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

Gavin Luper
1st March 2008, 09:48 PM
The FanFiction Forum E-zine
March 2008


An Introduction
Gavin Luper

Conversations with the Stars – Saffire Persian
Lady Vulpix

Fanfiction: The Legal Paradox

Mythbusters special edition – Undead Poets Society: a glimpse within

The Grammar Nazi – Wherefore art thou Romeo?

An Introduction
Gavin Luper

Welcome, one and all, to the fifteenth edition of the Fanfiction Forum E-zine! This month we have plenty of interesting articles to devour: our own Lady Vulpix puts esteemed writer Saffire Persian under the microscope; mr_pikachu dons a lawsuit for his article about the legal paradox of Fanfiction; the lovely mistysakura takes an in-depth look at the nature of poetry and the myths surrounding it; and mr_pikachu delivers again with his regular “Grammar Nazi” column.

The forum itself has seen a lot of activity over the month of February. Not only did we see some new works posted and old ones continued, but we also witnessed the conclusion of the 2007 Silver Pencil Awards. Congratulations again to all the winners, especially to mr_pikachu, who won the coveted Awards Award. Well done, Brian!

A final note: March will see the unveiling of a new Fanfiction Project – Project X – that’s been in the works for a few weeks now. We won’t keep you in suspense long: the unveiling ceremony is due in a matter of hours!

Until next time – enjoy!

Conversations with the Stars – Interview with Saffire Persian
Lady Vulpix

Lady Vulpix: Would you like to be interviewed?
Saffire Persian: Sure. For the E-zine thing?

Lady Vulpix: Yes. Ok, here we go. Obligatory first question: how long have you been writing?
Saffire Persian: Well, I've been writing ever since I was little, actually. I don't think I ever started seriously writing until 8th grade, when I was given an assignment to write a short story, which I seriously expanded that summer, to make it the first novella (about 50,000 words) that I ever finished writing. I only started fanfiction in 2004, though. So yeah, for a looong time.

Lady Vulpix: Have you ever thought of going back to your first novella and finishing it?
Saffire Persian: Already finished it, naturally. As I said above. But I guess I've considered going about and expanding it like I did its finished sequel, but its whole plot and such was rather childish. To give you an idea, it was about this made-up feline race called felida and dragons. So yeah, it was a very weird story, but I liked it anyway.

Lady Vulpix: Oh, sorry, I misunderstood. I thought you'd said never.
Saffire Persian: No problem ^^'

Lady Vulpix: Ok, what about your fanfiction? What have you been writing about?
Saffire Persian: Umm, right now I'm working on quite a few projects at once. Well, I rotate. Mostly, I'm focusing most of my time on the fanfiction I wrote for Nanowrimo, Finding Courage. It's a fanfiction that focuses more on the characters than the war-theme that the setting has. Another one I'm writing is a one-shot called Monster that I've been picking at for about a year-and-a-half now. It's almost finished. I think, anyway. The last one I'm working on is Metamorphosis.

Lady Vulpix: What's that one about?
Saffire Persian: Which one?

Lady Vulpix: Metamorphosis.
Saffire Persian: That one in essence is a story about a boy and his Caterpie growing up, basically, and how they deal with things as they change throughout the years. Maybe you could call it a slice-of-life/coming-of-age story? It's rather lighthearted compared with most of the stuff I'm writing now, and it really lacks a strong plot, but it's been a blast to write.

Lady Vulpix: How much of a story do you plan before you start writing it?
Saffire Persian: Very little. Most of the ideas just come as I begin writing it. I hardly write anything in detail down. Usually I'll think of an idea and then from that idea, a lot of 'smaller' ideas that will take place in the story surface, and I keep that in my head and just write them as I go along, and fill in the gaps that need to be filled along the way. The key points that are usually with me from the start change very little, but the smaller ideas that come from those key points usually change a lot in the process. So really, planning in-depth isn't my style.

Lady Vulpix: At what point in your writing do you normally decide how it's going to end?
Saffire Persian: Umm... most of the time I usually know the ending of the story from the get-go, along with the very beginning. Rarely do I not have any idea how the story is going to end, and if for some reason I don't know it at the start, I think it up very quickly. It's the middle that I have trouble with.

Lady Vulpix: Oh. Is there anything in particular you have trouble with, or is it details in general?
Saffire Persian: Usually it's the finer details. Like I'll know the main points of A, B, and C, in a story, which are pretty much what you'd call the "Big Events", but the things that connect and lead to scene B and C are the hardest to come up with, because I'm rather paranoid when it comes to pacing. Am I moving too fast, am I going to slow? Is this scene dragging, that kind of thing, and sometimes I just don't know how to write it to make the scenes connect and make sense properly.

