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Gavin Luper
31st October 2007, 12:30 PM
The FanFiction Forum E-zine
November 2007






Contents


Le Parole del Direttore
Gavin Luper

Conversations with the Stars – mistysakura
Lady Vulpix

Redecorating Your Settings
Bulbasaur4

The Grammar Nazi – Do or do not. There is no try.
mr_pikachu






Le Parole del Direttore
Gavin Luper


(Yeah ... that's 'Words of the Editor' in Italian. I've never been good at titles.)

Fellow humans and assorted half-breeds, I present to you the highly-anticipated eleventh edition of the Fanfic E-zine!

This month we've a couple of the usual suspects: Lady Vulpix returns with another round of Conversations with the Stars, this time interviewing writer, poet, composer, mod and all-around nice gal, mistysakura! Meanwhile, mr_pikachu gets stuck into some serious grammar work - be warned, this Grammar Nazi column is not for the faint hearted! We also have an awesome article from the delightful Bulbasaur4, who this month takes her fellow writers through a guide to making the most of their settings.

As for the current goings-on in the forum, the main forum is chock-a-block full of thriving fics, old and new, and the Poetry Corner has seen some new additions of late. Meanwhile, the Writer's Lounge has been buzzing with activity as the Fanfic Trivia Game burst into life once more; the Synopsis thread is still going strong, too. There's also a new Writing Contest on the horizon for this month, so stay tuned!

Without further ado, please enjoy this month's issue!







Conversations with the Stars – mistysakura
Lady Vulpix


Lady Vulpix: Oh, hi! I was just wondering if you would like to be interviewed. It doesn't have to be now, but we'd have to meet online at some point before the month is over.
mistysakura: ...uh, okay... I still maintain that I don't write, but anyway … Why not, let's do it now.

Lady Vulpix: You posted an entry at the writing contest, and I've seen at least one more story by you on the forum. So why do you say you don't write?
mistysakura: Hehe, not extensively, anyway. You see all these people on the forum who live and breathe writing, who can't imagine doing anything else in life, who have so much to say on the subject. To me, writing is a hobby. It's what I do when random concepts come into my head and I think it'd be a shame if they never saw the light. So I see all these passionate people and they're who I associate the 'writer' label with. I suppose I write in the most literal sense. :)

Lady Vulpix: We're not an elitist club. Has anyone ever bashed you for writing as a hobby?
mistysakura: Well, no. It just amuses me that I've been moderating a fanfiction forum for four years and my actual writing output is pretty non-existent. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy it.

Lady Vulpix: Ah, alright. So... what has it been like for you to moderate the Fanfic forum all this time?
mistysakura: It's been great. Being a moderator has led me to get to know so many people, not least my fellow moderators who are great to work with. There have been frustrating times as well, of course; our lovely dictatorship system means we make the rules, and that's a harder task than it seems. :P

Lady Vulpix: Is it ok if I ask you for an example? Any particular rule that has given you trouble?
mistysakura: No problems. For example, sometimes it's difficult to draw the line between constructive criticism and flaming. If a member is genuinely being attacked we have to protect their rights, of course, but being writers and all we like to respect free speech as much as possible. Besides, as much as we like to joke about our modsticks of doom, we're not playground referees. The forum is a place for mature-minded people to discuss similar interests and we prefer to let members work out their differences between themselves... but if that doesn't work out we have to decide when to step in.

Lady Vulpix: It makes sense. Has anyone ever attacked one of you for doing your work (or for some other reason)?
mistysakura: I've been pretty fortunate in that respect; fanficcers tend to respect our decisions. I do remember a member who took great offence some years ago when I merged some posts of his, and ended up leaving the forum. It was rather strange.

Lady Vulpix: I guess it was. Tell me, how much do you read of what is posted on the forum?
mistysakura: I used to read a lot more. I know how important feedback is to writers; I know how it is to unveil a creation to the world, to feel the excitement and fear of what others might think, and I know the disappointment when your hard work slides down the forum listing into oblivion. So I try to read as much as I can and give constructive criticism. Of course, I don't only read for that reason: I really enjoy a lot of works on the forum, as much as I enjoy some published fiction. With reference to fanfiction in particular, I like seeing how people take the concept of Pokemon and turn it into something new, something with a life of its own. Nowadays, being pressed for time, I mainly read one-shots, poems, fics I've followed for years and fics I review for the FFRO.

