Fanfiction Status Update, and a few thoughts on why we never see REALLY big fight scenes in literature…

Hi! It’s been a while. I know traditionally, I’m supposed to make excuses, but really, we all have lives, so you already know what kept me.

I’ve recently finished the last chapter of the first arc of the 2814 series, complete with epilogue. You can find it here.

To be brief, Takamachi Nanoha from the series finds a Green Lantern ring— or technically, is found by one— a few days before the start of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Hilarity, as the saying goes, ensues.

I hope you find it enjoyable. Writing this fanfic has certainly taught me a lot of the difficulties of writing large group scenes, especially large group action scenes, which probably explains why most climactic battles are one-one-one. Explains why we only get flashes of battles during Deathly Hallows. JK Rowling would have likely gone nuts trying to write everyone’s fight, especially in real time, at the same time. Lets leave that to movies like The Avengers.

The World’s Most Popular Fanfic, Part 1: The Introduction

I WAS going to talk about religion here, but even I don’t need to be prophetic to hear the boos, hisses, flames and assassination decrees that are going to be sent my way should I try that, so…

Ahem! Today, we are going to discuss one of the world’s most popular, much studied, much loved, often riffed, ripped, outright stolen, and highly symbol-laden works of fanfiction that a major belief system and the devotion of literally billions of people through the course of human history doesn’t center around (that I know of, though you never can tell with the British). Because I said I wouldn’t be going religious here. Seriously, I’m not going there.

It’s one of the most well-heard-of (as opposed to well known) bodies of myth in the world. It’s got everything! Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles, the promise of salvation and return, sex, violence, incest, madness, the chosen one who will save all, fathers, brothers, mothers, women who share similar names leading to much confusion as to their role and significance, the Holy Grail, death, going forth incognito, boys raised by men not their fathers, people not dying if they are killed as is the way it ought to be, a famous leader and his band of loyal followers, a traitor among the band of followers whose betrayal leads to the leaders death…

I was talking about the Arthurian Myths. What were you thinking about?

I say “most-well-heard-of” as opposed to “well-known”, because while people have heard of the stories, not many know what the stories are. They know who Arthur is, what his sword is called, where he lived, how he became king, what shape his table is, that old guy Merlin, and the names of maybe one or two knights, three if they’re lucky (and Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film doesn’t count). How much of what you know doesn’t come from a movie or Kinoko Nasu’s works? Or, heaven forbid, Monty Python. Nothing against those guys, but it’s kinda said theirs is the best researched Arthurian film I can think of.

Random trivia: did you know Sir Lancelot can’t climb trees? Apparently, he was so busy training to be a badass knight as a kid he never got around to learning…

Arthurian myth is an extensive tangle of confusion, not the least of which because it’s gone on for at least a thousand years. Talk about long-runners. Undocumented Features has NOTHING on it. It’s also one of the most confusing fandoms/series of all time. Seriously, it has full-time scholars work on it, that’s how much study it needs to make sense. Most series can make do with a wiki. The fact it’s a confusing mess is not surprising, considering all the writers that have had a hand in shaping it, and that’s just before the 20the century. Technically speaking, some of the great contributors to Arthurian Myth in the 20th/21st century are Monty Python (COWER, MERE MORTALS!), Sean Connery, Mel Brooks, Richard Gere (middle name ‘Tiffany’, seriously, I kid you not), Disney (good animation, bad adaptation), Keira Knightley (a strangely apropos name), and my personal favorites, Urobuchi Gen and Kinoko Nasu.

Seriously, I heart Nasu’s addition to the mythos. Who would you rather have as King Arthur…

This Guy...

This Guy…

… this guy…

… this guy here, who I’m not sure appeared in any other movie…

… this guy, who in my mind never becomes more than “Captain”…

… or her?

I pick her.… but that’s just me. She’s got character development. The evolution from a ‘perfect’ king to a well-rounded person is one of the best arcs in fiction ever.

Sturgeon’s Law, Self-Publishing, And What It Means For The ‘Hard’ Fanfic Writer

So, I’m new to blogging, and wanting to increase circulation of my little self-agrandizing rants, have gone around to look for blogs that I’d enjoy reading and commenting on their posts. In doing so, I stumbled upon a series of blogs by David Gaughran which eventually led to a series of blogs on other sites about the traditional publishers vs the Ebooks publishers, etc. Many were a year old, but as things in that industry are still in flux, I consider them relevant. I particularly liked the one about the Tsunami of Crap. I read a very interesting article by one Michael Stackpole. I particularly liked the one about Self-Publishing Myth #1: You Will Never Make Any Money. And the more I read about self-publishing, the more I thought: “I already know this”.

