Friday, July 26, 2013

The Value of Fanfic, Part 1

I read a lot of fanfic – that's fan-created fiction based on someone else's work, for the uninitiated. There are people who are relaxed by reading a novel, something new and different, but I'm not one of them. I don't mean to say that I don't like new novels, or reading something new that I've never read before. I only mean to say that often it's not relaxing. It's enjoyable, of course. But I do a lot of writing for business clients in the daytime, and by the time I get to read, it's often something I do right before bed. I'm tired, my eyes are tired, and having to remember new characters and what they look like and what they do and all their mannerisms, etc., etc., is . . . well, tiring.

So, when I'm tired, I read fanfic. It's like reading reruns. You already know the characters. You know what they would or wouldn't do or say. You understand their relationships with other characters. It's just a new story in an already-familiar universe, whether that's Scotland in the 1700s, on a space-station, or in the basement of the FBI.

There are a great many people who will say there is no value to fanfic, or to reading it, especially for writers. But I disagree. Most fanfic – I would guess about 95% – is written by people who never claim to be writers, merely people who want to imagine their favorite characters continuing on when the book or TV show ends. The other 5% (if that much), is written by writers who have the same desire to see their favorite characters have new adventures, and though they know there's no money in it, they write it anyway, for a variety of reasons aside from just love of the characters. The fanfic writers I know who write publishable-quality works do it when they are between their own work, when they need to escape, or simply because they've built a fanbase of their own, and those fans are waiting for the next installment. In fact, I've read excellent works of fanfic by writers who can and have written their own original works.

Those are the works of fan-created fiction that I enjoy the most, because they are usually like reading franchise-approved and published novels. Like the various series of novels in the Star Trek or Star Wars universes, these writers put out professional-quality work, only without getting paid. But, unlike the sanctioned novels in such franchises, they have the freedom to do things with characters that would never be allowed to happen in a Paramount- or (now) Disney-approved book. The interesting part is that the very skilled ones are able to take the characters past some invisible line that we, as readers or viewers, know must never be crossed, and bring them back unscathed. They find inventive ways to get around various taboos, and then return those characters without permanent harm, right where they should be for the next episode, or else invent an entirely new, alternate universe for them to live and work and play in, while leaving the ones in this universe safe and sound where they belong (see the J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies). The most frequent example of this is the consummation of a relationship that hasn't, and probably never will, happen in the series of books or TV shows or films. But there are many other examples.

But aside from sheer enjoyment, there is actual value to reading these labors of love. I have learned more about writing from reading fanfic than I have from reading Shakespeare.

Have you ever watched an Olympic or World Figure Skating competition? Everyone knows names like Kristi Yamaguchi or Michelle Kwan, and perhaps you even know the current Olympic and World champion, Kim Yuna. You watch them, and they make it look so easy, don't they? That's what it's like reading good, well-written fiction.

Reading well-written fanfic is like reading a lesser-known, but promising skater, like Georgian Elene Gedevanishvili, who currently is ranked at 10th place in the world. You love her style, her attack, her desire to skate her best. But she still hasn't reached her full potential. And you can't wait to see what she's capable of.

But reading the other 95+% of fanfic is a little like watching a local or regional competition. You watch as one young skater after another makes errors in basic technique that result in falls or stumbles, or simply just looking awkward, like they don't quite have their feet under them. You suddenly realize how very difficult it actually is to make it look easy. You develop instant appreciation for the Kim Yuna's, the Mao Asada's, and the Elene Gedevanishvili's of writing. Like their writing counterparts, they present a piece of work that is so smooth, so flawless, it's hard to imagine it isn't as easy to them as walking is to you.

And you realize that it takes an awful lot of practice to get to that point.

But as a writer, it also shows you other things as well. It shows you what can go wrong. Like watching a novice figure skater and seeing her drop her shoulder in mid-air while doing a jump, knowing that she'll never be able to land that jump because she's too tilted, a writer can see techniques gone wrong and devices inexpertly used. You often know what the author is trying to do, but for whatever reason, it doesn't work. But as a writer, you can take in that information and learn from it.

And I'll go into specific examples in a later article.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

An Update: July 14, 2013

Yes, it's been a long time. I often find that, as with journaling, when I have things to write about, I lack the time to write it.

