Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I'm just going to ignore the two <12-year-old girls next door who are jumping uncontrollably on their trampoline while screeching to the Virgin Radio at the top of their lungs. Their cringe-worthy, off-key and untimed voices are worse to listen to than that of their hyperactive dog.

I used to act as a beta reader for a few pen-pals. They would send me their work; I'd edit it. A lot of the time, I noticed, it was fan-fiction. And oh god, how I despise fan-fiction. If written well, it can seem like a part of the real thing, but unfortunately it never will be, and so I see no absolute point to the pastime. Fan-fiction seems to follow many structured patterns, of courses of conduct, because everything about the stories are either recycled and/or reused.

Common themes I've noticed among fan-fiction stories:

  • Plots revolving around an unlikely romance between two characters with little to no interaction/interest in the actual work usually involves arranged (loveless) marriages which develop into genuine feelings, a set-up between mutual friends which grows into genuine feelings, a one-night stand which inevitably leads to pregnancy, sex addiction or genuine feelings, and/or - the most ridiculous yet, I might mention - both being in equally successful musical bands and a chance encounter through the media sets them on either a) an agent/management-arranged fake romance which breeds genuine feelings, or b) a series of events in which one continues to repeatedly impress the other, and vice versa, until they feel they can no longer ignore sudden genuine feelings.

  • Plots revolving around new action or events applied to the characters usually targets only one character, a sidekick on occasion and prospectively - but not necessarily - a romantic interest. These are better, and more commonly well-reviewed by readers, because the majority of the time, the characters can more easily remain in-character throughout the story. They don't have to go out of their way to initiate a relationship; the writer also has their reactions at hand, since their responses to actions or events are conveyed through the original author's work. It is a fraction harder for romance to come off plausible, because not every book/movie/game concentrates on romance, but all of them (have to) concentrate on the characters and their reactions to what happens to them and the people around them.

  • Plots saved for one-shots are probably the easiest, since there rarely is ever an apparent plot, save for in romance stories. One-shots are self-explanatory; they do not have any following chapters or epilogues because they are short enough (and lacking in plot enough) that they can be construed and completed through a single chapter of writing that stands alone. These are usually centered on only a few characters, and a significant relation between them. I find that many one-shots focus on the musings of a character, or the mentality of a character, as they interact with others. Most of these are well-done, because they portray largely elaborated emotions, and whether these emotions are unprecedented or not does not matter, because this is a one-shot with no needed back-story.

So why do published authors and wannabe novelists not follow the same templates? I mean, fan-fiction writers just take the ideas of whatever other fan-fiction they've recently read or liked, and use it for their own. Or, they'll grab two of their favourite characters and scheme a flimsy plot that will satisfy many but not those who really count.

For example, how many stories must there be about "high school" characters? Putting the casts of The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, or Naruto in a normal high school setting seems to be quite a long-lived trend. But people like it, and even if they don't admit it, it's a guilty pleasure, because they like reading about these characters in their world, the high school world, instead of the world the original author has put them in - The Seam, Forks, Hogwarts, Hidden Village of the Leaves - and perhaps it's because they've grown tired of reading about these people in these places. How would they handle the life situation that their same-aged readers are handling?

But there aren't many stories out there which are focused on characters in a high school. Sure, the characters may be in a high school, but the story won't be revolving around that high school much of the time. It'll be revolving around one of the people in it, or something that happens outside of it - i.e. Edward Cullen is someone inside a high school, but his mystery really lies outside of the school.

These small differences between fan-fiction writers and published writers makes me doubt that fan-fiction writers will ever really be able to amount to become a published author. The majority of them are not the least bit serious about their writing and don't even seem set on improving themselves. They don't even accept ConCrit - Constructive Criticism - and readers' reviews are ransom for updates. (i.e. "review my storie! i'll update the next chapter if u leave a nice review!")

If these writers have any ambition at all, they'd move onto something like Litopia, InkPop, Authonomy, or Figment, one of these corporate-managed writing sites where you can gain feedback for a small excerpt of your WIP, even gain ratings, and from people who aren't scared to say that you suck or really need to pull it together and try to get better.

xx, rooi

Friday, June 24, 2011

don't miss the line, folks

Compared to manuscripts and unpublished works of countless other authors out there, Swordbird is, figuratively, living proof that miracles happen. The miracle in this case is not the thirteen-year-old bilingual author, or the fact that the book was actually printed.

It's that Fan achieved this without even a query letter.