Lady Vulpix: Does the input from your readers ever help you with this?
Saffire Persian: Oh yes, it does. A lot. A reader's critique, criticism, and suggestions help a lot. They help let me know what I'm doing write and what I'm doing wrong. Then I can look and my work and hopefully notice the things I was obviously doing wrong before, and cut it down a bit. For instance, I've found IceKing's, Negrek's, and Dragonfree's reviews to always be very helpful, because they go in depth and explain what you're doing wrong, or what you could do better. They don't just say "Fix this" but they tell you "how" to fix it, or "why" it doesn't work.

Lady Vulpix: That's great. :)
Saffire Persian: Yeah. ^^

Lady Vulpix: Tell me, what do you think about the results of the latest Silver Pencils?
Saffire Persian: I thought they were great. I didn't actively participate very much because I was rather out-of-the-loop when it came to reading fanfics over at Pokemasters. I did feel that everyone who won in each category deserved it though. All of Pokémaster's Silver/Golden Pencils have always seemed to be a great way to recognize the people who write in the forum. And they do it without whiny drama and complaining, unlike some other forums. So, what is there to complain about?

Lady Vulpix: I don't know. I didn't say there was anything to complain about, but since you brought it up... Is there?
Saffire Persian: Oh, I didn't mean it that way. I just meant "So there's really nothing to complain about at all, as it's such a good awards" type of thing.

Lady Vulpix: Ah, ok.
Saffire Persian: Yeah, it was more of a side comment. ^^'

Lady Vulpix: Are you planning to do anything with regards to that award you won?
Saffire Persian: Lol. The Writer's Block thing? Yeah, make sure I don't win it in the Golden Pencils and actually get writing.

Lady Vulpix: Hehehe. Then how are your writing plans going?
Saffire Persian: Pretty good, so far. I'm actually getting things done instead of letting the writing stagnate, which is what happened last year. I'd just like to get back on track, and I think I am.

Lady Vulpix: :) What about the contests? Do you intend to judge more contests in the future? Or maybe participate?
Saffire Persian: Right now I'm judging a contest over at SPPF, actually, and I actually had a fun time judging the last one. So yeah, I'd be open to judge more contests in the future as well as participate in a few if I can actually get an idea and finish it.

Lady Vulpix: What's judging a contest like for you? It seems to me that each judge's experiences are quite different.
Saffire Persian: It was fun, mostly. Reading through the entries and seeing each person's writing style and what ideas they come up with when presented with a topic/theme to write on was the best part. Judging and deciding which is best is usually rather hard. In the Pokémasters, there were only three entries, so it was easier to judge, but in SPPF's, I think we have like... eight or so. After giving out the score, writing the review is the most difficult, because you want to get across what you want to say. Commenting on what you like is easy, but if you want to point out something you think the writer should fix... that's a bit difficult, as you want to be as nice about it as you can, but not offend them.

Lady Vulpix: Have you ever offended others accidentally?
Saffire Persian: I'm sure I have. I can't think of a specific example, but inadvertently I've probably offended someone over something I've said about their work, but they've not said so. I just hope they know that I never really meant to. If I haven't offended anyone with my comments, then all the better, but I can't be sure. I can only hope I don't.

Lady Vulpix: I think you'd know if you had. Writers tend to be quite vocal when they take offense.
Lady Vulpix: I should say we.
Saffire Persian: Haha, a lot of them are. I know a lot who aren't, though. If I was offended, unless it was something that stuck me as utterly and completely unfair, I'd probably just grin and bear it. I do know some who would be quite vocal, though.

Lady Vulpix: Hmm... Ok, a little change of subject. What do you like reading the most?
Saffire Persian: In novels? I like to read a bunch of stuff, but I have to admit I enjoy reading literature that's geared towards "young adults" the most. I usually like a mix of genres, though, but I really like Fantasy in some form or other. I like the Twlight Series, for example, as well as the Artemis Fowl trilogy. I also like it when the focus is more on the characters than the plot - or, at least, an even 50/50.

Lady Vulpix: :) And online?
Saffire Persian: Online? I'd say something of the same. I've really enjoyed Displacement by Ishafan on SPPF, Negrek's Clouded Sky on FF.net, Communication by Sike and Fall of a Leader by Dragonfree here, as well as the overlooked One-Shots by Mouse Tourmaline on Serebii. I also really enjoy just reading pokémon one-shots for some reason.