I’m not being annoying. I don’t mean this in the self-important, know-it-all way of someone who has heard it all before and someone is belaboring an ‘As You Know, But Might Need To Be Reminded’ bit of exposition from an old Asimov short story. I mean I know. I have practical experience with this, or at least something very like it that resonates in the trauma scars on my soul. And if you’ve ever written Fanfiction on, or any place with a reader feedback system, whether it be reviews or comments or kudos, so do you.

Unless you’re in Japan and are marketing doujinshi, Fanfiction should not, in theory, be subject to market forces. No one buys your fanfics. No one is paying you to write them, whatever some of your readers believe (well… there’s one guy I know, but he’s an exception. The guy paying him is a brony, and even by devoted fandom standards, they can be a bit much…). There is no economy built around fanfics, no supply and demand (except, of course, for the aforementioned doujinshi). You are not fighting for market share. You’re just kids and the occasional sad old guy wasting his potential by writing about other people’s works instead of making your own.

To which, I answer: LIES! IGNORANT LIES!

Fanfiction, believe it or not, can be very cutthroat (but that’s a story for another time). People think we write fanfics for fun. That it’s all about ten to nineteen year-olds putting up childish stories about how Superman becomes their best friend, or how they keep their neighbor Peter Parker from being bitten by a spider, only to be bitten themselves and becoming Spider-Man or whatever.

Right. And Ebook publishing is all about cheap erotica.

For all the lack of capital being transferred from fanficwriters to readers (who are often writers themselves), the structure and problems faced by Ebook authors in marketing their books is surprisingly similar to that faced by fledgling fanfic writers who’ve posted their first story and are looking for readers and, most importantly, what substitutes for money as the currency of choice in the fanfic world: reviews.

Reviews are encouragement, critique, support, and addictive drug rolled into one little 5-7kb email message, and are the standard of transaction in lieu of money, the scorecard by which fanfic writers measure their success, followed secondly by Faves and Follows (or equivalent thereof. I’m an ffnet boy, and even those who aren’t anymore are familiar with the terminology. For those who aren’t, the meaning should be self-evident). They are, in a very real way, a mark of why we publish what we write instead of tucking them away and only shyly showing them to people we think might get it, of what we’re after: readership.

Reviews don’t come from a vacuum. They only come about if SOMETHING in your fanfic speaks to the reader on whatever level. Whether it makes them laugh so hard chips get lodged in their nose and they have to leave the library from being so loud (my preferred reaction to invoke), it makes them tear up, they find your writing witty, or just that you presented them with an interesting idea or point of view, or perhaps took what was old and shined it and made it new and interesting again… do one of these things, and maybe one will leave a review.

However, to be reviewed, we need to be read. And that’s where the similarity between fanfiction and Ebook self-publishing REALLY sets in…

There is a law. TvTropes calls it Sturgeon’s Law. Summed up, it says 90% of anything— books, Ebooks, fanfics, scifi, tv shows, etc— is crud. Crap. No good. You get the idea. And even if you think your fanfic is in the 10% worth reading, it might not be immediately obvious. For one thing, your summary of the fic (the equivalent of the non-critics raves text in the back of a softcover book) might be boring or unappealing, making no one want to read it. Or your title might be stupid or badly punctuated, making no one want to read it. Or your story might be formatted badly, making no one want to read it. You get the idea.

All these problems sound familiar?

A part of me wants to bask in how the Fanfiction community managed to become a microcosm of the Ebook self-publishing phenomenon a full EIGHT YEARS (at least) before it actually happened. And if more than half my life reading fanfics and looking at how the modern incarnation of the fanfiction community has come about has anything to say, it is this: you know that state we’re in now in Ebook self-publishing? Tons of crappy erotica, a few good books that rise to become famous, hundreds out of thousands (adjust for size of population) of authors managing to carve out niches and devoted readers for themselves with their wit and distinctive style out of the sea of crap, and some even managing that most holy of grails, that of publishing their stories in hard copy…?

That’s going to be the norm.

(Which, actually, if you look at it, is not really so different from the state of publishing and authors more than a hundred years ago. Who’d have pegged Arthur Conan Dolye’s Sherlock Holmes as lasting this long?)

