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

2nd April 2008, 12:47 AM
The Fanfiction Forum E-zine ~ April 2008

What I Ate for Breakfast

...well I did say (http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=16914) you could write an article on that, didn't I? (A croissant, by the way.) Joking aside (Happy April Fool's Day, by the way), welcome to the April 2008 issue of the Fanfiction E-zine. March has been a busy month for us fanficcers, with the unveiling of Project X (http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=16893) a.k.a. the Fanfiction Hall of Fame, the results of the February Writing Contest coming in (congratulations to mr_pikachu on his first win) and lots of new fics and updates to old fics alike. Perhaps because of this activity, our issue for the month is a little more bite-sized than normal. Both our regular column writers, our enthusiastic interviewer Lady Vulpix and resident (Grammar) Nazi mr_pikachu are taking a break this month; instead you will be served by myself and Saffire Persian, grammar extraordinaire. The menu for this month includes:

Tales from the Crypt: Hall of Fame

Pronoun/Subject-Verb Reference & Agreement: The How-To
Saffire Persian

Viva Imaginary Friends

Bon Appetit!

Tales from the Crypt: Hall of Fame

1. a mocking imitation of someone or something, usually light and good-humored; lampoon or parody: The show was a spoof of college life.
2. a hoax; prank.

–verb (used with object)
3. to mock (something or someone) lightly and good-humoredly; kid.
4. A belated celebration.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)

You may have noticed an important-looking sticky right beneath this important-looking sticky on the Fanfiction board. It reads “The Fanfiction Hall of Fame, 1st Biannual Election - Nomination Phase”. Accompanying it is a sombre description of achievement, honour, chivalry and knighthood. Are you wondering what this is all about? Don’t we have awards already? Do the mods have too much time on their hands? All this and more will be answered in this exposé. Brian, Gavin and Faiz, please forgive me for revealing our despotic secrets. It’s all in the name of entertaining betrayal.

The Hall of Fame light bulb first lit in a discussion between our Silver Pencils hosts, when they were using their autocratic powers to make or break award categories based on how likely they were to win them. One suggestion made by Dragoknight, ‘Most Missed Fanficcer’, was immediately discarded under this criteria.

But it was too good an idea for the shredder. We have our biannual Golden Pens and Silver Pencils, with their ten billion categories for acknowledging fanfic goodness. Alongside them live the members’ awards celebrating our members’ contributions, quirks and impossible (or not-so-impossible) ships. The Awards Award rules over all, recognizing the fanficcer winning the most awards all around (which, strangely, does not usually coincide with the Best Fiction Overall or Best Writer awards, to all parties’ despair). But Fanfic is ultimately built by its people. Such creation of community doesn’t happen over a six-month period. It is not driven only by our best writers, which draw people to TPM with their fics and inspire others to pick up their pens and keyboards (to throw across the room in universal frustration). Equally important are the people who read and review fics, helping even the best writers strive for excellence like corporate slogans; the people who resolve conflicts within the forum to prevent implosions; the people who come up with ideas like the FFRO and E-zine to make our forum more interactive and helpful; the friendly people who create connections between everyone, fostering our community like teddy bears on a picnic. How to acknowledge the contributions of these people, ensuring they are not forgotten by the sands of server moves and Ezboards? Hence the challenge began.

We developed the idea of a Hall of Fame where every member, new or ancient, could nominate and vote for the member who, in their opinion, contributed the most to TPM. It was important that everyone was involved because everyone is an equally valued member of the community, with valid opinions on the best candidate. (Also, we did not wish to provoke a revolution by exposing our obvious dictatorship.) Rather than emphasizing writerly aspects, which would make a Hall of Fame induction the same as any other award, the overall contribution of members was deemed most important. (Besides, I can’t write.) Furthermore, the Hall of Fame wouldn’t just be about voting, but finding out more about these fantastic fanficcers. To this end, our host is preparing profiles of each member in contention for the Hall of Fame. The education is already working, because we have realized that we ourselves don’t know much about some of these candidates, and are now madly researching to hide our ignorance. (Rest assured; these people aren’t randoms, and have contributed immensely.)

Project X has now begun, and its secrets lie bare. In a few weeks’ time, our best candidate will enter its hallowed hall, joining his or her equally worthy non-existent companions, to be worshipped forever as pixels on a screen. On one of the only serious notes in this article, we hope this initiative is as important and relevant for you as it is for us. We are always open to suggestions for initiatives to improve the forum and make it what you want it to be. This forum is for you. May your best candidate win.