Lady Vulpix: Is there any connection between what you read and what you write?
Saffire Persian: Um.. somehow or another, probably. I enjoy reading one-shots, so I've written more of them than I have longer stories. Let's see.. I also enjoy reading stories that share similar themes to mine - for instance, the concept of death is one I have a fascination with, so a lot of the stories I read have a lot to do with it. "Friendship" (cheesy term, I know) is also one of the other themes I like. The bonds that tie people together, and what not. So I enjoy reading those types of stories, and writing them.

Lady Vulpix: Do you think friendship as a writing subject is cheesy by itself, or only when it's handled the wrong way?
Saffire Persian: Well, it *sounds* cheesy. But I quite like it as a topic, but I can see how the friendship theme can be handled badly. For instance, since Yugioh is such a popular mini-fandom here, I'm sure a lot of people w ho watched the show remembers Tea's fluffy "friendship" speeches that drove a good many people insane. I'd rather not be preached about the "powers of friendship" in some kind of dialogue spiel, but rather *see* it through the how the characters act towards one another in the story. Like in Disney's "The Fox in the Hound" I guess. We can see through Copper's actions that despite the fact he and Todd *are* enemies, they still valued the friendship they had (and still have, in a sense) when they were young. They never really need to say "We are doing this out of pure friendship" or whatnot. We can see it. I guess it's the "Show, don't tell" writing thing.

Lady Vulpix: You make a good point. Do you think that the "show, don't tell" concept can be applied to other aspects of writing as well?
Saffire Persian: The "Show, don't tell" concept is important in every aspect of writing. In the dialogue, setting, characters, etc. Not to say that telling is *bad* -- it isn't, but showing is a much more vivid way of getting a certain idea to a reader.

Lady Vulpix: *Nods.* Is there anything else you'd like to tell the readers of the E-Zine?
Saffire Persian: Hmm... I guess I'd tell them to enjoy writing, or, if they don't write, enjoy reading. If they are writers, though, I'd tell them to keep writing, because it's a great talent that would be a shame to put to waste. Oh, and in honor of Brian the Grammar Nazi, ALWAYS put commas before direct addresses. That's a pet peeve of mine... ^^'. Otherwise, not really that much else to say.

Lady Vulpix: XD Thank you.
Saffire Persian: XD No problem.

Fanfiction: The Legal Paradox

"Disclaimer: I would like to report that I do not own the characters from pokemon as they belong to Game Freak, the pokemon company and Nintendo. I also do not own the songs may be used for the fic in future." –Cool-headed Blaziken, Goldenrod High
"Kingdom Hearts copyrighted by important people who also own Final Fantasy, enjoined with the people who own Disney things, but not the Nintendo people who own the Mario stuff. That’s a disclaimer, folks, I don’t own them." –Houndoom_Lover, Kingdom Hearts, Saga of memories
"Disclaimer: I do not own 'Pokemon' or associated characters; that's left to the people over in Japan. However, I *do* own this fic, as well as all original characters and situations mentioned within; said characters and situations are of my own conception, and any likeness to any real subjects of the same content is entirely coincidental and blah blah blah... Just enjoy the fic." –Matt Morwell, Against All Odds
"Disclaimer: Of course I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh, or this story would be in the series as a story arc. All similarities between charachters and situations in this story, and other characters and situations real or fictional is purely coincidental. All in jokes, gags, and Gem lines are VERY intentional." –jkBAKURA, Yu- Gi- Oh, Lady of Dragons
"DISCLAIMER: The author of this story does not own Pokémon. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, things, or ideas is completely unintentional unless explicitly stated otherwise by the author. Opinions expressed in this story do not necessarily represent those of the author. This story does not adhere strictly and entirely to any aspect of the established Pokémon canon.

This story is the work of a non-professional author who is perfectly content to remain non-professional. I'm not aiming for something big and fancy with this - I simply want to tell a little story." –Sike Saner, The Origin of Storms

Do you feel like a rebel? An outlaw? A cold-hearted criminal hiding behind a pseudonym?

Maybe you should.

Let's be perfectly clear about one thing. If you look at the letter of the law, fanfiction probably isn't legal. When we use things from other, copyrighted works, we're technically ripping off the people who created them. Creative control does not belong to the public; it belongs to the writer.

