View Full Version : The Fanfiction Forum E-zine ~ September 2008

2nd September 2008, 08:59 AM
The Writers’ Lounge

Many events have taken place at the Writers’ Lounge lately. The Quote of the Day thread has exploded into success, the Fanfic Trivia Game has enjoyed a revival in popularity, and it was the venue for the 2008 Silver Pencil Awards, where all our members ate, drink and were merry (congratulations to all involved, especially Dragonfree for the Awards Award). We normally think of the Writers’ Lounge as the subforum at the top of Fanfic where blocked writers lurk, but in reality, all of Fanfic’s a Writers’ Lounge, and all the men and women its directors. It’s a place for us to share our fics, but also for us to share ideas and thoughts freely – where members’ ideas come to life. In this vein, last month we held our first Fanfic Writing Sprint, where participants were able to respond to a set topic in free form, free from judgment. The idea proved successful, drawing in a large number of participants and spectators. We also have the Hall of Fame, which is once again open for nomination, to acknowledge those who have contributed most to this forum. And of course, we have this e-zine, written specially for you.

This month brings to you:

Conversations with the Stars ~ Darien Shields
Lady Vulpix
Moderators Are... (Part 3)
Beyond the Score: The Measure of Success

So sit back in the Writers’ Lounge, prop your feet up on a cushion, grab yourself a mug of complimentary coffee or tea, and enjoy.

Conversations with the Stars ~ Darien Shields
Lady Vulpix

Lady Vulpix: How long have you been writing?
Darien Shields: Hmmm. I always have to think about that. I'm terrible at keeping track.
But it must have been... at least five years, maybe six or seven.
I'm almost twenty now and I started out on TPM when I was under 15, I think.

Lady Vulpix: Did you post your first works on TPM, or were you writing before that?
Darien Shields: I posted on TPM first. Back in the old days I was drawn to the site for obvious reasons- I played pokémon and it had good information. This'd be in the GSC days, I think. TPM had the best pokédex on the web or something along those lines. I spent most of my time in the GSC forums looking for tips and generally being young and stupid.

Lady Vulpix: Stupid?
Darien Shields: I remember reading some of the old fics actually posted on the site (this was before the main site died and was reborn several times, IIRC), and I particularly like this one- I can't remember a lot of names now- but it was about a Pidgeot that was terribly mistreated by its trainer all its life...

Lady Vulpix: What did you like about it?
Darien Shields: Yeah. Anyway, that fic I mentioned, it ended with the trainer (It might have been Gary from the series, but I can't remember) confessing his lifelong regrets and then dying with the Pidgeot in his arms. At the time I thought it was just about the most sentimental thing I ever read. I think that's what prompted me to poke my head into the Fic Forum and start reading.
Darien Shields: (and then later writing)

Lady Vulpix: Oh! So... have you always liked stories about suffering and tortured characters?
Darien Shields: Ahaahahahahhah.
No, not really. I'm not big on sado-masochism.
These days I'd probably get bored with overly teary stories.

Lady Vulpix: Then what if I tell you that your "light read" was not a light read at all? ;)
Darien Shields: *scratches head* my "light read"?

Lady Vulpix: http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=17113
Darien Shields: Ah, that. Yeeeah, sorry if it was overly dark or depressing, it was supposed to just be a prologue that... I dunno, whet the appetite.
I never have the attention span for those sorts of things though. Every so often I'm filled with the urge to write some sort of ninety chapter epic, and invariably I get about nine pages in and get bored.
At least as far as pokémon goes.

Lady Vulpix: Have you tried writing short stories?
Darien Shields: Yeah, with varying degrees of success.
Really, I've had varying degrees of success with just about every length of story.
I wrote a sci-fi story recently that, err, I am of the understanding, is actually novel length. (around 60,000 words)

Lady Vulpix: What was it about?
Darien Shields: Erk, now you're asking.
It was about space pirates in a whimsical Universe where magic and science co-exist, but not peacefully. That probably sounds absolutely hideous, which is why I hate summarising these things. The comedic tone is definitely what I'd put the emphasis on...

