk reaction to it. I apologize if the comparison offends anyone.

Years ago a friend of a friend suggested Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones for my writing blocks. It just so happened Zach had a copy, but the moment he told me it wasn't instruction, so much as motivational talk for getting the words down, I gave up on the idea completely and didn't look back until a couple of months ago, when a writer friend of mine suggested the same book and went into more detail with her description. Her testimony was more convincing than just a recommendation; the idea of filling a spiral notebook a month with whatever comes out of your brain isn't a new idea to me, as we were told to do something similar in every writing class I've ever taken, but seeing how much it helped her made me want to look at the material that instructed her to take that step. So I'm only about thirty pages in, but finding the book overall very helpful and yes-- even inspiring. The subject line is a title from a chapter on resistance, and just the title, and the meaning accompanying it, brought an issue of mine to the forefront of my mind. It goes like this:

Katagiri Roshi has a wonderful term: "fighting tofu." ... It is dense, bland, white. It is fruitless to wrestle with it; you get nowhere.

The author is talking about mental resistance when trying to write, here, and after a few more paragraphs she ends the chapter with a list of things she does to get herself writing when she might not feel like it otherwise - positive things, not punitive. I learned to do three out of six on my own; four, if you convert "fill a spiral notebook" with "meet a writing quota," as they're similar, but not exactly the same. There's a reason to do it by hand, with a notebook, but that's not what this is about. What is this about? My realization that I have a pattern when it comes to writing advice, and it's not self-destructive, exactly, but it's also not helpful.

First, the writing advice itself. "Make a workshop appointment with a friend to motivate yourself," or "Write through your blocks, write every day, and someday the words will come no matter when or where you sit down to type," that sort of thing. Things that are true, maybe, possibly, but are phrased in a way that triggers my reflex to back away. I know I'll think of better examples in a day or two; these are lacking and not quite what I had in mind originally.

Then, my reaction: dismissal. Complete, utter shutdown. I don't need that advice. I don't want that advice. I know how to write, and I even know how to make myself write in a bad mood. I don't need somebody telling me to sit down at the same time every morning to work in order to achieve that.

Eventually this comes to bite me in the ass. See here, where I backpedal after years of scoffing at the idea of drafts, or the very idea of needing (or wanting!) to write seven drafts of the same story to get what I want out of the deal.

This happens often. Too often. Calling what I reject "advice" might be a bit off, as it's not always advice that I'm spurning, but the voice of experience, or some similar concept. I've never considered that I might still think of myself as a special snowflake, since in many ways I don't; I know I'm not the best writer ever, I realize I'm socially awkward, I know I'm judgmental of myself and others, etc. I know that sometimes I'm still the worst prima donna. But apparently I didn't realize that I'm resistant to the idea that somebody might know better than I do. I think it comes from my belief that I know my own writing process better than anybody else; by that logic, how can anybody tell me how to work? I'll figure it out on my own!

And I do-- a year later. Maybe two.

All of this occurred to me as I was reading that chapter, Fighting Tofu, and realized that I came to the same conclusions she did about self-motivation, but it took me much longer to do it than it would have simply to read her book - but even if I had read it, I probably would have dismissed the chapter as nonsense, something I didn't need.

So does this mean I'll be learning everything the hard way? Since reading this - and I think the realization has been creeping up on me for a while - I've tried to be more open-minded. Picking up the book at all is an effort to do so. But how many times, I wonder, am I reflexively dismissing things I shouldn't when I'm not aware?

Figuring things out on your own isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes you need to know where that wisdom is coming from. But sometimes it also helps to take advice and avoid unnecessary detours.


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