Thursday, April 30, 2009

GuestEssay: Making IT Essential by manyafandom

Making IT Essential

So let me start out by saying I am a huge fan of the Ficster. I think they do a phenomenal job. All the posts, articles and columns are entertaining and informative. I giggle, laugh, smile and smirk as well as learn something new with each and every post.

The ficters themselves have a knack for finding the great new and unknown story. I don’t know how they do that, is it a skill that can be taught? If so, sign me up for the next class. They bring us the stories that go onto be huge in the fandom because they are so well written. The stories that seem to pull us in and tug at our heartstrings. I can’t even begin tell you how many good stories I have found thanks to the blog. If you don’t believe me, scroll back through the posts and look at all the awesome they have brought to the masses. Or, how often I learn something new or am presented with an idea or concept that I never would have thought about before.

They run the gamut on all things fanfiction and fiction related, as well have some killer tunes to boot. The Lazy Yet Discerning Fiscter is an example of all that is good within in the fandom.

But I have a problem with the blog, shocking I know. Just one little entsy, teensy problem … there’s no smut. No smut to be found anywhere. Sure, some of the stories they recommend have smut in them. But besides an editorial by Angel, there has not been a peep about smut and its place in the fandom in general.

Well, I intend to rectify that very small missing piece with this series. You might be asking yourself; “How are you qualified to do this?” For starters I’ve read a ton, and I mean a ton of smut. I’ve read the good, the bad, the ugly, the shudder worthy (and not in a good way) and the truly outstanding that makes me very envious of fictional characters. It’s what first drew me into the fandom, looking for the missing scenes and scenarios from the books. From there my interests diversified, but I still enjoy a steamy well written smut scene. Also, as I a writer I’ve written smut, in some form or another in all of my fic writing. And finally I’m a contributor on the “Perv Pack’s Smut Shack” blog, which if you couldn’t tell by the name is all about the smut. So yeah, I would say that I’m a smutaholic and have a lot of experience reading, writing and critiquing the smut.

Smut or sex is a major part of the Twilight fanficdom whether you enjoy it or not. Mostly, I think because of the lack of it in the books. Stupid fade to blacks, le sigh. Don’t get me wrong, the bits and pieces of the intimacy and closeness we get between Edward and Bella in the books are outstanding, but they leave many of us wanting more. I would be hard pressed to find anything as sexy, meaningful and intimate as the leg hitch and the subsequent scene in chapter 8 of Eclipse in any fanfiction. But like I mentioned above, it left me wanting more. I want the next part, the part we never got to see. What happens after they kiss? That is where fanfic comes in.

For better or worse smut is a part of the fandom, an integral part some would say. And it’s hard (no pun intended) to write, some say the hardest thing to write. Or write well. We all read it, or have read it. Be it openly and proud or hoping that our husbands, family or coworkers don’t see what is up on the computer screen or hiding under the covers with the laptop in the dead of night so no one can see us. There is some debate about the popularity of a story in relation to the smut content. To some extent that maybe true, but that is not what this column is about.

This column is about how to write smut, good smut or how to find the good smut when reading. Yeah, yeah I know that the term “good” is subjective, but this column is about the basic universal rules to smut. Well… more "guidelines" then actual rules (yes, I just quoted POTC. I’m lame like that). Each installment I will talk about a different guideline and offer up some examples for your reading pleasure.

So, let’s get down the purpose of all these ramblings.

Rule…err…Guideline #1: “Make Sure it’s Essential”

Wait, what? Essential? You’re not gonna offer up alternatives for penis, vagina, orgasm and semen? What about positions and technique? What about cores and centers? What about fucking versus making love? To oral or not to oral? I thought this was about writing smut?

Well, it is about writing smut and I will talk about all of those things…eventually. But before we get into content, style and wording we need to talk about purpose and intent. We have to start at the beginning, before a word is written.

But first let’s look up the definition of “Essential” shall we. According to Merriam-Webster it’s this. Essential: something necessary, indispensable, or unavoidable.

Hmm … I think that definition is pretty clear. But just in case it wasn’t, here:

For the love of all that is Fucking Holy and RPattz please make sure that the smut/sex in the story is essential to the plot and the development of the characters.

This, I think is the golden rule or guideline for smut writing and the one that is broken the most. I admit to being guilty of this. What? Nobody’s perfect. What I mean by this, is please don’t make the smut gratuitous. There should be a story behind or purpose for the smut. Ya know, besides reading about our favorite characters having sex.

There are two categories for fics with smut included: Story with a side of Smut and Smut with a side of Story. One is good, the other is not. Guess which is which?

‘Smut with a side of Story’ or smut for the sake of smut is not a good thing, even though it sounds like a win/win situation. It cheapens and degrades the characters that we hold so dear. We lose the essence of the characters and what we love about them when we read about them having random sex without any meaning or purpose behind it. And frankly I don’t find that an enjoyable read. Do you? A weak or thin story sprinkled amongst random sexual encounters does not a good story make. Sure it might get us off or all hot and bothered, but is that really the purpose of fanfiction? Plain and simple…no.

Now smut can be a powerful storytelling tool, when used properly. This is where ‘Story with a side of Smut’ comes in. Emotions and feelings are heightened and more intense during physical sex acts. This offers the writer a chance to make the characters true feelings known in a forceful or powerful way. During sex the barriers and walls that characters may have in place often crumble or fall down. As well as the lies they tell themselves or any denial they might be in. Offering us the reader, a peek into what the character is actually thinking and feeling. And if done properly the intensity and depth of those feelings will be felt and shown. And hopefully evoke feelings within the reader.

Now I know that Sex is an integral part of any loving relationship, this is a fact. I do not dispute this. But in fanfiction or any fiction when reading or writing about said acts, the purpose and intent should take precedence over all else. How can you tell the difference between random sex for the sake of sex and storytelling through sex? That is a tough question, sometimes it glaringly obvious and sometimes it’s so subtle that it can be easily missed. It’s all in the writing and how the writer intermixes the physical actions, thoughts and emotions. Here is an easy way to tell.

When thinking about adding smut or sex to a story you should ask yourself these five questions before you do so:

1. Does the smut/sex act further the storyline in some way?
2. Does the smut/sex convey the emotions of the participants in a way that wouldn’t be available any other way than through intimate sex acts?
3. Does the smut/sex cause the characters to have realizations/epiphanies/moments of clarity in direct relationship to the emotions felt during the sex acts or actions of the sex itself?
4. Does the smut/sex have some sort of repercussions for the characters after the sex act is over?
5. Would it be impossible for the storyline progress without the details of the sex act?

If the answer to any of these is NO, stop and think about it some more before adding smut to the story. If the answer is YES, than go for it. See, easy.

But manyafandom, what about the ever popular one-shot? Surely those don’t need an actual story do they? Well, for one don’t call me Surely (sorry, bad old movie ref. If you don’t get it, ask a friend) and two even a one-shot, regardless if there is smut in it or not should have a story to justify the actions of the characters, again not just to read about them having sex. Just because it’s short, sweet and to the point doesn’t mean you can skip out on having an actual story. So no PWP or ‘Porn Without Plot’. That is bad, very bad. And by the way, premise does not a plot make; more is needed than just an idea.

Okay hopefully I haven’t lost you all yet and you are not bored out of your minds. You may think this is boring or stupid and that I should just get to the good stuff already. Trust me; this is the basic building blocks for the good stuff. And something I have learned myself through trial and error.

I can talk about this concept until I’m blue in the face, but really I don’t like looking like a smurf. So instead, I’m going to offer up some examples the perfectly illustrated the concept or point I am trying to get across. Just to warn I am going to be quoting some pretty graphic stuff here. I mean we are talking about smut/sex what did you expect? But you have been warned, graphic words and content ahead.

When thinking about writing this column and outlining this particular post I went through a list of all the good smut that I have read (and it’s a very long list). One story in particular jumped out as the perfect example for the “Make it Essential” guideline.

And that story is The Office by tby789 and kyla713. These two are masters of the “Making it Essential” guideline. At first glance you might dismiss this as ‘smut with a side of story’ but you would be wrong. Yes, there is a LOT of smut/sex in this story. But each and every sexual encounter between the two main characters adds to the story, progresses the plot and character development as well at the development of the relationship between the two main characters in a way that would not be possible without it.

The story here is very subtle at first. Edward is the Beautiful Bastard and Bella’s boss. They do not get along, but there is really no apparent reason at first, except they simply rub each other the wrong way. Then one night working late…yeah, you get the idea. But as the Edward and Bella get deeper and deeper into the situation they’re in the story pulls us in and leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering if they will ever just simply fall off the edge into love, or at least admit it. Below is a passage that illustrates the ‘Make It Essential’ concept.

“Fuck,” he murmured as he turned his head slightly; his open mouth leaving wet kisses up and down my leg. By now our bodies were glistening with sweat, the windows were completely fogged up and our groans filled the silent space of the car. The dim glow from the garage lights emphasized every carved indentation and muscle of the masterpiece above me. I watched him in awe; his body was straining with the effort, his hair mussed and sticking to his damp forehead, the tendons in his neck pulled tight, and he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Ducking his head between his outstretched arms, he met my eyes for a brief moment. Our gazes locked and our breaths were coming out in gasps; we were both close. Closing his eyes tightly he shook his head. “Oh God,” he panted. “Fuck… I can’t stop.”