To some degree, we all recognize this. Many of us explicitly try to defend ourselves against prosecution and lawsuits with citations like the ones above. But despite all our posturing with disclaimers and caveats, the result remains the same. We're violating copyrights, plain and simple. Giving credit changes nothing.

Nonetheless, in the vast majority of cases, fanficcers may consider themselves virtually immune from the law. Why is that? We are, to an extent, leeching off the work of others. How is it that we can still live without fear?

Let us begin by examining a few unrelated, yet similar cases involving the genre of manga. First, consider the world of doujinshi (同人誌) artists. Doujinshi are basically the manga version of fanfiction. Artists in this realm take published, copyrighted works, and create their own manga adaptations. Doujinshi are frequently bought and sold in Japan and abroad, usually for around $5-$10 U.S. dollars. It should be noted that many, if not most doujinshi are in the hentai (変態) genre: that is, they are pornographic.

Looking at these facts, doujinshi appear far more likely to be the subject of lawsuits than fanfics. But such legal action is extremely rare even though the doujinshi authors, unlike those of fanfiction, profit from their infringement. And the adult content in doujinshi is far more prevalent than that in fanfiction, so the original authors could be incensed by the twisting of their characters.

The key is that these authors recognize the benefits of doujinshi. Consider what happens when an anime fan reads a doujinshi of, for example, Love Hina. Now, let's assume that fan has never read or watched the original series. If the doujinshi is of high quality, it may make that reader curious about Love Hina. Perhaps that person will even view the original series and become a fan.

Could that happen if the doujinshi had been the target of legal action? I think not. Thus, doujinshi benefits the professionals.

Furthermore, these professionals owe a debt to the world of doujinshi. There's a reason that Love Hina is a good example in this study. Its creator, internationally acclaimed artist Ken Akamtasu (赤松 健), like many manga professionals, got his start drawing doujinshi. He became famous under the pen name Awa Mizuno (水野 亜和) before getting his break with A.I. Love You. Akamatsu still publishes doujinshi under that name.

A great number of manga artists began the same way. From Kazuhiko Katō (加藤一彦), author of the wildly successful Lupin III franchise, to CLAMP, a circle of artists who began as the doujinshi group Clamp Cluster, many of the biggest names in manga owe their success to the acceptance of doujinshi. The privilege to sell these works, even for minimal profit, allows artists to hone their craft and eke out a living in the same breath. If the professionals attacked doujinshi artists now, they would be risking backlash from the community and could prevent the aspiring artists of today from gaining useful experience.

The only real reason that an artist might have to file suit against a doujinshi artist would be if the copy became a threat to the original. This, to put it bluntly, just doesn't happen. Which is more worthwhile? The ten-page, $5 distortion, or the licensed original spanning over a dozen 100-page volumes that sells for only $10 a book? The answer is obvious. Readers may be hooked by doujinshi, sure. But they are pulled toward the original, not away from it.

This brings us back to the topic of fanfiction. We, as fans, make a grand total of nothing from our efforts – unlike doujinshi artists, there's no risk of us sapping profits from original works – and for the most part, any potentially offensive alterations to the characters and concepts are minimal compared to accepted doujinshi. Further, many of us could be the writers of the future. While fanfiction as a whole has a bad reputation for being of shoddy quality, there are quite a few diamonds in the rough who use fanficcing as training for the future.

To this point we have seen that, in general, fanficcers are at no risk of incurring legal action. But there are rare exceptions, particularly when fans push the limits of tolerance.

According to the recent AP article "JK Rowling bashes 'Harry Potter Lexicon,'" Rowling has filed suit against a fan seeking to publish a book based on her series. The book's author, Steven Vander Ark, runs a website filled with essays that explore the nature of Harry Potter, complete with encyclopedic lists of spells, potions, characters, and creatures. The potential publisher, RDR Books, is arguing that Rowling's acceptance and praise of this and other free websites justifies this book.

Say what you will about the legitimacy of Ark's and RDR's claim that theirs is an accepted genre. Complain all you like about Rowling's actions against one of her fans. I have no desire to argue about that. But should Rowling lose this decision, particularly past allowance of free fan works proves influential, it could create tension between professionals and their fans.

Fanficcing, doujinshi, and many other forms of expression have widely been viewed as a privilege granted to the public by those who created the originals. If that can be used a weapon against them, then they may, as Rowling said, "be forced to protect their creations much more rigorously, which could mean denying well-meaning fans permission to pursue legitimate creative activities."