Lady Vulpix: Why did you join the FFRO?
mistysakura: Since I was doing so much reading and replying back then, it was a natural extension. I'd also had a fic reviewed by the FFRO before I joined, which I found helpful, so I thought I'd do the same for others. Actually, being in the FFRO has taught me to look critically at my own writing because you spend quite a bit of time thinking about what works and what doesn't in a fic. Nowadays the FFRO also pushes me to catch up with fics I'd be too lazy to look at otherwise.

Lady Vulpix: Nice. So would you say your writing has improved since then?
mistysakura: Since... back in 2003 when I had the fic reviewed? I'd say so. Especially characters; for some reason they used to act like they were in the 1930s or something. I think it comes with meeting new people (my fourteen-year-old social circle wasn't particularly wide) and observing the different ways in which they act and how it's connected to how they think. Of course, there's still lots of stuff I need to work on. For example, I seem to have a knack for forgetting that readers can't read my mind, and consequently don't explain what's going on properly. (Is it a ravine? An abyss? ...Stonehenge?) I've also worked on a bit of poetry, and it's been hard to gauge whether I've improved on that or not because people find it difficult to judge what a good poem is (myself included). And I wrote my first song a few months ago, which I got very helpful feedback on, and I'm looking forward to building on that.

Lady Vulpix: Hehe. So, you draw ideas to improve your writing from things you come across in your life and the input you receive?
mistysakura: I suppose every writer does that. It's impossible not to draw on real life. Even fantasy authors need to observe what drives people to make their characters believable and sympathetic. About ideas to improve my writing as such, it's not that systematic, really. I just write whatever comes to mind, to the best of my ability. But I do look at my characters' actions and especially speech to see if anyone in real life would credibly act that way, and sometimes random observations of the interactions inside a crowded train make it into my writing, things like that.

Lady Vulpix: Very true. Does reading help you too?
mistysakura: Definitely. And not just 'classics' or even necessarily 'good' literature. For example, the 'chick flicks' I read might not be the most intelligent things ever written, but the way they sculpt their protagonists' characters, putting in all the little quirks as well as things all girls can relate to, works really well for the target audience of teenage girls. Reading widely has opened me to more experimentation with my style as well. I used to think I had a pretty good idea of what good writing was, i.e. the stuff I read in literature class. But then I thought about all the different stuff I read: fantasy, romance, teenage fiction, songs -- and I basically realised good writing doesn't all come from the one genre, from one proper style. There's some writing which is so dense and full of beautiful imagery and meaning and that's fine, but at the opposite end of the spectrum you have poetry or lyrics that are so raw with emotion and so simple and they affect you differently but equally powerfully. So basically reading has convinced me to let my style develop naturally (hopefully) instead of sticking to guidelines.

Lady Vulpix: And you said you didn't write... all this only serves to prove otherwise. Anyway, is there any genre or genres you like the most?
mistysakura: I swear I talk about writing more than I actually write. Which is a bit strange. Anyway, I used to read a lot of fantasy, which I still enjoy. One of my favourite series from that genre is the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody. Lately I've been reading more 'realistic' fiction though, and a bit of historical fiction, which I guess is like fantasy in a sense because it transports you to a world so far removed from your own, but it's exciting because you know that world actually existed.

Lady Vulpix: :) Ok, I think we've covered a bit of every field. Is there anything you'd like to say to the readers of the E-Zine?
mistysakura: Firstly, congratulations if you've actually stuck with my blabbering. ;) For writers: if you wake up in the morning and can't think about anything but writing, good for you. If you can't see anything you'd want more than getting published, I wish you well. But if you're like me and you don't take your writing that seriously and these dedicated people scare you a bit, I'm sure there's a niche for us somewhere too. As long as you enjoy what you're doing, that's all that matters. From a mod's point of view: as said before we're not dictators. :P So if you have any suggestions to make, or just want a chat, feel free to talk to any of us. That's about it, really.

Lady Vulpix: Thank you.
mistysakura: You're welcome!







Redecorating Your Settings
Bulbasaur4

It may not be spring, but clean out your storybooks! It’s the season for redecorating! Perhaps it can be in the festivities of Thanksgiving or just by the sheer joy of the changing colors that come with fall. In any case, whip out those coloring pencils or crayons- its time to take your old settings and give them a splash of fresh color!

