20w, 5dAnniversary11 comments · 192 views
I've been writing Sunshine and Fire for three years now. June 2011 was when I started formulating ideas and July 3rd is when I put out the first chapter, though it was a few more months before I got around to Fimfiction.net.
I won't suggest that time has flown by quickly even jokingly; I know it hasn't.
So many other works have risen and fallen, stories far longer than mine have been started and finished, entire trends have gone by and gotten old. Three seasons of MLP have aired. A lot of stuff has happened. It's enough to make me feel rather bad, actually, and my first instinct for writing this post was more to make excuses for my lack of productivity. I don't see much of a point in that though, so I thought I'd use the occasion of the anniversary to tell you of how this story came to be.
I watched the first season of MLPFIM in the week between April 22nd and April 29th - "Party of One" was the first episode I saw as it aired. I delved into the fan community and associated areas of interest soon after. I read my first pony fanfics around that time (Half the Day Is Night from that period is still one of my favorites) and, perhaps even more importantly, took my measure of the memes. This period might well have been the height of the Trollestia hype. Jokes about Celestia's supposed tyrannical nature were omnipresent and unavoidable - and serious arguments about the interpretation of her ethics were a regular occurrence as well. Celestia had actually become one of my favorite supporting characters and I felt rather ambivalent, even dismayed, about her treatment, but suffice to say, the whole thing left a rather big impression on me.
I also did other stuff that spring - I read The Final Empire, the first book of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. The Final Empire, in case you haven't read it, is about a ragtag bunch of misfits fighting against an oppressive, immortal ruler who'd taken over the world and turned it into a wasteland in the process of saving it from a great evil a thousand years earlier. I liked the book quite well, and it was hard not to draw a mental connection between that backstory and the legend of Nightmare Moon. Aside from that, while The Final Empire the principal influence to my story, I don't want to oversell how derivative I was being. There's vast differences in overall handling, with the real similarities being subtler details that might not even be apparent to readers familiar to the Mistborn series yet.
The final catalyst that gelled my various thoughts together into an idea was seeing this piece of fan art my MyLittleBrony8. Of the many evil Celestia designs I've come across, this one is still my favorite. It's pretty much what I imagine my Daymare Sun to look like. At the time though, it simply made me want to write a story featuring an evil Celestia. I was far gone into brainstorming the basic framework of the plans I'm still enacting today before I even realized it.
Once I had formulated a story, I wanted to get it out as quickly as possible. While Trollestia was all the rage back then, the idea hadn't yet caught on in fanfics enough to be considered passé. Alternate universe fics were popping up more and more though, and the idea of a world where it was Celestia rather than Luna who turned to the "dark side" seemed too obvious of a concept to believe that someone else wouldn't think of it as well. Timing being the key to success, I wanted to be one of the first to do it, if not the first.
There was a problem there: I was in the middle - almost exactly in the middle - of writing another fanfic at the time, one that I was attached to and would have preferred not to abandon. It was small enough in scope to make finishing it feasible, but in the end, I didn't. My older story was a Neon Genesis Evangelion fic I'd started as a cathartic reaction to the Evangelion remake, to get the bad taste out of my mouth. I reasoned that I'd fulfilled that goal as well as I could ever hope, but the sense of urgency I felt was still the main factor in the choice to start with Sunshine and Fire immediately. I'd like to think that the speed at which various gimmicky trends have appeared and faded into irrelevance among MLP fanfics has ultimately at least partly vindicated my decision. Besides, that pressure enabled me to write the first chapter at a pace I've only been able to match a few times since then, putting most of those those seven thousand words together in a couple of days.
Have any of you reading this been with me since then? If not, when did you join in?
It's been long enough that reading that first chapter is painfully embarrassing for me now, but I guess that can't be helped.
As annoyed as I am with myself for my terrible writing practices, I have to admit to a certain amount of pride as well, not only for making it this far, but also for creating a solid fundamental plan adaptable enough to reasonably accommodate the changes in canon over these three years. I have a pretty mixed view of my abilities as a writer overall, but the structure and strength of concept are something I feel positive about. Even after all this time, I'm no less excited for the ideas I intend to bring to the table nearing the endgame. I'm not impatient to end this story, but I am very much impatient to see it culminate and I am quite confident it will be worthwhile for you as well, if you can bear with me until then. I promise I'll do my best not to make it another three years.
3 comments · 114 views
I could probably post this question on any random literature forum, but I thought - hey, why not reach out to you guys?