It is unlikely that a decisive shift will occur because of one incident. There is little risk of lawyers coming after fanfiction writers any time soon. Nonetheless, we fanficcers must understand that our position is precarious. Fanfiction is both an enjoyable diversion for the masses and an excellent boost into the working world for those with determination. But if we are reckless with this gift, we may lose it forever.

Mythbusters special edition – Undead Poets Society: a glimpse within

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! …Hang on, this isn’t the Undead Playwrights Society, is it? In any case, fanficcers, welcome to this special edition of Mythbusters where we will attempt to unveil the mysteries of poetry and crush the stubborn myths surrounding it. This article is rated G for General, which means everyone, including you, which means you are not allowed to scroll down the screen in search of more interesting material, or start browsing in a new window, or escape to the loo using excuses such as “but I don’t write poetry” or “poets are weirdos, what if they’re contagious?” This article is for you.

Okay, let us begin with the obvious: what is poetry? …Do I hear crickets chirping? I see you looking at me expectantly for the answer, which scares me. If you see the word ‘poetry’, the first image that pops into your head is probably a tiny-to-the-point-of-screaming-copout piece of writing, which fits nicely on a page, with short lines which probably rhyme. But then, you think, heaps of poems don’t rhyme. This took me an incredibly long time to figure out, so although you’re smarter than me I’ll repeat it anyway: poetry does not hame to rhyme. What rhymes is not necessarily poetry either, which should be evident in this specimen:

Heaven south empty tree
Insert word here banshee
I would like to thank bourgeoisie
Random word (http://watchout4snakes.com/creativitytools/RandomWord/RandomWordPlus.aspx) and rhyme (http://rhyme.poetry.com) generators potpourri
For my rhyming poetry.

Now this is not to say that the above isn’t poetry, or that anyone’s rhyming writing isn’t poetry. However, rhyming alone clearly does not make a poem, even if the example is a bit silly. Myth number one busted. What about short lines? All poetry has short lines, right? Lines that end before the right side of the page? But… what if I made my pages really small so you could only fit one word on a line? Then how do you tell what’s poetry? It’s not necessarily about how words sit on the page, although some poems (http://bootless.net/mouse.html) also have an aesthetic aspect, such as shape poetry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_poetry).

Lines do
Not poetry

Myth number two busted.

Another feature of many poems is length, or lack thereof. Most will fit onto a page or two. But so does this short story (source (http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=15804)):

"Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí." (Translation: "When he/she woke up, the dinosaur was still there.")

There are also epic poems; my translated copy of The Odyssey (http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html) spans 239 pages. Myth number three… you get the idea.

So, what is poetry? (You notice we’re back where we started at paragraph two.) A bunch of words that sound… poetic? Asking “what is poetry?” is a bit like asking “what is art?” It’s impossible to pin down, which is a bit scary. But other not-so-intimidating literary forms can be difficult to define too. Where does the short story end and the novella begin? How much artistic license and guesswork can you use before a biography becomes historical fiction? How many jaded critics does it take for a work to become a classic? Why is plane reading not literature? The answers to these questions aren’t obvious either, but somehow they don’t give their literary forms a scary aura like poetry has. Shame, because poetry is about as intellectual as… words.

The good news is that poetry does have some defining features. It’s good news because otherwise the dictionary definition of ‘poetry’ would be a blank and the editor would probably be fired. The complicated part is that these features aren’t only found in poetry (and use big words).

The most important feature of poetry is sound. Novels are written to be read; poetry is written to be read aloud. This means the sound of individual words and the rhythm when they are put together is important. The rhythm of lines gives the poem a certain feel when read. For example, in a sonnet (http://www.poetry.com/greatestpoems/poem.asp?title=Sonnet+29&author=William+Shakespeare), iambic pentameter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iambic_pentameter) is used, which is both steady and close to normal speech, so it generally gives the poem a flowing sound, whereas lines (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Destruction_of_Sennacherib) using anapaests (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anapest) are also regular but have a more rushed, galloping feel because only one syllable out of three is stressed. But the rhythm doesn’t have to be regular; many poems use free verse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_verse) which, as the name suggests, does whatever it wants to. Highly irregular lines can create a sense of instability and tension; short lines get to the point quickly. (Of course, all of these generalisations are made to be broken.) The one thing you don’t tend to find is this monotonous yet random rhythm my paragraphs have now, which is why poetry apparently has short lines. Although not unique (in prose, people use short sentences for fast-paced scenes and long, meandering sentences for long, meandering description), rhythm is a defining feature of most poetry.