Settings in a storybook can sometimes be tedious things. As a writer, we can easily visualize where the characters in our story are but getting that across to the reader? That can just be simply boring or perhaps even a little bit difficult. If we concentrate on the setting too much, we start writing paragraph after paragraph of detail and our reader is numbed by the inactivity of description. Yet, if we are too quick to describe and don’t use enough words, our reader will trudge through a gray fog and swiftly become confused. So how do we balance this? How do we make settings interesting and how can we possibly make them important even when they don’t connect to the plot?

Look no further. While this guide might not have all the answers you’re looking for, it does have a few helpful hints at “redecorating” your settings. The rest is up to you to experiment, discover and create with your masterpieces.


Too Much Junk in the Closet?
It’s quite easy to discover if your setting description is too long. It can also be painless to prevent yourself from writing too much.

1.) What’s important?
That’s easy enough. Think about what in your setting is truly important. A brief setting description usually includes qualities about colors and official location. What I mean about “official” location is what the place would typically be called. Is it an office building or is it a valley? Then simply add a few dashes of color- what is the weather like? What color are the walls? How difficult is it to navigate through this setting? Etc. Limit yourself to the essential questions so the reader can close their eyes and imagine the place, but they can add their own quality to the setting that won’t hurt the story. Not quite sure if it is enough? If your setting isn’t that important, it shouldn’t be longer than a paragraph and a half- if that. More important settings might need more paragraphs to include important plot-inducing items or to set up the reader for dramatic scenes.

2.) Get rid of the numbers!
A lot of beginning writers make the mistake of using copious amounts of numbers. You don’t need to describe in detail how many desks are in a building, how many windows there area, how many clouds are in the sky or exactly how tall a person is. Numbers take away from a story more than they add, unless they are important to the plot. (For example, in the move 13 the number 13 is obviously an important number to note. However, in Harry Potter we don’t see J.K. Rowling telling us how many stones align every wall. Numbers are just usually not very friendly in general with settings.


Need More Furniture?
It is equally as easy to get rid of description as it is to add more. Adding extra little details can drastically improve a story and give it more depth.

1.) Embrace your senses!
Most writers only focus on two or three of the five senses: sight, smell and feeling/touch. Some writers (usually beginners) even only focus on sight! If you’re finding that you lack description in some of your settings, think of the senses. If a character walks into a dark, pitch-black room… then think of the other senses. How does the room feel? (Is it damp? Dry? Cold?) Does it have a strange odor? If the odor is extremely strong, can the character even taste the air? You can even go as far as to go beyond the senses and describe reactionary instincts. Perhaps a certain place gives off an ominous feel that naturally causes characters to feel uneasy and on guard. Don’t see the character in third person- be the character when you write settings. A good exercise is to sit yourself in an unfamiliar place, close your eyes and focus on all your other senses. You’ll be surprised with how much you can come up with.

2.) Compare and contrast!
I caution to use this technique only if you need to. The first suggestion with the senses should pretty much give you enough to write about, since settings primarily deal with the here and now in stories. However, if you find that you still lack the words to describe your setting, try using this technique. Often time a place can truly be understood or grasped by a reader if it is contrasted or compared to another place that the reader may be familiar with or could imagine. For example, if you are still talking about that pitch-black room, perhaps try to grasp the strange “feeling” of the room by comparing it to be trapped in a well. Strange? Perhaps, but if you wield this tool correctly it can be quite effective.


Paint Your Room’s Focal Point!
Describing a place or setting can be easy. Try challenging yourself by adding some wonderful little gems into your works.

1.) The Power of Symbolism
Many talented writers don’t just write a story and bring a wonderful tale to life but they put meaning behind many of their words. Symbolism is a fantastic tool to use to surprise and awe your more advance readers. Imagine their delight when they discover the true meaning of a reoccurring theme in your settings? So think about all of your settings. Don’t just randomly pick a color to make a certain house, wall or flower in a setting. Instead make it the focal point- give it meaning. For an easy example, let us say we want to put in a hidden meaning about bloodshed amongst innocence. So we take the color red- easily associated with blood, and the color white- easily associated with innocence or life.* For every setting that you describe in your story, go into a little more detail about a certain object or area in the setting that has the primary color of red. Then, perhaps surround that red color with white imagery surrounding the red, etc… you get the idea. Of course, you cannot just randomly thrust symbols into your story. They have to relate to the moral, the plot or at least the characters in some way so it is feasible that a person analyzing the story could come to the same conclusion or at least close to it. I highly recommend you learn from famous and heavily symbolized books and plays such as Huxley’s “Brave New World” or Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” It can be frustrating to try, but once you get the hang of it I highly suggest using this tool to make your content richer.