“Me either,” I gasped, mirroring his look of desperation. Lifting my head up off the seat, I placed a hand on each side of his face and pulled his lips to mine in a searing kiss. Every nerve in my body was begging for release and each rough plunge of his rigid cock inside me pushed me closer to the edge. For one brief moment I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to have his body whenever I wanted, having him in my bed fucking me with wild abandon. The thought alone was enough to send an explosion ricocheting through me and I gripped his hair tightly.

It is the first time that either character admits to being in too deep, to not being able to control themselves around the other, to not being able to stop. Without them being physically intimate that moment would not have happened or carried the same meaning that is does. It’s not just the words said that convey this but also the actions, Edward kissing Bella’s leg and the thoughts, Bella imagining a ‘what if’.

Now I have another story that is a good example of the ‘Make it Essential’ concept and there is not any actual real smut yet. And by real smut, I mean penetration. Surrogate Love by shwriteme, this is her first fanfic, but she is known throughout the fandom for her beta/editing skills. In this story Bella is a sex therapist and sexual surrogate with her own issues about relationships. Edward is a shy, quiet scientist that has performance issues; the poor guy hasn’t gotten off for over ten years. His family forces him to go to therapy with Bella for help with his ‘problem’.

This story is not about Bella helping Edward get off; it’s about helping him to be a functioning adult in society and Bella overcoming her past experiences. Let’s see what happens during a phone call between the two.

"Here I cum," she gasped out, her voice pure sex. I pictured her beautiful face, scrunched up in concentration as she came. My hand moved faster, pumping in a frantic rhythm, the cream making slurping noises, just like her juices had just a moment ago. And the sounds and images took me over the edge along with her.

Heat spread through my groin, and outward to my limbs, making my toes curl with the power of my climax. It was long and intense and unlike anything I'd felt before. The dim memories of orgasms in my early teens didn't come close to this. I grabbed a towel and mopped myself up as I panted into the phone, trying to calm my breathing so that I could speak. "Wow," was about all I could manage. "Amazing." And it was. It was the most intense feeling I'd ever had. Pure bliss.

And she was panting just as hard. The idea that I'd had some part in Bella's orgasm squeezed my heart. Her words from earlier actually rang true for me now. Whatever happened in my past, I wasn't a disappointment to her. An intense surge of pride rushed through me.

Okay, I must admit that I love a self pleasing Edward, I just do. Anyways back to the topic at hand (snicker). This scene is essential to the story and characters because Edward is experiencing something for the first time without all the negative emotional feelings that are usually associated with it. This is a huge big step for him. Bella helped him by guiding him and offering…inspiration. The shared sexual experience bonds the two together and deepens the infatuation they are feeling for each other. Without the physical act, this would not have happened.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this, the first installment. In the next installment we will talk about the concept of Less is always more. Emotions instead of physicalities.

Manyafandom is the author who makes multiples romantic, slash delicious and brings the deviant goodness to the shack. She hopes to in the future to write an IC/Canon Pairing/Vamp story with No Smut to prove she really isn't as big of a perv/deviant as people think she is. She enjoys almost all kinds of twific as long as it's well written and has a good story. She is also the biggest geek ever and has Star Wars tattoo to prove it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

GuestEssay: Riting Skool by Gondolier

Before I even dive into the dastardly deeds that make a fictional baddie, I need to squeal about how excited I am to blog for TLYDF. Huge thanks to Smellyia and Emibella for allowing me to “stick it to the Man” by sharing, free of charge, creative writing techniques I have learned in two years of rigorous graduate workshops, often spent crying over strong chickoree coffee while other wannabe Hemingways ripped on my masterpiece, Quit Tollin’ That Damn Bell. Just leave me my six-toed cats and booze, people. (Actually, I do have a polydactyl cat. His name is Thor and he’s very clumsy, which is sad to see in a cat.) Anyway… Now, on to creating those shady bad boys and girls we all love to hate!

You’re Having a Baddie! Part 1: The Basics

Everybody repeat this with me once, so we can get it out of our systems… What if I’m not the hero? What if I’m…the BAD GUY?

Oh Edward, don’t we wish. Bad guys are so much more fun to write than heroes. Now gather round Auntie Gondolier’s feet and I shall tell you why, and how.

Where do Baddies come from?

Alfred Hitchcock, the king of drawing fear from an audience, whom I will henceforth refer to as “Alfie”, said that “the more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.” The same applies when writing fiction.

A villain is the manifestation of a story’s conflict (you know, that pesky little thing that drives your plot? Plot, you ask? Hoo-boy). Villains are typically people, supernatural monsters, or even animals (down, Cujo), but don’t let that limit you. Conditions, such as disease, poverty, death, relationship strife, can all be considered “villains.” Even then, a conflict becomes tangible when writing a character—even a minor character—that represents these conditions. It allows readers to hate on a physical body—it’s harder to hate on a “situation,” because situations don’t fight back.

Why do well-written villains evoke those emotional responses—hate, anger, fear, sadness—in us? Because villains expose vulnerability in our heroes. Our culture teaches us to fear certain things. Fear is also connected to our personal memories, reaching all the way to childhood. Ever since we were tiny tots, we have learned to fear vulnerability—monsters in our closet, being kidnapped, thunderstorms, losing a loved one. We fear powerlessness to react in dangerous situations that beg for our action—e.g., being trapped in a car on railroad tracks with a train barreling toward us. We fear unknown futures in the face of evil—violence, enslavement, just plain nastiness. It’s the eternal battle of good vs. evil (you’ve probably heard of this, all of you hobbits, muggles, and jedis). Villains are often are wildly effective because of this premise, dating all the way back to Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, Malory’s Mordred in Le Morte d’Arthur, and Grendel in Beowulf.

Dear Alfie also said “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” I tend to agree with him—just ask my HL5 readers (muwahaha, bet now you’re wishing you hadn’t latched on to a nefarious writer). Strong villains play on all of these above-mentioned fears. They threaten our heroes, frighten them, and craft nearly insurmountable obstacles that make us wonder if our hero will really triumph or not. In fact, well-written villains actually cause a physical reaction in readers.

In her book Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches: How to Write & Bad Guys of Fiction, Jessica Morrell (you’ll be hearing a lot from her in this Baddie series) explains that villains trigger “flight-or-flight” in an audience. “The fight-or-flight response sends a cascade of hormones via the nervous system and bloodstream to help the body deal with the threat.” (It’s called an adrenaline rush. It’s very common—you can google it.) Fight-or-flight is what keeps a reader plowing through suspenseful portions of a story—they need some indication of how the hero will react, so they too can vicariously react to the villain / conflict.

Now we know why readers react to well-written villains. Don’t you feel really enlightened? I do! Let’s write a haiku about it, together. Or not? Fine. I didn’t want to write a haiku with you, anyway (taking a moment to sulk like a Bella who’s just been given a surprise birthday party). We’ll just go ahead and dive into the basics of how to sketch a strong villain for your story, shall we?

How are Baddies made?

So you’ve got a conflict decided upon (that’s a discussion for another day, along with “Why plots are kind of a big deal”). Here comes the fun part—creating your villain. Not just a cookie-cutter villain: the wicked stepsister, serial killer, lovesick stalker, hardnosed bitch. Face it, just like every storyline has been done, so has every villain. What makes your villain unique is the fresh detail you bring to them. It’s all in the detail, folks. And where does detail come from, you ask? Simple—you mine your own personal experiences.

Have you run across school bullies, bastard bosses, social-climbing tarts, or psychotic exes? What about real-life villains in the news? I cannot stress enough how important it is to write about what you know. If you are familiar with what or who you write about, it rings true. Readers connect. If you don’t understand what you want to write about, dig in and do your research. This is your chance to exorcise those demons left over from traumatic childhoods, people. As long as you use fake names and disguise recognizable traits and details about real-life people (where they live or work, appearance, any distinguishing aspects), it’s fair game because they’re your experiences. If they are recognizable, then you are just as big a douche as they are.

Before you start typing that first chapter (or write longhand if you fancy yourself Hemingway), create character sketches. It’s been mentioned before in this blog, but sketching a character is a valuable way to understand said character’s personality, appearance, desires, motivations, strengths and weaknesses.

Character sketches should include:

1. List of defining character traits, strengths and weaknesses
2. Paragraph with brief history
3. One to two sentences on character’s primary and secondary conflicts/motivations
4. Picture closely resembling your character.