And then there’s the sound of the words themselves, the most common example being rhyming. A regular rhyming structure (see the previous sonnet) slips off the tongue easily, once again creating a flowing sound and giving the poem a neat, structured feeling. However, there are situations where you’d use an irregular rhyming scheme or no rhyming at all, especially with free verse; for example, you might want the poem to sound more like natural speech. Other examples of the sound of words being used include alliteration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She_Walks_in_Beauty) where words begin with the same consonant sound, which gives these words an extra punch (like combo scoring in video games), and onomatopoeia (the unspellable word), where words such as crunch, hiss and whisper actually sound like the ideas they convey. These effects are used in prose as well, but occur more in poetry because the sound of words is as important is their meaning.

Some will also argue that things such as similes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simile), extended metaphors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_metaphor) and symbolism in general are used more than poetry, which is perhaps why it is perceived as difficult. This is true for some poems, but it depends largely on the writing style. Not all poetry is complicated; similes and metaphors aren’t the only way for poets to confuse us, either. Same goes for writers in general, eh?

So, poetry isn’t that different from other forms of writing. It’s just more sound-based. You don’t have to be intellectual to write poetry. Reading poetry does not make you a smartass. You don’t have to know all these funny terms like enjambment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enjambment) to get something out of reading poetry, much like how you don’t need to know what a foil (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foil_%28literature%29) is to read a novel, or what a deus ex machina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina) is to watch Pokemon. The terms are helpful in analysis, but you don’t have to analyse everything. Anyone can appreciate the beauty of poetry. But… do I still hear protests? What is that you’re saying? Damn, I didn’t want to talk about this! Here’s the ultimate reason people run away from poetry, the undisputable truth that is the mythbuster’s nightmare… poetry is weird!

Okay, not all poetry is weird. Some can be incredibly straightforward and story-like, like lyrics. But it’s true that usually, the full meaning of a poem is not immediately apparent. Poetry has layers which are not half as straightforward as an onion’s. As said previously, the meter can contribute to the meaning of a poem. The individual similes and metaphors contribute to the overall meaning. The choice of every word contributes to the overall meaning. It’s not uncommon to look at a poem for the first time and think “yeah, just another poem about outgrown love…”, leave it, come back a few months later and suddenly realise “hang on, he KILLED (http://www.poetry-online.org/browning_robert_my_last_duchess.htm) HIS WIFE?” (Okay, perhaps not so common either.) I haven’t even started on poems where events and ideas are described so fragmentally that you find yourself thinking, “is this ‘he’ the same as that ‘his’? Where are the verbs? IS ‘HE’ EVEN A LIVING THING?” Oh, and the poems which seem to throw words at you (graywyvern.blogspot.com/2003_12_07_archive.html) as if playing at random word generation. Nothing feels more stupid than going on about the narrator’s monotonous unfulfilled life, only to be told said narrator is a goldfish. It’s enough to turn you off poetry for life.

Critiquing poetry is also daunting because it’s so subjective. Prose is subjective too, of course. People like different writing styles and different genres; some like an emphasis on characters while others prefer complex plots. What is to one person a masterpiece may be garbage to another. However, with prose it’s a lot easier to get people to agree on some loose guidelines. Cardboard cutout characters are generally not good. Not specifying whether your characters are wandering around in swamp, desert or metropolis is generally not good. Bad spelling and grammar are never good. There are areas such as plot and character you can criticise. Unfortunately, in the world of poetry, there are no such boxes. Have you ever tried to review a poem FFRO style? “This poem is a grammatical disaster. It has no capitals or punctuation. You press ‘Enter’ in the middle of sentences. Oh, and ‘nightmare’ isn’t a verb, idiot.” “The plot basically says this woman is beautiful. With hair like black wires (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15557).” “The only main character in this poem is a Grecian urn (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15564).” The review would probably attract rotten tomatoes.

All this hesitation in searching for the meaning in a poem comes from the ultimate myths: that poems have a ‘correct’ interpretation and that they can be objectively star-reviewed. The first myth may sound strange, because shouldn’t the author’s interpretation be, well, authoritative? This area is under much debate, but I believe that poetry means what you think it means. There are no wrong interpretations. When an author writes a poem, he or she may have a certain message in mind, but to readers with different life experiences, alternative meanings may manifest themselves. For example, Dulce Et Decorum Est (http://www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Dulce.html) may have been written only with pacifism in mind, but a rebel may see it as depicting the mortal consequence of obeying your country as an authority. As long as he can argue that the words support his view, no one, not even Owen himself, can say that he has interpreted the poem wrongly. The beauty of poetry, and of all writing, is that it is a means of passing ideas from one mind to another. Writing is meaningless without a reader, and the reader shapes the writing just as the writer does. If a writer is hell bent on readers interpreting her writing ‘correctly’, she is to be responsible for it. It’s not the reader’s fault he can’t tell there’s a goldfish in the poem if it’s only ever referred to as ‘Jack’.