Seeing all this, as someone trying to get into self-publishing myself (just got to get around to finish that dang-blasted self-editing!), really fills me with a perverse glee (apologies for my language getting so archaic). I look around and see a battlefield I know. There very real, and new, dangers (my Fanfiction account wasn’t worth hacking, but I can’t say the same of my Paypal account), and we’re playing for real stakes now, though I suppose in some part of my heart I will still regard reviews as the mother currency. And though it might be delusion on my part, I can’t help but feel I have an edge. I KNOW how to have my story get someone’s attention as the scroll down a long row of seemingly identical entries. I know how to spread word I’ve published something new, in places where who I am carries some weight, were it even has a positive reputation! Heck, I even have a following, of sorts. I… I actually have good reason to be optimistic. I’m psychologically prepared. I have experience.

And, my fellow fanfic writers, so do all of you.

We’ve been here. Though the country is new and harsher, we know this battlefield, have fought these battles many times! I, personally, know of several writers who’d could be juggernauts. Overmaster, who’s writing speed is without peer! He’d be faster if he didn’t have me slowing him down. Immi, the mistress of the genuinely creepy mood and playing the heart strings. S’tarkan, who is eminent in the TWO most prolific fandoms alive, and bows to no one as a better.

Sorry, haven’t eaten yet. I might be going a little nuts.

A Paradigm With Which To Function: Definitions Used Within These Thesi— er, Blog Entries

Sorry, a flashback to my thesis there for a moment. Thank goodness I stopped in time. I’m not really sure how you’re supposed to conjugate the plural form of thesis. Thesises? Thesisae? Thesie? Thesise?

On to the definition. ‘Fanfiction’ is a bit of a fluid term, subject to some debate if you really think about it. Debate, because we are trying to be academic and it is not academic to use terms such as ‘nitpicking’, ‘rules-lawyering’, and ‘legalistic gobbledegook’. Certainly, everything in, which is to be our primary source of materials for analysis, can easily be classed under this, but that’s not all we’ll be speaking of. Are adaptations fanfic? Does this mean the movie ‘Romeo Must Die‘ is a fanfic of ‘Romeo and Juliet’? Are ‘Sherlock‘ and ‘Elementary‘ fanfics of Sherlock Holmes? What about every Sherlock Holmes movie ever not based on the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle?

In these blogs, I will be regarding Fanfiction in roughly two groups: ‘Hard Fanfiction’, which are Fanfics written by those in no way related and authorized by the root creator of the fandom or source material in which the fanfic is based; and ‘Soft Fanfic’, which is anything written for a fandom by anyone NOT the original, root writer/creator of that fandom, but with their authorization, whether verbal (in spirit, but won’t stand up in court) or legal (they never met, but the guy signed a paper at some point that in some convoluted way says it’s okay). In legalistic terms, you can make money off ‘Soft Fanfiction’, but woe betide you if you try to do so with ‘Hard Fanfiction’. This is going by the western perspective, since in Japan, you’re perfectly free to flog all the fan manga/doujinshi you want. Hopefully, the woefully outdated west will be mature enough to adapt these more enlightened practices, which is really much better for the capitalist model they insist on both shunning and embracing.

Even as I write this down, I realize that this is a very loose and problematic definition. Sure, there are public domain materials you’re allowed to flog: Sherlock Holmes, Dracula (Mickey Mouse too if Disney wasn’t so… Disney), but in each instance, you will inevitably be in the shadow of the Titan that is THE original. Think you can live up to that?

An Examination Of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo. (Inter)National Novel Writing Month. Or, as I like to call it, No One Writes Fanfic November.

What, were you expecting it to fit the acronym? What a quaint assumption.

And before I go on a random tangent about acronyms, let me just say that NaNoWriMo, other than sounding like a really strange Nanoha pairing when said out loud, is an absolutely great idea. Anything that encourages writing, thereby reinforcing basic literacy skills, imagination, creativity, and all that good stuff, is to be highly commended. There’s nothing like the beautiful sense of accomplishment of putting together more than 50,000 words and calling it a novel (and probably leaving it at that, since who wants to go through the hassle of shopping for publishers, setting up paypal accounts to try and publish it yourself as an ebook, editting, trying to put a cover on it, getting an ISBN number…).

That said, NaNoWriMo pretty much kills off the progress of most of the good fanfiction writers for a month, which really sucks.