I have been away from the novel for about 7 months, and it's driving me nuts, actually. Because that's what I want to be writing.

But, as it stands, I am lucky to have a little steady freelance work, which has been taking up most of my time for . . . reasons I won't go into other than to say there's a high learning curve on related things. And any time that's leftover has been mostly spent on finding more freelance work. My goal is to get a few good clients on a regular basis that I can do reliably, write well, and that will provide a consistent income to cover my bills. As it stands now I have two steady clients (as well as a number of others who need things done periodically, but not on a regular basis), and I think I'd be fine with three or four. So I've been getting into a routine where I've been writing a draft for client A on Monday, updating social networks for client B on Tuesday, and so forth.

My most recent addition has been some blog articles for here, as well as another, unrelated blog I do under another nom-de-plume, and I've been getting those into my schedule as well.

Annoyingly, my schedule is subject to change without notice, since the pain from my injuries is unpredictable and often requires me to just lie down with my feet up (it's mostly lower-back, but other things as well). For anyone interested: yes, I've done pain management. I've done bio-feedback (the specialist said it wasn't helping). I've done acupuncture (same thing, and I was very disappointed about that, as I truly believe that thousands of years of history means it works . . . just not, it seems, for me). I've had shots and blocks and all kinds of torturous therapy, and I finally just got sick of it and now just take the stupid pain pills. Honestly, if I were rich and could afford massages and pampering and not having to do cleaning and other things I really shouldn't be doing, I could aggravate those injuries less and be in pain less of the time. As things stand, I don't anticipate feeling much better, and this is it, so I just have to work around it.

But I haven't lost sight of the goal: my novel. Everything I'm trying to accomplish is in service to getting to a place where I can work on and, more importantly, finish that. In the meantime, for reasons I explained in a previous article about my issues with going back and forth between clients' work and my own when the former is unpredictable, I've decided to at least try to work in some blog time. So I will shortly be posting the first in a series of articles about why I think fan-created fiction – ″fanfic″ – is worth your time and consideration, and what all writers, especially newbies, can learn or be reminded of from it.

I had intended to write an article about how reading the third book in The Hunger Games series helped me change the way I approach the ending to my novel, but I need to either reread it, or else find a detailed enough recap for me to be reminded of the details I wanted to point to. But I hope you enjoy these, and I'll get to that eventually!

Addendum, July 20, 2013:

This post was intended to go up last Thursday or Friday, but I got disconnected from the 'net by some sort of technical issue that, apparently, was only fixed by a full reformat. Yes, I edited and updated it last Sunday, before finally taking that drastic measure when my inability to connect dragged on and I realized that, since I could stream from other devices on my Wifi, it was probably my main PC that was the problem.

For anyone who doesn't already know this, reformatting should be a roughly once-a-year project for those of us using Windows (I'm sure it can't hurt Macs, either!), and is the only SURE way to get rid of whatever ails your PC, specifically viruses and malware, but it cures a great many other ills as well. It's a great deal easier to do than it used to be (and because this is a new computer of only about 2 years old – yes, I've delayed doing it for year: guilty as charged! I never claimed I was perfect! – I had never done a reformat this easily! On the former PC (that ran XP), I had to get down to, “reformat c:/” in a command prompt, but this Windows 7 PC is a lot less terrifying, so I recommend setting aside a weekend once a year to avoid all the trouble.

Recommended reading: has a series about computer security for normal people; check it out!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writing In-Between

It's been a while.

I've been busy, too. Mostly doing freelance work. Work that pays the bills, so I can't really knock it.

But it's been so incredibly difficult to find the time to even read, let alone write.

On the plus side, I've transcribed my novel to date. Now I have to re-read it and see where I am on my outline. As for word count, I'm roughly one-quarter of the way to my goal. Which works out well, since I would estimate that I'm roughly a quarter of the way through my outline. So at least something is working!

The way my process works, generally, is that I will get on a roll, and I will keep writing (and as I've mentioned before I prefer to write longhand in a blank book) as long as I can keep the momentum going.

Eventually, though, I hit a wall.