Lady Vulpix: Ah... And what did you do with it?
Darien Shields: I err... wrote it? If you mean like, posting it or whatever, well, I've shared it with some friends and family to see whether it's any good or not. Got some people proofreading it, and very vaguely hoping to have a bash at publishing it.

Lady Vulpix: But you haven't tried, or have you?
Darien Shields: I haven't tried yet, no. It's awkward because to get into publication you need to get an agent, and to attract the attention of an agent it's good to have a portfolio of published works- like short stories submitted to magazines. And, well, I've got precisely Zero of those.

Lady Vulpix: Oh.
Darien Shields: But once I've redrafted it I'll have a shot.

Lady Vulpix: That's good to hear.
Darien Shields: (this is of course complicated by the fact that I'm leaving the country in a month and won't be back for the better part of a year, but oh well!)

Lady Vulpix: What about TPM? You've come and gone a few times. Why was that so, and what does it feel like to come back?
Darien Shields: About once a year I get this urge to write pokémon fan fiction. I don't know why. It's like something in the blood, I guess. And I hammer out a chapter or two and moonlight on the forums, and then disappear again when the urge leaves me.
Part of it is because I think the TPM fiction forum is the best writer's community I've been in to date, and although I've been writing a lot since I've never really felt that I was in a good constructive atmosphere as much as when I was there.

Lady Vulpix: Aww. :3
What can you tell us about your involvement in other aspects of the TPM Fanfic community?
Darien Shields: Well, I remember, when I was first on TPM being eternally annoyed at what I perceived to be "low activity".
I always thought there weren't enough people on the boards posting enough stuff.
(sometimes I got that "grass is always greener" feeling and thought that maybe those devils over at Serebii.net were stealing away all our best and brightest!)
This is one of those "young and stupid" things, though, I think, and if I were about now I'd just have been happy with the way things were. At the time I think I tried any number of stupid ideas to get stuff happening.
Uhhh, I believe I, ummm... I might have... well you can correct me if I'm wrong here, but I might have started this... is this for the E-Zine?
'Cause I started one of those (and gave it such a horrible name, too. E-Zine indeed), and got all of two or three issues out before my attention span ran out.

Lady Vulpix: Hehehe. Yes, this is for the E-Zine indeed, and no one's complaining about the title that I know of.
Do you consider it a stupid idea?
Darien Shields: Hmmm. It was probably one of the less stupid ones, actually.
The stupid part was thinking that I had the attention span to keep it together for any decent period of time.

Lady Vulpix: Have you read anything on the forum lately?
Darien Shields: Hum, let me see...
I poked my head around a few months back (it was just a few months back, right...) the last time I was around.
Whole lotta Yugi-Oh fics.
That is...
There are a whole lot of them.
I didn't read any of them. Not a big fan of Yugi-Oh.
I read a chapter of ... what's it called... "the af:aduhashaishduahdiahsiuh chronicles"? Something along those lines.

Lady Vulpix: The af;lkjglk;uer Chronicles (http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=16816)
Darien Shields: Didn't much care for the sort of ADHD style of writing in it.
Yeah that's the one.
I think that it's a lot of random humour along the lines of cut-away gags, which work best when there's something good to cut away from.
Oh, and I read most of Mr Pikachu's documentary on fanfiction, which was a really really good, insightful read.

Lady Vulpix: Oh, I was just about to ask you if you were always such a severe critic.
Darien Shields: Preeetty much.
I calls 'em like I sees 'em. I'm a whale biologist.
(sorry, sorry, just my little joke)
I'm not good at the whole... pulling punches thing.

Lady Vulpix: So, how do the whales normally react to you?
Darien Shields: Oh, they hate me pretty much.

Lady Vulpix: Then why don't you try phrasing what you think in a way that can help them rather than hurt them?
Hold on, lemme see what I actually said to this guy...
Darien Shields: "I started trying to read this, but couldn't get very far in... I'm actually a fan of humourous fiction, but I believe that a very important part humour to be contrast. Being "off the wall" is great, but there needs to be a wall in the first place for you to be... off of. Constant ADHD just makes the whole thing a bit of a wash. If you took bits and pieces of this and inserted them into a more serious narrative I think it'd be much funnier."
Do you think that's hurtful?

