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Wednesday1,000!23 comments · 135 views
So, yesterday I rendered my thousandth story verdict for Equestria Daily. When I joined up over two years ago, I never thought I'd see that high a number. We had a lot more people on staff back then, and I didn't need to be more than a minor contributor to help out. I usually did three reviews a week. Later, we went to reduced feedback and this year to straight yes/no (any additional feedback at the reviewer's discretion). Now I do about two or three a day. And the queue length, which drove us to the yes/no system in the first place, has come way down from the 170 we had then. These days, it hovers around forty.
I don't have anything too deep and philosophical to say about it. I do have one point to make though: the fandom seems to care less and less about quality writing. Whenever a story is rejected, we provide links to recommended reviewing help. But fewer writers are taking advantage of that. A smaller percentage of rejected stories come back than ever before. The two former mainstays of author help see little traffic anymore. The Training Grounds on ponychan barely sees a review request once every week or two. I'm a member of WRITE but not a mod, so I don't keep tabs on the overall traffic, but it is down. I used to get an assignment regularly every three weeks with the occasional request to take on an additional one in between. My last review for them was nearly seven weeks ago, the one prior to that another twelve weeks earlier. That's depressing.
Why does it happen? I suppose I could poll the authors and see, but not many would even see my question. Plenty of the stories we receive give credit to editing or proofreading help on their front pages, so maybe they're just seeking it from private sources now, but the quality's always going to be hit or miss with those unless you can link up with someone who has a well-established reputation. These groups exist for a reason. They're good at what they do. I wish more writers would take advantage of them.
Another has to do with where the writers congregate. Long ago, almost all fanfiction went through Equestria Daily. If you wanted publicity, your story had to be good. I'm not ready to call Equestria Daily dead quite yet—in my own experience, a feature there usually generates 1-2k views, while a story I post to FiMFiction only will get maybe 500. But with FiMFiction becoming fairly self-sustaining, more authors seem to submit stories to Equestria Daily as a "why not?" thing, because they've learned that fame and popularity no longer require quality, so why spend time on that? And it's true. I can't necessarily fault writers for doing that, though I'd rather have a small group of readers whom I know to have higher standards than a large anonymous crowd chanting, "Moar!" To paraphrase something one of the other pre-readers said (Alexstrazsa, I think): most fanfiction readers don't care if it's good. Even other groups set up to feature good writing don't get much attention. A feature on The Royal Guard only brings me about fifty readers, for instance.
But if I can convince just a few writers to care, then it's worth it. There was a push a month or so ago where some pretty prominent reviewers made public offers to help authors. Kind of an open invitation—authors have to realize we're very busy people and can't necessarily take on any project at any time. I was hoping my other reviewing work wouldn't continue drying up, so I didn't join those folks at the time, but now I should.
Yes, I'm busy too. I give private reviews to 4 or 5 people whenever they ask, though I only get regular requests from one or two of those. I also do a ton of reviewing work for Equestria Daily, and in the middle of all that, I try to work on my own stories. But if you need help, it never hurts to ask. I'll tell you if and when I'm available and whether I think I can give your story the attention it needs.
I prefer comedy, slice of life, and sad. I'm neutral toward romance and dark. I tend not to like crossovers, human, sci-fi, grimdark, and adventure. I don't review mature-rated stories. And I tend not to like taking on stories more than 10k words or so. I'll take most any story under consideration, but if you stick with what I like or can tolerate, you'll get a more effective review, since I can focus on it more than just trying to endure it.
With that, I'll go back to the titled topic and end on some statistics.
I've heard estimates of EqD's acceptance rate anywhere from 7-17%, but it goes back well before the spreadsheet, and I really don't know what the correct number is. It's probably in there somewhere.
My own record:
Stories rejected permanently (to the sun): 27. These are almost always for content against our policy that would substantially alter the story to remove or for things that aren't actually stories.
Stories given a standard rejection (to the moon): 887.
Stories rejected for minor revisions (to Mars): 43. These are given encouragement that they're not far from being accepted, and it's particularly frustrating when these stories don't get resubmitted.
Stories accepted for posting: 50.
0 comments · 63 views
My compadre Present Perfect has been involved in a reading of one of my favorites of my own stories and kept it secret for months. And it's a Scribbler performance, so you know it'll be good. Really, she's the top for dramatic readings, and she's doing dark fics all month, so head on over, enjoy her talents over all the recordings she's made, and give her some love in the comments!
3w, 3dDuet in the Folk Style4 comments · 78 views
I don't normally blog when I release a story, but Duet in the Folk Style had a big effect on me. It started out as a completely different type of project a long time ago, one which I had to abandon for lack of direction. Then it got a thorough overhaul of the original four chapters with an actual ending in mind. After writing the last two chapters, it made it very difficult to do my final editing sweep. It's just one of those stories that has a very different feel to it after the first read-through.