For some writers I've known, their "wall" is generally the point they get to when they have little or no idea where to go from where they are. I guess not everyone uses outlines (or some form thereof). Fortunately for me, that's not the thing I usually call my "wall." For me, sometimes a wall is that dead-stop, where I can't figure out where to go or how to get back on track, and I suppose that happens to every writer at some point. But more frequently than not, it's a place I get to when I can no longer recall what I've written to date. It means it's time for me to stop and reread everything.

Obviously this inability to remember what I've written thus far is a result of my memory issues from that thwack I got on the head in my accident. But I'm not actually sure about this. I have a writer-friend who never had a head injury, and yet still has trouble when writing novels, because she can't keep her characters straight. Which, while it might be a result of her characters not being well-defined in a less-experienced, less-accomplished writer, is not the case here. In this instance, it's because she tends to write the kind of sweeping, multi-generational sagas that take me weeks, if not months to savor my way through. I am soooo not a fast reader (but more on that at a later time).  Since my own work isn't along those lines, however, I can't make a direct comparison.

At any rate, that's generally what I think of as my wall. When I get there, it's time to pause, reread, check where I am in the outline, make adjustments, and once I'm pretty sure I know where I need to go from there, I can get back to writing.

But now there is a new element tossed into the mix: this is the first major project I've undertaken while also doing freelance writing at the same time.

While I'm sure I'm not the only one who has trouble fitting writing time into a work schedule, I'm curious as to how other writers who do freelance work manage it. It's one thing when you have a regular, 9-5 job to pay the bills. When I was doing that, whatever I did at the office stayed in the office. For the most part, I'd leave work and not think about it again until I was back at work.

But this is different.

When your home office is where you do the work that pays your bills as well as where you work on that Great American Novel, the separation is entirely in your mind.

And right now my mind is having a little trouble with that.

How do you stop one project in the middle (especially if you're on a roll!) and set to work on the other, simply because it's time to? Right now I'm having trouble going back and forth.

For reasons I won't go into, besides the fact that this blog isn't about that, I won't be talking about my freelance work itself. Just suffice it to say that about half of it is as boring as any job; it doesn't challenge my skills so much as challenge me to not pull my hair out and scream a good portion of the time. And though the work is something I'm suited to, it makes it that much harder to tear myself away from my novel to do when it's dull work.

And even on a week like this one, when I'm waiting for work that I know is coming, it's still difficult to get started on my own writing. Firstly, if I go and reread what I have so far, and then the work—which could be ready for me to work on next Wednesday, or the day after tomorrow, I have no way to know—shows up, I would probably have to read it yet again when I get done that work and go back to my novel. Or, if I finish rereading and am still waiting for the work, and I start working on my novel, I could get torn away from that at any minute. All of this makes me hesitant to even start. I'm just not sure how to handle this.

This is where I am now.

And turning to work on a long-overdue blog entry is probably an avoidance strategy.

So I suppose it's time to get cracking, huh?

                                * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On a totally unrelated note, if you are looking for a holiday gift for someone who's hard to shop for, or really doesn't want or need anything, I present the following link for your consideration. 

I can't afford to donate at the moment, but I certainly wouldn't mind having donations made in my honor if I were that hard-to-shop-for person, and this is a great way to make a direct, tangible impact on some children's lives. I particularly like the tuition program for girls. And since I would like to help, but can't—at least not until I'm caught up on bills!—I will hope that by passing this information on, someone who otherwise may never have heard of this will donate.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Don't Be Predictable!

The first episode of The X-Files I ever saw was called “Deep Throat.” It was a rerun of what turned out to be the second episode, and it was the one that got me hooked. Why? Because it “got” me. And by “got” I mean to say that it surprised me.

See, usually, I can watch any TV show, whether I've seen it before and am familiar with the characters or not, and there will come a point where I will say aloud what's going to happen next. “Well, they'll find him dead,” I might say. Or, “and she's listening to the conversation from the next room,” and suchlike.

I don't know if it's just that I've been reading and watching TV so long that it's ingrained in me, or it was all the writing and scriptwriting classes I took at university. But regardless, I find this extremely disappointing. When I read a novel, or especially when I'm watching TV, I get very annoyed at this. (The one exception is if I'm watching something because it's so bad it's good, but that's not what I'm talking about here.)

Every show has less-well-done episodes, though, so I'm willing to overlook the occasional predictability if I like the show enough or it has some redeeming quality, like great characters or actors, for instance.