Lady Vulpix: Hmm... I guess it may or may not be, depending on who reads it.
Darien Shields: I mean, I don't have a lot of gauge for these things so I can't say.
On the Darien scale of things, that's pretty mild.

Lady Vulpix: Have you ever received hurtful criticism for your writings?
Darien Shields: Hmmm.
Not nearly as many as I'd have liked.

Lady Vulpix: You'd have LIKED it? And you say you're not into masochism?
Darien Shields: I've received criticisms. Certainly Mr Pikachu is always there with a red pen to point out the big grammatical short callings.
Good criticism is the way to improve.
If someone can accurately and succinctly point out failings that you yourself weren't aware of, then that's -

Lady Vulpix: That's not supposed to be hurtful.
I mean hurtful in the "your work sucks, quit writing" sense.
Darien Shields: Ahhh.
Nah, I don't think so. I thought you were meaning more along the lines of "The inconsistencies in the protagonist's character, when paired with what is, quite frankly, weak and unrealistic dialogue, condemn this fic in my eyes."

Lady Vulpix: That's a more wordy way of putting it... >_>
Darien Shields: Heh.

Lady Vulpix: Where was that from?
Darien Shields: Eh? Nothing in particular, I just made it up.
But, you know. If there are inconsistencies in the main character that's something a writer should address ^_~

Lady Vulpix: Indeed. But I think that shouldn't necesarily condemn the fic. There may still be hope.
Darien Shields: There's a saying I'm quite fond of.
Well, not so much a saying as a quote... it's from some silly episode of Star Trek, I think, but I quite like it

Lady Vulpix: What is it?
Darien Shields: "Sometimes when a house is infested with termites, it just gets so bad that you have to tear the house down and start from scratch"
And sometimes- sometimes- you have to do that in writing.
Sometimes a story is so riddled with flaws that you have to say "You know what? This one ain't worth saving"

Lady Vulpix: I guess that depends on how far the infestation has gone. If every flaw was a good enough reason to scrap the story, nothing would ever get published (or even posted online).
Darien Shields: Oh, yeah, exactly.
In fact, a lot of the time I think it's easier to write something new and improved than re-write something old.
Darien Shields: So a lot of the time when I'm giving or taking criticism it should be along the lines of
"You had this problem in your story- don't have it in your next one"

Lady Vulpix: Anyway, this was supposed to be your interview... We've strayed a lot, haven't we?
Darien Shields: Heh, we have, haven't we?

Lady Vulpix: Ok, so what do you like reading?
Darien Shields: Out of Fan-Fiction, regular people books, or both?

Lady Vulpix: Both.
Darien Shields: Well, my tastes change a lot. I prefer Fantastic stuff, you know? Stuff where you can tell that the author has this huge creative drive. So Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Although I don't much like generic stuff in either. I read some Warcraft novels recently (I'm a total Warcraft buff, even pre-World) and one of them was just drivel. It was like, two hundred pages of "Pretty Elf Pretty Elf Big Dragon Pretty Elf Pretty Elf...". The other one, "Last Guardian" is good and I'd recommend it. But anyway, recently I've been gravitating towards comedy most of all. The Discworld books by Terry Pratchet, and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
As far as Fan Fiction goes, I prefer the original character stuff. Especially things that are really different from the original, like, err... Pokémon Perspective stories are always good.
I remember my absolute favourite fic back in the day was...
Gawd, I can't remember the name.
It was from the perspective of a Magikarp
Do you know it?

Lady Vulpix: Hmm... Not really, but you could try the "searching for a fic" thread.
Darien Shields: It was really really good. It was about this Magikarp wandering around on the ocean floor.
But that was "Part 1" and eventually the story went to "Part 2"
Darien Shields: And... Part 2 was about this bizarro society of integrated humans and... Mewtwos.

