Feb 16

Blog Prompt #16 – Fan Fiction Learning Curves

http://boldlyreading.com/2014/02/12/blog-prompt-16-what-have-you-learned-from-writing-fan-fiction/

 What have you learned from writing fanfiction?

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It’s exactly as the title says – what has writing fan fiction taught you?

And what do you think it can teach others? — blog prompt courtesy of jespah

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Here follows some of what I believe I’ve learned, or more accurately continue to learn, from writing fanfiction. Naturally, there are aspects of these lessons I still feel terribly remiss in and have much yet to improve but as I say in the title, it is something of a learning curve. The choice of blog title mirrors an exemplary piece of writing by one of our resident authors Lil Black Dog – Learning Curve. The reason being, there are so many impressive authors here on Ad Astra with much for a writer like me to try to aspire to and be inspired by. I feel, as I’m sure many others do, we have much to learn from other fanfiction writers but just as importantly we have much to learn about and for ourselves.

Onwards then to my lessons learned, or trying to learn or master. Why not agree or disagree with me whether these lessons you’ve also learned.

Writing begets writing.

For anyone who might rubbish or belittle the process of fanfiction these three words alone stand testament to the merit of writing fanfiction. I don’t believe fanfiction writing needs a defense but if one feels the need to do so, then I repeat these words: Writing begets writing.

better-writer-graphic

http://www.copyblogger.com/10-steps-to-better-writing/
by CopyBlogger

Writing fanfiction this is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. The more we write, no matter what it is, no matter if it meets our standards or expectations or hopes for the piece, writing anything usually prompts further writing. Once you get started, it’s easier to keep on trucking. Or another way of putting it, especially for when it isn’t quite working out, it’s easier to keep rolling down the hill once you’ve already tripped, fallen and have started tumbling down.

It’s never easy writing. Actually strike that. Sometimes it is. At other times, it takes a certain work ethic to write. Yes, we can wait around for the inspiration and the eureka moment but often that only leads to waiting and waiting and not writing. I’ve found that I need to push myself to write. What I write in these cases is often crass and rough and unrealised but it leads to other writing.

The writing itself can be in the form of prompts, attempts at challenges or simple imaginings of scenes, characters or new universes. So much of these never see light of day or development beyond a rough paragraph of piss poor writing. It does however get me writing. It gets Word booted up and my fingers typing so at this point I usually try to write something else, then something else, and then something I like.

The important thing is to write.

This has been one of the longest and hardest lessons to learn. And when there are so many other competing pulls on time, muse and attention, it is the hardest lesson to recall, to take the time to write. However, it is an important one and a vital one if we are ever to make the transition into writing our own original prose. Many authors have their own routine for writing, almost with a timetable for sitting down and writing. I’m not sure if I could daily schedule a writing time but maybe it would be the very means and way to try and provoke writing.

The Muse is fickle but also must just be tackled and forced.

Erato, Muse of Poetry, by Poynter

Erato, Muse of Poetry, by Poynter

In a similar vein, we are all too often held prisoner by our muse. Over the years, I’ve heard many an author lament their absent muse and bemoan the pain and agony of its departure. It’s an image that is quite evocative really – this allusive ephemeral specter who swishes in through the double french doors from the garden, carried on a swirling glowing mist accompanied by lofty angelic chorus, streaming forth rays of light on which dances words and visions and inspirations.

It may differ for other authors but I have to dismiss such a notion. Certainly, there are times I am more inspired than others. My ‘muse’ may be lacking – especially for certain stories or characters at many given times – but I’m not held hostage by this personification of my inspiration and creative instincts. I want to assert my own authority over my writing. I am sometimes more inspired, more creative and sometimes less inspired and less creative – but it’s me – not some muse. No Greek deities for me!

Muse  (myo̅o̅z) n
1. muse Greek Mythology Any of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, each of whom presided over a different art or science.
2. muse
a. A guiding spirit.
b. A source of inspiration.
3. muse A poet.

With that said, the muse, inspiration can be fleeting and fickle. So it must be stirred and it must be tackled to the ground where you can. I’ve found that music and the writing of others is one of the most effective means of overcoming a lack of inspiration. It may be that we need to tackle the creative impulse and write in a different style, place, way, genre, form. This is perhaps why sometimes turning to write a blog post is not a diversion or distraction. As above, I return to the mantra, writing begets writing. Easier said than done. But there’s the mentality behind it that we (I) have to strive for.

Start writing

Characters maketh the story; Characters maketh the writer

Characters, characters, characters.

Ok, so this one was learned or believed before ever writing in any kind of earnest way. However, since I’ve started writing and reading fanfiction it is clear that characters are what engage the reader and me as the writer in a story. I’m more involved in what happens to T’Vel with Ronak, the how of how they’ve reached this point and where they will go in their relationship as mother and son. Likewise, it is exploring McGregor and Molly’s dynamic that drives my interest and mind than in the outcome of Kestrel‘s pursuit of T’Hos Likk.

And despite my calling them characters, Mr Hemingway has it right here when he tells us that characters should be created as living people as opposed to characters. With that said, I’ve discovered that writing characters I am open to discovering them, allowing themselves to be revealed, I don’t feel it important to know their every tic and nuance as these are uncovered during the writing process. That such surprises are enriching to my experience as a writer and I hope to the reader too.

My hope in writing a story is to tell a good story. I hope though that vehicle for the telling of that story will be my characters, that the reader will get invested in their story. I’ve learned to be fascinated by my characters and to wonder about their reactions to situations, the unfolding story is going to be, rather than hitting the plot points.