Pronoun/Subject-Verb Reference & Agreement:
The How-To
Saffire Persian


All right, I realize this is probably going to be a boring subject. Even so, many of those boring things are topics you need to know about. As a writer, it is of utmost importance that you make yourself understand and convey the words, feelings, and emotions therein to your readers. (Well, maybe not James Joyce, but he was an oddball) In this very electronic century, where it seems electronics can and will do anything and everything for us, many of these important topics are being ignored, or, at least, or not talked about in-depth. After all, Spellcheck will fix 'em, and fix 'em good.

The reality is, though, it doesn't.

Out of all the things you do need to learn, pronoun and subject reference and agreement are both very important topics, though you may not think so. In fact, a lot of you probably don't realize you're writing incorrectly. Boring as it may be, getting a good grasp of the basic rules concerning this that make up the language will not only make your writing more readable and clear, but it will help you become a better writer as well. Oh, and unlike many other grammar topics, these rules can't be debated and argued with. Time will have to deal with them. All you have to do is follow them.

Let's start off with subject/verb agreement. It's a very touchy subject that enjoys biting me in the butt come exam time. To make the rules easier to remember, I made up this word string:

Remember this well, grasshoppers. The cake may be a lie, but the pie is not.

The iron-fisted rules are as follows. Do note there may be slight differences in English/Australian/Canadian grammar. This is the American version, y'all.

1. A Prepositional phrase or anything that otherwise that comes between a subject and its verb don't affect subject-verb agreement (SVA)

Example: Clefairy, despite the rumor that they hail from the moon, are actually from Saturn.

So, despite the blurb that is in-between the enclosing comma marks, the conjugation is still wholly dependent on the subject: the Clefairy, not the moon. So 'are' not 'is'.

However! When it comes to collective nouns, you conjugate it depending on the context. If you mean to refer to the collective noun and a singular unit, you use singular, but if you mean to refer to each of the members within the collective noun, you use plural.

Example: Ash's pokémon team, who actually won the Indigo Finals, is the awesome!

See? We are referring to the group as a single unit, so we use is.

Buuuuuut, if we wanted to refer to each member...

Example: Ash's pokémon team, despite losing the Johto finals, really did their best.

As we want to bring more attention the individuals that made up the unit, we use 'their' instead of 'its'. Follow me?

2. Indefinite pronouns are always singular, except for two exceptions (none, all) which rely on context. [See the plurality issue on rule numero uno)

Example: Neither of these Magikarp is worth raising.

Neither is our indefinite pronoun. And as IPs are almost always singular, we use is. If it doesn't seem to make sense to you, let's take out the middle part.

Neither is worth raising.

Make a little more sense?

I guess now I must also mention that the everyone/they (Instead of everyone/he/he-she/one) construction is actually becoming accepted in today's writing, even if it defies the holy grammar commandments like the people of Moses did to the original. The reason being has a lot to do with Sexist language and the fact our grammar is always changing. Darn those feminists. This only holds true with the word everyone or every, however.

3. In correlative constructions [I call it the [I]Either clause] the verb agrees with the subject closest to the verb.

Example: Not only the trainer but his three pokémon were present.

As pokémon is plural and closest to the verb in this case, are fits the bill. Now, if we were to switch it around...

Example: Not only the three pokémon but their trainer was present.

As trainer is closer to the verb, we would use is instead of are. Got it memorized?

4. In there is/there are sentences and in Inverted sentences, you need to find the subject.

Ex: On the deck were several Growlithe lying in the sun.

And: There is, in my opinion, only one option.

See the subject of each sentence? Here's a couple more examples.

There is a Eevee on the table if you want it.

There are three pokémon to choose from.

5. And last but not least, the verb agrees with the subject, not the predicate, in sentences with linking verbs.

Example: Greg's idea of fun is watching TV and eating pizza.

Vs: Eating pizza and watching TV are Greg's idea of fun.

Got it? Well, let's move on:

Pronoun reference and agreement.

Pronouns, for those of you who somehow don't know, are words that take the place of proper nouns. For example, "she" would take the place of Catherine. The problem with pronouns is that they can often times be vague on exactly what noun they're replacing/referring to, which is where all these handy rules come in, which I'll number to keep things in proper order.