Lady Vulpix: >_>
Darien Shields: I think it was a big tie-in with another fic series.
I didn't like that much at all, I can tell you...
(It seemed a bit furry)

Lady Vulpix: A crossover?
Darien Shields: Nah, I think it was more like a sequel or something.
I think it petered out a while later.
I fell out with the author too, come to think of it.

Lady Vulpix: Do you remember who the author was?
Darien Shields: Hmmmmm.
All I remember was that she was a Born Again Christian. That's why we fell out. She IMed me out of the blue one day and started talking about faith. And after we'd argued for like, an hour, I asked what the heck she wanted in the first place and she just said,m "I am a Fisher of Men". I think that's the last time we ever spoke ^_^;;
I can't remember her name now.
I'll check my old TPM correspondances
See if there's anything in there.

Lady Vulpix: It's ok, it's not really important.
Darien Shields: Acht, it was too long ago.
But she was a good writer. It was a shame.
The other fic I read a lot of was TEL
Err, that's The Emerald League, I don't know if anything else has the same initials these days.
It was a really solidly written trainer fic. I remember really liking it.

Lady Vulpix: :)
Are you writing anything these days?
Darien Shields: Yeah. Recently I've adopted a new discipline where I write for an hour uninterrupted every day.
Sometimes I write garbage, sometimes I write gold (well, at least, I think I do). Varies from day to day. It's definitely helped with my attention span.
Like I said before I wrote that long sci-fi story. I finished that about a month ago, maybe, I've just been dabbling since then. Tried to write something Steam Punk but didn't get a good vibe from it.

Lady Vulpix: That's an interesting technique. How did you come up with it?
Darien Shields: Like all good things in writing, I Stole it.
Well, stole might be putting it a little strongly. I read this book, Stephen King's "On Writing", which is full of good advice.
About 50% of it rang true with what I already felt as a writer, and the other 50% was head smackingly obvious stuff that I shoulda figured out ages ago.
Like writing for an hour every day.

Lady Vulpix: Heh.
Darien Shields: It's a great book, and I'd recommend it for anyone who's interested in writing seriously.
Even if you don't like Stephen King.
(And I don't think I do, after trying to read The Stand)

Lady Vulpix: How do you start something new?
Darien Shields: I click the "New" button on Google Documents.
Okay, that's a big glib.
But seriously, I find that the less ceremony the better.
If you spend too much time plotting out how awesome your next epic is going ot be in advance, you end up getting bored before you've even started. Writing is all about Strike while the Metal's Hot! And if you start fresh without preconceptions, except maybe "this one's gonna start with a dragon!" or "this one's gonna start with a gunfight!" then the metal is all the hotter.

Lady Vulpix: You write everything on Google Docs?
Darien Shields: I write pretty much everything in Google Docs. It's really damn convenient.
I used to use Open Office, but Google Documents is definitely the best for sharing.
I like to get people to proofread what I write these days, so usually I share stuff on Google Docs with them along the way, and it works pretty well. No hassle of finding another service or site to privately share it on.
And it saves like, every five seconds.
So it's hard to lose any content.

Lady Vulpix: Good point.
Darien Shields: And I can delete stuff with impunity, since it keeps old revisions.

Lady Vulpix: </end advertisement> ;)
Ok, so do you have any final words of advice for the people on the Fanfic forum?
Darien Shields: Hmmmm.
This is when I should get epic and find something to quote. "Surpass the Impossible, and Kick Reason to the Curb! That's our Gurren-Dan!"
But I guess that doesn't really apply here ^_^;
I think I'll settle for quoting that Writing book I mentioned earlier.
"Read a Lot, Write a Lot", that's the Golden Rule of writing. Everyone would do well to remember that.
And I guess that's it ^_^;

Lady Vulpix: Thank you.
Darien Shields: You're more than welcome. It was fun. Sorry if I blabbed on too long.

Lady Vulpix: On the contrary, I think it'll make it more interesting for the readers. :)
Darien Shields: Be sure to drop me a line when this month's zine is done.
I should really pay more visits to TPM.

