Fix 15: The Class Assigned Fanfiction

Okay, so this isn’t a Fix per say, but more something to think about.

 

I’m taking two workshop classes this semester, which means that my time is filled up with having to write and insane amount of things and be ridiculously busy since I’m also writing for the newspaper, and maybe getting paid to write for another publication. In other words this is an insane amount of just writing focused work. What about this is interesting to you? One of my teachers asked me to write a five-page fanfiction and then review everyone else’s 5-page fanfiction.

 

Does this sound odd?

 

Well, it’s a little less odd, it’s for Playwriting class. We read Edward Albie’s The Zoo Story, discussed it, and then the teacher told us to write a 5 page sequel due yesterday at 5pm, and to read everyone else’s by class tomorrow. Honestly I’ve done such things before for things like The Giver, but that was in middle school. I’ve done creative papers in College for a Shakespeare class where I updated Julius Caesar to where our friend JC was becoming king of the United States (to analyze the missed historical significance of crowning Caesar). All of those things to a greater or lesser degree are writing a fanfiction.

 

I realized it when I was writing my little 5-page script (happily titled The Zoo News Story). At which point I realized that I had to write it like a fanfiction. For some reason a lot of people think this means that your work becomes less good, but to properly write a fanfiction you have to really understand the medium shift and the original series/characters/writing style/humor, and then be able to put in the time commitment to do the work to write the big piece. In other words there is a real art to proper imitation, especially since you’re not just copying, but creating from someone else’s foundation. It is now looked down it, but this is what Shakespeare did. This is what Virgil did. This is what Dante did.

 

Because of the recent invention of copyright fanfiction is now seen as something dirty, an almost below the law. But please consider the idea that it’s more… beside the law, all art is. There is nothing new under the sun, says (my slight misquote) of the bible. There is nothing new. Art is the ability to take an old idea and recycle it in a way that is able to reach people. Fanfiction is in someways easier because instead of having to come up with a new story about Good vs Evil you can write about Batman or about Harry Potter. At the same time, the narrowing down of the subject matter suddenly opens up the world with a huge amount of possibilities.

 

To quote Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation: “When told I can [do] everything I just can’t think of anything.” Limitations allow for creativity, even if it’s a creative way of getting around those limits. Suddenly only writing in Harry Potter give the writer a focus, and now the hard part starts. To write a good fanfiction you can write your own version on the world, but frankly I get tried of explaining those away. The best writers blend what is their own and what is in the original work.

 

A great example is Ladya C. Maxine’s (Beyblade) story “Our First Noel”, which aside from the BL sticks very close to the characters, and is so incredibly funny that I still end up unable to breathe whenever I re-read it. What the author does is write it from the point of view of a character, and it’s completely from inside his mind. That opened insane possibilities, since most people have very non-linear and odd stray thoughts. This means that a character who normally seems sane and dependable can be incredibly pathetic and funny without losing the original character. Let me add this isn’t an easy thing to do, but the writer was able to blend her own writing style, her own voice, and the original series in a way that is both different from the original series but not at all alien or unfamiliar.

 

So, how does this relate back to my assignment?

 

Truthfully it made me very frustrated because I only had one reading to understand the characters and write a continuation. Thankfully the character of Peter (one of the two leads) is like a pathetic human version of Aziraphale from Good Omens, so much so that when I described what I’d written to my roommate she fell on the floor laughing because she could completely see Aziraphale doing what I had Peter do. This was lucky because I knew how to write it, but I was still frustrated because I couldn’t get the proper character voice down because I’d only had one view on the original work.

 

There are only three types of fanfiction: the type that’s starting out or bad (since all new people to fanfiction will be bad, and probably willfully bad for a while), the type where the writer knows they aren’t good and are trying to improve, the type that’s amazing and really fits with the original while having their own voice.

 

When you’re new or just ignorant your work will fit in category one. My intended audience (and myself for that matter) is in category two, and we should all aspire to category three. I feel like I’ve even achieved category three sometimes, but not always, really it’s not easy but I continue to strive to reach category three.

 

Now, this is more of a spectrum than three different boxes you check off. It’s completely possible that you ma have to hit all three for each new genre or series you write in, or you may skip the first category whenever you skip to a new series, or you may even just hit number three when you hit a new series, but to hit number three you need understanding of writing, writing theory, your own style, the style of the original series, and the knowledge and experience of having written bad fanfics in the past. No one is a natural born writer, it’s something we learn, as such no one is initially good at fanfiction when they begin. It takes practice and work.

 

So, while I do my little fanfic assignments for class I will go in with my pride as a fanfiction writer, and as a novelist, and as produced playwright, and I’ll hold my head up high. As for what you should do the next time your teacher assigns you a fanfiction… write it like a fanfiction, and have fun. Remember that the only reason anyone writes a good fanfiction is because they see something they don’t think anyone else can see. Remember that you’re writing your part of the fandom, and remember that if you’re reading this an nodding along that you’ve probably got some competency and you can figure out something original to write, so don’t stress and have fun.