For example, a character sketch of Milton’s Satan (the ultimate bad boy) might look like this:

Satan by Gustav Dore in Milton's Paradise Lost.
Character traits:

Is evil and wicked, but sure could fool us!
‘Father of Lies’
Speaks beautifully
Oozes sex appeal
Epic warrior qualities (brave, fierce fighter, regal appearance)
Desires power
Filled with hate, rage, vengeance
He’s the first rebel (today, he’d ride a motorcycle, smoke ciggies, wear a leather jacket, and have a sexy bouffant ala James Dean. Dean, I said. Not the other bouffanted beauty).
The great Mick Jagger describes him as “a man of wealth and taste, been around for a long, long year…” (Smellyia has reminded me that this might be an ideal time and place to toss in a Rolling Stones reference. I’m really ashamed I didn’t think of it first.)

Backstory: He’s been cast out of Heaven by God after leading an epic rebellion, and is trapped on a rock in the middle of a fiery lake. He was an angel of light—Lucifer—who fell after growing greedy for power. His tragic flaw is his desire for power and revenge. While he may be beautiful, speak seductively, and sometimes appears as a phallic serpent to a virginal young woman whose name starts and ends with an ‘E’, don’t be fooled—he’s sided with evil instead of good.

Primary conflict: Satan wants revenge on God for booting him out of heaven and into, literally, the fiery pits of Hades. He’s out to hit God where it hurts the most.

Secondary conflict: Adam is such a goody-two-shoes, there’s no way in hell Satan (pardon the pun) will get him to bite the forbidden fruit. Eve, on the other hand…

“Gondolier,” you might say, “Milton’s Satan is all very well and good, but how do I even start to develop a baddie?” Well, reader, I’m glad you asked!
My home boy Alfie said that “In the old days villains had moustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don't want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings.”

Clever essayist Agnes Repplier wrote that “A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy. We must triumph in his downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of his career must be in harmony with all its previous development.”

And from Jessica Ellis at “For the most part, the best literary villains remind us that they, too, are human. No matter how twisted or dark they might be, they are not so different than you or I. The paths that separate the hero from the villain are complex and uncertain, and great writers are often able to accurately depict not only the evil done, but the humanity abandoned.”

Even Will Shakespeare, the master of villains wrote: “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” Creepy, Will, creepy.

Are you seeing a trend here, people? And no, I’m not saying your bad guy must literally be human (hell, that would kill any fic that isn’t All-Human right there. And half of Stephen King’s stuff); only that your villain must retain some element of humanity to make them deceptive.

To have a believable baddie with depth, give them some humanity. A hinted-at back-story, a weakness or two, or even a philosophy that, while not embraced, is disturbingly understandable. If they are plainly, blatantly evil, every character with a peanut brain will stay away from them. Even rats will run, birds scatter, ants will flee from a baddy that physically oozes evil from his pores…and nothing else. Characters won’t be fooled by someone or something that is so obviously wicked. But when your baddie has recognizable human tendencies, other characters find themselves being seduced by the villain. Heck, even readers might find themselves relating, even just a little, with the bad guy. We call this “sympathy for the devil”—thank you for that, John Milton. (I could write an entire blog on Milton’s Satan, anti-heroes, and dangerous men we love, hate, and love to hate. I just might do that sometime.)

[Extra credit assignment: Here’s a trick—come up with the baddest baddies you can think of, and just see if you can’t find a reason a character might be fooled by them. Make a list of those reasons, and that will give you some ideas about how to make your own villain strong.]

How bad is my Baddie?

How bad should your villain be? Villains fall into different categories, ranging from Unlikeable Protagonists to Pure Evil Villains. I’m going to borrow (pilfer) a morality chart from Jennifer Morrell (the author of Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches, remember her?). You can use this chart for all of your characters, but it’s particularly helpful when deciding where your baddie would draw the line (or even cross it):

Jennifer Morrell, p. 18 of Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches

Morrell writes that “As in real life, fictional characters can often be most known and defined when the curtains are drawn and they think no one is looking. When a character is alone, is his routine fairly normal with work, meals, hobbies, and rest? Or, in these private moments and behaviors, are the reader’s neck hairs starting to prickle?”

These moments could be anything from behaviors that hint at a traumatic past (e.g.—disorders or compulsive behavior), ugly secrets (e.g.—kiddie porn). The face your characters put on in public is often different than their private face. A supposedly upstanding citizen might abuse his girlfriend. Someone seemingly nice might have a pet or child that is afraid of her. Think about these telling details, and start listing them in your character sketch.

Remember, it’s okay for villains to have traits we admire, along with traits we hate. In fact, you need this. It’s what gives depth to flat characters.

What NOT to do with your Baddie.

Very briefly, I want to touch on a few traps that writers fall in to when writing villains. Some of these have been discussed, but it doesn’t hurt to mention them again.

1. Cookie cutter villains, aka, clichés. Avoid stereotypes, like serial killer, stalker, evil mother-in-law, snotty head cheerleader. Don’t get me wrong—you can USE these, but give them your personal spin. Give them humanity.

2. Inconsistent characterizations. This is true of any character, but can really disappoint a reader if the baddie suddenly wimps out in the end ala the Great Volturi Battle That Never Was. If you’re promising a fight, a battle of wits, an epic confrontation then by god, brush up your suspense-writing skills and follow through. Study other hero vs. villain battles in fiction for ideas.

3. Villains with stupid motivations. If your villain is stalking your hero just because they cut them off in traffic, that’s stupid. BUT, if your hero cut your villain off in traffic and your villain is now stalking them because said villain is psycho, that’s different.

4. Heavy villains. If much more development attention is paid to your villain than your hero, the story gets boring fast. Nothing sucks more than reading a flat hero and a fantastic villain. It’s a see-saw—they need to balance each other in character depth, development, wit, and tenacity. In fact, your hero needs that one single element that tips the see-saw in their favor. Please note that by development, I don’t mean actual page time. We might not ever really see the villain, but the effects of the villain can be well-developed (e.g.—Sauron, Voldemort, Moriarty, or again, any conflict that is not an actual human being, such as plague, poverty, etc.).

[Additional extra credit assignment: I highly recommend reading The Telegraph’s “Top 50 Greatest Villains in Literature” list, as well as each short explanation as to why these villains earned a spot. If you want to sound really intelligent in conversation about the great literary baddies, this is the ultimate cheat sheet! And you might even glean some useful ideas, too.
I’d argue that Lady MacBeth, The Phantom of the Opera, and Cujo should have been included. I mean, seriously! But to each his/her own.]

So, feel like you’ve got a good start? Itching to dredge up the filth, plague, and despicably sordid rogues of society and splatter them all over your word processor? Yay!

Next blog or two, I’ll cover how to write specific types of villains, such as anti-heroes (hot bastards), mischief makers (bullies), and dangerous ladies (bitches), psychos, evil-doers, and supernatural monsters. Until then, happy writing.

Gondolier is officially sticking it to the MAN by sharing her wealth of wrodcraft knowledge with the likes of fandom. She demonstrates her tremendous skills with every chapter she posts of her wondrous story, Hydraulic Level 5. Bitch Leah anyone?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Author Interview: Gondolier

1.You are relatively new to Twilight fandom, what was it about the story or genre that made you want to write fanfiction?

Easy, the vamps are sexy!

Seriously now. I originally started reading Twilight fanfiction because I wanted more from the books. Don’t get me wrong—if I didn’t enjoy them immensely, I wouldn’t be writing in this fandom. However, I felt there were some missed opportunities—in-depth characterizations, the rich history of the vampire world, Edward’s century of experiences, the possibility of living forever—and I wanted to see if fanfic writers were exploring them. The sheer amount of Twilight fic was overwhelming. But then I stumbled across this blog (loff!), and found a faction of talented writers and accomplished readers using Twilight’s popularity as a vehicle to encourage quality creative writing. I wanted to be a part of it. I looked for an author to beta and jumped at the chance when EclipsedbyJacob was on the market. (She has such raw talent for writing unique, suspenseful action sequences; it’s a thrill to beta for her!)
Once I was close to finishing my thesis, I wanted to try my hand again at lighter fiction and Twilight provides the perfect opportunity. I have instant reader feedback, which helps me connect with an audience. And I don’t care what the dissenters say—writing fanfiction is good practice for original fiction.

2. What is your experience writing? Do you have any plans for original work?

I’ve been writing stories almost as long as I’ve been reading. Mysteries, romance, memoir, action, horror, poetry, songwriting, you name it. I never considered it as a profession, however, until three years ago. I’ve been in the Public Relations/Media field since 2002. It was fun, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I planned to go to grad school, but I wanted to study something I could spend the rest of my life doing. It came down to music or creative writing. Creative writing allows me to freelance and make a little money, which would have been more difficult if I’d studied music (I can’t teach, seriously). I left PR for good around Christmas, I’ve just finished my grad degree, and am now a cash-strapped freelance writer living the dream, baby.

Original work? Oh yes, I’ve got a stockpile just waiting for publication. If I’m writing fanfiction, I’m always simultaneously working on original pieces. Right now, my big project is breaking my thesis into self-contained short stories and shopping them around to literary journals and travel magazines. (It’s a coming-of-age memoir about my travels in Israel/Palestine, if anyone wants to publish it, wink.) I’m also writing an original fiction set in Jazz Age Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s darker than HL5 and has an old Hollywood, film noir feel to it.