2.) Foreshadow through Settings
This isn’t too hard to grasp. Instead of using obvious foreshadowing techniques through character interactions or words, try foreshadowing through settings. If a character is going to die later on, try to reflect that without a vocal cue. Let’s do an obvious example. Perhaps our character is going to die by drowning. In early chapters, we have him start out with leaving his house which is build into a swamp. We can describe in detail how the character’s past experience with the marsh was horrible- how it always seemed to try to grab his feet and drag him down or how the water always sent shivers down his spine. Then later on, he drowns in a similar situation that he grew up in all the time- not only does the early chapter foreshadow slightly, but it also can be a bit ironic. (If you like irony!) Remember to use key words when foreshadowing through settings however. Instead of saying, “the mud tried to suck in his feet” try saying “the mud seemed to grab at his feet, as if trying to drag him under.” Giving the setting a more life-like quality will help subtly foreshadow events without giving it away or being too vague to grasp.


Don’t Be Afraid to Reorganize!
It never hurts to try and if something doesn’t quite work out don’t fret! Even the most experienced writers have a hard time with settings and some stories can be tough to write for. I hope that this guide helped a little in giving you ideas or perhaps just refreshing your memory. I like to use these tools in my writing quite often to help bring to life important settings in my stories and I recommend that others do the same! Don’t just think of the setting as a place for your characters, think of your characters as a tool for bringing the setting to life!







The Grammar Nazi – Do or do not. There is no try.
mr_pikachu


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

Now that we have a full understanding of how to express things, the next logical step is to proceed to actions. Verbs allow us to express these actions as well as occurrences and states of being.

As a rule, verbs always act on nouns. That is, every action, occurrence, and state of being is assigned to an object, idea, person, etc. Consider the sentence "Jack runs." The verb in this sentence, "runs," is assigned to the noun "Jack."

Even in commanding sentences in which a subject is not provided, the verb still has an assignment. "Run!" is a good example. There is no noun in the sentence, but we can infer that the command is being given to someone or something despite the lack of a direct reference. So this sentence is equivalent to "Run, !"

The idea of verbs being assigned to nouns is called [I]valency, and it can be more difficult to understand when there are multiple nouns in a sentence. A simple example of this would be "Jack gave blood." The main idea you should understand is that "Jack" is performing the action "gave." The second noun, "blood," is considered a direct object as opposed to "Jack," which is the subject.

To make things even more complicated, try the sentence "Jack gave Jill a box of chocolates." We know that "Jack" is still the one performing the action "gave." The direct object in this case is "box," as it is the noun that the verb is acting upon. (Think of it this way: Jack is giving, so the subject is acting on the verb. What is he giving? The box. That's your direct object.)

"Jill," however, is an indirect object, as she is the person who ultimately receives the "box." And "chocolates" are inside the "box," but they are not performing the action, being acted upon, or receiving the action. Therefore, the noun "chocolates" is not an object of "gave." If the sentence was instead "Jack gave Jill chocolates that were inside a box," then "chocolates" would be the direct object (since it was the target of "gave") and "box" would just be a noun.

Confused? Reread that a couple of times, because the next part is even trickier.

One of the most troublesome aspects of using verbs is agreement, or conjugation. Simply put, a verb must be written in the same style as its subject in terms of number and person. Let's look at both of these in turn.

First, just like nouns, verbs have singular and plural forms. As an example, consider the following: "Mary writes." The noun, "Mary," is singular, so the verb "writes" must be singular as well. If we decided to make the noun plural - for instance, "Mary and Jane" - the verb would change to match it. So the result would be "Mary and Jane write."

Remember direct and indirect objects? Conjugation can become very tricky when they are involved. Let's start by expanding the sentence from before to "Mary writes the teacher a note on the wall with a pen during class." The subject is still "Mary," and the verb is still "writes." But now "note" is the direct object and "teacher," the recipient of the note, is the indirect object. However, "wall," "pen," and "class" are neither direct nor indirect objects.