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Fix 14: Pitch-Perfect

Yeah for putting off good things like sleep to write, and good things like writing to sleep. In any case, let’s talk about a common Mary-Sue trait: the perfect singing voice, the extreme proficiency in a musical instrument, being able to play a violin, a piano, and a guitar. This isn’t as common a trait as it used to be when I first started out, but it’s not uncommon even still.

 

Here’s what I’ll admit, I have about three ‘generations’ of characters, and in every one I have characters who can sing/dance really well. Why? Because one of the main functions I use my characters for it to mentally create music videos, or routines for my characters. Why? Because I can’t do anything else by talk or listen to music during long automobiles trips because I’m very sensitive to motion sickness. I enjoy coming up with a reason for my characters to interact with others and then burst into song (I also really like musicals). It’s come to the point that I pick out characters who ‘sing similarly’ to certain groups or genres. I have one girl who covers all Lady Gaga songs and Lea Michelle’s songs from Glee.

 

You know that entire last paragraph you just read? Well, for everything I wrote 1) not even would close friends be able to connect exactly which characters to what genre, not even the girl I specifically mentioned, 2) I never write any of this down where anyone can read. These are inner fantasies that I exercise for my own enjoyment, and that I love. Even still, I tend to follow a few rules that are important for characters who are singers: 1) when listening to a specific song I imagine a character or group of characters doing a cover of said song. 2) I imagine the characters doing their own version. 3) if the characters in their story actually make music they’re known for things besides their covers.

 

Those last three that I just listed… not important for what I’m imagining, but pretty damn important for a character who functions as a musician. Truthfully, it’s not bad for characters to have varying levels of proficiency in singing/instruments.  I have a character who specifically does not sing well, but she’s relatively proficient (as in can read sheet music and figure out how to play it with some work, and remembers about three simple songs) for Piano and Violin. In her case there was a certain amount of parental pressure involved, and she’s an heiress. Her singing voice though… really not something any sane person would want to hear.

 

I have one character who falls into the pop star range, but she’s 1)demon 2)very beautiful 3)has no other real abilities aside from being pretty and singing well, and this is after coming from a race that is normally naturally very good at magic. Really, she needed to have something, and I play her almost never except in my own mind or as a minor plot device to answer phones or play tour guide.

 

I have one character who is very talented in the music area. He writes music, sings, and plays five instruments with a good level of skill (Guitar, Bass, Drums, Violin, Piano). He’s also completely focused on making music in that outside of his daughter his whole world is music, and even she can be neglected when he’s suddenly struck by a tune and starts writing music. He’s brilliant, but outside of a few connections (a sister, a daughter, and two best friends) and a pleasant public manner he’s unable to connect to be unless it’s through music.  For the record his two friends also sing and can play three instruments because their leader singer/music writer needs them to do different things at different times, but they all also have a main instrument they prefer.

 

These characters aren’t unrealistic. I know I guy who in high school have a very high proficiency is about seven instruments, plus singing and low to mid-range proficiency in a number of others. Why? Because he liked knowing so many instruments, wanted to go into music, had a natural talent, and practiced all the time.  The band I mentioned above has two characters in my top ten list (including my number one favorite, who’s the bassist, not the lead singer). I’ve also put a lot of work into their pasts, personality, and abilities. Trust me, they practice a lot to be good.

 

What about the girl I mentioned earlier? The one who covers Lady Gaga and Lea Michelle? Well, one of her main functions is that she’s a borderline con-artist/borderline entertainer. I won’t go into her who back story, because it’s very long, but she and her little group travel around pretending to be different people they’re not to survive and earn some money for resources. One of the ways they do this is to provide shows for people. Actually one of the ways they do this is to since Lady Gaga songs in other fantasy dimensions to people who’ve never heard of Lady Gaga before… Shut up, this is the stuff that doesn’t leave my head!

 

Truthfully the characters singing cover songs never becomes a thing in her normal story because I don’t talk about it. What does become a part of her character is that attitude of showmanship (which aids her cons and lying), and how she reaches a feeling of redemption with her dead father (who was an actor) through her show work that allows her and her friends to scrape by (not so much in the starving artist manner, more in the general poverty of peasants kind of way).

 

So, what’s the difference between what I’m talking about and what a Mary-Sue has? Okay, so here are the questions you need to answer regarding your characters musical abilities:

1)      Is their music an integral part of their character?

2)      Does your character sing like/because *insert favorite singer here*?

3)      Does your character’s musical abilities only show up in relation to a (suddenly) important talent show/cultural fair/play, especially when such a thing has never been mentioned to happen before in cannon, or if it does is normally glossed over or irregular?

4)      Is your character’s musical abilities simply to impress and or make an impact on a love interest/hate interest?

 

Let’s break these down one at a time.

 

1)      Truthfully, musical ability doesn’t have to be an integral part of a character for them to be good at it. Honestly, I haven’t even defined musical ability very well. Personally I can sing okay in a Tenor range (yes I am female, and I also sing Soprano, though I think it sounds reedy, and somehow my Alto range is even more awkward). My dad had a very wonderful voice, and my mom also has a good voice. I have an acceptable voice, and if I had training or cared I could probably coax a pretty good sound out of it. I also used to play the viola when I was younger. Truthfully I’m just not interested in making music, but I have a ridiculous talent of picking out what’s good and bad in music, being about to identify composers/groups/singers with ease (which is something I’ve been doing since I was a toddler, when I connected the composer of a favorite childhood movie to the composer for Victor Victoria after just walking through the room). Truthfully my talent lies in being a music critic, like how my talent for theatre lies in being a theatre critic. I know what’s good and I know what works and I know what I like and I know how to express it.