3. What made you choose AU-All Human as your genre?

The flexibility. As much as I love vampires, I wanted to play with Meyer’s characters without the constraints of her vampire world. That said, I still make a conscientious effort to somehow twist certain aspects of Twilight into my fanfiction. If I don’t do that, it’s not really a fanfiction—I’m just slapping familiar names on characters. For example, Edward’s popular book series about vampires, and the subsequent uproar and movie deal, is obviously a spoof on Twilight. And even though the characters are all-human, they’ve retained some of their quirks and traits, such as Bella’s having developed a love for extreme sports in Edward’s absence.

4. Do you map a story before you start it? What is your process?

You bet. I start by creating a basic story synopsis, primary and secondary conflicts. Next comes research. Then I write a couple of paragraphs about the story’s environment (time period, place). After that, more research. I sketch out my characters—they’re appearance, traits, motivations, etc. Finally, I develop a storyline, timeline, and key scene summaries. And, of course, I research. And with each chapter, I start by creating an outline and then fill in chunks. I very rarely write linearly.

In addition to the above, I have a huge “mystery onion” chart that looks like a target board. The chart contains a dozen clue threads that run from the outer level to the “core”—the heart of the mystery. When I write each chapter, I have to be careful not to outpace another clue thread as I weave them into the story.

5. How long do you plan to make Hydraulic Level 5?

As long as it takes to get to through my plotline. I’m guessing it will be roughly 150k - 200k, but not committing to that.

6.You write a lot about river rafting and other extreme sports. Do you participate in any of these activities? What research do you do?

Yes, some. I love the outdoors, though I’m a horrible skier. Hubby and I live next to a lake and forest trails. Spelunking, biking, camping are hobbies. We also go on an annual whitewater rafting trip with our siblings and their S.O.s. I have been caught in a hydraulic, swamped by rapids, and even bungeed a car tire to a cataraft as prime river booty. (I’m the second from the left in the photo).

I’m a big advocate for writing what I know—this doesn’t make me a Mary Sue, it makes me informed.

If I don’t know, I research so I do know. It brings my story to a higher level of richness and believability. I research geographic setting since I’ve never been to the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve read up on the effects of divorce, skydiving, paparazzi, auto-body shops, music groups, and eco-sneakers (thanks Emibella). I even watched an hour-long indie documentary on Bumbershoot Music Festival done by a middle-aged hippie who looked like Jerry Garcia, just so I could write the half-page excerpt from Edward’s draft memoir. I’ve researched a ton of other stuff that hasn’t even come into play yet. Of course, too much research could overwhelm my story if I let it. It’s also the best excuse for not actually digging in and writing. Research is meant to enhance, not dominate, fiction.

7. Do you ever suffer from writer's block? What do you do to surpass it?

Writer’s block is tough. I take myself out of a block by getting away from my laptop and examining the bigger picture. Some of my best a-ha moments come while I hike or canoe, drive to and from class, or even just take a shower. Then I can go back to my chapter with renewed perspective.

8. What type of writing do you enjoy most? Dialogue? Action? Humor? Angst? Do you find some types more challenging?

Definitely enjoy all of the above. Cop out, huh?

Suspense scenes are the most enjoyable to write: angst, action, mystery. When I was ten, I wrote a short story about three friends who explore a haunted house and are stalked by a ghost. In the end the ghost’s face melts off to reveal a skull. I proudly showed it to my mother… she replied with something like “Oh Sarie, I can’t believe you wrote this!” I don’t know if she was impressed by the story or terrified by the fact that her sweet, shy little girl would even imagine something like a gruesome melting ghost (it’s her fault for letting me read scary stories instead of The Bobbsey Twins). I snapped up all sorts of mystery books—everything from Encyclopedia Brown to Betty Ren Wright to the classics.

That said, mystery writing is also the most challenging—especially when I’m publishing as I write. It’s like building a house of cards—one small misstep, and the entire structure is off. It requires a LOT of forethought and planning.

Writing end scenes is also tough for me. I psyche myself out with grand expectations, worrying that the ending won’t be satisfying enough. This is a big reason why having a candid beta is so crucial. When I was writing Fraternité, I sent my final chappy to my then-beta, Le Chat Noir, as well as a trusted reader, Cookies. They very bluntly told me it read like a scene from a Disney movie—everything was tied up too perfectly. I was pissed at first, but then I combed through the chapter and saw that they were right. All it was missing was a damned singing bluebird. It didn’t match the rest of my story, which was dark and grounded in real life struggles like guilt, paranoia, justice, vengeance, love. So I rewrote the entire thing until it meshed.
I’ve since learned to write my end scene before I even start the first chapter. HL5 has an ending written—no one’s seen it, although beta EbJ and Cookies both know how the story concludes. Even if I end up rewriting some of it, I have direction. I’ve got the final-scene anticipation out of my system and can take the page-time needed to get there.

9. Do you find that any certain characters of yours more difficult to write than others? Who is your favorite character to write?

HL5 Bella definitely is difficult to write. Strange, I know, since she’s the narrator. Here’s the trick—she’s a bit of an unreliable narrator. Bella internalizes her thoughts and feelings rather than bluntly voicing them like Rosalie and Emmett do. She rarely shares her deep-down fears and pains with her friends—only the symptoms. She sucks big-time at verbal communication. Instead, she’s a do-er. Those who understand this about her—like Rosalie, Edward, and Renee—watch her actions, or even blatant lack of action (not changing her name, not asking for answers, not talking about her divorce) to get a read on where her heart is.

Edward takes a long time to make a decision, but when he does, he stubbornly holds to it. Bella however, is rash. She’ll make snap choices then stew over them later, getting her into a world of confusion. Edward is protective of Bella, even after he gave up that right. But Bella refuses to be a burden. So obviously, these two clash.

On top of that, both she and Edward tend to be avoidant, for different reasons. Needless to say, their dialogue is tough to craft; they dance around each other.

Favorite to write? Leah’s fun. She’s absolutely crazy, misanthropic, bitter…but she knows it and embraces it. Whether she’s training dogs or training Bella, Leah sees herself as a Svengali…a Henry Higgins. She struggles to mold Bella into her idea of a scorned woman, and has a difficult time understanding why Bella doesn’t want Edward’s head on a platter, despite the heartache he’s caused her.

Edward’s book excerpts are another favorite to write. Bella’s narrative voice is pragmatic and playful. Edward, however, is a deep thinker. While Bella expresses herself through her actions, Edward shares himself through his writing. Bella knows this—she’s mentioned that they wrote music together, that Edward has always had a way with words. His writing style is more complex, more metaphorical, more lyrical. I love writing Edward’s writing excerpts (did you follow that?) because it gives me a chance to stretch my creative prose muscles and use a surrealistic, poetic voice.

10. What do you like to see in a review? Are twilight reviewers different from others you have dealt with in the past?

First and foremost, I appreciate when reviewers are polite. It’s frustrating, yet fun, for readers to follow a mystery fic in progress. My stories usually aren’t simple “whodunnits”—they require some work on the readers’ part to find those clues and piece them together, in addition to waiting for certain elements to fall into place. But my audience is an intelligent bunch. It’s thrilling to see them Sherlocking it, cobbling together theories. Some are close, some are way off.

My favorite reviews are the ones where it’s obvious the reader has thought about the dialogue, the characters’ actions, and back-story. They set aside their preconceived ideas from other fics and enjoy the story for what it is. For example, I love Tuesday Jane’s reviews. She re-read the earlier chapters and discovered nuances she missed the first time around. She then sent me a review that analyzed HL5 Bella and Edward’s characterization. And let me tell you, she was spot on. Now I revisit her reviews, along with many other readers’ reviews, when one of my characters is stumping me. It helps to keep my writing consistent.

And of course, I love when reviewers simply say they enjoy my story. It’s so incredibly encouraging—it helps me push through rough patches. That’s why I reply to every review—I truly appreciate them, even the one or two-liners.

Past fandom reviewers? Honestly, I thought that Twilight fans would be harsher because of fierce devotion to these characters, especially Edward. And I do struggle with reader expectation of the Bella/Edward ship, just like any Twi-fic writer. But in reality, Twilight readers have been very generous and insightful. Some fans read the word ‘divorce’ in a two-sentence summary and look elsewhere, which is understandable, but disappointing. The readers who have made it past the divorce summary and puzzling Prologue ‘screening process’ get gold stars!
Another difference—Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom of the Opera fandoms have been around for a century-plus (I bet Edward was a fan). They’ve hashed out their beefs long ago, agreed to disagree, and have since established fanons in addition to canon. Heck, becoming a member of the SH Baker Street Irregulars Society is akin to getting into Harvard…not kidding. I can see the Harry Potter fandom existing a hundred years from now in a similar manner. The Twilight fandom, however, is just developing. It’s exciting to be a part of it!

11. Do you plan on writing more stories for Twilight fandom? What genres or characters do you find interesting or would you like to explore?

