Tag Archives: craft

Thoughts on Fanfiction

Two trends have been going on recently. They’re similar, yet not so similar. The title may have given away the first trend: there’s been much talk and discussion lately about how to deal with fanfiction, its perks, its pitfalls, how authors should react to them, if at all, etc. The other trend you may not be aware of so much, because it has to do with a certain art website I’m a part of. For the past month (if not longer), there has been something of a “witch hunt” going around over finding and pointing out artists who trace or paint over photographs who, all the while, claim that their final art piece was an original drawn with talent. Sometimes their work includes not even crediting their reference photos.

These are my thoughts.

  1. Tracing in and of itself is not wrong. Every artist begins somewhere, and while some may get more out of it than others, it is a typical method of beginner (and mediocre, and even professional!) artists to trace any or all subjects for practice. There are other means of working on skill, I won’t get into them, but tracing is one way.
  2. Tracing a stock photo is not wrong, dependent on the stock photographer’s wishes with his stock images. Tracing an artwork is not wrong, either. After tracing, then claiming that they did not trace and that the artwork is an original thought and creation, then that is wrong.
  3. Making money off of something traced is where it gets a little more complicated. Like point #2, tracing another person’s artwork and claiming it as their own is wrong, and therefore making money off of said traced artwork is wrong. Tracing a stock photo and painting it in (which can possibly be likened to trying to sell a paint-by-numbers piece) and making money off of it — technically, the stock photographer will determine that right. Is it wrong? It’s misleading and possibly touting false talent and effort, so to me, this is morally wrong and a dishonest practice. Some may not think so, some may actually not care at all, and some may get their panties up in a super-tight bunch over it.
  4. Painting over a photo does not require much effort. Painting over a piece of artwork does not require much effort, either. Both hardly require talent or skill. I have seen both done, both poorly and well. Either of these, in my most humble of opinions, I frown upon.
  5. I use references for my paintings. Sometimes I like to capture exactly what I see, and sometimes I like to use a reference photo as a guide for something I want to capture in my mind. Is this wrong? No: I am a realism artist, bordering on hyper-realism, and oftentimes I need that stock photo or pose to achieve that realism. Real life is my guide for creating art, so I take and transform things to create something my own.

Now replace artwork with book or story, and you see where I’m going with this? Painting over a photo or artwork is likened to plagiarism. You don’t do it. And you won’t get away with it. Tracing a photo or piece of art is likened to taking the same elements of a story and mimicking its style, elements, subject, etc., or in the case of writing: characters, setting, backstory, etc. The practice is questionable, but it achieves the same effect: you’re using a crutch to hone your craft.

I don’t feel that there is anything wrong per se about fanfiction. I used to write fanfiction, and I’m certainly not alone in that department. It helped me develop my writing skills, explore different genres, and generally ease myself into writing my own original stories. In the writing world, there is hardly any opportunity at all to generate any kind of income for writing fanfiction. It’s a violation of copyright laws, and no publishing company wants to deal with that.

Now that I’ve moved on from writing fanfiction (though sometimes I fancy doing it again in my leisure time), I see it as a means of a creative expression of how much one loves the story/game/movie/show. However, one must consider what it would be like to be in that author’s position. Would you be flattered? Would you be insulted that fans are skewing their characters or world, or whatever else? I think it has to do with how the author approaches their work. Some may be possessive of their creations, and thereby wish to deny any fanfiction whatsoever. Anne Rice and others have denied places like fanfiction.net to publish fanfictions of their work. I understand, and to be honest, I think I share her sentiments for my current work. It is not an easy task to create a world, its creatures, its politics, its magic, and everything else. Writing a story using someone else’s creation saves them a whole lot of work, sweat, aggravation, brain-racking, and tears that go into creating a world.

But others don’t have a problem with it. They love that others do more with what they’ve created, that they’ve found their work so inspirational. However, like the incident with Marion Zimmer Bradley, I don’t think that authors should delve into fanfiction until they’re definitively finished with the book or series. In Bradley’s case, she interacted with her fanfiction fans and read their work while still writing in her book, and at one point, seeing that a plot line was similar to something a fan writer wrote, requested her permission to use that idea, while giving her some credit and some money. The fan writer wished for more than just that, and in the end, Bradley was unable to publish her story. The moral of that story for my fellow authors, in my opinion, is: don’t read fanfiction. It will give you ideas, turn you off, or worse, disable your story for you altogether.