 

I said all that, but I honestly don’t have an interest in going into music. I enjoy listening and giving my opinion to people, but I don’t want to be a professional. The heiress character from before can play the piano and violin, but the only time it ever comes up naturally is when she plays accompaniment for her siblings. Even still the only time it would come up in a story would be as a way to get a character who doesn’t like her in a room to talk to her, but even that isn’t likely when I have so many other great excuses.

 

Characters can have interests/talents in music without it being what they want to do. There are people with amazing musical genius who never make anything of it, sometimes for no reason except they just don’t care. It may or may not affect their character, or it may just be something the author knows that never gets mentioned in story. The point is that a character probably has some relation to music even if they are brilliant or terrible, you just have to consider whether or not it helps the plot or characterization to include it in the story.

 

2)      Again, this doesn’t have to be bad. Most people have a hero, or an inspiration. My favorite writer is Aaron Sorkin, and his writing ability is my goal.  I write because I realized I could make money making up stories all day when all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little girl was create adventures and stories. For some people they see/read/hear something that touches their life and that person/place/thing is forever their inspiration. Sometimes it’s a singer who inspires them to be a musician. A lot of musicians are inspired by older singer. A lot of artists are inspired by old artists. A lot of film makers and inspired by old film makers. A lot of writers are inspired by old writers. It’s how life goes. It’s normal.

 

What’s painful is that you write your character to be able to sing like Lady Gaga because you want to include her songs in your fanfic, or just because you like her. It doesn’t really feel natural, especially if your character is also the love interest of Harry Potter (especially because the time lines don’t match at all).  Maybe it can work, but probably not.

 

Here’s what will work: the band I mentioned before originally was heavily influenced by Nickleback, at least their songs were. The lead singer’s daughter is actually from a story I derived for him to make his story fit “Photograph”. The fact that one of the few meaningful relationships the character has is his child and that he hasn’t had a relationship since the girl’s mother left them both came from a song that I came to realize is actually only okay. Don’t get me wrong, I like the group, and I kind of admire any rock group that can be so popular in spite of how much critic hate they get. The group I mentioned now probably is more similar in sound/feel to groups like Stone Sour or Foo Fighters, not my favorite groups, but ones that fit with the idea of their music a lot better.

 

I have another group that I mentally formed just to have something to think about when I listened to one of my new favorite groups: Five Finger Death Punch. Again, this is only mental; but even in my head I feel less like it’s the group creating those songs, and more like it’s the group covering those songs, and I don’t think their sound matches up right, it’s more like the passion is similar.  I used preformed characters for this little experiment, and honestly it was interesting to see how it affected the dynamic of their little group of friends. Even though it’ll never make it into their real plot it’ll affect the characters. One of the main problems with basing a character on a pre-existing group/singer is that it’s more that the character is showing off how cool they are, and the music their sing is never used to help their character grow.

 

3)      This one, I’m not going to lie, is the hardest to overcome. Really, the problem is the suddenness of it, especially if it’s in a fanfic. It’s like Hogwarts suddenly putting on a school wide play, or Yusuke suddenly having to do a cultural fair so he can see your OC singing, fall in love with her and dump Keiko. You see how this progresses? If the event only shows up to have your character show off, and if it’s not let up to or doesn’t fit the normal series it’s from then it’s really hard to see your character’s amazing musical abilities as anything but trite and annoying.

 

You can include a school festival/play, even in a series that doesn’t normally have one (especially if it’s set in Japan), but you need to set it up first, and why we haven’t seen it before in series? Is it cause no one cares? Or because the main cast has the luck of Harry missing the sorting his first three years? You just need to really think it out if you’re going to do this, and I urge you not to do it just to have your character impress another.

 

4)      But what is your character does go into music just to impress someone else? Two words: Skip Beat! This is a series about a girl who follows her ex-love interest into show business so that she can get so good that she over shadows her ex to take revenge. She starts to learn acting because of the guy she hates but soon comes to love it by her own power. Okay, it’s not about music, but it fits the mold. It’s a common shojo idea of manga, but it works and can work beautifully. The girl followed her lover interest into music, then what? Does she learn to love it on her own? Does he ever come to have feelings for her back? How does he react when he finds out what she started?  It can work, but again, think it out!

 

Okay, now that I’ve over used and abused the number and parenthesis combination as well as the list making part of my brain I must sleep. All I can say now is that your character can be wonderfully musical and very attractive and popular, but you have to realize that they give up things in return.   A character can’t be perfect and as such they desperately need flaws. If you use some common Mary-Sue traits then you should use only a few and otherwise use them sparingly.

 

Goodnight all!

Fix 13: Variations on a Theme

So maybe it’s not a way to fix your Mary Sue problem… or maybe it’s the way to stop the problem before it happens. I’ve read a lot of fanfiction in my day. An insane amount, and I’ve noticed two things: 1) no two fanfiction are alike and 2) there are a lot of fanfiction that are exactly alike. Okay, that does seem contradictory, but it’s surprisingly not.