It's a little silly to ask, considering the list of books I want to read is already monstrously long and growing longer, but I could use some recommendations for books about history. Not just historical novels, mind you, but all sorts of books about history.
My literary tastes have evolved a bit over the last year. The reason why is a strange confluence of different factors. I used to have most of the Internet blocked at my workplace, so the only thing to do at any time when I wasn't actively doing work was to browse random articles on Wikipedia. There was lots of interesting stuff there, of course. The historical articles were the ones that drew my attention the most - starting from Alp Arslan and ending at Alfred Dreyfus. At around the same time, I also happened to read two highly regarded graphic novels - one about some lesser-known incidents in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and one about the Canadian folk hero/insurrectionist/madman Louis Riel. Both were about subjects I'd never really been interested in, but I quite enjoyed their handling in these books. Also around the same time, I started hearing about this game developer called Paradox and how awesome their historical grand strategy games are. I checked out Crusader Kings II (medieval era) and Europa Universalis IV (early modern era), and what do you know, I found them to be damn engrossing, especially in regards to how they start in highly accurate moments in time and simulate history that never happened, resulting in wildly divergent world orders.
I'd like to get more into that sort of stuff. So throw some at me, if you would.
Fiction and non-fiction are both welcome, and I think I'd actually prefer the latter. As my profile mentions, one of the books I'm currently reading is a biography of Otto von Bismarck (whom I picked out because I thought he was quite a fascinating character beforehand). Alternate history would also be on the table (I understand that Harry Turtledove is supposed to be the gold standard in that sub-genre). I'd prefer books on specific topics, events or people rather than general world history stuff. Also, I admit, I'm most interested in European material, but I'm certainly open to stories of other cultures as well.
Aside from that, if any of you folks are on Goodreads, feel free to add me, I suppose.
18 comments · 318 views
This post isn’t just random rambling. There’s actually something I’d like your opinions on.
Do you think I should go back and improve the first few chapters of “Sunshine and Fire” a little?
It’s been a while since I started writing this story (insert awkward laugh here). It's been a good two and a half years, and obviously - hopefully - I’ve gotten somewhat better since then, even if not quite as much as I’d have liked. Lessons have been learned. Points have been made. Realizations have been had. I would say I was trying a little too hard at the beginning, but I’m not entirely sure what I was trying.
This story has gone on for over one hundred thousand words now, and has been published serially, so some degree of stylistic variation can’t be helped. But as others have pointed out to me and as I tend to think myself, the quality of the first few chapters is downright incongruous. This means that the work as a whole does not have the consistency it should, and new readers checking out the story might be put off when they don’t need to be. I could be losing potential fans over this, and that's just one worry. I've kept a file listing most of the stylistic and grammatical corrections and suggestions made to me by commentators and reviewers since the beginning, but I've never been sure if and when to apply them.
There are a couple of different aspects that influence my thinking on this matter:
Firstly, it runs a little contrary to my own preferences. I can say that some of my favorite fanfic experiences as a reader have been cases where I could follow along the improvement of the author and how (or if) they apply criticisms they receive. (This doesn’t just apply to fan fiction either, but other types of serially published works as well. Webcomics like Order of the Stick and Gunnerkrigg Court, for instance, are all the more impressive for how much they’ve evolved since their early days.) This is of course especially true when I see my own comments making a difference in their writing style.
I like seeing this sort of progression. However, I recognize that this is something of an eccentricity and a point of view probably not shared by most people.
Secondly and relatedly to the previous point, going back and correcting previous screw-ups and smoothing over past pretentions seems kind of dishonest to me. It’s not a very rational feeling, I admit, but part of me would prefer to retain my work as it is and has been, warts and all. Then again, this seems half-way vain to me as well. It’s as if I’m demanding attention for improving, when that’s not an achievement at all, but the least of what should be expected of someone who writes.
Thirdly, editing - an enormously important part of writing - is something I could use some practice with. I’ve tended to do it a lot more for my original writing than my fanfics and have gotten somewhat rusty at it. While I do a lot of rereading and double-checking as I am writing, I make the actual publication pretty much as soon as I have the last word in place, because it takes me a lot of time to get to that point and I don’t usually want to delay one moment further. The same was actually also true all the way back in 2011, when I was also eager to get the first chapter out the door as quickly as possible, though for a different reason. I wanted to be one of the first to do this kind of story - I know I wasn’t the first by any means - and because I felt my premise could easily become old hat. As a result, some of the stuff that I’ve let out into the wild is downright embarrassing, especially in those early chapters. I dare say I’ll never get the words ‘remedy’ and ‘malady’ mixed up ever again, not even subconsciously.