The point is that I want to be “got.” I look forward to any show (or novel), where the writer has also realized that we as the reader/audience have probably got enough brains to see the big act-ending revelation coming since the previous act, or even the teaser, and changed it up a bit to surprise us. Or better yet, to use our expectations as a red-herring and switch things around so we never see it coming.

Since I hate when I know what's coming, be it TV script or novel, I am trying the best I can to avoid the predictability in my own writing that would drive me nuts if I were the reader/viewer.

There are certain cliche's you can see right off, and therefore are to be avoided (unless you are into particularly complex use of red-herrings that can be pulled off by skilled writers under limited circumstances). I'll use TV shows as an example, because there are so many more novels out there it's harder to find an example that most people are familiar with. Think about how many times you have watched a detective show and you know pretty early on that the spouse was the murderer. Then think of a well-written show – take Law & Order as an example – when they start out suspecting the spouse, and then find information that would appear to exonerate said spouse, only to eventually poke holes in the seemingly exculpatory evidence, and we're back to the spouse as perpetrator at the end. That's not easy to do, but when done well it can surprise even the most jaded viewer. I'm not saying, “don't try this at home.” I'm just saying you should pretty damn sure of your writing skills.

Then there's one that applies to TV only: the biggest-name guest star did it. Again, taking Law & Order (in this case, “Special Victims Unit”) as an example. In an episode called “Scourge,” we all know that Richard Thomas did it. The only reason this could work is that the story was not about whodunnit, but why he did it.

Let's get back to that episode of The X-Files. What “got” me there were my expectations of the ending, based on the stereotypes I've been so used to seeing since I can remember. To set it up for anyone who hasn't watched the series (and if you haven't, get to NetFlix, ASAP!), Mulder, the Believer (in things paranormal, conspiracies, and FBI cases generally disregarded as nonsense, i.e. the cases dubbed “X-Files”) goes after evidence, though for our purposes, the “of what” isn't really important. Scully, the Skeptic (with a capital “S”), out of fear for their jobs as well as loyalty to the partner she'd been saddled with, goes after him. Mulder is being held in a top-secret facility, where she goes to retrieve him, finding him beat up and drugged. A hostage exchange takes place, and they're in the car. Now, the first time I saw this, all I could think was that they'd never get out of this place. Someone would surely stop them, and Mulder would have to pull it together and become Hero Guy (see any episode of Star Trek [the original series], in which Kirk, through his willpower alone, had overcome any number of obstacles that had taken out lesser men – and of course a mere woman could not overcome such things as alien spores, the temptation of dictatorial power, and mind-control, just to name the things that come to mind at the moment).

Remember, this was the second episode of The X-Files, and not only had the characters not been established yet, but in my umpteen years of watching television, studying television, and writing scripts, this is the way it should have happened. The woman rarely, if ever, rescued the man. I hated that, but that was the way it had always been, with rare exceptions (none of which I can think of at the moment).

So what “got” me enough to hook me on watching the series? Well, they got away. Not because Mulder was somehow superhuman in his will to survive and continue his Cause. Not because of his strength, but because of Scully's. Seeing this tiny woman come riding in and saving the day, not to mention the guy, was fantastic. It was at this point that I realized that, though Mulder was easy enough on the eyes and adorable in a wounded-puppy-dog-face way, it was clear from this that it would be Scully, the scientist (geek!) who would probably be the heavy-lifter in this partnership.

Yep, they “got” me. I never saw that coming.

When I'm plotting out a project, I generally know how it ends. But what I think about when I'm doing so is that I don't want my reader or viewer to know, as well. I think of Mulder and Scully, and all the twists that Law & Order takes. And then I think, “what would I, as a reader or viewer, think was going to happen next?” And whatever that is, I avoid it like Christmas Eve sales and 5:00 traffic.

Suggested viewing:

Firefly: “Our Mrs. Reynolds”
Picket Fences: “The Dancing Bandit”

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Yes, it's been longer than usual for an update. But to be fair, for a good portion of that time, my blog was down. It got pulled as, “spam,” by the Powers That Be. So instead of checking it first, deciding whether or not it actually was spam, and then deciding if they should take it down, naturally that process was reversed: guilty until proven innocent.