Possibly. I’m a one-fanfic-at-a-time gal, though I’ve been known to toss in a short story or two for contests. Big secret…I have an HL5 sequel sketched out, but it may or may not pan out, depending on what goes down in HL5. I don’t know if it will be necessary or not. I’d like to write a vampire story—a historical fiction, or one set far into the future. We’ll see. I also find the other vampire covens and nomads fascinating, and we barely got to know them. I could see a short story or two coming out of possibilities there.
Genres…I’ve never written a fanfic parody (that I’ve published, anyway. I did a one-shot spoof of Fraternité called “Frat House” that’s never seen the light of day, for good reason…it’s pretty naughty, and I wrote it to prank my beta. I think Cookies has it).

12. What is the guiltiest pleasure that you indulge in?

Late 1970-80s ‘warm fuzzy’ music: Duran Duran, A-Ha, The Outfield, Boston, Journey, Styx, The Cure. My cell phone ring tone is “More Than a Feeling.” I love how whenever it rings, people get this happy, nostalgic look on their faces. Or maybe they’re smirking. Hmm.

I-Tunes. I’ve somehow convinced myself that when I click that “buy” button, I’m not really spending money. I’m always on the hunt for new music to add to my playlist. I found Johnny Flynn thanks to Rob Pattinson’s Christmas recommendation. Readers have also recommended quite a few songs and bands that I now love. And I’ve found music through research. I stumbled across Hey Marseilles and Fleet Foxes while researching Bumbershoot. Check them out—they’re incredible lyricists and know how to work those harmonies. And of course, Music Sundays has become a new obsession for me!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reader'sSeries: Tiggrmommi

Wow. I’m sitting here still in shock several days later, at the fact that someone picked me to write about my personal experiences with the fanfic world. It seems that maybe I have affected someone; possibly as much as I myself have been affected. Wow! While Breaking Dawn didn’t leave me upset or feeling at all unfulfilled as to how the story ended, I did and still do, crave more. More of Edward. More of Bella. Just. More.

Never in a million years would I have dreamed that there was this whole world out there for me to continue the obsession. I needed to explore. While I am (I think like most readers) a B&E HEA kinda gal, I have enjoyed so many other stories as well. I’ve even found myself enjoying stories I never thought I’d like. For me, for the most part, I prefer the characters to be as close to the books as possible. But to be completely honest, looking at my top 20 favorite stories…Edward is a jerk, Bella is strong and independent, Emmett’s a manipulator, Rose isn’t such a bitch and even in a few stories, I don’t find myself hating Jacob at all! But one thing seems to remain constant. In every story so far, I still hate Tanya! LMAO. Even when she’s just looking out for Edward and an old childhood friend, or publicist or what have you. (My favorite nickname I’ve read for her is TurboHo.) I borrow this nickname from a story I love. And in my reviews where Tanya is concerned I generally use this nickname rather than the name, Tanya. It brings a smile to face every time and I can’t help but give a little chuckle each time I type it.

When I sat down to write this I hadn’t planned to specifically mention any stories or authors, for fear I would not be able to mention all my favorites. I would hate to leave someone I love out, unintentionally, whether it is an author or story. Alas, the more I thought about writing this, the more I needed to write about certain characters that get me going. Make me mad. Make me happy. Make me sad. So, I apologize in advance for not being able to specifically mention each and every author and story that I favorite. It truly does break my heart that I can not list each of you here by name.

Right now, my favorite Bella in a story has to be from Shotgun Charlie by superstarrh. Normally, Bella is not a character I would ever call a favorite, but this Bella is who I myself would like to be. (And not just because she gets to have sex with Edward in a tree or really have sex with Edward all the time.) LOL. Recently, she was put into a situation where she just blows up and decides to not take crap from anyone. She lashed out at the whole family and stood up for herself and it was brilliantly written! She even stood up to Edward when he tried to take his families advice and treat her once again with “kid gloves”. That’s not what Bella had wanted and she told him so. Go Bella! A bonus for this story is Emmett. He is truly hilarious and so caring when it comes to Bella, that it just makes the story even more kinds of awesome. Really everything superstarrh writes is WIN. Seriously. Go read it all. Now. Seeing the alerts in my box from her really make my days brighter (even when I know they might contain some of that horrible angst.) I find myself rushing through real life junk, just so I can read what she’s written. I always find great writing from her and she truly transports me into her fanfic world.

Spending time in a few Twilighted threads of my favorite stories has been such a blessing. (I wish I was able to spend more time there!) Those crazy beautiful ladies brought me out of a shell I didn’t know I truly hated living in. They helped bring out my inner perv I never knew existed (I’m such a prude!) But I’ve actually met and bonded with some real life ladies in my area who enjoy and embrace the smut like I do! We can’t wait to get together and talk about all the stories we’re currently reading. It’s definitely something I will always be thankful for…So Thanks bunches to the Perv Pack Smut Shack…LOL. While you are not the ladies I have met…you most definitely are the cause for me meeting so many of my new friends!

Going back a bit to my favorite characters. Like probably 95% of fanfic readers out there, my favorite character would be Edward. I’ve come to find I will take Edward any way I can get him. Vetward (DID), Windoward (The Office), Geekward (Resident Geek, Frenemies), Stealthward (Dangerous Affections), Wankward (Midnight Desire), Priestward (Sanctuary). Seriously, these are just SOME of my favorite Edwards. Is it wrong to want Priestward to get laid? Or Geekward? LMAO. This fanfic world opens up a multitude of goodness where the characters can be anything the author wants them to be…and maybe even something you didn’t think they could be, or should be.

Several authors I enjoy respond to every review they get. (WOW!) Some don’t. (Not a biggie to me really. I know you’ve probably read my review and are glad I took the time to write it.) But none I’ve seen take as much time as Books (booksgalore). And I don’t mean it takes her forever to reply to the review, I mean she pours over every comment and question and thought and theory and delves even further into her story when she responds to the review you’ve left! I can not fathom the time it takes her to respond to everyone, but she does! As I said before, I know many authors who do not reply to reviews left and I don’t fault them at all for not saying a personal thank you for the review (I as a reader, believe you appreciate the review and I don’t need you to tell me so, but I do SQUEE when I get a response back. LOL.) I can not imagine taking the time to write the story, post it online, keep up in a thread (as it seems most stories have them over there at Twilighted) and then respond to all the reviews too! HOLY CROW!

Le sigh. Ok, here I found myself mentioning some of my favorite stories, characters, authors and such, but alas, I could not name them all. And for that, I am incredibly sad. There are just so many incredibly awesome stories and authors out there in the FF world that if I were to list all of my faves, I’d be keeping you at the puter for a week and boring you to death with my crappy writing skills.

Again, I want to thank each and every author out there for putting your thoughts, dreams, hopes, ideas and such out there for us to enjoy. You all deserve chocolate and hugz for putting yourselves out there! I was raised by the rule, if you don’t have anything nice to say, SHUT YER DANG MOUTH! But all too often I find mean spirited reviews of stories or chapters in the threads or comments/reviews. So many of them are anonymous too. And it irks the hell outta me! If you don’t like reading something, stop! No need to continue reading it. No one is making you. Not everyone will enjoy reading the same kind of stories. Move on! No need to tell the author you think they suck or they shouldn’t be writing or worse (to me) HOW they should write THEIR story! I do not ever believe a writer should write something based on the reviews they got/get. (Example: writing a lemon before you are ready or a HEA when that is not where you intended the story to go.) I know some of you worry that if you don’t give in to what the reader wants, you will lose them. But if you are giving in to what we as readers want…is it still your story? Or did it just become….OUR story? All too often I’ve seen a writer go with what the reader wants and the author loses interest in the story…or worse…in writing all together. They think they are not good enough now to come up with stuff on their own when they were doing just great to begin with! Remember they reviewed your story because they liked it…even if it might not have been going where they wanted it to (or thought it would go.) While I’m not saying I don’t leave my thought on where I think a chapter/story might be heading (or even my hopes on where it might go) I never want to sway the author from their intended direction. Again, remember it’s your story. Not mine. And it isn’t Jovial Jane’s down the block’s story either. Ignore her pleading to sweeten it with a lemon! If I’m reading your story it’s because somewhere along the way you wrote something that captured my attention. It was you. Not Jovial Jane. So don’t change your story to keep reviewers happy. Please.

Ok, to the author who picked me….WOW. To think maybe something I’ve said to you in a review (or maybe on the threads) maybe brought a smile to your face…or brought you to a happy place…I hope I didn’t disappoint you in my summary here…if I have, I am sorry and perhaps I should buy you a beer. (Holy crow that rhymed.) That can’t be good. See, now you know why I don’t write!

Umm…yeah, ok…I’m done. The end. (Fade to black.)

Author's Blurb by superstarrh

Reviews, reviews, reviews. Where to begin when talking about reviews? Do I love them? I would be lying if I said anything else. Let’s be honest here…while I ultimately write because I do enjoy this and have a great time coming up with ideas and getting them out there it is nice to know that others out there are enjoying my little bit of crazy that I put out there. I mean after all how often do you get to write about Emmett giving sex lessons, Edward killing worms while fishing and Charlie stalking hallways with a shotgun and have people actually enjoy it? Most people would think I was a bit crazy (and I would have to grudgingly admit that they may be right) but when sharing this with the fanfic community they actually understand and enjoy it.