Next up and perhaps most crucial is the matter of timing. With how long my regular updates take, can I afford to go back to fine-tune earlier material? It’s very important to note that I’m not talking about complete rewrites, gods no, just relatively minor modifications, but I’d probably have to touch up a minimum of three chapters, and this is something that could well escalate further. I know that editing backwards is a cubbyhole some writers never get out of and I am dead-set against that happening to me, but the truth is that I couldn’t really say how long the minor modifications I speak of would take. Related to that, it feels to me like getting into this would implicitly prioritize hooking more new readers over providing new content to old readers, and that kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Lastly, there is the issue of feedback. I’ve noted before that it’s been hard to get criticism with the story now over 100,000 words in length and ongoing for years, especially criticism relevant to me today. As someone pointed out to me, updating the first chapters a little would not only make the entire story more attractive to prospective readers, it would make sure that comments people make about the beginning are no longer completely out of time and irrelevant. Then again, I’m afraid that to get a completely accurate assessment of my present abilities, I’d probably need to make a more thorough rewrite, and that’s just not in the cards. It would make at least some difference though.
So yeah, those are my main considerations regarding this matter. Perhaps you can think of some others. At any rate, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
67w, 5dWriting female characters4 comments · 354 views
This is a post of random thoughts and ramblings. It's tangentially related to "Sunshine and Fire" in that it collates some issues I've had on my mind writing it, but I'm not going to tag it for subscribers. It's a bit too incidental for that, and probably not really up everyone's alley anyway. But it's stuff I want to get off my chest, and I'd be interested in hearing other perspectives on the subject.
Once upon a time, quite a few years ago, someone made a topic on a literature forum of a website I frequent, asking for advice on how to write female characters. I must have thought I was some sort of hotshot, because even though I'd never finished any stories and couldn't begin to guess that I'd one day have ambitions of being a "writer," I gave an incredibly authoritative answer - you write them just the same as male characters.
Do I still believe that? Not... exactly. I'd like it to work that way, but I'm not sure it does.
Keep in mind, I'm writing this all under the assumptions that most anyone reading it will share (to varying degrees) one basic premise with me: that there are vast, persistent and insidious problems in the portrayal of female characters in fiction, starting from basic under-representation and ending with complexities related to various sexist cultural standards too overwhelming to summarize here. (I know I'm not the only one for whom MLP's counter to these issues is one of its draws.) Accordingly, I feel it's important - even necessary - to account for and try to offset these problems. One way of doing that, in theory, is to essentially flip a coin to determine a character's gender. It's a very literal way to even things out, but it can create problems as well as solve them.
I should also mention that one of my bigger pet peeves about the debate regarding these matters is the belief that sexist intent is necessary for a work to be sexist. No, I don't think that's the case at all. Dialogue about missteps in these areas cause a lot of friction probably in part because criticism of a writer is taken to mean that they are held to be some sort of evil, wife-beating oppressor, but I imagine it mostly just happens by accident. I'd wager that the majority of problems with the writing of female characters are a result of completely unintended implications that just happen to come off negatively. Each such implication is just a tiny piece of a culture that paints a picture of certain colors. It should be perfectly possible to discuss some of these implications without accusing anyone of anything. Shit happens. It can be severe or it can be very mild. Discussing things like this openly is a good thing.
Nowadays, I am inclined to believe some distinction should be made in the handling of male and female characters, if only to reflect differences in the standing of men and women in real life and catch these sort of implications. Even stories taking place in fictional universes where none of this applies directly are informed by the context of the real world. Of course, nothing is absolute on an individual basis. Any differences between the sexes, whether behavioral and socialized or biological and inherent, are vague generalities, with plenty of outliers on both sides, so I don't think there's any kind of character you couldn't write, if you know what I mean.
I think my original answer to the question accurately reflects a disconcerting division between "regular characters" and "female characters" in the world of fiction. There's a tendency to view male as default. I certainly have that tendency, and I've tried to defy it on a number of occasions, including with the story at hand. There are instances where I feel this has come back to bite me in the ass. I'll give a few examples.