At any rate, I've been having a blast on Twitter in the meantime. (I'm still trying to get a, “follow me on Twitter” gadget onto this blog, but the only one I found seems to be broken.) I've been reading tweets from celebs and from my home town, from other writers, and from people who just seem interesting.

But the most useful thing I've found on Twitter thus far has definitely been what is known as a “#writingsprint.” For the uninitiated (something I was a mere few weeks ago, so I'll slow down and explain), that pound-sign on Twitter is called a hashtag, and it allows you to key in on words or expressions of particular interest.

When you sign up for Twitter, it asks you to follow something like a minimum of 15 people, just so you get a sufficient number of tweets that interest you. I guess it “noticed” that I was following writers, and one of the recommendations it made for me to follow was Jane Espenson, a writer-producer currently working on Once Upon a Time. I recognized her name due to a mutual acquaintance and also the fact that I have admired her writing for years. You'd probably know her work if you've ever seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, or Caprica, and a bunch of other stuff I never even realized she wrote for (including two of my all-time favorite series, the brilliant Nowhere Man and Firefly).

After watching and seeing how Twitter worked for a bit, I jumped right on in. I saw Jane doing something she called a “#writingsprint” one day, explained as an hour of writing time during which you concentrate on writing only: no phone calls, no tweets, no Facebook or Google Plus . . . no distractions. I liked the idea, and though her #writingsprints always seem to come around too late in my day (I am a nightowl trying desperately not to be) for me to take part, I haven't let that stop me. Following Jane's example, I've started doing my own #writingsprints. I found a few other writers who have joined me, and we write together. Er, well, together, separately . . . just at the same time. But that doesn't matter. It's not even like a contest, it's just a good motivator to know there are others somewhere out there working on their own WiPs, just like me.

Since I've started this habit, I don't know how much writing I've gotten done, but I know I've been writing pretty regularly. I'm trying a new schedule to see how it works. But just the idea that there are people out there who are looking for me, to see if I'm writing, somehow gets me going, regardless of when I do my writing.

I have absolutely no idea if Jane (@JaneEspenson) was the originator of the #writingsprint, or if it's been around for as long as Twitter has had writers. But in my case, I will give Jane the credit, since she initiated the first one I saw. So thank you, Jane! You may not know it, but you've really helped keep the words flowing!


P.S. If you want to join a #writingsprint, follow me: @AnikoTevvit and it won't be long 'til you see one coming up!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are You Lying to Yourself?

Let's face it: some days just suck.

Not that they're a disaster or anything. I've had really, really bad days. Days when things happen that are entirely beyond my control, and I can barely get through the day, let alone write. Some days truly are disasters. If you have a car accident, or get really bad news, for example.

Sometimes I just get distracted. Okay, maybe often.

And sometimes I wonder if I'm just using something that happened as an excuse to not write that day.

I'm pretty sure that all writers have days when they simply don't feel like writing. Whether they don't feel well, or they're upset, or, like me, yesterday I just had a really bad allergy day (we had strong winds the day before, which always sets my eyes into teary-smeary mode). These are all very real things, and depending upon the severity of the situation, you might not write that day, or even that week.

There are other reasons writers don't write: your in-laws are coming and you need to clean, your children need help with their science project, your spouse is clamoring for attention, the dog keeps getting sick on your carpet and you really should take him to the vet, and so on, and so forth. Then there are writing-related reasons: you don't know where your story's going, you're having plot issues and there's something you have to research, you can't seem to hear your characters' voices today, and so on and so forth.

But how do you know if you're just using an excuse not to write, or it's just one of those days when you probably shouldn't? (And there are likely days for every writer when they probably shouldn't.)

If you're serious about writing, though, you treat it as the profession it is (I could probably write an essay, if not a book, on the lack of respect often shown to writers, but we'll save that for another day). You make the time. You find a way. At least on most days. I don't know about anyone else, but I generally don't write for eight hours a day, like a regular job. After all, most of us have regular jobs. I have . . . well, an irregular job, so I can put in a couple hours a day, and if I'm on a roll, I can usually rearrange things so I can keep writing. But I try to get in an hour or two at least five days a week. It's something regular, it's reasonable, and in the end, it adds up.