Whether or not you allow fanfiction of your work is up to you. Ultimately, of course, you could never prevent it if it happened, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent fanfiction from surfacing. As for writing fanfiction, I would give this challenge: change things around. Make it your story. You can start with initial ideas, concepts, and general characters from another, but with love and dedication, your work will blossom and transform into something completely different. And potentially offer a decent monetary bonus!


The Elusive Word Count

I’ve kept on with my writing like a good little writer should, but for the past two weeks, I’ve been struggling with and getting aggravated over what may seem, and probably is, trivial.

Word count.

For writers just starting out, you may have realized that there are set guidelines for the average amount of words in an MS (manuscript) for any given genre. Heck, they’ve even incorporated a general word count for book genres in Sims 3! And it’s fairly accurate for the most part, though I’ll beg to differ on their length for “Romance” fiction. Speaking of trivial…

If you’d like a list of standard word counts by genre, here’s a decent and relatively up-to-date list. I want to focus upon the current genre I’m writing: high fantasy to include epic fantasy. The typical word count for high/epic fantasy is 100k-120k words.

Problem:

I began my story with a word count goal of at least 180k. Why? Because I read a lot of long high fantasy and sci-fi novels, to include the Dune series, Martin, Erikson, Goodkind, Williams, etc. and I did an average word count of their novels. They reached 200k and above. So I, being the typical uninformed self, thought I can do that too. And after 30k words into my story, I really thought I could. I still think I could make this a 180k+ word novel. But then for reasons unknown (I really don’t know), I thought, “I’m not a published author. And wait, I hear agents have word count limits. I know I’ve looked into this thing before, but that was a long time ago. Wait, let me look into this again.”

So I began looking up and kept arriving at the numbers 100-120k words. I was crushed. Devastated. Maybe I’m delusional, that my story really wouldn’t be that long, I’m just hoping it’ll be 180k words. But seeing that Book 1 of my story is going to end at around 50k words, it’s possible, or not. I’m not sure. And that’s my problem. Agents give leeway to authors who have a proven track record, which applies to most of those authors I just listed up there. First-time authors? Much less leeway. There are always exceptions, but they are so few and far between that you won’t be able to disprove what I just said up there.

Solution:

  1. I’m thinking much too far ahead. I haven’t even finished my story yet! I’m not even halfway through it, and I’m already fretting about an imaginary word count!
  2. This is a first draft. I’m sure there will be a lot of condensing, merging, deleting (*cringe*), and other methods of reducing that word count.

What I learned from this sad episode is: Don’t worry about technicalities while you’re writing. That’s the whole point of a first draft.

Worry about all these things when you complete your MS. This doesn’t mean I’m going to make the 120k word mark, I might miss it by a long shot (note I’m still confident about making it a super-long novel — I’ll get a good laugh at this when I finish at 90k words!), but it won’t prevent me from querying it. Not that I’m a phenomenal writer, but I’ll never forget what one writer told me: “Write a good story, let your agent worry about it’s length. Especially if you are a first time novelist, the most important thing is quality. Tell a gripping tale and it will find a home.”

ps. For kicks and giggles, I did a word count of a couple fantasy books in my library:

“Wizard’s First Rule”  Terry Goodkind; random page: 366 words. TOR Fantasy, 1994. 836p x 360 = 300,960 total words*
“Otherland River of Blue Fire” Tad Williams; random page: 374 words. DAW Books, 1998. 675p x 370 = 249,750 total words

How’s them numbers?

*total words is average. Could be more or less!

pps. Just look at the fretting and the frustration over word count … there’s more than one page of this! It’s just awful.


Top 5(6) Must-Read How-to Books

I will admit, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on how-to-write books. Call it procrastination, call it love of writing, call it whatever you will, but like me, if you’ve read so many of them like I have, you start to realize that they tend to repeat themselves after a while. However, a few gems have really stood out to me and stayed on my bookshelf instead of my half.com inventory. I’d like to share them with you.