It's also my first chaptered story I've published since my first fanfic three years ago. I haven't been in this position in so long that I don't really know what to expect anymore. I won't ramble—I'll save the reflective thoughts for the author's notes at the end of the last installment, and even then, I'll keep them relatively short. I just wanted to say here that I've developed an extreme emotional investment in this story, I loved developing and writing the characters of the three listed as main characters, and it's been a rough last couple of weeks while I put the finishing touches on it. I think it does some things not often found in the romance stories in this fandom.
As I said in the synopsis, the story is complete. I decided long ago to finish a story before posting any of it, if I ever wrote another chaptered story, because so many things can pop up to sap my motivation to work on it. But if I complete it first, there's that drive to the finish line without anything negative holding me back. So here it is. And as a little bonus for those who read the blog, here's the full schedule:
Sept. 28> Chapter 1: Overture
Oct. 5> Chapter 2: Crescendo
Oct. 12> Chapter 3: Divertimento
Oct. 19> Chapter 4: Elegy
Oct. 26> Chapter 5: alla Rustica
Nov. 2> Chapter 6: Toccata
5w, 6dMy Domestic Equestria2 comments · 105 views
So I posted this story earlier today, and it's an odd bird. More a peek at my home life with a budding MLP fan. As such, it's nonfiction, which surprised me a little that it passed moderation. I figured it'd be called too meta or something, and that I'd have to do it as a blog post instead. So here's a blog post to signal-boost what might have been a blog post.
By the way, my wife just baked some cookies for real tonight. My son always helps with that, and this time he asked if Pinkie could help, too. Everypony got to share a cookie with him! I hope everyone finds this a cute window into a child's perspective on the show, along with a few of my own thoughts sprinkled throughout.
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Some weeks ago, Avox posed a question on my user page:
How do you usually go about writing your stories? Do you outline them beforehand, or do you just dive in headfirst? Do you finish them in one sitting, or do you write bits and pieces of them here and there? I'd love the chance to dissect your brain learn more about how you write, since you clearly know what you're doing.
Given that he was the one who asked, and that I didn't think a large number of people would be too interested in the answer (not that I'll get many here anyway, as my blog posts only tend to get 30-50 views), I responded via PM. Avox thought I should post the reply somewhere more people would see it, so... eh, why not?
So here's what my response was. If you have a rat's ass to give, leave it in the donations box.
I’m definitely not someone who follows a standard process each time. I don’t have a period set aside to write each day, I don’t go through any preparation exercises, and I don’t use the same method every time. Really, the main issue for any writer is to find what works for you. Just because a system works for one writer you may like doesn’t mean it will do the least bit of good for you.
There are a few things that I think help, though. For instance, look at how many of my stories came from write-offs (I always note in the synopsis when that’s the case) or are lengthened versions of minifics from write-offs. For me, that’s what it takes to be motivated to write. These contests are a fun way to push yourself to get an idea written quickly and get some nice feedback (usually) as part of the deal. Then when the contest is over, you can use that feedback to revise the story at your leisure. If you can get yourself to write anyway, that’s great, but this is what it took for me to have a consistent prod to come up with ideas and make them into something.
The minifics in particular are a great exercise. I’d encourage anyone to participate in the write-offs in general and the mini ones specifically. They have an upper word limit (usually 750, but it’s been as low as 400), which really forces you into an economy of words. You have to make every one count. And yet they’re short enough that all you need is to pick a character you’d like to write about and maybe a one-sentence concept of what happens in the story, and you’re off.
So, how to get started? Even for longer stories, it’s sometimes as simple as the minifics: a very brief description of the scenario or a character I wanted to write about. Seeing as how many of my one-shots are extended from minifics, even that small a seed can become something substantial. I’m one who doesn’t start a story until it’s all planned out in my head. I’ll get the initial idea, then roll it around in my mind for days, weeks, even months, until I know how I want the entire story arc to go. That doesn’t include the full detail, of course, because that’d be too much to keep track of, and you have to account for the little delightful things that occur to you during the actual writing anyway. You also have to be open to changing your mind about that initial plan to accommodate new ideas, massage things to get them to fit together better, or even make drastic changes when you realize your plan isn’t working. Because I plan first, I already have an outline in my head, and at times, I’ve formalized it by writing it out in a document. My outlines tend to run nearly half as long as the finished story, because while I do just keep to bare-bones action and description in this phase, I go ahead and write out most of the dialogue. Then when I’m ready to write, I add a few blank lines to the top of the outline and start expanding on what’s there. Other times, I just work from my head.
For me, there are two critical things to consider in a story. First is to keep asking yourself why. Why do these events happen, why do the characters act the way they do about them, why does the story matter? Even in descriptions, you can set a mood with how the room looks, but if it occurs to you to put some detail in there, like a particular knickknack on the shelf, why should it be there? Did you make some subconscious link to something about one of the characters that it’s supposed to represent? If not, can you invent a way for that object to be significant? You get some leeway for scene setting, but for the most part, if you can’t answer the why, it’s probably not worth including. I do want to call attention to one of those questions, though: why does the story matter? Too many stories skip this part, particularly comedies or random stories, but all types violate it from time to time. I call this the “before and after” test. Look at a snapshot of the world as a whole or of the specific characters at the beginning of the story and again at the end. Has anything changed because of the story’s events? It should. There should be some conflict that’s come up and gotten resolved, and at the end, we should see that life is different now, or that we’ve gained some new insight into one of the characters. To pick on comedies, too many authors are satisfied with telling the joke and leaving it at that. While it may be funny, it’s not a story.