Did you know that the pony colonel in chapter 7 was male in my original plans? As I was writing it, I figured having a random minor military hardass be female would mix things up a bit. All well and good so far, right? But coincident with the change in gender came a change in character and motivation. The original male character was amoral and coldly uncaring, whose reason for hounding the villagers was a belief that they were hiding resources from his requisitioning efforts. The final result was a paranoid hysteric who was deathly afraid of griffon spies and trying to flush them out by any means necessary. Don't get me wrong, I think the latter concept is a lot more interesting and dynamic, and served the narrative of the chapter much better. It also kind of plays into gender stereotypes if you think about it. Certainly, there's nothing particularly troubling in the text itself, but doesn't knowing these additional details make things just a tad awkward? Just a bit?
Frederica Greenhill is another example, sort of. When I first mentioned the character (again in chapter 7), I again thought it would be neat to make the venerable old warrior type a woman. Nothing about the end result is too bad, but I can't help but notice that when her role expanded, I ended up writing a situation with several male characters coming across with various degrees of reasonableness and one female character coming across as profoundly unreasonable, at least at the surface of it. (My original plans involved a bigger role for another female character, the aeromancer I pointed out a few times, but I decided to cut her role down to make the chapter more manageable, at least for now.) Of course, I'm leaving Twilight, Fluttershy and - to an extent - Gilda out of that equation, but they're not my characters, are they?
I could also point that I originally meant to make King Humphrey neurotic and fearful, but then ended up using the same basic personality type for Emerald Hope the Apple Underground book-keeper all the way back in chapter 4, so I redrew Humphrey as sarcastic and somewhat more composed. This came about through gradual and organic development in the narrative, but it just happened to paint a female authority figure as weak and a male authority figure as strong.
These are minutiae, of course. I hope it doesn't seem like I'm taking any of it super-seriously. I don't want to minimize the aforementioned vast, persistent and insidious problems by suggesting these examples rank among them. I wouldn't take much issue with any of these situations in the work of another author... at least individually. It's patterns that concern me and trends that worry me. It doesn't particularly matter if a movie fails the Bechdel test, but 99 out of a 100 movies failing it is another matter entirely. And I hate to think I'm playing into patterns and trends, however slightly, that I condemn.
I toyed with the idea of making Lord Fairweather Lady Fairweather (though he/she was going to have a different name at that stage), but chose not to for reasons now irrelevant that I won't reveal just in case they'll turn out to be spoilers. I mentioned the Griffon King all the way back in chapter 5, so he's been locked into place (besides, I wanted at least one male monarch alongside Queen Celestia and the dragon matriarch). But thinking back on it now, I honestly can't remember whether I ever even considered making Reynald female. If not, then why not? I wanted Reynald to be a model for a knight in shining armor, more a symbol than a character. I was drawing on a cultural association that's traditionally been male, true, but would my intention really not have come across with a woman? Would flipping the gender have made a difference? If so, would it have been for better or for worse?
We can also look at things from a broader perspective, in the depiction of femininity within the alternate versions of the Mane Six. There is a tendency - probably especially in fantasy fiction - to make "strong female characters" tomboys, which has all sorts of unfortunate implications in itself. In "Sunshine and Fire," the two least feminine characters - Applejack and Rainbow Dash - are the proactive and physically able ones, while the two most feminine characters - Rarity and Fluttershy - are the emotionally and physically frail ones. Obviously, that's an abstraction, with a bunch of quantifiers to it. But it's there, and seems blindingly obvious to me. As it happens, Rarity and Fluttershy are my No. 1 and No. 2 favorite ponies respectively. I'm not going to ask whether I've done them a disservice, even rhetorically, because... well, it's a bit too soon to tell for you guys.
These are... coincidences. I don't feel they reflect any particular biases in my world view, and I also don't feel they would matter much to anyone but myself. The implications trouble me nonetheless. There's a part of me that wants to pat myself on the back just for being self-aware and reflecting on these issues, and there's a part of me that wants to dope-slap myself for thinking that. Come on, this is a matter that just about any writer should display some minimal level of concern for, right?
This post feels like it's building to some sort of conclusion, but I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say here. As I said before, this is just random thoughts and ramblings. I've come to believe that it's a little naive to treat male and female characters as interchangeable in practice, but then again, maybe I've just been doing it wrong? Or perhaps I'm just belaboring something that's obvious to everyone else. What do you think?
96w, 3dThoughts and meditations.13 comments · 306 views
I realized something the other day.
With its most recent update, "Sunshine and Fire" has passed 100 000 words in length. Now, this should by all rights be something to be happy about, something to pat myself on the back for - and I do see it as a proud achievement as well, don't get me wrong - but I find that this realization mostly just kind of bums me out.