Between the Lines

Probably the best how-to-write book I’ve read. It’s about how to lace suspense into the story, foreshadowing, back-story, story structure, flashbacks… I got a lot of tips from this one. If you get any book from this list, this is the one I recommend. A good read before or while you write as it’ll give you a good perspective on your story as a whole.

Words Fail Me, Woe is I

We are never as good with grammar as we’d like to be, are we? I don’t have

“Woe is I” in front of me but I found it just as useful as “Words Fail Me.” “Words Fail Me” is chockfull of grammar tips and how to write concisely.

Even though her books are focused more upon the art of writing, it is most useful for any novel writer. A book I can keep coming back to, kind of like “Elements of Style.” If you haven’t read Elements of Style, then get to it pronto!

Manuscript Makeover

Absolutely indispensable. However, after skimming this book, I waited to read this after I finished writing a novel because it appeared quite overwhelming. I would recommend it for whatever stage of writing you are in. There is no way to remember every tip given in this book, so best to just make a checklist of things that are pertinent to your writing stage as you read through it, then go back to your finished or unfinished story. This book is kind of similar to “Between the Lines” but offers information from a different point of view. Did I mention that an editor wrote this book? Offers story problems and solutions. A must-read.

Story Structure Architect

Great for when you know what genre(s) and theme you’re writing. It gives you a brief rundown of genres and what elements are expected in them. Then the rest of the book contains scenarios that are (exclusive) to that particular type of story. I use this for when I feel lacking in ideas and subplots. Gives 54 different situations of which includes “Flight & Pursuit,” “Adultery,” “Sacrifice for Love,” “Vengeance Taken for Kindred Upon Kindred,” “Self-Sacrifice,” just to name a few! Like I said, this book is indispensable for ideas.

The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits

The only character book I’ve found useful. It’s not the typical book you read cover-to-cover; rather, you skim and pick up ideas and learn a few things. You’ll get the gist when you read the first chapter. If you know your character’s personality, then refer to this to give your character more depth and background. Gives information on nonverbal/verbal communication, physical disorders, career traits, psychological disorders, criminal styles, etc.


The Way I Discovered

Methods of communication by aljones27
Methods of communication, a photo by aljones27 on Flickr.

This is not so much an general informative post than it is a personal reflective one. I’ll just make a small note here that my family’s going through some health issues, hence, why my lack of updates here. But do not fret, this blog is still a priority of mine and always will be.

I have not made any significant progress in my most recent piece, Parallax (which I’ve just added to my Work in Progress tab on this site), though every time I take a glance at the file, the spirit of it returns to me full throttle. However, I wanted to make a post on how I write. The method I discovered kept me going until I wrote “The End” in The Red Forest, my first and only book so far that I’ve completed. I’ve tried many other methods, read about (almost) every other method, and these other methods never worked for me. Now my method may not work for you, or it may. We all have our own thought processes, our own predispositions and quirks, and our own comfortable way of going about things. But as a writer for the past ten years and more, I feel compelled to proffer my modus operandi.

Perhaps I’ll make this little section into a separate post afterward, but for now, I’d like to briefly describe the different methods I’ve tried — which have not worked for me. They may work for you, but we’ll never know until you’ve tried.