Once again, let's change the subject to "Mary and Jane." If we leave everything else the same, we have "Mary and Jane writes the teacher a note on the wall with a pen during class." This is obviously incorrect, because the verb must match the subject. So if it is changed to a plural form, we now have "Mary and Jane write the teacher a note on the wall with a pen during class." Voila! This is grammatically correct. The subject and verb are both plural, while all the objects and other nouns are singular. As you can see, only the subject and verb have to match.

Of course, sometimes it makes sense to change the other nouns when the subject changes. If, for instance, the two girls were writing separate notes, you would have "Mary and Jane write the teacher notes on the wall with a pen during class." If they have separate teachers, then you produce "Mary and Jane write the teachers notes on the wall with a pen during class." And you can continue judging the number of the other nouns in the same manner. It all depends on what you are trying to say.

Sometimes the subject may not have singularity or plurality. An example of this is the word "water." Soap isn't a single object, but it isn't multiple objects either. As a general rule, when you find a noun that has no number, treat it as singular. For instance, you would say "Water flows," since "flows" is the singular verb. You would be wrong to say "Water flow."

Thankfully, of the parts of speech we've considered so far, only the subject and the verb have to match in number. And even better, they only have to do so in the present tense. This is because verbs in the past or future tense, like some nouns (such as "water"), do not distinguish numbers. As an example, look at the sentence "The soldier fights."

Present tense, singular: "The soldier fights."
Present tense, plural: "The soldiers fight."
Past tense, singular: "The soldier fought."
Past tense, plural: "The soldiers fought."
Future tense, singular: "The soldier will fight."
Future tense, plural: "The soldiers will fight."

See how that works? In the present tense, verbs change depending on the number of their subjects. But in the past and future tense, the same verb is used for singular and plural subjects.

Things get a little tougher when the perspective changes. So far, all the examples have been in a third-person perspective. In layman's terms, an outside figure has been observing the actions. But what we change to first- or second-person, where the writer or reader can become the subject? Since the verb must match the subject, this can change the situation.

Let's look again at the sentence "The soldier fights." But this time, instead of "soldier," we can change the subject to "I" to make it a first-person sentence. Thus, we have "I fights." Even though the noun is singular, the first-person perspective does not match the verb. The proper form is instead the plural verb "fight." The same thing happens in the second-person, where "You fights" should instead be "You fight."

You may have already figured out the shortcut. In general, whenever you use "I" or "you" as the subject of a sentence, the verb should be in its plural form rather than its singular version. If the subject is anything else (including "we," "us," "all of you," etc.), the number of the subject dictates the form of the noun.

Again, you can ignore verb conjugation if you are in the past or future tense, as they will not distinguish between the different subject forms in those cases.

Did that seem difficult? Stifling? Overwhelming? The Grammar Nazi scoffs at your incomprehension. Be glad you're not working through this in Japanese, in which verbs change in response to other categories. Georgian can be even more difficult, as the verb must agree with the subject and all associated objects as well. Compared to the tangles you may encounter with verb conjugation in those languages, similar troubles in English are insignificant. All you have to do is match the subject and verb and you're done. Besides, using verbs properly is much easier to do in practice than it is to understand just from reading. So get out there and write!

Chris 2.1
31st October 2007, 01:33 PM
Nice work! Smaller than usual. But I liked it, it gave the articles more spotlight. MS, liked the interview :D Gotta love your attitude.

Bulbasaur4
31st October 2007, 07:38 PM
Great job trying to tackle those verbs, Mr. Pika. Gosh darn I'm glad I don't have to do that but I think you did a good job! (Even if you were so exhausted!) And also, great interview! It was really interesting and insightful to listen to Ada- so good job to both Gabi and Ada!

Houndoom_Lover
1st November 2007, 06:20 PM
It was so short, like this box, yet filled with yummy! Like a twinkie- Mmmmm!

mistysakura
2nd November 2007, 01:18 AM
It was insightful to listen to me? Wow, and I thought I was just honing my bs-ing skills :P Looking back on it, I meant all of what I said though. Thanks Gabi! And the grammar article -- ouch. Conjugation is never fun to explain. Japanese doesn't seem so bad though; as far as I can tell the verbs are always the same regardless of person (well, in most cases anyway), and there is a very limited number of irregular verbs. I'd take it over English any day (unless there's some secret chaos I don't know about). Loved the settings article; yeah it can be difficult to judge how much description is needed, and how to use settings effectively (e.g. symbolism, as you said) rather than just as a backdrop.