Moderators Are... (Part 3)

For the first few years of my time on TPM, my profile said “Occupation: Fanfiction Moderator Wannabe.” Naturally, when the heads of Fanfic surprised me with a promotion, I had to change that; my “occupation” became “Fanfiction Moderator” (and later, once I was modded elsewhere, “TPM Moderator”).

Like it or not, however, this story illustrates a common misconception that many of us have about moderation on TPM. You have your Fanfiction moderators, your Classic Generation moderators, your Other Anime moderators, your Anime Style Battle moderators, and so forth, with a few individuals who lead multiple areas. It seems pretty clear. When you're modded in a forum, you manage that forum. Nothing more, nothing less.



Moderators Are Jacks-of-all-Trades

Let's be clear about something, first of all. A moderator's first duty is always to his or her own forum (or forums). If there was ever a conflict between, say, Fanfic and TCG, guess which one would take precedence for your friendly neighborhood mods? You can thank us later.

(A word to the wise: “conflicts” between forums never really happen. Except once. We totally won that one. Booyah!)

A Fanfic mod is a Fanfic mod, first and foremost. That's not the extent of a moderator's duties, though. Not by a long shot. We are all staff members of TPM. Sometimes it takes more than one forum working together to accomplish big things.

Some of you may have noticed the most recent example. Remember when we had all those spam-happy members running around the forum, re-registering and trying to trash the place over and over again? I won't get into the technical details, but all of the staff basically went to war with them for a month.

Certain staff members were limited in what they could do; it would be bad, after all, if every one of us had instant banning power. Imagine the flame wars that might develop if disgruntled debaters tried to blast their adversaries off the forum.

Still, we all had a part to play. Some of us promptly locked and deleted threads within our own respective jurisdictions. Those of us who were most active scoured the forums for harmful activity and promptly reported every attack we found. A few of the staff even went on the technical side and starting bolstering our defenses to prevent attacks before they could start. It was an all-out battle that finally resulted in our victory last week.

Our success would have been impossible if we had maintained the divisions between forums. In that case, everyone from PCG to RPG and from Advanced Generation to Miscellaneous worked as one cohesive unit, filling multiple roles.

Your Fanfiction moderators, I might add, were some of the most valiant combatants around. Why do you think so few of the attacks were directed at us? Because we cleaned up every mess instantly, that's why.

Very rarely do forums quarrel with one another. Sometimes, however, we'll witness fights between moderators in the same forum as they argue over management issues. (I am happy to say that I have never experienced this with the Fanfic mods. We're a good group.) These battles span a wide range of degrees, from mild tangles to full-on screaming matches. At that point you have two options: step in and help resolve the problem or sit back and watch with a bucket of popcorn. The choice each of us makes depends on the situation.

Cooperation doesn't just depend on conflict, though. Sometimes, as strange as it may sound, we actually choose to work with other forums. You may have heard about the TPM TCG, which has been discussed around the forums. While the Fanfic moderators let others take the helm on that project, we have assisted from the sidelines, providing new ideas and assisting in the card and gameplay development process. It's the TPM TCG, after all, not the Only-This-Forum-Because-Nobody-Else-Is-Willing-To-Help-Us TCG.

Furthermore, when someone is promoted to the position of moderator, he or she depends heavily on the other staff members to offer guidance and support while getting used to the new responsibilities.

To a certain extent, that means talking solely with your colleagues in your own forum. When I was modded, I engaged in a lot of conversations with my new teammates, as they would be my closest peers for years to come. Other moderators wouldn't have understood certain Fanfic concerns, like “How do we deal with plagiarism?” and “What do we do for the Writing Contests?”

Still, it can be helpful to get other perspectives. On very rare occasions, a new forum will be created and someone will be assigned to lead it. Drawing on the experience of colleagues doesn't work in such situations, so new mods have to go elsewhere for advice. For that matter, even the most experienced mods often ask for outside input anyway. “What do you guys think of changing this to that?” The reactions of moderators outside our department give us an idea of what Fanfic as a whole might think.