  1. Know your character from birth to the story’s opening. Know everything before you write that very first sentence. I love my characters, and I love spending time with them. Unfortunately, planning every minute detail of their lives, where they were born, their address, their relationship with their second cousin, etc. — unless such specific details are pertinent to your story, then it’s not truly necessary for me as the author to know all that, too. By the time I know my character inside and out, s/he’s exhausted me and I’ve lost track of my story. I know what little I need to know about that character, as if I’ve just me them, and let him/her surprise me as I write. I suppose this method allows the plot to shape the character as well.
  2. Outline your story, know the goal of the story, then write it. Wow. As someone who likes to stick to the guidelines, this method kills me. Unfortunately, a few months ago, I attempted to write a synopsis of a story that I’d been lulling in my mind for years. It finally seemed to be taking shape, and excited by the muse, I thought, let’s try this outlining method, but give it a little twist because outlines are way too restricting for me. But this way, I can place all the little twists and turns where they need to be ahead of time, saving me a massive rewrite. So I wrote an 8 page synopsis. As soon as I typed out the ending, all those years of dreaming of this story vanished. It still makes me sick. I didn’t even feel to go back and rework it when I finished it, and I still don’t. But it was fun while I was plotting it. I’d rather write an entire story and rewrite it properly than do it this way.
  3. Just wing it baby, just wing the whole thing. Your characters will write the story for you. Total. Crap. Any writer who has the musings of a potential story in their head always has a mental image of a character and a sketchy plot/goal/thing you want in the story. That initial excitement of something new slowly and most efficiently ebbs and dies within the first 3-5 chapters. I’ve discovered why (in my cases, anyway), for reasons which I’ll save for another post.

Now let me tell you what writing method worked for me.

A little bit of each. I know other writers use this method, too. And I know other writers who don’t use this method. But us, being of a rather need-to-create breed of people, share a common curiosity of and can appreciate others’ methods. I took a little bit of each method that I’ve utilized in the past, with surprising results: I actually finished a book! Now, the quality of that book is certainly questionable, but I was satisfied with it for the time being.

Here’s how it begins:

A concept forms itself in my mind, whether from a face I see, a story or situation I’ve read, a brilliant picture, it could be anything. We all have our sources of inspiration. Usually, it involves a specific type of character facing a not-so-specific problem or confrontation. Things are vague at this point. Sometimes I won’t even have a name for my character(s), and I don’t worry myself over that because at this point, I’m thinking up a way to start the story, just get it on the paper. Beginnings can always be reworked, and then reworked some more. That’s the whole point of the beginning. It’ll never remain the same past the first edit (in 98% of cases). I do some research of my locale, or in the case of the fantasy or sci-fi genre, I scribble about 1-10 pages of background details of locals, tentative maps, sketches, etc.. It only pumps me up more about starting the story. Get a name for my character(s), an idea of their age and relevant background and role in the story, and I’m good to go. Oh, and usually, I’ll have an actor/actress/person in mind as I create this character. Even if it’s just appearances, it helps me to visualize them.

Now I’ve just winged the entire first chapter. Depending on what’s inspired me first, I’ll be laying down the problem or introducing the character — it would be best if I did both simultaneously, but that’s not always necessary. If I’m not sure about a whole lot yet, I’ll proceed to the next chapter. Still rather clueless at this point, but at least I’m getting it on the paper and things are moving. If things have progressed enough, then I STOP.

I ask myself, where is this story going? Are my characters interesting enough? Is there enough tension? But the main question that must be answered at this point is, where is the story going? And here is what worked for me.

No outlines. Bullets. Sentence fragments. Random jots as I’m driving (not recommended). I write up (with pen and paper, not on the computer) thoughts and goals that need to be expressed in the next chapter. If there is too much info that needs to be addressed, thereby making the chapter much too long, I move them into the next chapter. I never bullet farther than 3 chapters. Depends on how inspired I’m feeling. But that sense of expectation, not allowing myself to jump so far ahead, preserves my mojo. It really does. Sometimes, I’ll get a glimpse far into the future of the story, but that’s okay. I make a note of it on the edge of my paper, and leave it at that. It’s all about getting your ideas down on paper.

And I must always remind myself that those ideas are not set in stone. Countless times, my characters and situations have changed those bullets, and I like it better that way. So in one sense, my character does write the book, but s/he’s held in by my reins, by the message and story I want to get across. It could be one bullet, it could be 6 bullets. As long as I have the general idea of what’s supposed to happen next, my story keeps on flowing. And flowing. And it may take months or years, but that sense of expectation of the unknown gets me to “The End.”And as the novel progresses, my characters progress along with it, and by the end of the book, I feel a great sadness knowing that they have finished their time with me.

I wrote The Red Forest in 4 months (does it show?), because that half not-knowing and knowing kept me pushing forward all the way to the end. If you haven’t tried this method yet, I suggest you do.