The truth is that I feel like the quality of my work has plateaued. That's a big concern for me, since improving my work is a big part of why I write fan fiction in the first place. The reason for this... stagnation is probably the lack of in-depth input. I hope this doesn't come across as disrespectful, since I absolutely do not blame anyone for enjoying my story casually, and I certainly appreciate the comments I do get simply for indicating investment and interest, but I'm sure you understand that the absence of any serious dissections of my style and methods/assertations of quality is still kind of troublesome to me. There's little actual criticism, and what I do get is either conceptual or noting typos (which are still useful for making sure I don't get too full of myself, heh). That's been the situation for over a year now, I reckon. I have this impression, truthful or not, that I'm aware of pretty much everything that's wrong with my writing, but that I let things slip because there's no one to push me and prod me about them.
I've been wishing things could be different for a while, but I don't really have any idea what to do. It looks like I'll be writing "Sunshine and Fire" for quite a while, possibly years to come, and while the realization of my master plan would make it a worthwhile experience either way, it would certainly be a little depressing to spend all this time in a state of critical blackout. So I figured, eh, I might as well talk about it here and ask if anyone has any ideas.
The thing about 100 000 words is that they're such a major hurdle to accessibility. 100 000 words means I can't really make use of any of of the established channels for fic-reviews the MLP community has. Hitting up a review thread on /fic/ (either one) and laying a story of this length on someone just doesn't seem feasible, does it? It would be disruptive and overly demanding, if not explicitly forbidden by reviewers' own submission guidelines. It doesn't seem like I could just pick a reviewer and submit a chapter at a time either, since critiques of first parts of the story - now put down about one and a half years ago - would no longer be relevant to me today. In fact, I'd functionally be wasting the reviewer's time by having them cover something someone else has already handled. I did actually have the first couple of chapters looked over by two folks on Ponychan when I was just starting out - Vimbert and Cassius. I received useful advice from them and got rid of (or at least reduced) some bad habits of mine. Even though I didn't integrate their corrections into already published chapters (perhaps I should have), I did try to keep them in mind for subsequent chapters. Unfortunately, Vimbert quit reviewing when he got his post on Equestria Daily, and I accidentally dropped Cassius due to a misunderstanding. (To be exact, I forgot to respond to one of their reviews and then forgot I forgot to respond to one of their reviews, leading them to conclude that I wasn't paying attention and move on. If you're thinking that it must really burn to have wasted such a great opportunity due to a stupid mistake on my part, you'd be right.)
So what other options would there be? A beta reader? I've never had a proper one and I don't really know how to get one. The main problem is that I have friends that like MLP, and I have friends who are immersed enough in writing to be able to give in-depth feedback, but there two groups just don't overlap anywhere. Reaching out to you, the readership, is also something I've considered, but it's a thought I'm fairly ambivalent about. This would be a major commitment, and a major responsibility, and I'd feel pretty hesitant about handing it off to any well-meaning stranger. Another issue is that I'm not sure how much of my overall plans for the story to share with a beta reader. Do other writers just handle it on a chapter by chapter basis, without spoilers? I wouldn't know. This is, of course, purely hypothetical at this point anyway.
At the end of the day, I realize that this situation is something I've brought on myself, in part I suppose because I've kept the rest of the rest of the MLP fanfic community at arm's length, not really investing enough to warrant much attention. I'm a regular poster on exactly one MLP fanfic forum thread and my position regarding my role there has always been that I contribute little, but demand less - meaning I just drop in, bring up a subject sometimes and toss someone some advice sometimes, but do not seriously help other posters with their projects. I've felt validated in this approach because I never push my own story on anyone there either, but... I don't know, it still feels selfish. I don't really read or comment on other fanfics much myself either. This is partially because I'm having some problems with reading in general - I'm currently stuck in the middle of four separate books that I like yet do not have the motivation to continue . For MLP fics, I have five stories in my backlog, two updated stories in my favorites and one I've had open in one of my tabs for literally weeks. I realize that this is nothing compared to the backlogs some of you have, but this bothers me. (I've also made it a point not to read many other adventure stories to keep my own free of outside influence.) So yeah, this whole area is something I feel like I should see about doing better at.
Oh, and again, I do hope this rant doesn't make me look unappreciative. At the end of the day, I am still damn glad for the fans I have, and I'd like to improve my writing as much as possible to give you the best possible story.
So, what are your thoughts?
 - The four books in the order they've been left hanging, if you're curious: Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Dan Simmons's Hyperion (reread), the fifth volume of Spice and Wolf and the first book of the Rogue Squadron series.