So when asked to write a little something about a reviewer I had to think about which reviewer I would like to feature. I am quite lucky to have a few people who review each and every chapter that I write, even those who go back and read the early stuff that I wrote. There was one person who came to mind the more I thought about it. Not only does she take the time to review each chapter she actually takes the time to review it on both Twilighted and FF and actually finds different things to say in each review. She is always extremely supportive and is someone who I am honored to not only call a reviewer but as time has gone on a friend. I find myself looking forward to what she might say about each chapter, especially those ones where I wasn’t sure what the readers will think of them.

I guess I should actually share the name of this person. I’m sure that many of you know her and I hope that you have been lucky enough to receive a review from her. My featured reviewer is none other than Tiggrmommi aka Cheryl. She is consistently supportive of all my ramblings that I put out there for which I am eternally grateful. She also isn’t afraid to tell me when things don’t work which to be honest is something that I appreciate from anyone. Of course it is nicer to have people tell you they loved your chapter but it is nice to hear from those who didn’t like it too. Especially when I get those that take the time to give me the details of exactly what they didn’t like. It usually helps me to shape things for future chapters.

Okay, back to the reviewer at hand. Tiggrmommi is someone who always makes me smile when she leaves a review. She helps make this whole journey that I am taking worthwhile. I’m forever thankful that she takes the time to read what I write.

Once again I want to stress that I appreciate each and every person who takes the time to review on my writing. Although I am incredibly behind I will be getting back to everyone who does leave a review. So even though I was unable to mention the name of every person who has taken the time to review just know that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So a big thank you to Tiggrmommi for being not only a great reviewer but a great person!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

GuestFicRec: Morality From An Americn


I've been devouring Twilight fan fiction for about a year now. In that time, I've become significantly more picky about what I will read and enjoy. There isn't much I appreciate more than realism. In fact, I often find myself rolling my eyes at the clichés that have unfortunately become the fan fiction rule rather than exception.

For example, in our fandom, characters frequently marry their high school sweethearts. And, while it does happen from time to time in the real world, you usually don't meet the love of your life at age seventeen.

I'm guilty of using this plot device, and I understand why other authors do it - really I do. No one wants to read: "And they lived happily ever after until they broke up at nineteen after a bad fight and too many tequila shots.” But teenagers are nothing if not impulsive, and the reality is that most young love is fleeting.

No one agrees with this more than the Bella in Memento Mori. Despite being caught between the boy she doesn't love and the boy she refuses to, she regards love and sex with a practicality that I would normally adore. She admires romance, but acknowledges the frivolity of teenage flirtations. She makes all of her decisions with her own interests at heart, focusing on what will be best for her future. She allows herself to be selfish and cruel, because she knows that she will ultimately get what she desires. This is one of the most selfish Bellas I've read: something that both frustrated the hell out of me and excited me at the same time.

Bella remains in a relationship with Jacob because he has the resources to get her into her dream college. She sleeps with Edward because... well, it feels good. Though somewhat disgusted with herself, Bella stays positive and focused on the bigger picture. But when her carefully constructed world unravels around her, we begin to see the pitfalls of living for the future: you miss the moment.

"Memento mori" is a Latin phrase that loosely translates to "be mindful of your own mortality.” Rosette writes in a way that keeps us both utterly frustrated yet understanding while Bella figures this out for herself. I often flinched as Bella made mistake after mistake. But no matter how annoyed I was with Bella, I couldn't look away because I could understand the motivations behind her actions. Also, Rosette’s writing makes the story too compelling to abandon.

Rosette-Cullen is not an unknown name in the fandom. I've been quietly following and adoring her since last summer when I was still lurking without reviewing (if I can overcome it, so can all of you guys). Her twists on these familiar characters constantly amaze me. Neither Jake nor Edward is villainous, something a little miraculous in the often-done world of love triangles. They are instead just flawed teenage boys entranced by the same girl.

Her Edward particularly impresses me. He is similar to Canon Edward in his devotion to Bella, without being cliché, and is described using sparing but fascinating details (I particularly love his penchant for gambling and losing). Even Bella, selfish as she is, never becomes unredeemable; her motives remain honest even when her actions don't.

At only sixteen chapters, Memento Mori is a pretty quick read. It comes full circle without contrived drama (something for which I have absolutely no patience), and maintains the realism that drew me to it in the first place. I suggest reading with a cup of tea and the knowledge that Bella will eventually figure her shit out. It's frustrating. It's difficult. But it's completely worth it. There's nothing quite as sweet as redemption.

americnxidiot recently was nominated for an Eddie for her story, You Get Me Closer To God. She is quite the globe-trotter but decided she didn't need to get an 'a' on her travels. Got to love her for the anarchy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pastiche Pen and the Mystery of the 1,000+ Review Story

Pastiche Pen and the Mystery of the 1,000+ Review Story

It was Professor Plum! In the library! With the wrench!

The mystery is SOLVED!!!

Or not...

Today, we get to talk about the great big 1k Reviews Threshold. Not unlike my statement above, such popularity must seem completely arbitrary... why do so stories go big and others just... not? So, we've talked about this in extensive detail at this point. We've covered:

1. The Importance of Titles, Summaries, and First Chapters
2. Why You Need a Beta
3. Where to Post and how that effects Your Fic
4. The Ins & Outs of Community (in two parts)
5. Fandom No-Nos

But now we get to talk about the big, arbitrary mystery part of it! Really, I'm going to ramble on about word-of-mouth, because the x-factor in this equation is, indeed, word-of-mouth; however, to assist me in my investigations, I harassed a large number of popular authors, including: houroflead, rialle, americnxidiot, halojones, blondie, acireamos, angel/edwardzuckorocks, fiberkitty, withthevampsofcourse, daddy's little cannibal, ninapolitan, cdunbar, mischief-maker1, thallium81/Jfly, GinnyW, angstgoddess003, and bethaboo. All of these ladies have stories with review counts over 1k, so their brilliant advice and survey-filling out prowess is getting showcased for your benefit.

So, I listed a number of factors, which we'll go into, but here's what the ladies ranked:

1. Content (Most important)
2. Writing
3. Originality
4. Complete
5. Posting Speed
6. Lemons
7. Community
8. Genre
9. Format
10. Multiple Fics
11. Ch Length
12. Fandom Trends (Least)

What makes a story surmount the big 1,000 review mark?

This has to with pairings, which characters you choose, etc. I mostly discussed this topic last article. But here's what our writers had to say:
Angel says: COH is a pure E/B story. It is close to canon and in this period of slash/non-canon pairings etc, it seems very well received. Many reviews note how COH makes them feel like they are reading a more “mature” Twilight.

Bethaboo says: Let’s face it. Everyone wants to read Edward/Bella. Period. No arguments. No exceptions. My two 1,000+ review stories were both E/B. After those finished, I started a pre-Canon Esme and Carlisle story. And then. . .*crickets* . . . I kept a few readers, but most of them decamped—even though I think that my writing has only gotten better.

Acireamos says: We did the canon relationships, and when we insinuated something different, our readers got worried. Haha!

So, as you might see. We have a pretty big consensus on the Edward-Bella point. That being said, there are non-EdwardxBella stories that gain large followings; however, none of those people replied to me...

2. Quality of Writing
So, when I sent out this survey, I expected writing to be listed at the top. It wasn’t. There are two reasons for this. (1) I asked peeps to talk specifically about their own stories—but naturally they ignored me. (2) Peeps didn’t want to look like fatheads by saying, “oh, yeah, I’m Shakespeare a la pr0n!” Sorta funny, actually. Well, I’ll be the fat head and say that I think people read (my story) The Nymph and the Waterfall because it’s witty and hysterical as fuck. (Eh, still. Ugh. Yes, self-promotion always sounds bad…) Anyway, I personally do think writing is the most important. After all, folks like to read a story that entertaining, though-provoking, well-structured, and well-written in the sense that it has witty dialogue, ironic humor, a grand ole mystery under foot, etc. Or they just like word porn.
Rialle says: I didn't know how to answer this one without sounding totally up myself, but I can't really think of why else my story would be popular. It doesn't have any sex in it, it's not particularly funny... quality of writing is the only thing left, right?

Bethaboo says: I would love to be able to tell you that good writing is the single biggest reason that a fic becomes popular and receives a large amount of reviews. No can do. As for myself, I have not always found that this is true. Several of my fics are over 1,000 reviews. Clearly these are popular with my readers. This is by no means a good barometer of what fics are my best. I’m going to come straight out and brutally confess that the fics that my readers love the best are good, but by no means my best work. Go figure.

Ninapolitan says: I don't think my stories are quality per se, I just think that people enjoy the humor in them and honestly that's why I write them.