Call me whiny, but querying is a predicament that many writers dread, fear and prepare strenuously for. Either Fan didn't read the HarperCollins website when she submitted her draft and just a summary - the draft and just a summary - directly to the CEO via e-mail, or she disregarded it. One way or another, the CEO happened to like it.
Fan is young. She's a young girl who harboured a large dream and she, herself, was very ambitious and perseverant. However, she managed to land a publishing deal without an agent, without the querying process, and without paying any attention whatsoever to any existent submission guidelines and HarperCollins' strict discouragement of unsolicited manuscripts.

The book itself makes me wonder if Fan has ever encountered Redwall. As a kid, I revered Redwall. I read the books religiously, all twenty-something of them. Brian Jacques was probably my favourite author as a child, and then he was pushed aside when Jo Rowling rose to become his equivalent. (Needless to say, others joined the line-up afterward as well, including Cleeves and du Maurier.) Jacques died in February of 2011, just recently, but the final novel was released after his death, on May 3, entitled The Rogue Crew.
Similarly to Tolkien's success, death and living legacy, I highly doubt a series as popular and international as Redwall will fade even with time, just as the entire population of the globe can assess that Harry Potter's fandom will not be going anywhere for a long, long while. Whether or not Redwall is considered to be a comparison-title or market competition for Fan's Swordbird series, they certainly share some similarities which are a little too close to the mark, for me.
Fan mashes up her words - everybird, nobird, anybird, somebird - just like Jacques used to mash up his, only the Redwall creatures, which included almost every United Kingdom breed, used these words in a more general sense - everybeast, nobeast, anybeast, somebeast. There is also the "living legend" in both stories, where heroic spirits of the past motivate, encourage and enable the main character(s) throughout the quest, in one way or another. The sword is also a painstakingly striking feature of both: Martin the Warrior's sword in Jacques', and Swordbird's in Fan's.

Readers are stubborn creatures, or so I've learned. Once we decide on something, it usually takes the author's verification to stray us from that. For example, someone who supported the Harry Potter/Cho Chang romance throughout the third, fourth and fifth books may not easily adapt to the idea of the Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley turn of events, but when Rowling's pen set it in stone, there was nothing they could do. (Except, perhaps, fan-fiction, but there really is no authority in that.)
So necessarily, as a consistent reader of Jacques' works, I find it hard to adapt to Fan's deviation of anthropomorphic animals facing war and hard times in a haven of peace. Others, understandably, may disagree, but like I mentioned in my previous post, there is a line between being inspired by an idea and simply reusing it.

Some of the more headstrong, independent writers turn their backs on this line, refusing to recycle anything, even the faintest of ideas. Some writers blur it, or hover over it. But some writers cross the line entirely.

xx, rooi

Thursday, June 23, 2011

where's the new material?

In this past week alone, I've visited almost every single mall in town, including one several minutes outside of town. The reason for these excursions being that each mall houses a bookstore, each significantly different and enjoyable in its own way: Coles, Indigo, Chapters. I was quite disappointed to find that nothing new was on the shelves.

Okay, everything was new. Nothing was original.

When I say original, I don't mean "a cool idea". Everything was rather interesting, but nothing jumped out at me, because everything is a just a spoke of the bandwagon wheel nowadays, isn't it? We began with books about wizards and witches, and with all due respect to Jo Rowling, the entire literary market was absolutely taken with the phenomenon that was "urban fantasy".

The authors who were not as devoted to creating new worlds or new concepts began to tweak aspects of reality and mellowed "urban fantasy" down to "paranormal-somethings", which could be filled in with "women's fiction", "romance", "thriller", or any other genre that doesn't already suggest paranormality.

From "paranormal" was born the whirlwind saga known commonly as Twilight. Twilight, in turn, bred new storylines, that weren't quite unique or inventive in any visible way. Similarities were exhaustingly poignant, and the differences were excruciatingly far-fetched. It's difficult, I'll acknowledge, to attempt to stray from a basic premise without losing that fine balance of what's imaginably tolerable and what's painfully not.

With the rise of teenage paranomal romance, the shelves were cleared of vampires and replaced with substitutions of mythical creatures in place of Edward Cullen, fallen angels being probably the best, but not the only example.

Where's all the new material? Are there no longer ideas that are absolutely ground-breaking? We seriously need something to come along and break up the rocks that are hiding the treasure underneath. I found a paperback novel, rather newly printed, called The Shadow Project, at the small, run-down library in my vicinity this Tuesday. Its premise seems thrilling, and it is somewhat reminiscent of The Uglies, Pretties, Extras and Specials by Scott Westerfield. Now Westerfield's work was definitely something to be awestruck about - that was inventive, if nothing else!

Although I've only read the first book of Westerfield's Uglies series and none at all of The Shadow Project, I can tell right off the bat that both of them are astoundingly innovative concepts that have an immaculate understanding of how to find a middle ground between finding inspiration from, and twisting, other ideas.

xx, rooi