 

For one of my classes I had to write a paper comparing the first four books of Harry Potter to the Ring of Gyges (from The Republic)… no really, it was a class on Harry Potter as argument… now you know why I have an HP reference in about every single post.  The teacher gave us only two options: that one and another I didn’t take so I don’t remember. What I do remember is that she thought that we’d talk about the invisibility cloak, which to be fair is the obvious answer (the Ring of Gyges makes the wearer invisible and then they can do whatever they feel like doing), but I thought the passage applied better to being an animagus. Only one other person took the option I did, but it didn’t matter if everyone in out 25 person class had talked about the Ring of Gyges and invisibility cloaks because each person’s paper would have been different.

 

Truthfully, if given the exact same topic no two people would write it the same way. They wouldn’t pull the same points, or use the same references, or even interpret the references the same. No two people will ever write the same paper without cheating off each other.

 

On the other hand, people can come surprisingly close to coming up with the exact same idea even if they’ve never come in contact with each other.  I had a classmate whose big 4,000 word paper rated at over 60% plagiarism, and he’d done all his own work. Some of it was the program not recognizing the way he cited his paper (which was correct, but not in the format that the computer was used to), but there was also that there’s simply only so many ways to combine words. Our teacher had a similar problem once where he had sentences that perfectly matched an older source, and they were words he’d written himself. There’s only so many different combination of common words.

 

Another way to put this: there are only so many character interpretations. Let’s take a Harry Potter… there’s really only so many ways you can write that character and still be writing that character and not some variation on the character. Truthfully very few people will be able to write that character exactly outside of the author. I have a friend who writes the best Kaiba based fanfiction I’ve ever read, and a lot of it comes from having 1) written the character for many years and 2) having picked up on a few key parts of a Kaiba and accentuated that.

 

The many ways a good caricature is more realistic than an exact portrait. A great artist will slightly exaggerate someone’s more noticeable traits. The exact portrait may be more exact, but it doesn’t capture the real spirit or personality of the subject.  Same thing with writing a fanfiction. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a part of a character and focus on that aspect (in my friend’s case he focuses on Kaiba as a parent figure to his brother. It might not be exact, but it makes the character feel a lot more real and a lot more in character than any other Kaiba-centered fanfiction I’ve ever read).

 

Now, as I said, not everyone can do this. Did I mention that my friend has been writing the character for years and years? Practice always makes perfect, or at least improves you greatly. Someone once said that no one is a natural born writer. Good writers are people who practice and practice and practice. Just like there’s no such thing as a natural born speaker. You don’t come out of the womb knowing how to speak a language, and even if you naturally have great oratory skills you still need to learn how to properly put words together and expand your vocabulary. The same thing with writing.

 

So, how does this relate to a lot of fanfiction being the same? Well, truthfully a lot of fanfiction will be the same because it’s not good, and it will not be good because the writers don’t have enough practice and they don’t understand the character. If a writer doesn’t understand a character they will often simply hop along with a popular fan interpretation and end up not really thinking for themselves. The reason why a lot of fanfiction isn’t good is because it’s kind of a form of plagiarism.  It’s so much easier to just run with what everybody knows than to think for yourself. On the other hand the bad writer may simply reduce a character to a ‘type’, which is similar to simply not thinking about the character. When I wrote Kaiba he was the tortured-brilliant-jerk looking for love… You know who else gets thrown into this? Just about any snarker in any fandom ever.

 

In a previous post I believe I mentioned that one of my favorite anime characters of all time ever is Karasu from Yu Yu Hakusho. I can barely explain it to myself, except that I really like screwed up characters who kill people. Iago is my favorite character ever, and how much does he fit that description? Karasu is famous in YYH circles for being the perfect pre-packaged Kurama stalker/rapist to make the red haired bishie suffer so prettily for the fangirls. Honestly this always makes me squirm because: 1) Damn, Kurama is incredibly strong, stubborn, and a badass who can put Hiei in his place. He’s not weak, and he wouldn’t suffer prettily for anyone. 2) Way to bastardize a perfectly good character (two really). I mean, Karasu only has a little known about him, which leaves so much room for exploration, and that doesn’t mean he has to stalk Kurama forever.

 

I don’t normally read Karasu fanfiction because it hurts me feelings how unoriginal it is. I read two stories in one weekend that managed to follow the standard tropes of the character and still make him interesting. They did this because while he was still obsessed with Kurama he was still his own person, and the writers had something new to say. One used the character to explore the dichotomy ((love that word)) between what it means to be human and what it means to be demon. The other used it to make the (very uncomfortable and highly underplayed) point that rape is not at all sexy. It’s about control, and it’s horrifying.

 

The thing about fanfiction, or really any writing, is that you damn well better have something new to say before going in. I got back to school today and was chatting with a friend, Rocky, who I haven’t spoken to since the end of school last year. He was telling me about his new book he’s thinking about writing. One of the best things about him is that (unlike me) he’s very good at taking one simple premise and being able to expand it into something great. His premise was a bit creepy but would be a great plot point to drive a horror story, even a novel.  We were discussing what it was similar to, and truthfully we could all think of similar things, but nothing exactly like what he was writing. Even if there is something very similar he’ll be able to write his own (different) version because his characters and conclusions will be different.