1. You must always make sure that the noun being replaced by the pronoun (called the antecedent) is clear. And by "clear" I mean crystal.

Example: Eliza was sure she had told Lisa that she wasn't any good at battling.

Now, at first you might wonder what is wrong with this sentence, but if you look close, you can see the problem: who is the she referring to in this sentence? Eliza? Or Lisa? Or perhaps even (with context) something else. The pronoun reference is unclear. In this case, the rules dictate you should use a more concrete noun (or perhaps pronoun) to clarify the situation.

Correct: Eliza was sure she had told Lisa that Lisa wasn't any good at battling.

Yes, it sounds kind of stuffy. But clarity, when it comes down to it, trumps everything.

2. Next, a pronoun has to refer to a specific antecedent [a word that came before], not a word that is implied but present in pronoun form.

Let's use Eliza again.

Example: After Eliza (somehow) managing to braid the hair that lay in front of her Piloswine's eyes, Eliza decorated them with ribbons.

Again, the 'them' is rather ambiguous. Even if you stated it in a preceding sentence, there still might by some confusion as to whom the 'them' refers to. The solution is the same as in the first example: be more concrete.

Correct: After Anne (somehow) managed to braid her Piloswin'e hair that lay in front of its eyes, Eliza decided to further decorate the pig's surprisingly silky hair by putting ribbons in them.

2b. Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in both number and gender.

Example: Each trainer should write their name on the training license.

This is wrong because each student is being taken individually, and thus, should not be taking their. Besides, remember what I said about indefinite pronouns?

So, it should be:

Example: Each trainer should write his or her name on the training license.

A fun note is that, one upon a time, it was actually okay and normal to just use the male singular pronoun for things like this... but now we got to worry about sexist language.

3. Our next rule is what most grammarians refer to as an "Ambiguous Reference". Ambiguous references occur when a pronoun could refer to two possible antecedents, and as thus, is best avoided.

Example: When I put the lamp on the glass table, it broke immediately.

So, what broke? I'm sure you know how to solve this by now.

4. The next and final rule that you need to know is called "Broad Reference". The rule states that the pronouns that, this, and which should usually refer to a specific antecedent rather than a whole idea.

Example: Eliza knew her friend was jealous of all the pokémon and money she had, and had taken this way of showing it.

Viva Imaginary Friends

My piece on the military in Vietnam lies on the desk, waiting to be critiqued. My creative writing tutor looks me straight in the eye. "Is this from personal experience?" she asks unblinkingly. I groan inwardly. Do I look like a veteran? Here comes the tirade on accurate portrayals and adequate research. I wish I were writing fanfiction. No one can tell me that Pokemon don't inhabit multiple universes with hobbits. ...Can they? It is entirely possible for fanfiction to be realistic or otherwise, despite the fandom having no real world equivalent. Being realistic does not mean following every bit of canon. Being realistic does not amount to admitting the Easter Bunny does not exist. It does not inhibit your imagination; instead it expands it, making your mind take in unexpected possibilities.

But first, let us talk about the importance of accuracy in published non-supernatural fiction: that is, fiction which is not sci-fi or fantasy and is grounded in the natural physical world. 'Realisticness' here may be divided into three broad categories: physical, societal and emotional realisticness. (Not technical terms; I use 'realisticness', a made-up word, to differetiate from realism, which is something else altogether.) Physical realisticness concerns itself with the physical attributes of our world. Tress absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Sandstone carvings completely erode in eight hundred years. The Hundred Years' War lasted 116 years. Societal realisticness deals with the way a society functions and how people interact, including cultural differences. It requires a township of more than a thousand people to sustain a butcher's living. The main job of the guy at the record store seems to be to answer the question 'Hey, what's this song called? Na-naa-na-something-my-love..." Emotional realisticness -- the way different people feel in different situations. Love, hate, anger, regret and every shade in between.

Why be real? This is fiction; I can do whatever I want, right? Of course, one of the purposes, some would argue the main purpose, of writing is enjoyment. To that end, we can do whatever makes us happy. But is there something more? Is not writing a connection between individuals, a conveyance of ideas between writer and reader? To that end, it is important to write as effectively as possible. This is where realisticness comes in.