Moderator interactions even help us in day-to-day vigilance. If a member starts stirring up trouble, all the moderators know about it, not just the ones where the trouble began. Such information helps us protect all the forums from needless fighting – debate is useful at times, but we have to keep it contained.

In some cases, certain moderators will be privy to information that might help others. Awhile back, we Fanfic mods discussed who we wanted to judge the next Writing Contest, and another staff member interrupted to tell us that one of our candidates was swamped with work. Had we not been aware of that, it could have been problematic. Of course, we Fanfic mods are often the ones playing informant, as we have done a few times with the TPM TCG.

The point is this. Moderators are responsible for more than their own forums of interest. I, for one, rarely visit RPG, but I speak with the moderators there on a regular basis. Everyone keeps an open line of communication so that we can deal with any situation, whether it is an outside attack or a promising project. Moderators may be divided by forum, but they are all concerned with the well-being of the place as a whole.

When you're a Fanfiction moderator, you're so much more than that. You're a leader of TPM.

Beyond the Score: The Measure of Success

Those of you who know me well know that I consider myself a big anime fan. Well, a few minutes ago I finished watching the 26-episode series, Angelic Layer. I won't spoil too much for you, but let's just say that girls playing with their dolls never looked so cool.

It was kind of odd, though, that I was so enthralled with the series. After all, I predicted the entire plotline after episode one. (It didn't help that I glanced at the back of the DVD set. Otherwise that prediction might have taken me four or five episodes.) Everything played out almost exactly as I envisioned it. Aside from a couple of small twists here and there – round two of the national games comes to mind – it all went according to plan. The destination for the series was clear from the beginning, even if there were a few bumps in the road along the way.

Yet, I've been captivated from the very beginning. I started watching this about a week ago and just couldn't pull myself away. I've seen Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament arcs with more twists and turns, so this series totally failed in surprising me. Nevertheless, I found myself getting chills during some of the most intense scenes and almost cheering for the characters from my chair (when I wasn't already standing, that is). Even when you saw it coming from a mile away, the emotion in the series was gripping.

This got me wondering about something. As a FanFiction Reviewer Organisation member, I would have given Angelic Layer a crippling score in the Plot Originality category. For that matter, it would have been hurt by Characters and perhaps even overall Plot. After doing a rough tally, I realized that my deductions for those categories alone would have knocked Angelic Layer to no better than a C grade – and that's comparing it with fanfics, not professional artistry.

None of that changed the fact that I loved the series.

This led me to a difficult question (which, I might add, was the original title of this article): what makes writing good? Looking at our accepted standards of “good” writing, Angelic Layer would have been thrashed by me, someone who thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. It was a contrast of measuring devices. The enjoyment I got from viewing the series completely disagreed with our reviewing categories.

Not content to sit back and forget about the situation, I determined that our FFRO categories might be skewed in some manner to inhibit certain works. I've long disagreed with how a few of the categories are weighted, after all, so it seemed that the scores allocated to each section might need to be changed. All I had to do was figure out which categories were vital and which ones were merely of peripheral concern.

Upon thinking about it for a few minutes, what I realized what not what I had expected.

Plot (20 points) – One of the biggest categories in an FFRO review. If you ever read a book on “how to write well,” plot is essential. How can you have a good story without a plotline? Without a deep plot, you'll bore your audience to death.

That's how it's supposed to work. Then why does an anime like Azumanga Daioh have a single viewer? There's hardly a trace of a plotline to tie together anything. It's all just a string of little stories about a cluster of high school girls.

Heck, half of the series makes no sense whatsoever. If you can explain to me why God is a wiggly levitating gummy-bear creature that also happens to be the father of the ten-year-old high school prodigy who inexplicably sang “Cooking is so fun” for half an episode – which, to my complete bemusement, I absolutely loved – then maybe I'll accept the plotline of Azumanga Daioh as being decent. Until then, it's a story without a plot that nonetheless captured the attention of millions.

Plot Originality (10 points) – This was pretty much covered in the introduction. To put it in a way that might be more familiar, if you watched Yu-Gi-Oh! straight through Duelist Kingdom, Battle City, and the KaibaCorp Grand Prix, then you understand that fans often overlook repetitious storylines.

