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Bad Horse


A lack of hubris is a tragic flaw.

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Mar
25th
2020

New-ish Invader Zim story: Stars, Even Here · 2:19am March 25th

You probably know PatchworkPoltergeist for "Somewhere Only We Know", The Last Human, or her stories about the Rich family.  But she's been writing fanfiction since 2001, in many fandoms, including Yu-Gi-Oh, Danny Phantom, and Invader Zim.

Patchwork learned writing the way I recommended in the afterword to "The Magician and the Detective" in The Worst of Bad Horse: by beginning with very short stories, then writing longer and longer ones.  In her first year, most of the stories she wrote were under 500 words. Over the next 6 years, she wrote a lot of 1000-3000 word stories, but sometimes stretched up into the 20,000s.

In 2012, she started writing pony with "Somewhere Only We Know" at 4,700 words, then dove into The Last Human; 170,000 words.  After that she seldom wrote anything much under 10,000 words.  I like to think that the richness of FiM's world and characters gave her more to work with and let her stretch out  to that length. But I could be wrong.

Recently, she wrote a few Invader Zim stories. A month ago she posted "Stars, Even Here", an 822-word slice-of-life about Zim meditating on Earth and how awful it is.

Most writers have imaginary sliders in their heads, with labels on them like "energetic/slow", "happy/sad", "serious/funny".  They move them up and down until they think they've got the right tone for their story, and then they stick to that degree of pep, brightness, and seriousness throughout the story.

Patchwork doesn't always use sliders to pick out one tone color from an infinite palette. She owns that palette. She can write happysad, slowfast, and tragicomic, all at or almost at the same time, like a painter whose only color is "rainbow".

This kind of tone is strenuous to write and to read. I think readers need longer stories to have sections that are distinguishable, so they have a structure to hang the story on and keep the different parts of it clear in their head; and that probably requires each section to have a narrower focus.  And the usual dramatic disruption-new goal-try-fail-try-Fail-try-SUCCEED-Conclude structure imposes different tones on different parts of the dramatic arc. Which is probably why I can recall seeing this sort of rainbow-writing work only in short stories, usually slice-of life like this one.

The Point Of View (POV) is striking.  Technically I'd call it 3rd-person limited in present continuous tense, but that doesn't describe it.  The narrator's voice is so much Zim's that I instead get the impression that it's all first-person, but Zim can only think of himself as "Zim", or just as "him".  Zim isn't just alone in the human way; he isn't even there with himself.

The story is also a great example of how to write short.  It's not "pared down"; it's full of description, digressions, examples, even repetition. Of course, it helps that there's no "plot" that needs explicating, but there is a lot of background to bring to bear, and Patchwork slides it all in more smoothly and efficiently than Hemingway.

But the history behind it--the dozens of earlier, even shorter Patchwork stories--provides a more-valuable example of how to learn to write short: do it, over and over.

Learning to write stories is a story.  Some story startles you, disrupts your contentment with your own writing, and gives you a new goal.  But you still have to try-fail, try-fail, before you can try-succeed.

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Comments ( 11 )

Thanks for letting us know! That’s interesting to know about Poltergeist.

For that new story though, does it matter if we’ve seen the most recent Invader Zim episodes or not?

5227933
If it does, then I didn't get it, 'coz I've only seen, like, 2 or 3 Invader Zim episodes. No cable.

Seeing a review for a fic I wrote for a totally different fandom made me almost do a spit take, holy crackers.

The narrator's voice is so much Zim's that I instead get the impression that it's all first-person, but Zim can only think of himself as "Zim", or just as "him". Zim isn't just alone in the human way; he isn't even there with himself.

Considering that you haven't seen much of the show, I'm stoked that you summarized this so wonderfully. Zim is a guy who's buried himself under a layered bedrock of denial and overzealous egotism. If he doesn't like the way a story is going, he makes up his own. This makes him very, VERY difficult to write and that's without touching his distinct voicing and mannerisms, so in this case, I stepped lightly and just wrote a scene. He can't acknowledge the things that are bothering him so it comes out sideways and in metaphors (namely that bit about the twin suns who don't care about him as an analogue for his leaders, the Tallest).

Also, to anybody that reads anything in my ff.net dated before 2005, this should prove that one gets better with practice. The high school stuff is 70% me dicking around, figuring out how words work, and bleeding onto the page with no clue what I'm doing. But hey, that's how you learn. Aside from the one-shots, none of the multi-chaptered stuff is complete, either. After the Danny Phantom fic, "Where the Rubber Meets the Road", I made a vow to never leave a published story incomplete again if it was within my power.

"Stars, Even Here" is a pure freewrite. I saw some inspiring fanart and just went. No plan, no second draft, pure words, baby. I hadn't done that in a very long time, and I'm glad to see it turned out into something worthwhile. This kind of thing's a good way to get to know a character, especially because Zim's due to eventually show up in the long-form IZ fic I'm working on at the moment.

5228006 It's darned good freewrite (but keep it quiet because Bad Horse has this thing for outlines and order). I love the subtext about how Zim is getting outgrown by his enemy (which would normally make him superior since height=power) but they've grown to being close enemies. I've watched most of the first season of Zim, and I would object to him burying his overzealous egotism under any kind of bedrock. That's way out front, waved proudly. His *insecurity* is hidden under bedrock. :pinkiehappy:

5228006

Also, to anybody that reads anything in my ff.net dated before 2005, this should prove that one gets better with practice.

I wasn't going to say anything, but... yes. :raritywink:
Would you say you got better and/or more confident more from doing the writing, or from getting feedback from readers?

No plan, no second draft, pure words, baby.

No second draft?! :rainbowderp:

I can't even imagine doing that.

(Though there are 1 or 2 typos. :moustache:)

5228034

Would you say you got better and/or more confident more from doing the writing, or from getting feedback from readers?

Both. Specifically, better from doing the writing itself, more confident from feedback... and also the writing. I can't tell if something I've made is good or not until like three months after the fact, after I haven't been inside its guts and can look from the outside.

5228032
That's what I get for rambling after sleepytime tea. I meant the egotism itself is the bedrock, heh. The nice thing about IZ is even if you've just seen the first episode and like three others, you've basically got the whole show. (Technically it was only a season and a half long, so if you've seen the first season, you've seen most of it)

5228006
Thought I'd say my piece here rather than dust off my fanfiction.net account. Suffice to say, this was a brilliant bit of a character trying to think through their own ego. Zim does not feel homesickness or sorrow or longing for simpler times. Certainly not regarding the loss of the Dib. He is Zim! A pitiless conqueror of worlds! A master of all he surveys, as far above these filthy Earth-grubs as the suns of Irk are above him.

Honest.

Really.

... Shut up.

5228006
For some reason that link for me didn’t go to the post that inspired you, just to the persons Tumblr in general, and I accidentally spent like an hour reading through it and remembering how addictive Tumblr is.

5228006

"The GREAT and POWERFUL TRIXIE does not know why you mock this Changeling simply for having AMBITION and HIGH STANDARDS!"

I haven't followed anyone on fanfiction.net in aaaages. Can't think of a better person to restart with. quarantine is regressing us into the past time is a flat circle.

5228054

Well jump from stone to stone like a rabbit
Find a new exciting world to inhabit
But we're still in the atmosphere
Of this one...

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