 

Rocky wrote a screenplay that I read last year. Again, it wasn’t an unfamiliar or uncommon story or plot, but he wrote it in a way that was different than anyone else could write.  Truthfully there is nothing new under the sun (that’s even stated in the bible… look it up, I’m serious). Every single story is merely a variation on a theme, but that’s fine. How much harder is it to write something when you’re told you can write whatever you want and have no parameters. If you can figure out what type of story you’re writing then you can have parameters and be able to express yourself even more.

 

Everything is a variation on a theme. The thing is that the only way for anything you write to be good is to think about what you’re going to write a lot.  I talked about plagiarism before, and really all that plagiarism boils down to is a refusal to think, either because you don’t have the time or the inclination. In some ways I think the lack of thought is what people find more reprehensible than the theft. I mentioned four friends, three who write fanfiction, one who doesn’t even know what fanfiction is.  All of them have something in common: they think about what they write… a lot. They plot, they plan, and they care about their characters and their stories.

 

I don’t always plot and plan. Frankly I’m big fan of the NaNoWriMo method (since I also follow the Shakespeare in Love idea of it “all [being] locked safe up here. *taps head*”). That being said, I do think about my characters a lot. I plot their stories, figure out their backgrounds, know their family and friends. Trust me, I know, and I care. When I start a fanwork I go through a similar process of learning the character, talking about the character, thinking them all out.  The other thing I focus on is not starting a story until I have an idea.

 

I’m not talking about the “Karasu’s not dead, and he kidnaps Kurama” idea, more the “Karasu’s alive, and becomes a serial killer” idea. It there’s nothing new then there’ no point for me to write a damn thing. It’s this same thing with the blog. Yes, there are a lot of blog about writing, or way to fix bad writing, but mine focuses on outlining how to fix problems with characters that will probably only fit into fanfiction or roleplays.

 

Honestly, I think that thinking may be the best way to fix a Mary Sue. Thinking and practice will fix everything. I simply try to draw attention to different little parts to help facilitate the thinking. Honestly I had Mary Sues… lots of them. I’ve just thought about them for eight years. At the same time I’ve been writing non-stop for the same time, so when I finally put the characters I’ve been thinking about for eight years on paper they go from being a Mary Sue to a complex character.

 

A great way to stop a Mary Sue from even cropping up is to think about your story and figure out what you want from it before hand. Honestly, if you are trying to avoid a Sue, and you see that your main character is an OC whose at the center of everything then you’ll probably know something’s wrong. Yes, the idea that’s stuck in your head may never get written, but you may pick a new idea to write which is less Sue-centric, and while you’re practicing writing on that story you can be thinking about your Mary Sue. One day she may be a real useful complex character capable of driving her own plot.

 

A little less concrete help, I know, but there aren’t really short cuts on this. If you’re a visual thinker then write it out and plot web. If you’re like me and can’t stand to write things down and prefer to think them out then do that. Just keep thinking. For the love of all that is holy never stop thinking… ever. Please, I beg of you. It’s not just a writing thing, it’s a human thing. Everything would be a lot better if people actually use their brains and thought about stuff instead of letting other people think for them.

 

Okay, I’m ending this here before I devolve into a rant on ignorance and children. When I start thinking about quoting Hitler I know I need to stop and go do something else. (Yes, Hitler is very quotable… another brilliant speaker… an absolute horror of a human being, but a brilliant speaker… go watch The King’s Speech and agree with me.)

 

Nighty night all!

Fix 12: Villain Sue

See, I go away for a few weeks and suddenly I come back super productive.

 

So, let’s talk about the Villian Sue…

 

I’m not gonna lie to you, I don’t really get these. Maybe it’s that I border too close to the line with my characters (as I tend to like writing anti-heroes as much as I like writing heroes), or maybe that I just really love a good serial killer. I’ve been known to have loud discussions about different serial killers, whether historical or not and what constitutes a serial killer. To give you an example of my love for serial killers: I wrote a short play called Joel, which is about a Serial Killer who thinks that God speaks to him and tells him to kill people who are too far gone to be saved.  Joel, if he weren’t insane, would be too damn perfect… no really, he’s too damn perfect. But it makes him interesting and sympathetic is some ways.

 

I like villains. I love a good villain. Talk to me about Iago from Othello. I travelled to London by myself on train just so I could see Iago be the most amazing villain in the history of villains. The closest modern villains is Heath Ledger’s Joker… I mean seriously! So I really, really, really love a good villain. They’re more interesting, need less description (especially for background), and work better when they’re more mysterious. Think about it: why does Iago do what he does? I bet you can name at least three reasons or more from the text, but what’s the real answer? How about the Joker? How did he get those scars? How many different stories did he tell?

 

So, a Villain Sue… again I don’t really get this. The same way I don’t get Ghost World and Luciferians. I just can’t wrap my head around people like these things. I keep having to look what exactly a villain sue is. So why am I talking about them? I don’t know, maybe just so I can talk about villains and how to make good ones.