Trivially, being factual makes you look good. It makes people take you seriously, and we all know how difficult it is for the youth to be taken seriously. Trenches in World War II will raise some eyebrows and describing a footy game without an iota of knowledge of the rules will have me blacklisted for life. ("Is this from personal experience?" you ask unblinkingly.) On the other hand, realistic details cause readers to form an attachment to a story as they encourage reminiscence, and act almost as inside jokes to make them feel they're 'in' with the story. Veterans may chuckle at steel-helmeted Germans in the snow envying their enemies their woollen hats.

However, there is something more fundamental. Accuracy in describing the world as readers know it helps them relate to your characters' situations. The little details in writing evoke readers' own experiences, making the story more real to them. When in a school setting, classes and exams are obvious, but it's the mention of graffiting each others' lockers and odd shoes left in the changing room that remind me how quirky a place it is. They link a character's experience of school to my own. The dog isn't just a source of cuddly comfort, but a moulter of fur and fleas, especially after the house has been spring cleaned.

Realisticness also hooks into a reader's memories and emotions. Every stifled laugh at a funeral recalls the sombriety of previous occasions, the feeling that joy is now somehow a sin. Emotional accuracy is incredibly important. A description of feelings is just word; we want to make our reader feel what our characters feel. Of course, this is not saying that everyone feels the same or deals with emotions in the same way. It depends on the background of your characters: their personalities, histories and the particulars of the incident they are living. However, emotions must still be plausible so readers may empathise even if they think differently. The death of a loved pet will not be forgotten in a week or two, but neither will it scar a character's whole life. The underlying shock, denial and grief exist in every person, but present themselves and are coped with in different ways. I could understand foregoing pets for life although I personally did not do so. This is what emotional accuracy is for.

There is another reason for cultural accuracy -- an obligation towards society. Hopefully this isn't a patronising, moralistic view, but in the 21st century many misconceptions still run amok. At the age of fifteen I seriously thought Aboriginal people still hunted for food. Imagine the horros which would have ensued had I set a story in an Aboriginal community. It would have made me look incredibly ignorant at best and racist at worst. Unfortunately, this is too easy to do, especially when writing disastrous settings such as war-torn areas or third world countries. It is far easier to portray ignorant bliss (peasants dancing in the fields, anyone?) or focus on media-hungry issues such as famine and disease. We must remember that life differs greatly by region and class (Alexander McCall Smith does a fantastic job of describing middle-class life in Botswana), but also that human emotions are universal. Just as we share our pain, we share the capacity to love and laugh.

So we've established that realisticness is important, but how to go about it? Some argue that one can only be realistic with situations one has actually experienced. There go the ten-year-olds and their R-rated shipping fics (hopefully). Which is probably a good thing for society, but is it too harsh a limit? On the one hand, it is extremely difficult to paint an accurate picture of words if an experience is totally alien. It would not be possible to describe the subtleties of air turbulence without having been on a plane; aviation is no fantasy and there are plenty of people to contradict you. Even established writers sometimes find it presumptuous to write from a soldier or modern youth's point of view for fear of being outdated or unauthentic. There are also cultural nuances that may be missed from an outsider's point of view which could alienate people familiar with the culture. It may not be something immediately obvious; for example, a Japanese conversation without the usual interactions of "Yes", "Go on", "Is that so?" may feel off to readers even if they cannot put a finger on the reason.

However, the world of personal experience is terribly restrictive, especially if your observational skills have been living under the same rock as mine. If I have ten stories with protagonists of different professions, do I really have to have been a teacher, bus driver, bouncer, professional lawn bowler...? Do I have to have had a near-death experience to write death? I do not know whether to pity or crucify crime writers if they have experienced and committed every atrocity of their pen-and-paper creations. It's just not possible to write only about our own experiences, or only using elements from our own experiences; we'd be called autobiographers.

So can we touch upon the truth, aside from being very, very vague about said truths *coughbadpoetrycough*? Published writers do lots and lots of research, sometime years, for one novel (just read any Acknowledgments page). They read everything there is to read on the key areas they write on, and they gather contacts through personal networking. Unfortunately, you and I don't have such time or resources. And trying to find a Viking through six degrees of separation would be an interesting experiment.

So is this it? Is writing too difficult to handle? No! All of this misses one big point: we write because we enjoy it! Is it worth it to place impossible restrictions on ourselves and stopping ourselves from writing what we want to write? Never! Don't ever let anyone convince you otherwise.