By the same token, no justified review of a poem can be deemed incorrect. One man’s nonsense is another man’s perfection. If you can’t see why something is poetry, that’s fine too. Once again, poetry is like art. If that red square (http://www.artchive.com/artchive/M/malevich/r_square.jpg.html) in the centre of the canvas is art to you (oh the proportions! The symbolism!), then good for you. If you think it’s not art because really, that red square could be anything, it’s fine as long as your opinion is backed up with reasons. The criticism of poetry is much the same – don’t be afraid to voice your opinion because it’s not arty enough and you might be ‘wrong’.

Today, many myths surrounding poetry have been put to rest. Poetry does not have to rhyme or have short lines. There’s no perfect answer as to what a poem means. Hell, there’s no perfect answer as to what poetry is. But poetry doesn’t descend in alien spaceships either. It does not live in the realm of warped genius. Above all, poetry is just word. The same words you use every day. Words that are magical, words to be enjoyed in whatever way you wish. For those of you dissatisfied without Mythbuster-esque scientific evidence, I regret to inform you that all attempts to capture the elusive poetry were unsuccessful; I suggest you throw a poetry book out the window and test the law of gravity for yourself. But before that, do pick it up and have a read, because despite expectations, you may like what you see.

The Grammar Nazi – Wherefore art thou Romeo?

(The Grammar Nazi is not affiliated in any way with Nazi Germany or Adolf Hitler.)

Brace yourself. We're about to examine two of the most feared pieces of grammar. It's time to address the preposition and the prepositional phrase.

First, let us consider the prepositional phrase. This is poorly named after the preposition, which in turn was named for the purpose of a prepositional phrase: to identify position.

That's more complicated than it seems. To put it more simply, a prepositional phrase tells you the position of one thing in relation to another. It just explains the relationship between something in the sentence and something else. For instance, let's say that "I danced on Jack's grave." The subject is "I," and that subject is dancing. Where are you dancing? On good old Jack's final resting place. See? There's your position!

Take note that "position" does not necessarily refer to physical placement. A prepositional phrase may express time ("I finished the race before you did"), inclusion or exclusion ("Would you like fries with that?"), and other relationships like identification ("I voted for Nader" and "We insist on watching the game"). In each case, the prepositional phrase gives more detail to the noun or verb that precedes it.

A preposition, then, is simply the beginning of a prepositional phrase. To get a little more technical, a preposition is a type of adposition along with the postposition and circumposition that tells how a phrase should be interpreted. If you're writing in English and not in, say, Mandarin, you probably only need to remember the preposition.

You've probably seen lists of prepositions. And if you're anything like me, you probably hate them. Memorizing such lists can be boring and usually won't help you in the long run. The main thing to remember is that a preposition precedes a prepositional phrase and shows how it relates to something else in the sentence. As long as you know how to use a word, lists are unnecessary.

(If you get desperate, just use the old rule of how a squirrel can relate to a tree. It can go to the tree, from the tree, through the tree, over the tree, around the tree, before the tree; and it can survive without the tree, during the tree's life, or even because of the tree – note the complementary prepositions in the last example.)

Despite this apparently simple definition – prepositions go before prepositional phrases! – prepositions are some of the most commonly misused words in the English language. This is largely due to dialects that include grammar problems in casual conversation. You shouldn't worry about being perfect when you're just chatting with a friend, but it's still important to recognize those flaws so that you know how to avoid them when you're seriously writing.

Prepositions are most commonly misused simply when they are not placed before the prepositional phrase. Let's take a common example: "What did you do that for?"

In this case, "for" is a preposition. And what follows "for"? Nothing. It's at the end of the sentence. That can't possibly be right, since a preposition always precedes a prepositional phrase. So what should "for" precede – or more specifically, what phrase does it affect?

If we think about it, this sentence basically asks the reason for which something was done. The word "for" essentially represents the purpose itself, and the rest of the sentence describes the action in question. In this instance, "for" should come before everything and be placed all the way at the beginning of the sentence: "For what did you do that?"