 

First off the villain depends a lot on what context they’re in. For one Fanfic I’m working on a have an antagonist/villain who isn’t evil. He’s trying to overthrow the current monarch because he believes that she won’t be able to take care of the country. It’s not because she’s female, or even because she’s been kidnapped, it’s because she doesn’t have the education a monarch should have. He loves his country very much, and he’s been raised to be the monarch, to do anything for the country. He loves the King and Queen, and he loves his cousin (the soon to be Queen), but he’s willing to kill them if it means the safety of his country. He’s not evil, he’s just wrong. His reasons are explored as much as the heroes motivations, but it works in the case of the story. He’s not a villain, really he’s the protagonist because he’s driving the story, yet he’s not the hero. The cannon characters are the heroes.

 

This is a perfectly acceptable (and sadly, rarely done) type of ‘villain’. A lot of times people try to write the villain as sympathetic (or at least understandable). The problem is that in doing so they often make the villain angsty, and therefore not interesting. Sometimes the villain takes over the story… which his fine if the author meant to do that. If they didn’t then there’s just a problem. Villains can be sympathetic. I have a story that I’ve been working on for years which is just terribly depressing. There were two kids who grew up together and got separated (thinking the other was dead), then the boy grew up and murdered the new village of the girl. The problem is that the girl’s village was of assassins, and she’s a very well trained hunter. She eventually tracks him down, and when they discover that they’re the one person both loves most in the world, and hates the most in the world bad things happen. The girl ends up (slowly) torturing the boy to death, and is left alone. Really the boy is the villain of the story as he helped to destroy a village for profit, but you like him (in many ways more) than the woman because he takes the suffering as a way of repentance. He ends up dead, she ends up alone. It’s not a happy story.

 

Now, I just talked about villains I have were I explore their back story and at least make their motivation understandable. These can work as long as you don’t push them too far. In the second example the ‘hero’s’ back story is actually much more depressing than the villain, which makes her even more understandable, but also gives her greater focus. She’s the ‘hero’ because it’s her story… and because she drives the plot. She’s the protagonist at least. The thing is that these villains aren’t scary. They won’t keep you up at night or make you wonder about them. If anything they’re just people, just another character in a plot.

 

Villain Sues seem like they both want to be understandable and yet amazingly scary/thought provoking. You really can’t have both. I mentioned Iago and the Joker, two characters in the pantheon of villains, so amazing that you can’t get them out of your mind, and they take over the whole damn work that they’re in. But you don’t know a lot about them. Okay, the writer probably knows their motivation, but the audience doesn’t and it drives the audience crazy. The not knowing sets people on edge in a way that explanation never will.

 

Villains often fall under the case of ‘less is more’, and I mean this is really important.

 

So, for the fix: First off, I suggest you write out a list of things about your villain. Include personality traits, back ground information, powers, whatever. Then look at those things in relation to the plot. Think about what has to come out to drive the plot. Yes your villains fear of heights may help drive the plot (or at least end the villain), but we don’t necessarily need to know it’s because his older brother dangled him outside a window when he was a kid. It makes the villain far less impressive, while a fear of heights will simply humanize a bit and give the hero a way to beat the villain.

 

The problem with the side of work on the villain is that you need to know the plot beforehand. If you decide to take the “No Plot, No Problem” approach then you can’t figure out what’s important and what’s not until you get to editing (in which case you can use the above method). What you can do is remember ‘less is more’, or focus more on the hero’s journey, and how to make the villain scary and not at all attainable to them.  For my book the villain amounts to a satanic nun, and is modeled after something I saw in an experimental film… and then I went above and beyond on the nightmare fuel (again, this character scares me). The reason why she’s so terrifying is that I don’t even know anything about her. No really, I have no idea. She just freaks me out, and even though she’s ‘beaten’, she continues to exist and is a threat. The heroes don’t have to vanquish the demon, only escape. It means that all the threats they faced continue to be threats, and can be frightening even after the stories over. No one ever sees the metaphorical zipper on the metaphorical monster costume.

 

To sum up: you can write out a villain to be as well known as the hero, but you need to know going in that the hero and villain need to share similar amounts screen time without the villain over taking the hero’s role. But when you do that the villain simply becomes another character. Yes the villain can still be threatening or else there’s no point to the hero’s journey, but they will never reach the pantheon. They will never be and Iago. Conversely, when writing an Iago-like villain you need to strike a balance between what is known and what is not known. You need to make sure enough is known that the plot and character’s actions make sense, but leave out enough that the audience is desperately wanting to know more. And it can’t be in the “what the hell just happened?” way, but in the “shit, the play’s over and Iago never told us why he did it… I have to go see this play again and see if I can glean more information!” way.

 

Anyway, happy villaining!

Fix 11: Character Derailment

Today’s fix is brought to you by Neil Gaiman, if only because somehow reading hi TVTropes page gives me energy, and there’s a good chance of me talking a lot about Good Omens. So, let’s get to it.

 

Frankly, this topic’s more likely to apply to Fanfiction than anything else, but if you listen up you can probably learn a few things for your normal writing anyway. Character Derailment can affect your own characters in roleplays or in your own writing. Please keep this in mind.