We're not quite published writers. Our main audience has the same amount of life experience as we do. We can get away with a lot more, and hone our writing without inviting public rebuke, in this environment. However, if we want to be the best we can, being realistic is still important. Read widely. Watch the world pass by. Find out as much as you can about the things you're writing about. If in a hurry, at least use Wikipedia. (Photos are highly recommended; sticking random trees into the Australian landscpae without knowing what they look like probably wasn't the best idea.) If you haven't been in a certain situation or profession, a friend probably has. See how they feel about it. You don't have to conduct a full interview with them, especially if the area of concern is sensitive. Just observe the way they act and speak. I have learnt more than I ever need to know about KFC gravy and internal organs just from casual conversations. Shape your plots around the way your world works; if a plot twist seems out of place in your world, however dramatic or original it is it's not going to be effective. Most importantly, engage your imagination in empathising with your characters, experiencing the way they feel from their points of view.

But how does this apply to fanfiction or fantasy? Physical realisticness does not seem to be an issue there -- no one can say my dragon doesn't have seventeen heads. What about societal realisticness? More often than not, we will be creating our realm's history from scratch, so there is no question of historical inaccuracy. Cultures and races in fandoms or fantasy realms may bear no resemblance to anything in the real world. Does this mean we can get away with anything?

In fanfiction, we are still susceptible to attacks by canon purists (as experienced by anyone who has ignored evolution by level in Pokemon). However, we do not live in the fandom. No one has experienced fandom life. It's a creation, just like our writing. Because of this, we have more leeway to manipulate a fandom's rules to suit our writing's needs. For example, I'm sure no one has fond childhood memories of the four moves per Pokemon rule. It's not engrained into our common sense. So if you're treating Pokemon as animal-like creatures and it doesn't make biological sense for them to only have four moves, feel free to use a different approach. In any case, most of the time we will have to expand, and sometimes fix the contradictions in, the given fandom. However, if a concept is crucial for the identity of a fandom, it is best to stay true to that concept if we wish to call our work fanfiction, unless we have good reasons. A Pokemon fanfic obviously would not work without Pokemon, but in an alternate universe after a revolution, it could make sense that humans exist not as trainers but as companions to Pokemon.

Fantasy doesn't seem to have such restrictions at all. In fact, isn't the real world the antithesis of fantasy? But if you look through the history of fantasy with dwarves, orcs, poltergeists and mutant bacteria in all their glory, you'll notice something: no matter how different they are physically, they think in the same way. Like us. All intelligent races have a common instinct of self-preservation. Among the protagonists at least, love is always good. Emotions transcend races as they transcend cultures in the 'real world'. Fantasy writers give their characters humanoid thoughts because their readers cannot imagine the world functioning any other way. The challenges facing characters are the same: war, prejudice, hierarchy, death. Perhaps even fantasy writers cannot imagine the world functioning any other way.

We read fantasy to escape our world, but also to find out more about ourselves. We need connections between the fantasy world and our own for us to be able to emotionally relate to the characters and events. Even in fantasy, all relationships will not be happily ever after, likely ending in much the same way our relationships do. Rulers will not be perfect. Antagonists will have sympathetic motives other than 'wanting to be evil'. If a revolution occurs, not every 'good' person in the nation will be united behind its cause. Magical powers will not be limitless (see Dr. McNinja's excellent article (http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=16828) on this). Fantasy characters, in this sense, have to be just as real as we are.

So let's make our stories as real as can be. If they are set in the real world, a few astute observations can go a long way in ensuring our readers feel the world is real and relevant. In fanfiction or fantasy, it is creating a plausible history for our world, and laying down the modus operandi of our world so that it makes sense to us Earthlings. In all writing, it is keeping our characters' emotions and experiences startlingly real, until they cease being imaginary and become our friends standing with us. This is the magic of writing.

Chris 2.1
2nd April 2008, 06:52 AM
Cool issue :) I was intrigued by Saff's piece - does someone else in this forum study Syntax? (Im doing English Language at Uni). The Hall of Fame is also pretty exciting. This was a nice little chunk of an E-Zine and you guys did a great job filling in for Mr_P.

Now, onto my article for the e-zine that's been bubbling away for 4 months....