The second is another kind of why: characterization. After all, that’s the establishment of why the characters act the way they do. We know enough about canon characters already, so you only need to worry about any personality traits that you want to add to their canon forms. For an original character, you need to plan them out so that you know more about them than you’ll use in the story. That level of familiarity will become apparent in your writing. But how to achieve that familiarity? Again, different things work for different people. Some imagine a list of very esoteric questions and think of what the character’s answers might be—things like their favorite sandwich, if they’ve ever been ice skating, etc. If that works, fine, but to me, that’s overkill. Often, a lot of those types of things can be knocked out with more broad ideas so that you only have to think of the exceptions. If it’s a shy character, chances are he hasn’t done stand-up comedy or gone skydiving. If he has, that’s the exception to remember, but a lot of the rest happens by default. Still, these things can be overkill as well. In my mind, it’s not really necessary to plan the character beyond things that are tangentially related to the story’s events, but even tangential things can be pretty far removed. For example, his reaction to causing a fender bender could be influenced by how his grandmother treated his mother when she was young. Relevance is the key.
If you know your character that well, it will be easier to figure out how he behaves in any given scenario, and you really do have to consider that. Take on that character’s persona and adjust for differences in personality. Or perhaps consider an acquaintance who reminds you of the character. Then really ask yourself what you or that acquaintance would do or say in the situation. When you constantly make yourself tie that character’s behavior to what a real person would do, he comes across as so much more authentic in your writing. And character is the strongest thing in a story. That’s why the reader is there. Events are far more interesting because of who is there experiencing them. Great characters can survive with little plot, but the opposite is rarely true. I have a test for this as well: the “but” test (go ahead and snicker). If you want to describe your character in a short paragraph, how many times do you have to use the word “but”? This is why Rarity is my favorite character: she’s full of internal contradictions. She demands the finest in fashion, but she doesn’t ridicule her friends when they come up lacking. She has expensive tastes, but she doesn’t mind sharing those things. She’s obsessed with social status, but she takes great pleasure in being with friends who would certainly not fit in those circles. Real people are like this, full of unexpected quirks and competing interests, so it’s no wonder that written characters become more interesting when they show such traits.
Stories that rely on situational emotions need to develop that situation with as much care as a character. If a reader is to feel invested in a romance or a sad situation, he has to feel like he knows that situation as well as he’d know a character. So it’s not enough just to say that two characters are in love, or that one is sad that another has died. You have to give the reader enough context to know exactly what’s at stake. For a sad story, you need the context to establish why it’s sad. Don’t just show me John Doe on his deathbed. Show me what led up to it so that I know everything he means to Jane. Then I miss him too, and I feel bad for Jane. Otherwise, it’s no more sad than reading a stranger’s obituary. For a romance, prove that the couple works well together, that they have chemistry. This can happen either by showing the gradual start of the romance, so I see the little dance of getting to know each other and melding of two individuals into a unit. Or well after they’re a couple, show me the little banter and interactions that couples have. In some way, give that relationship the same depth you’d give a character. Starting with “John and Jane are in love” is no better than starting with “John is a financial analyst who drinks a lot and suffers from depression, so go ahead and care about him already.” It all comes down to demonstrating those things to the reader and convincing him. If you leave it to him to invent the reasons he should care, many will decline to do so and just wade through the story with a minimal attachment, if they don’t give up altogether and move on to another story.
For a write-off entry, this all necessarily takes whatever the allotted time period is, three days for most of the one-shots, and one day for the minifics. But when I revise them later on or write a story not connected to a writing event, I work on it in bits and pieces. I only get a few hours a day to split between reviewing stories and writing, so it’s just whatever time I can scrape together. Sometimes it takes a day or two, but it may well stretch more than a week.
There, all that long-winded stuff is the writing part. It’s not really worth getting into the physical part. Whether you work well in front of the TV or need a quiet place is fine. There’s really no good advice there. I just wanted to describe the types of pitfalls that I’m conscious to avoid as I type.
Afterward, then. I put the story down for at least a week. Go find other things to do, don’t go back and look at it, try not to think about it. You want it out of your head as much as possible. It’s surprising what you’ll see when it’s not fresh in your mind. I’ll find phrasings that are unclear, and I can’t remember what I meant them to say. I’ll find a word I used in three consecutive sentences. I’ll find something a character said that I’d intended to be a recurring thing but forgot to include in the rest of the story. And lastly, get an outside opinion, someone who you trust to be honest. Even if it’s someone who can’t help you with the grammar, he can still tell you that he didn’t understand what a sentence is trying to say, or that he doesn’t believe a character would reasonably act in a particular way. A lot of these kinds of problems are things readers can sense intuitively, regardless of whether they’re good writers.
I hope this answers what you wanted to know, Any more questions, please ask.