 

Now, Character Derailment is when you have a character that suddenly starts acting differently to what has been previously shown to be their character, and I do mean suddenly. In fanfiction this pretty common in BL (or Boy Love, Shonen-ai, whatever you feel like calling it) where one character suddenly has to be the girl. Character Derailment is a common trait of a Mary-Sue story (for the sullen love interest suddenly turning ‘good’ because of the Sue) or even of the Mary-Sue (see Cannon-Sue). If the character suddenly starts acting in a way that it is not like them then you have a problem.

 

I’m currently in a Yu Yu Hakusho RP with one of my closest friends. I’m playing Hiei for her (and I always play Hiei, I’ve just never been very good at it, since me and Hiei have never really been on the best terms). It ends up this way because my OC is Kurama love interest/torturer (It’s complicated). She was originally Hiei’s love interest who was supposed to hate Kurama, and then she rebelled and I couldn’t stop her. Either way I am not having a good time with Hiei because I see him as literally being asexual aside from Mukuro. Getting him to be interested in a High School girl has been… interesting. The good thing about RPs (or this one especially) is that we said from the outset that Mary-Sues are okay as long as it’s fun. We’ve now branched out into side characters, so it seems like it’s going pretty well.

 

My problems with Hiei have worked out because I’m not trying to write him for a fanfiction. I’ve been writing a couple of Karasu fanfictions. For reasons I can’t explain even to myself I’ve been in love with the bomb nut since I first saw him. I’m starting to get the idea that it’s because I have an attraction to serial killer characters… as characters but not as real people. In any case I’m having the worst time with him because the version in my head has folded off his arms and decided to go one way that seems contrary to his in cannon personality. My only goal going into writing him was that I wanted to write a non-Kurama based Karasu fic that wasn’t just straight angst and rape (since that’s all his stories seem to be, and I’m sick of it). I’ll admit to my own character derailment, mostly due to the misfortune of my characters running off however they want once I give them free reign, and as I already have two OC characters based of Karasu it was pretty damn easy for him to go insane in my brain.

 

(Side not: yes, I do talk about my characters like they’re real people. I know other writers who do this, but it’s a little bit like having split personalities, except that you know they aren’t real and only live in your mind and they never control you… on the other hand you can’t control them much. You only think that you have control. No, this is not an excuse to simply write whatever, saying your characters did it, but we’ll get to that later.)

 

Character Derailment doesn’t have to be bad per say, that is if you’re going an AU story. I knew someone who wrote a Beyblade/Harry Potter crossover where “Ron” was a Death Eater, and the real Ron was actually Tala. Don’t ask how it worked, but it was interesting. For Ron, yes there was huge Character Derailment, but the writer was spot on for Tala, which made the whole thing actually work when it otherwise shouldn’t have worked at all.

 

I mentioned earlier that BL stories are bad for Character Derailment. This is part of why I think they’re boring. Frankly a gay couple doesn’t need a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’. There are those that probably fit that stereotype, but sometimes there are two girly-girls, and sometimes you have two strong men. The problem with BL is that to ‘make it work’ the writer has to change the personality of one of the characters.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

A couple of weekends ago after finishing Good Omens and secretly wishing I’d created Crowley so I could write him forever I went looking through the fandom. In one weekend I was reminded why I no longer read BL nor PWP… because it’s damn boring (the PWP) or they don’t stick to the character (both). If I have to find one more thing where Aziraphale is pathetic I’ll start banging my head against a table.

 

I’m currently working on a short writing experiment (after having discovered that me and my friends basically created an Aziraphale and Crowley about four years ago) with the problem that instead of having a weak Aziraphale I have a weak Crowley (or weaker). I’m working on it, but I’m also keenly aware of it.

 

A lot of the problem with Character Derailment is that the writer gets in their head their version of a character and end up unable to write anything else. I’m more able to read such things because I can understand “oh, this is well written and understandable for X’s version of this character.” Sometimes I just get tired of having to explain things for the writer. No, not everyone will get the character they’re writing about. I know someone who understands Seto Kaiba really well, but he’s written that character for about six years. It takes time to come into any character, especially someone else’s character.

 

So, what can be done?

 

Honestly, the biggest thing you can do is discuss and practice. The reason why your teachers make you write papers is because in doing so you organize your thoughts, make clear statements, and will probably defend that idea a lot stronger after you’ve spent all that time finding proof for your theory. You’ll also remember it better. I spent a weekend discussing Karasu with a couple of people who write the character really well (if very different from how I do). It was good for me because it forced me to find my own version and interpretation. It also made me realize that with a character with so little known about them it’s easier to come up with varying ideas about them. On the other hand you can have varying ideas about a main character depending on what you choose to accentuate from their character. As long as you don’t forget (or can’t properly explain why you’re ignoring) a part of the character’s specific background and personality just about any interpretation is valid.