It’s not even a great intellectual leap. The goods ones are those who see what they’re doing as a craft, an art, and gain great personal enjoyment from it. Most harbor, in their abnormal, unspeakable, blasphemous, ominous, chaotic, (other Lovecraftian adjectives), shipping, cracky little hearts of theirs, the dream of doing this for a living, of actually being PAID to do what they like especially when said like is an indoor activity with no heavy lifting or having to answer a phone every ten minutes, of being the next Cassandra Clare (who wrote Harry Potter Fanfiction before she made it big) or E.L. James (who took what was originally a Twilight Fanfic, rewrote it, and made a big fat stack of money and LIFE IS JUST NOT FAIR!!!!!). Thus, when an ‘event’ like NaNoWriMo occurs, they naturally gravitate towards it, seeing it as a challenge to all the skills they’ve honed (and really, once you have the characters and worlds established, it’s all plotting ability and writing skill, BABEH!).

This, of course, has the utterly predictable and quite depressing side-effect of having their fanfics (and therefore, their fanfic readers) quite neglected. And I suppose we shouldn’t really complain (though we will anyway, you can bet your shapely callipygian we will), because hey, who knows, maybe one of them WILL turn out to be the next Cassandra Clare or E.L.James. and they’ll break out an awesome series filled with exactly the stuff we like because, hey, they’re one of us, from our roots, and it will be Legen— wait for it— dary, and we’ll be writing fanfiction about their characters, and they’re finally going to be able to live the dream of writing a ‘fanfic’ with the disclaimer reading “I own everything and everyone in this story. Yeah, you read that right, this is mine, all mine, BWAHAHAHAHA! And all this is canon, baby! Especially the lemon scenes!” (Okay, maybe not, but I TOTALLY intend to write fanfics with that in my disclaimer when I make it big), thereby causing one to consider the philosophical conundrum: if you write about an intellectual property that’s legally yours on a fanfiction site, is it still really a fanfic?

Hmm, was that a sidetrack, or was I being long-winded (typed?) again?

Anyway, my metaphorical hat is off to my frantically writing Wrimo bretheren and sisteren pounding away on their keyboards and who I TOTALLY intend to join next year (really I do, really, it’s just I was super busy this year, and now that it’s the third of November I’m way behind, but definitely next year…). May you all reach that not-really-all-that-elusive-and-definitely-no-doorstopper-much-less-a-Wheel-Of-Time-book-50,000-words-mark, and I’d just like to say: “IMMI, SEREG, PLEASE FINISH SOON SO YOU CAN GET BACK TO WRITING NEGIMA!”

This is Shadow, signing off…

Enter Freely, And Of Your Own Will…

Dracula said that, I think. I find it quite ironic. In the vampire literature at the time (where HAS the century gone?), an integral part of vampire lore was the concept of invitation. Specifically, a vampire could not enter a home without being invited inside. Hollywood has since, of course, removed this weakness, as it made for difficult slasher movies (how can the vampire kill you if all you need to do is stay inside and not let anyone in?) replacing it with the seemingly equally sucky power of ‘sparkling’, but it’s one that’s usually remembered by those who do their research (like, say, Jim Butcher or Joss Whedon).

Huh? Oh, right, the irony. Essentially, Dracula wasn’t inviting anyone in. He was telling them that if they could come in they may. The perfect greeting to test if one were a vampire. It implicitly gives invitation without explicitly doing so, thus providing an elegant way to weed out the undead from your visitors.

Thus, I extend to you the same invitation. Enter freely and of your own will. Not that I suspect any of you of being hordes of the undead, but you never know.

Have you entered? Yes? No problems getting in, I hope? Then, I welcome you to the Shadow Tower, a place for critical literary analysis of that most maligned and unacademic of literary forms, Fanfiction. Seriously, comic books get more respect than fanfiction, even though Fanfiction is older, and filled with such respectable examples as Arthurian Legend, Fairy Tales, Religious Apocrypha (at LEAST), mythology in every part of the world, and all known forms of oral tradition. Seriously, think about it.

I will be doing reviews, recommendations, critique and commentary on recent and bygone trends, the aforementioned analysis… and sometimes (okay, probably a lot of the time) fun, crack, lists and funny quotes. And probably pimp out my attempts at books too, but let’s not get into that.

So please, follow me (hopefully literally and figuratively) into the slightly twisted, often strange, ever-creative, and surprisingly intelligent and erudite world of fanfiction.

And remember… if they can’t go through the door without being invited, break out the crosses.