A few writers got on my case for not including characterization in the survey. In my crazy brain, I actually group characterization in with writing, and I think that's true, but it is also true that someone can use complicated, flourid language and excellent structure but still bore us all to tears--so what's that other factor that draws interest? Storytelling. The intensity of the conflict, the pacing, the mystery, and characterization are all features of a good storyteller.
Blondie says: As a canon writer I think that characterization is probably the biggest factor when it comes to popularity. Readers have high expectations for canon stories—the characters have already been defined. It's not that there's no originality to be had, but my readers aren't looking to make a new friend in the character, they want to catch up with a friend they already know very well. The draw for Dark Side of the Moon is the same as the draw for Midnight Sun—the desire to get inside the head of someone we know—or at least think we know. Even though the plot of my most popular story is already defined, (New Moon), but that's not to say I don't get to “play outside the fences.” But knowing the plot ahead hasn't been a negative, rather many readers commented on how they were looking forward to upcoming plot elements.

3. Originality – groundbreaking
I don’t think originality exists in fanfiction (the devils in the details), so I let others talk:
Ninapolitian says: I think it's safe to say that most scenarios have been beaten to death so it's the way that you write them that draws people in.

Rialle says: I don't know really, because my format is quite common (Edward Never Came Back). However there's also an original side plot running in there, which might help. Plus, mine is quite old- there were less than 200 fanfics on Twilighted when I added my first chapter, so it was easier to be original.

withthevampsofcourse says: I mean, none of this is exactly original. We're ripping someone else's story off to begin with, but yeah… the wording really ought to be "non-cookie cutter" plot—and no, I don't do that.

halojones says: I think the best way to grab people's attention is with a strong first chapter that does something different. People are reading so many stories in ff-land, it's easy for everything to start sounding the same, especially first chapter setups. Let's face it, most setups ARE similar or familiar. But you can make it unique not by what you do, but how you do it. Instead of Bella and Edward meet-cute-ing with Bella blushing and tripping, make Edward trip her. Or have an onlooker blush watching them interact. Putting a twist on all the canon staples is a good start to individualizing your story.

4. Finishing your effing story
My stories got big review boosts once I finished them. It’s another selling point when folks choose to recommend. Pretty simple.
Fiberkitty says: Once I had a completed story, it was as if I received credibility and trust. Readers weren't worried that I was going to abandon my stories.

withthevampsofcourse says: well, if there are people out there who only read completed, i wouldn't know. i have yet to complete a story.

On completing versus writing multiple fics...
Daddy's Little Cannibal says: You can have a hundred stories, but none of that matters if none of them are complete. A reader wants to know that they can start a story and be able to finish it. The worst feeling in the world is to get really into a story only to realize that you don't get to finish it. So I totally think that reader loyalty is about completing a story rather than having multiple stories. :)

5. Posting speed
For your “speed” even to affect your review count, you should either have 1. a pre-written story or 2. a brilliant [mental] outline and the capability of popping out chapters every day. Most people can't do this WELL, so it's best to pre-write, and even if you think you're all bad-ass and fly, your story will still be better if you pre-write it. However, there are some caveats to this:

First Caveat. You never want to post all chapters at once. While some goodly fannyfickers will review every beloved chapter regardless, most won't. Why? Cuz they'll 1. get caught up in your story and forget 2. be lazy 3. be so absorbed by the events in the final chapter it'll cloud their short term memory of the earlier chapters.

Second Caveat. Daily posting doesn’t help short fics. Because if you have a seven chapter novella pre-written and ready to post, you will realize that seven chapters in seven days is such a short time period that word-of-mouth will probably not spread if you post daily. This was actually my decision for my novella. I posted weekly for the first three chaps and then posted the final four on two Saturdays and Sundays in a row. I am not alone in doing this. A great number of authors set schedules. A schedule allows you to have more time to do other neat fandomy stuff, like (1) having sufficient time to answer all of your reviews (2) post teasers on your forum thread (3) play on your forum thread.

Third rule. Long equals short. If you have a good number (15+) of chapters written, then it will probably be in your interest to post as frequently as possible. Why? Because readers are so completely grateful for the daily update. It's like Christmas on FF! This generates unprecedented word-of-mouth. Several of the most reviewed authors on FF do this or have done it, e.g. jandco, tara sue me, and (for the initial chapters of Wide Awake) AngstGoddess0003.

Also, if you take forever to update, your story loses momentum, and I (and others) stop reading it, because between your generic title and the fact that you haven't updated in three weeks, I don't even remember WHY I put you on alert, and I'm too damn busy and lazy to go reread and figure it out again. That's my rant.

Angstgoddess003 says: I think with WA it was just characterization and posting frequency which drew the interest. Posting daily won't help you in the short term, it helps in the long run. I posted daily with WA up to chapter like... 26(?), I think. I found it best to update in the early evening, except on Sundays where afternoons were always best. Saturdays are crap regardless. It's interesting how some of us get two influxes a day: 1.) when school is out; 2.) when work is out, 3-5 PM.

Ninapolitan says: I made it a point to stick to a Sunday posting schedule, both for me and for the reader, they knew when to expect it and I think that made a difference. jmo

Rialle says: I update about once every three months, if that. Mind you, that's only now I have a decent sized following. When I first started writing I updated relatively quickly, and I think that probably helps quite a lot in building up readership.

bethaboo says: Can’t deny that this is definitely a factor. Over my almost year long sojourn in the world of Twilight fic, I’ve come to learn that a large number of reviews or even “buzz” is all about building popularity. If you get your name out there a lot or you have friends that do it for you, or even both AND you follow that buzz up by cranking out regular chapters, then you’re probably going to get quite a few reviews—more every chapter probably. I think the stories that eventually get the most out of this are fics that are on a posting schedule. Everyone knows that it’s going to go up on the same day each week or every other week, or some other similar schedule. If the author can stick to this for long enough, then people are going to flock just because of the consistency, which I think is probably one of fanfiction’s biggest drawbacks.

fiberkitty says: Frequent posting endears you to your readers but it goes hand in hand with chapter length. Authors who give longer chapters are "forgiven" for a delay between posts. On active stories, I do my best to not go more than a week between updates. I do not think it is fair to my readers to wait longer than that. You shouldn't take on more stories than you can handle with your real life obligations.

withthevampsofcourse says: Dude, I never update. Like, ever. So many reviews are like, WHEN YOU GON' UPDATE THIS HERE BITCH, LADY?

6. Lemons and Review spikes
halojones says: I don't really do lemons, at least not with a straight face.

[Oh, wit. Pastiche laughs.]

Ninapolitan says: My new story will not reach 1k because there will be lemons but it's going to take a while to get there. [Pastiche thinks Nina is being very modest…] Though I have written a lime, does that count? It's funny...go figure. Lemons are important; they're not the only factor though. I think it's all in context to the story and the author and what branch of readers you have. Plus if it's an "M" rated story with the genre of romance, I think people are more inclined to think that lemons eventually will be a part of it.

cdunbar says: There was never a question on whether or not I was going to have Geekward and Bella get it on. I write pr0n, it's what I do. Besides, awkward first time sex is a rite of passage that everyone who isn't a nun, priest, or Susan Boyle goes through. It should be documented and preserved for generations to come.

angel says: It's been twenty chapters without a kiss and the complaints are few. The readers want it but they support the story line before the action.

fiberkitty says: Chapters with lemons typically receive 1 1/2 to twice as many reviews as non-smutty chapters.

withthevampsofcourse says: Maybe in the beginning. I mean… the smut was how i got known, I think. But now… not so much. Grab 'em with fuckin', keep 'em with… err. I don't even know anymore. Sheer willpower?

Jfly/Thallium81 says: Personally, I think it’s the smut that draws in the big numbers. But, I’d rather have 20 reviews for a chapter -- 20 reviews that appreciate my writing or offer constructive criticism-- than 200 reviews of “OMG! THAT’S SO HAWT!!!” I don’t write a lot of sex, but I’ve noticed that the chapters with physical contact got the most reviews.

GinnyW says: It's a foregone conclusion, if the story is building up with UST, the moment that UST pops into full-blown lemons, the review count will skyrocket. However, there are plenty of stories (mine included) that are successful without the smut. Personally, I think that UST is more important that smut anyway.

So, what the ladies said about the citrus is interesting... I’m posting The Nymph and the Waterfall stats as an example. As you can see, there are certain “trends” in chapter reviews. For example, the climax of the story, chapter 29 (which doesn’t exactly have any smut) is second highest to the ending. But then chapter 16… Hmmm… I wonder what happens there? You’ll notice the reviews are never the same after that point, so yeah, the climax and “climaxes” will probably increase your review count.

Although my big note here is that repetitive lemons/limes cause this effect to disappear. Like GinnyW says, it’s about the culmination of UST.