 

If you want to get good at a character you should discuss them with other people, and you should practice writing as them. You should do both of these a lot. You also shouldn’t be afraid to give them an OC to bounce off of, as long as it makes sense. For Karasu I let him bounce off of OCs, but only if they end up dead in the end. The thing you have to remember about fanfiction is that what people want is to read more about their favorite characters, that what they can read or see simply isn’t enough. They haven’t been completely satisfied yet. There are theories that fanfiction is a female reaction to a mostly male dominated media, sense there are higher rate of fanfiction for shows that don’t have a stronger female audience (see the difference between the number of Bones fanfics vs Grey’s Anatomy). But what the reader really wants to see is characters they like interacting.

 

There’s really not much wrong with writing your own version of a character, but honestly you go into reading a fanfiction to read about the cannon characters, don’t you? You have to remember your readers. The biggest and best way to get over Character Derailment is to focus on your audience and remember why they’ll want to read your story. Audience is everything, at least in this case that should be your mantra.

 

Okay, that’s enough for my sleep deprived brain to spit out for a while. Night all!

Fix 10: Procrastination Station

Ahhhh, Procrastination. I may very well be the Queen of this. I love putting things off to the very last minute, often to my detriment, and then having everything due all at once.  If you do follow this blog you may have realized that after saying I’d post 3 times a week I haven’t posted at all in about… what? 3 weeks. My excuse is that I was in England and suddenly it occurred to me that I had only a few weeks left to see shows, travel, and get all my papers done. In other words, my real life became more important than 4 page essays on writing.

 

I had another blog before, but I don’t update it anymore simply because I got so far behind that I just gave up. I decided that in this case instead of trying to catch up that I’d just go on break until I could find the time. See, I know a lot about procrastination; in fact procrastination seems to be really important to my writing in that it either stops it completely or makes it kick into over drive.

 

I’m going to say right now that this isn’t so much a Mary-Sue fix as general thing to lookout for. For instance, in the last week before grades were due I wrote five one-shot fanfictions. I wrote over 20,000 words outside of the papers I had to do in one weekend. I did some good work, and met interesting people, and had some great exercise. That being said all of this happened because I was putting off doing real work for my real classes.

 

Right now I have two documents sitting open. One is the half-finished first chapter of a fanfiction that I would have been long finished with if I’d started working on it a week ago (no, really). The other is a short fanfiction/writing experiment that isn’t supposed to be very long but will get me warmed up to write a 7-8 chapter fanfiction I’ve been planning for about three weeks.

 

All of these fanfictions are a type of procrastinations against two larger (and much more popular) fanfics that I’ve been working on for a couple of months. Those are in reaction to editing a book I’m trying to get published… because, you know, I have a crippling fear of success.

 

I really wish I was joking. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people have a fear of success. They’re afraid of doing good work, or don’t believe that they are worth the effort to do good work. Doing almost no work at all I skated out of school in the top 10%, won nearly four full years worth of tuition to a top university, all while being white at the time.  The people who got the top spots in the grade worked very hard to get where they got. Not that I didn’t work (because I did, but a lot of procrastination and only half my effort went into a lot of it), but I realize how much I was able to achieve when I never really applied myself to my work. Truthfully, anything that I’ve had to really work at (playing music, languages) I never really apply myself to. The story goes that music majors aren’t the ones who are the best musicians. The best musicians drop out on the first year once they figure out that they can’t just skate by like they always have before, that they actually have to work.

 

I’ve heard this story maybe twenty or more times, and it’s part of why I knew that I’d have to be tough going into studying writing.  It’s why I didn’t just drop out half way through the world’s most frustrating Creative Writing Class (or as I know it: the class that became the one I was only there for because I had to finish it to be able to finish my degree.) It’s why I practice all the time with writing (even if it is just roleplaying or fanfiction). It’s why I wrote for my school’s newspaper even though I plan to go into fiction. I need the practice. I need the work. I have ten years of constant writing experience and it’s not enough.

 

I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m afraid of success. If it weren’t true then I wouldn’t have spent a week writing fanfiction instead of writing about Shakespeare. If it weren’t true then I’d have actually finished editing my two year old manuscript, or gotten further in any of my current novel projects. I’m really afraid of doing well. It’s scary when people expect things of you. Thankfully I’m not happy with settling for less than writing good books that make money, but that goal is far enough away off that I feel justified in not working right now.

 

Procrastination is simply the fear of success, and it snowballs. Here’s my personal tonight example. I’m very tired and thought I had to get up early tomorrow. Before I could sleep I had to 1)start packing to go back to school 2) finish writing a resume 3) take a shower (or have to get up earlier to do so). It all sorted itself out, but I only got done what I absolutely had to, and thankfully I don’t have to be up anywhere near early.  But if it hadn’t worked out I would have continued to sit around playing solitaire, not writing, not packing, not enjoying myself. Procrastination has never made me really happy. When I procrastinate often times I won’t write things I want to write, or things I don’t. I’ll just sit around and stress about things not getting done, which is kind of horrifying.

 

Honestly, I can’t really tell you how to fix procrastination except to exercise self control, think of the things you have to get done as important and that you’re important enough that your work on them matters, and to use your procrastination when all else fails. Honestly I got all kinds of things written because of it. Also, if you do procrastinated don’t vow to go back and do the things you haven’t. Let the past go. It’s already past.

 

So, I’ll try to get back to writing more, and see what I can’t get done.

 

Bye everybody!

Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 3:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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