I’ve discovered too that my characters are by what I am often measured. Likewise, it is by the characters of other authors that I measure them. If I feel the characters to be fleshed out and enthralling then I will read their stories however mundane the setting or how small the moment. I associate authors here on Ad Astra by their characters rather than their plots. Yes, there’s a Borg revolution ahappenin’ in Tesseract but it’s the relationship between Icheb and Maren that keeps me hooked. It’s the nuanced balance of characterisation and the interplay between the big three in Lil black dog’s stories that I rave about, it is what goes unsaid by Scotty in SLWalker’s stories that makes my mind tick over, it’s Kalara and Sarine’s combative relationship amid the backdrop of the galactic storyline that makes me return to their stories.

For myself, I want and have learned to embrace the want to create memorable, larger than life, ordinary, sympathetic and severe characters and to weave their interweaving lives into a larger story. I’ve learned to embrace the larger than life characters because they aren’t as shallow as people might perceive that I as a writer can convey more to them than mere appearance alone. I have to realise that not everyone is going to read deeper than the surface level however and that that can be dispiriting. The converse is however when a reader (or even a writer such as Steff did with McGregor, Molly and T’Vel) take a deeper read and find the nuggets of depth, the heart of the characters that makes my heart soar as a writer.

That too is a lesson. Readers can read and take spins on things that you’d never have imagined or hoped. Characters are a joy to write and a pain and torture to write once you inhabit them. But there is a special joy in reading a review when a reader is involved in a character’s story and excited and exclaims for their wins, or aches for their pains.

With that said, I’ve discovered something – maybe it is only for myself – but the creation of characters is perhaps easier done than the creation of a story. That great characters are golden but great stories to set them in are even more rare.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the most memorable characters are often featured in anthologies or series. They last – endure – long past their stories and continue onwards into new adventures. That in fact makes it harder then to tell the stories of our characters.

To be ‘write’ is hard

There are deadlines and pressures to contend with having to write. To be a writer is hard. Harder than we ever imagined at the outset of picking up a pen or tapping our fingers on the keys. You can’t rely on labelling a story a WIP as editors won’t buy that. That a story is not a story until it is finished. Ok it is still a story but it’s not fair on the reader and it only gnaws at the writer to have it incomplete.

Writing is a hard slog. Often a marathon. It is a process.

To that end, what I have learned since writing fanfiction and especially since writing here at Ad Astra, it is a process that continually needs to be refined, honed and perfected. That writing is a muscle to be flexed and trained. That grammar is important. I’m far from a grammar Nazi but I’ve learned that good – correct – grammar is not about being nit-picky but about clarifying the intent. It serves the story to be conveyed properly. And the readers deserve no less than to have a story delivered to them in the best possible way.

I’ve learned that my stories and my characters deserve that kind of care and attention. My readers deserve that kind of care and attention too. And that to write grammatically correct is undoubtedly a skill and talent and I have come to truly appreciate the ability of others to nail this aspect of their writing.

The beautiful thing about writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon

— Robert Cromier

This is the biggest aspect for me. I do feel that I have improved in this aspect of my writing.I too readily believed others would understand my writing. I felt I could write as I would speak and think. However, to communicate my stories effectively, I had to learn to read through the eyes of others. At first, comments about my grammar needled my ego and I did dismiss such criticisms as missing the purpose of the story to entertain, to offer escape. Only over time have I realised that grammar serves the entertain and aids the escape and allows the reader to get absorbed in the story without coming out of the story over poor writing or poor grammar.

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The devil’s in  the details

— Captain McGregor

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Reading and Feedback

Reading. It is a most valuable tool. We learn from reading. We learn to be better writers from reading. We learn from great and talented writers. We also learn from writers not so skilled. We are fooling ourselves if we don’t see merit in another person’s story or characters. And that judging the work of others is really but an admission of our own prejudices, likes and dislikes. The world does not conform to our own mindset. Therefore, it will take all sorts to fill the world. Just as my story is not for everyone, likewise the story I read may not be my cuppa tea. That’s a valuable lesson to learn.

Feedback is great but works both ways. We should strive to offer more of it to one another. Offering good feedback to others actually hones our own writing. We learn to have a critical eye that aids our own writing. I know I was a much better and much more prolific writer when I was helping to beta a talented author’s writing. It made me work so much harder to offer constructive feedback – good and bad – it made me work harder on my writing and like writing begets writing, critical thinking begets critical thinking, and feedback often begets feedback in return.

I’m still learning however to actively seek feedback. I am loathe to reveal or discuss story points and character development with others. This despite seeing the merits of such an approach. I have to learn to share my writing with others and that it will serve to better my writing.

I have learned to an extent to share and bounce ideas off others. I’m still wary to do so when it comes to certain universes as I’m prone to the belief that to talk about it ahead of publishing it will somehow magically undermine the story, somehow will implode the worlds I write.

Still in my time in writing fanfiction, and especially here on Ad Astra I’ve had the joy to write collaboratively with others. I’ve found it to be a challenging but rewarding and exciting process to do so. I actually yearn to do so more and at a much more fundamental, world building and from the ground up to published level collaboration.

I am still very much inclined to trust my gut when it comes to writing. That’s a good thing. But it is also potentially a damaging thing. And yet …

… writing is at its core something of the heart.

That sometimes, despite edits and reworks, sometimes the raw pieces of writing, the true pieces of writing are the ones most remembered, most effective, most evocative and most heart warming and rendering.

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readers are fickle

writers are fickle

characters are fickle

muses are fickle

commas are fickle

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This has been a heck of a meander but I hope you got something from it.

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