Writing Style (20 points) – Come on. Writing style has to matter, right?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, not so much. Think of the series Death Note, in which all you really have is a mental battle between Light Yagami and his opponents. It's completely focused on the plot and what each character is thinking. The world around the characters hardly matters. The dialogue is used as nothing more than a diversion. Words don't matter unless they're being written in a death note. The story doesn't even flow very smoothly. It's all a collection of incidents, like the list of moves in a real-life game of chess.

Yet, it's an instant cult classic anyway. Go figure.

Spelling and Grammar (10 points) – Read The MisAdventures of Hiro (http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=4695). In fact, just read one chapter. Then you'll understand why spelling and grammar aren't always crucial.

Characters (15 points) – Characters are critical, right? Wrong. Even if you disregard writing that omits characters entirely (argumentative essays, setting-centric stories, and every haiku in existence), sometimes it doesn't matter who is in the story as much as what is happening to them. Think of books like Battle Royale, in which a group of students is thrown into armed combat with one another: last one alive gets to live. Readers couldn't care less who the characters really are, but it's still gripping.

Case in point: I loaned Battle Royale to a college senior a couple of years ago. A week later, he said it was the first book he'd read cover-to-cover since middle school. He also made a scoresheet listing each character's kill count and the order of their deaths.

Settings (15 points) – Death Note would be a great example for this category. For the purpose of variation, however, think of Law & Order instead.

They're in New York. New York is New York, plain and simple. Brooklyn? Queens? You can't even see the difference. Just grab a hot dog and watch your favorite characters run around the gray streets.

Overall Appreciation (10 points) – I've never been able to finish The Fellowship of the Ring. The prose just seems stupidly thick to me. Most people with whom I've talked say they love the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One man's trash is another man's treasure, which probably makes this category useless as well.

This doesn't seem like a lot of help. After all, I've basically determined that every measure of writing is worthless. Sometimes the plot doesn't matter. On occasion, your writing style is irrelevant. Spelling and grammar are overrated. The characters may be a moot point. Your setting can just fade away.

If that wasn't bad enough, some pieces totally ignore all of these categories! Consider Crayon Shin Chan, a completely absurd, cheesy manga with idiotic characters and horrifically poor artwork. It's been in production for the last 18 years, and it's still going strong.

It seems that none of our criteria matter. In that case, how are you supposed to judge the quality of your writing? Do you go by the number of readers? The positive reviews? How many smilies you get in response to your work? What's the right criteria?

There is no answer. There is no answer because there is no right criteria.

I realized something today. The quality of writing cannot be measured accurately by any scale or score we try to apply. It just doesn't work that way. Everyone has different tastes in what they find to be “good.” Some like rich characters. Others are fascinated by tangled plotlines. Still more love a fantastic world or elegant prose. It would seem that the more of these elements you include in your work, the better it will be, but perhaps that's not the only criteria for success. What matters most is the reason you write and whether you accomplish your goal.

Are you writing for your audience? That's perfectly fine. Then did your audience enjoy reading your work?

Are you writing for yourself? That's good as well. Did you enjoy the process?

Are you writing to pass the time? That works, too. Did you shake off the boredom?

Find your reason for writing. Figure out what your mission is and what you have to do to complete it. Ignore the distractions, the judgments that don't apply to your purpose. Take heed, though, of advice that will help you reach your goal. Then, when everything else is gone, accomplish your dream.

That is the measure of success.

2nd September 2008, 06:19 PM
It seemed like a short little E-Zine this time around, and though I planned on submitting, preperation for school was in my way, but either way ^_^ The E-zine always makes me smile! Good job guys. I'll defiently submit for the next one.

2nd September 2008, 07:57 PM
Short, but sweet. mr_pikachu's article was very interesting to read. I couldn't finish The Fellowship of the Ring either, and I once picked it for an oral book report. Nice to know I'm not alone on that. And I'm not surprised he didn't mention those shows on Adult Swim that have no substance yet have a big fanbase.