But on days that I don't write, when I'm feeling guilty, I often ask myself if I really should just get down to it, never mind the distractions and apartment maintenance.

I don't think there's any correct answer to the question of whether you really ought to write on this day or that regardless of what else is going on in your life. Every writer has to decide that for themselves.

But I do think it's important to ask yourself why you're not writing today. After all, aren't you writing your novel (short story, script, whatever) because, when it all comes down to it, you love to write? Rather than asking ourselves if our reasons for not writing are legit, isn't it more important to figure out what's stopping you, so you can overcome it and get back to doing what you love? Rather than either making an excuse to yourself for why you're not writing, or, conversely, why you're forcing yourself to write in a futile exercise of sheer willpower, wouldn't it be better to figure out why?

If you know, then you can figure out how to attack the problem. Or how to just go around it. If I'm stuck because I don't know what the next scene should be, maybe I'll just go off and write another scene that's coming to me just then. After all, one of the great things about working on a large project is that you don't have to write it in order. Maybe I need to get out my index cards (or the electronic equivalent) and see if I need to shuffle them around a bit. Maybe a plot-point doesn't work and needs to be re-thought. Whatever it is, isn't it just better to figure out what it is, so you can move on?

Yesterday I got up and walked the dog. Then I got my morning caffeine and went out on the porch. My eyes felt like I had small boulders in them, and I kept having to squirt saline solution into them to soothe them (a great trick from my contact-lens-wearing days). I don't know if I'll be able to read it very well when eventually I transcribe what I have handwritten in my blank book, but I wrote. I have no idea how much of what I wrote yesterday (or any other day, for that matter) will eventually wind up in the novel, or how much will get cut. But I wrote.

And in the end, that's what we do, right?

If you keep making excuses for not writing, I have to wonder if you really want to write. Are there things you need to do to make it easier for you to write? If that's why you're not writing, then go do those things, so you can write. If not, then maybe you need to ask yourself a more fundamental question.

And in the end, I know my own answer, and that's what matters.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Feeling Guilty

I'm curious if anyone else feels guilty when they don't write for a day.  Or two.

For reasons having to do with my apartment maintenance, my writing schedule has been thrown off for two days running.  And I feel, well . . . guilty.

You see, since I started this WiP, I've been getting up earlier than usual every morning, waking my little guy (he's 12 pounds with a body full of curly apricot hair, and sleeps on the foot of my bed) – which is harder than you might think, as he doesn't like to get up early – and we go for our morning walk.  Once he's had his breakfast, I go off to the porch to write for a couple of hours.  Every day without fail.  Except Sundays (not because I'm religious or anything, it's just the day I spend watching movies or TV with a friend). 

Until yesterday, when we had a scheduled maintenance appointment . . . scheduled in as much as they gave us an 8-hour window.  Now, since the last time I let someone into my apartment to fix anything and they caused a flood that took weeks to recuperate from, I don't allow any maintenance to take place unless I'm home.  At any rate, I got up early, walked my puppy, and hopped in for a quick shower so I could let the guy in.  Now, they didn't take all day to show up, as they normally do, but they threw me off schedule, nevertheless.  And I never got any writing done. 

Today they had an “inspection.”  Again, the whole thing threw me off enough that I never got to the writing.  I mean, the reason I don't do anything before I get in some writing time is because I have less chance of getting sidetracked that way.  The only reason I even take the little guy out is because if I don't I'll have to clean it up.  Okay, that, and he's my baby.  Besides, he's doing his job by seeing to it that I walk enough to keep my knees from jolting me out of a dead sleep in pain (yes, I know it's counter-intuitive, but keeping moving really does help keep arthritis from being more painful than it otherwise would be).

So there it is: two days, no writing.  (Well, okay, no working on the novel.  I mean, I'm writing this.  This counts as writing, doesn't it?)

I feel incredibly guilty for not having worked on the novel in two days' time. 

I will be very relieved when I get back to it tomorrow morning.  I have some places I have to go later in the day, errands and such.  But if I get some writing done in the morning, I feel like I've actually accomplished something. 

Also, I'm a little afraid.  I think I'm afraid that if I leave it too long, my characters won't be speaking to me anymore.

Anyone else afraid their characters will be mad at them because they feel neglected?