7. Community
Mischief-maker1 says: I think that having a "hook" is a good idea. I mean, Stripper Bella? A lot of people started reading Miami at Twilight just to see if I'd fall flat of my face and then got hooked. Certainly "pimping" out your stories, (or having a friend do that for you) helps, but I got over a thousand reviews before I even became friends with anyone that could blog for me or put me onto the Twilighted threads, so I think your story and writing are key. I've also started mentoring some young writers and beta'ing them as well, even co-writing on occasion.

cdunbar says: I know I've gotten readers from being on the podcast because they tell me. And being a prominent name doesn't hurt either. It helps distinguish you from the hundreds (thousands?) of other writers. Thus, having someone with clout in the fandom pimp out your story does WONDERS for your readership. This doesn't mean you should harrass big-name authors to read your story, but it's a fact that many people don't like. Just, in general, having someone pimp out your story by word of mouth (ie, forums) is great because the more places you're recommended, the more likely someone will take notice and read. That's why banners and a forum thread are important because one, visual aids draw the people in and two, repetition is a great way to make sure your story's title or your penname becomes a long-term memory instead of a short-term one. Beyond that, honestly I don't know why some stories thrive and some fail. But don't give up if you haven't reached your stride. I doubt we'll be going anywhere anytime soon.

rialle says: Comments Nope. Mine had a substantial readership before I started doing anything community-esque, in fact it was BECAUSE it was 'popular' that I was asked to do those sort of things/ had the confidence to get involved (e.g. TLYDF, Temptation).

withthevampsofcourse says: There is absolutely no way I would have been well-read without Twilighted. None. And now… I’m everywhere. It must be annoying.

8. Genre
This is about knowing your fandom—and your demographic. The books are action/romance. Naturally, a great number of readers are going to be drawn to such fics. Also, know that most readers have strong opinions about what they like, whether it's angst, mystery, etc. Do not expect everyone to read your story, and don't be afraid to "pick a side."
GinnyW says: I would say 'low', however stories that tend to be tragedies or have no hope of 'happily ever after' tend to have lower readership and lower review counts, no matter the quality, and mine isn't a tragedy.

Bethaboo says: I don’t think that genre actually has much to do with it. I’ve seen stories that are fantastic garner a lot of reviews from all sorts of different genres. Actually, I’d say instead that a story will gain popularity if it does something to further revolutionize the genre it’s writing in. That could be mixing genres, that could be using a typical plot in a new way, which could even be addressing a particular subject in an in-depth way that hasn’t been really truly explored before.

9. Format
Fan fiction is sorta annoying in terms of its visual options. The two sentences paragraph or line has no elegance on cyber-screen. Writers deal with this in different ways. For example, for Lukewarm Alphabet houroflead and ThisColony asked their readers to adjust their screens to 1/2 viewing. Very clever. The story looks so much better that way. Minisinoo replies to reviews on FF, and urges readers to go over to her website, where the story is formatted appropriately. But in a great number of cases, reading FF stories is rather painful. When you read a book, it tends to be a horizontal process, but when you read fan fiction, it's all vertical. Thus, on FF, the two sentence paragraph looks awful. Having either more line breaks (gallantcorkscrews, jandco, isabel0329) or conversely thicker paragraphs (AG, fiberkitty) seems to help readers follow the flow of the story. Although… whether readers prefer dense paragraphs or shorter lines is a matter of opinion.

Then there’s also the “serial” nature of fan fiction. Some shit works better in doses, and others best downed in one foul swoop on a full stomach. Mystery, cliffies, and angst take on new traits when they’re serialized versus combined.
Claire/Rialle says: Is there an 'I don't know' button? I guess you'd describe my writing style as dense, but I don't know whether that puts people on or off my fic. I think the dense/loose debate depends on what you're writing. Dense works well with angst, loose with smut.

Houroflead says: As an author, even with a decent amount of reviews (feedback) its still hard to answer the question of why someone reads my story or what about it attracts them/makes them stick with it. For example, formatting, which is incredibly important to me and I do get some feedback on, but I couldn't really tell you how important it is to the average reader of my story. So that's simply a guess on importance. I'd like to say its entirely important that a story be written well in order for it to be successful - but we all know that simply isn't true.

Bethaboo says: I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again (or many more times, probably). We all LOVE the really dense, super meaty style. The style where you find yourself reading a certain paragraph over and over because it’s so god damned beautiful you want to weep. But yeah, most of us don’t have time to read these stories. It’s a cold hard truth that we’re busy and those short one-liner chapters (I love that TZ calls them “shopping list chapters”) are easier to read quickly. You can burn through a couple of updates in no time at all and leave a few reviews easily. There’s nothing to really contemplate. It’s kind of all laid out there in the writing. The denser material? I’m totally guilty of letting a chapter “sit” in my head for a few days and by then I’ve usually forgotten to review. Whoops.

Cdunbar says: I tend to use cliffies without meaning to because it makes sense for me to end the chapter there, but it leaves people anxious for the next chapter. Plus, something has to happen in the chapter for me to spend the time to write it, be it going on the first date or talking something out with a friend.

10. Multiple Fics
Yes, one hugely popular fic can help another “lesser popular” fic—or not.
cdunbar says: My first story has a third of the readership that RG has and I think that's because I found my 'voice' and style while writing RG. And DomEdward one-shots on your profile don’t hurt either.

AmericnxIdiot says: It's a little difficult to tell because I have two stories that are over the 1k review mark, and they are both completely different. "You Get Me Closer to God" didn't reach 1k until after my second story, "Cascade and Cyanide," did. Also, I don't think my second story would have gotten the attention it did if I hadn't written the significantly smuttier fic first. People love their smut. Oh, and recommendations from popular authors/blog recs/podcast mentions. That helps too.

Houroflead says: My second story (which only has 931 reviews so it doesn't meet your 1k mark) benefited GREATLY from being my second story. I just want to note that. The only reason my 1k story saw the light of day was because of community rec's. That is how I gauged it here.My second story (which only has 931 reviews so it doesn't meet your 1k mark) benefited GREATLY from being my second story. I just want to note that. The only reason my 1k story saw the light of day was because of community rec's. That is how I gauged it here.

withthevampsofcourse says: Well, it's like, the more you write, the more you're out there. I have many stories out there, but they all have a lot of hits. I am lucky that my first story is still well-read.

11. Chapter Length

Longer chapter often get more reviews, simply because there is more content to provoke readers into reviewing.
mischief-maker1 says: Ahhh…the chapter length. Well, it depends. I have stories with short chapters, long chapters and OH MY GOD! long chapters, so I don't think that it's AS important. You can easily say what you need to in a 2 K update, but it's all the sweeter when it's 6 K. The readers enjoy it more, though, there is a fine line between long and TOO long for a reader and you have to toe it very carefully.

Rialle says: My chapters range from 3,000 words to 9,000 & I think that makes people enjoy them more, especially when they have to wait so long to get one! People like to feel that they're getting something substantial that the author has spent time on. It makes what they're reading feel less like fanfiction and more like a real novel.

Angel says:I have some very long chapters and some smaller. I do get “complaints” about the smaller ones, but this could be due to the fact they KNOW I usually write longer ones.

12. Fandom waves
So, a fandom wave is when a certain really popular story starts an outbreak of similar stories. This was the case with Boycotts and Barflies launching AU-All Human in the fandom; The Teenage Angst Brigade launching a new wave of smut; and The Submissive unleashing a new wave of Sub/Dom fics.
withthevampsofcourse says: Baby, I don't ride trends. I start 'em.

acireamos says: There are a couple of library stories out now, but we were among the first to use that idea.

Angel says: I admit I felt a trend towards AU coming back and i pushed myself to get COH published as soon as I was comfortable. But I have been astounded by the reaction. Totally shocked.

houroflead says: Did nothing for me but can be the biggest factor for other people. If I were writing a D/s story right now I probably wouldn't even have to make it very good for it to be successful. But again, I gauged my survey answer with my own 1k story.

The Results:

Pen Name No. of 1k Stories Writing Speed Ch Length Format Content Genre Lemons Complete Multiple Fics Originality Trends Community
houroflead 22213324X2114
rialle 1313252111312
americnxidiot 2342253344323
halojones 3313222121511
blondie 14224.532123232
acireamos 1442135421311
fiberkitty 3443152554215
withthevampsofcourse 3422344314315
daddy's little cannibal 7444521151511
ninapolitan 1555555555545
cdunbar 1533442334413
mischief-maker1 3532242353312
thallium81/Jfly 1321243552452
GinnyW 13321521224X1
angstgoddess003 1353244341414
bethaboo 2232452553553
Pastiche Pen 2542434454314
Median: 2432242342.53.513


So, now that I've told you all of this, I'm going to go back to the grand beginning—where I told you reviews don't mean much of anything with regard to the quality of your writing or how you should regard yourself as an author. Because for the most part, it's all a heap of bullshit. Like big old ox caca.

If you're going to write, you should write because you want to write—because it's fun. You should write because you care about your characters. You should write because there's a story bouncing about in your head that demands your fingers attack the keyboard. You should write because it takes you to that happy place inside your brain, where the odd, vicious, scared, and corny can wrestle out life's puzzles in full abandon.

And yet, you're like, but I love my story soooo much that I want other people to read it!!!

Sigh. Thus, the reason I write these articles...?

Pastiche Pen is a propagator of fanfic reader and writer love and a fellow believer in fandom hippie values. You can find her here. Go review her. Become her friend and others, because she would agree that it's all about spreading the love. But not that big, grossly gratifying inbred orgy love. That's just wrong.

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