3rd September 2008, 04:56 PM
Great interview, Gabi! I loved the contrasting viewpoints you and Darien had on the nature of criticism; you could practically feel the tension! Good stuff. I'll have to try the hour-a-day thing, as soon as I get a free hour a day. It'll happen... someday....

Kudos to you too, Darien. Clearly, you were a good subject for an interview. Very interesting dynamics.

HL: We've had four-article E-zine issues in the past; Ada just decided not to put her "editor's note" after the table of contents. Others of us sometimes pull that fun trick. ^_^

Shonta: Thanks for the compliment! Regarding some of the other shows on Adult Swim with minimal substance, I don't watch the majority of them so I'd have little to say about them. Crayon Shin Chan was the best exception; I've watched it often enough to know a fair bit about it. (Frankly, I wouldn't have even felt comfortable talking about Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and that's coming from someone who was stupid enough to watch the movie. In theaters. At the worldwide release event.)

3rd September 2008, 05:37 PM
Hahaha, yep, I've seen ones with this number. ^___^ Any length, I enjoy reading them!

4th September 2008, 08:30 PM
Great articles. Darien's interview was insightful, going a bit deeper into criticism and stuff. While I agree that sometimes it's better to start from scratch rather than salvage a story that sucks, I feel that that decision is best initiated by the writer, and I prefer to help salvage said poorly-written story as long as the writer wants help. Constructive criticism is awesome though. An hour a day for writing, eh? Hmm... now if only I had something to write.

The mod article didn't tell me any more than I already know, so moving right along. Beyond the Score was absolutely spot on. It made me wonder why I hadn't thought to write about that for the e-zine, because I've believed for a long time that a rigid scale can't measure how good a fic is. Anyone that's talked to me while I'm writing a fic review will know how much I despise the 'Plot Originality' category, for example. :P Even in conventional fics, where I'd argue that all the categories are necessary to some extent, they're not necessarily balanced in that ratio. There are fics where character is king, plot is peripheral and plot originality isn't as important as character originality. Not every fic needs a lush setting, or even a meaningful setting. As long as it's not happening in a void, we're good.

Recently, I've been doing a course on modernist fiction. While I haven't enjoyed every text, it's really been an eye-opener as to how far the boundaries of conventional writing can be pushed. It's shown me that fiction without a plot can still have a point -- Woolf's To the Lighthouse goes absolutely nowhere, and I really dislike it, but it's cool how she was one of the first writers to really use stream of consciousness to get into her characters' heads. Plotless, yet original. And the whole point of Waiting for Godot is that nothing meaningful happens, which I think is a pretty cool, if bleak, reflection on life.

The 'success' in the title of the article is also interesting, because it makes you ask: success in what? In getting a high score from the FFRO? In pleasing readers? Surely that can't be the point of writing. I agree that it's about succeeding in whatever goal you hope to achieve in your writing -- alleviating boredom, self-amusement, whatever -- and no one can tell you whether you've achieved that success except for yourself.

This does highlight the subjectivity of 'good' though. While you might find something with minimal writing style good regardless, I might despise the series for the same reason. (Yay to Ada for stating the obvious.) And is 'good' something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside on a winter day? Is it something that makes you punch your fist in the air when the good guys win? Is it something that makes you think? Like what Shonta said about series with minimal substance. I guess they can be considered 'good' if they engage the audience and accomplish what they set out to do -- making people feel good -- despite not attaining that higher-order, usual pretentious definition of goodness.

However, I think we can't entirely dispose of these categories (unless the work is being deliberately radical), because while the point of certain works may just be to engage the reader, it's things like plot and writing style and character that help the work accomplish that. Occasionally, some categories will be irrelevant or even inhibiting (no, we are not going into the Battle Royale characters' tragic backstories, thank you very much; just kill each other already), but hey, that's the case with all rules of thumb. I guess we just have to be more flexible when deciding what a good fic is, and not let ourselves be restricted by the presence of, or the weightings of, categories.

...that was a nice chunk of my hour's writing...