This may sound odd to you depending on your dialect, but it's a lot clearer if you think of "For what" as a replacement for "Why." By using a preposition instead of the question word, you relate the action to an implied purpose without having to state that purpose anywhere in the sentence.

(Be aware that many prepositions can be used as other parts of speech. The word "in," for instance, can also serve as an adverb, an adjective, a noun, or a verb. If someone tells you he or she is "going to turn in," that's a perfectly reasonable way to say that it's bedtime. Don't try to correct them if you know what's good for you.)

But this example brings up an interesting question. Who talks like this? Who would say "For what did you do that?" Nobody I know, at least. Sometimes strictly following the rules of grammar sounds stranger than ignoring technicalities. In fact, it's often a good idea to allow the speech of your characters to remain grammatically incorrect in small ways like this. That makes them seem human.

The problem is that your narration still needs to follow the rules of grammar, particularly if you are writing in the third person. So should you use weird sentences like "For what did you do that?" I wouldn't. In the words of a former teacher of mine, just write around the problem. Say "Why did you do that?" instead. Rather than "Who are you pulling for?" say "Who do you support?"

If things ever get too complicated, just rewrite the sentence to make it easier. You may not be allowed to do this in your English classes, but when you're writing on your own there's no reason not to simplify.

1st March 2008, 11:06 PM
Looks awesome, Gavin. I liked Ada's detailed analysis of poetry; that was pretty insightful. (I have seen some poems extend beyond the edge of a page in The Longman Anthology of British Literature; they simply indent the extra text. But that's neither here nor there.) You made a good point about the sound of the words and lines, as that's easy for us to forget sometimes. Great idea casting it as a Mythbusters exploration, too.

Another great interview by Gabi, too. It is interesting how what we read directly affects what we write, even beyond personal interests. Hadn't thought of it in quite that way before. You made some further thoughtful statements about contest judging. Sounds like you treat it very similarly to how some of us do our FFRO reviews. Tact is tricky. On a lighter note, I appreciate the nod to the Grammar Nazi. ^_^

And lastly, Project X will be revealed very, very soon...

EDIT: Project X (http://www.pokemasters.net/forums/showthread.php?t=16893) has begun.

Lady Vulpix
2nd March 2008, 07:43 AM
Oooooh! I want project X. No, wait, I want project W.

And Brian, you're famous! There's no escape now!

Now more seriously, nice and lengthy issue. I liked the poetry article, especially the first paragraph which practically forces the reader to go on reading. And the one about legal issues was quite interesting and informative. As for the Grammar Nazi column, I read through it expecting to see something I didn't find: the subtle differences between 'in', 'on' and 'at', or between 'to' and 'for', which in some contexts can be easily mixed up. Maybe that could be material for a new column?

And now, less seriously again, a friendly gift to haunt Brian: "a, ante, bajo, con, contra, de, desde, durante, en, entre, hacia, hasta, mediante, para, por, según, sin, so, sobre, tras" (that's how I learned them in high school; in primary school there was also 'cabe', and 'durante' and 'mediante' hadn't yet been included).

24th March 2008, 10:42 PM
Pikachu-Sensei, I really enjoyed your article Fafiction: The Legal Paradox. I heard about that J. K. Rowling lawsuit. I also heard that in between books she was a frequent reader of many harry potter fics online. I agree with Rowling on this one, it's one thing to exercise your writing skills and creativity by creating a fic based on copy-writed concepts and sharing it with internet peers without thought of financial profit; and it's another thing to try to get it published and gain currency from it.

However, i think this incident actually will benefit Fanfics. I dont know how many times i've had people ask "you like to write?" and i've replied "yes, i write fanfics", and immediately i had to explain the genre. Year after year i bring it to the attention of teachers and professors. Like Cell-Phone Text Novels, Fanfiction is just one of those genres that mostly the younger tech-savvy generation knows of. I think this case has brought fanfics to the attention of many people. Which is great, because people will be more aware of this unique and beneficial form of literature that we love so much.

Thank you again to everyone who keeps this zine going. ^^

25th March 2008, 12:34 AM
Shayna: Well, you make a strong point about the information aspect. It will probably spread the word about fanfiction, if only to the extent of defining it. But I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

When you think about it, we fanficcers are siding with Rowling on this one. I rather doubt the media will distinguish between these writers and typical fanficcers, which means that our craft probably won't be portrayed in a positive light. Unless you adhere to the "any publicity is good publicity" adage (or however it goes), this seems to be more of a problem than a solution.