Thursday, 21 April 2016

To Fic or Not to Fic

So, I grew up before the internet was really much of a ‘thing’, and was subsequently introduced to the idea of fanfiction quite late. My reaction was, at first, one of complete horror.

“Plagiarism!” I cried, and had I been wearing pearls I would have clutched at them. “How could anyone be so lazy as to steal someone else’s characters or world-building? Plagiarism, I say!”

I had never done anything so scandalous, after all. I’d only ever used characters of my own invention in my stories… even if they were horribly derivative of the things I’d read. (Thinking back now, my first attempt at a novel was basically The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with some different window-dressing – but at least I tried, dammit! That was the main thing! …Right?)

This was my stance for many years, thinking that I was superior in every way to these talentless hacks who wrote mere fanfiction. I never read any of their work or even entertained the notion that it could be any good. To me, it was all as easily dismissible as an ad at the beginning of the Youtube video. I would only read and write proper things.

Perhaps worst of all was my hope that no-one would ever write fanfic about my own darling characters. How dare they? Blasphemy!

Unfortunately, as life has a habit of doing when one thinks so sanctimoniously, I was soon to be put firmly upon my ass.

By this woman!

Jill Bearup (sometimes known as Sursum Ursa) who has the most gorgeous hair ever, and she’s just adorable with her accent and her nerdiness and her focus on positive things instead of negative and sometimes a kitty cat! I recommend watching all of her videos. Right now.

In her vlog, Fanfic, and why I’ll never read an Anne Rice book, she details exactly why fanfic can be used as a force for good. Not evil. To sum up, it is a perfect means for new writers to gain experience in their craft and also get much-needed feedback from their peers. My eyes were opened. “What’s so wrong with that…?” I thought. Some people might lack the confidence to create their own story straight off the bat. Why not let them practice with other people’s characters first?

Sure it might be smutty and terrible, but it’s how we can learn to not be smutty and terrible!

Furthermore, fanfiction can grow up. It can become fascinating character studies and even adaptations. Most of the movies I like are adapted from someone else’s work, and what is an adaption, really, but a form of fanfiction?

Really, the error of my ways was all around me. The more I thought about it, the more I found it to be so, but it didn’t end there. Swooping down upon me like a harpy in the night was… *cringe* …the realization that I had been a gigantic flaming hypocrite the entire time.

What had I spent half of my life doing before writing? Why, drawing, of course. And did I draw my own characters? No. No, I sadly did not. I spent my youth drawing characters from Sailor Moon, Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z… Yes.

I once made fanart!

(Not this, though. This is just a glorious example.)

All characters that had been created by other people and I’d just drawn them without a second thought, never even considering that it was wrong because I sincerely loved those franchises and they had inspired me to create.

Finally, came the most damning realization of them all. I had been totally wrong to hope no-one would ever make fanfic about my own characters. I was wrong because fanfic and fanart do not diminish or taint the original work, no matter how terrible they are. Great work will always be great and crap can only ever get better, really.

More than that, though, is what it would truly mean to have fanfic and/or fanart made from my work. It would mean that I actually had fans.


Those people that admire you.

Far from being offended, I should feel honoured to have fans, and doubly honoured that I might inspire them to create something. Anything!

I can’t actually think of a more meaningful thing to do with my life, to be honest.

Monday, 1 February 2016 A Review

As of this writing, I've been using Figment for over a year. (Yes, I know if you check my profile it says I joined in May '15, but I'll get into that later.) Over the course of that year, I've learnt quite a bit which I think might be useful to anyone looking at joining the Figment community. Or anyone with a spare 5 minutes who wants to read a blog about such things.

I cannot fathom the mysteries of the internet... So, without further ado, let us begin.

How It Works

Like many other sites, the user is given a basic profile for entering info and uploading stories. Users can post messages on each other's walls, there are groups to join and even badges to earn for completing various achievements, such as earning certain amounts of hearts (the Figment 'like' system) and other reactions to your stories.

Here is a screenshot of the profile set-out (mine, obviously), which you can visit here if you're so inclined.

There are a number of ways which one might use this website as there are also forums and a vast library to peruse. Sometimes the site itself hosts its own competitions, or has blogs written by guest authors, or even more awesomely, has a guest author do a Q&A. I can even say that I've asked James Dashner (author of the Maze Runner series) a question, and he answered it.

I thought that was pretty cool...

I typically spend most of my time there doing 'swaps'. This involves hunting around through the library or following strings of wall posts, messaging as many people as I can in hopes of finding someone who will agree to read my work. Comments and reviews can be left on each piece of writing, along with the aforementioned hearts and reactions: laugh, cry, shiver, blush and wow.

The more hearts a piece of writing has, the higher it can be ranked in the library. I'm not sure if there could be a greater purpose to all of this yet, other than a vanity thing, but time will tell.

The Good

One of the best things about this website is meeting other (good) people and getting (useful) feedback on my writing. I love learning and this can be a very instructive experience, especially in terms of how to give useful feedback, knowing how to deal with certain types of writers, and above all, seeing how others react to my work.

Another thing is expanding my writing paradigm, which is something I sorely needed without even realizing it. Before joining Figment, I'd spent over ten years working on only two different (although interconnected) projects. Through competitions and daily prompts, I've pushed myself into writing things I never thought I would -- including a contemporary piece with no speculative elements whatsoever. I know right? Miraculous! If that's not stretching myself, I don't know what is.

It's a good bet that none of these stories would have come into existence if I hadn't joined Figment.

It was a steep learning curve for me to come down from 100,000-word novels to stories that needed to be over in less than 5000, but totally worth it. I'm a much stronger writer now because of that.

In terms of the actual site mechanics, Figment is easy to navigate and makes the process of uploading a story fairly easy, too. (Much easier than Wattpad, at any rate. Just sayin'...) I've seen that there can be some formatting issues depending on which word processing program you use, however I haven't experienced it myself so I can't really comment with much authority on the matter. I copy and paste straight from an MS Word document and it works perfectly.

What's more, some other story-sharing sites I've investigated displayed the users' writing as Blogspot displays this post. What I mean is it's highlight-able. If you wanted, you could select this text and copy it. Figment does not allow this (or, at least, I don't think it's possible), which is very reassuring to a writer, believe me.

Coz thar be pirates in these here waters!

Now, I don't know if this is important to other people, but for me, websites need to have a nice aesthetic as much as they need to be easy to use. Figment looks alright, especially compared to those other sites I visited before joining. Even better is the story-reading window, which is tinted light grey or sepia (depending on the author's preference) so it's easier on the eyes.

Nice one, Figment. ;)

The Bad

As with any online community, it can be let down by its most douchbaggy members. Some users are just out to collect hearts or followers, and they don't seem to care about improving their writing or respecting those they come into contact with. Most swappers would have had the experience of writing out a review for someone, only to never hear back from that person again. Others would have typed up an honest review with helpful comments about what might be improved only to be whinged at or even abused in return.

How dare you not worship them!

"The internet: you will never find a more wretched hive of spam and villainy."

(Okay, I totally stole that line from Nella...)

To be fair, the most loathsome and self-serving of these creatures are few and far between. In maybe a hundred interactions I've only come across two or three of them. They're rather balanced out by the truly wonderful, intelligent and insightful people I've met. The trick is to be very observant.

From what I've been able to gather, Figment began back in 2010 as a site for American teenagers to share their work. It's opened up now, but still seems to be largely populated by the original crowd. A few of them seem to want to keep it that way, too, or at least haven't noticed the change. This isn't a huge thing, as I've only been discriminated against for my age a few times, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

We're all just folk, in my opinion. No-one should be judged for being born in the eighties or any other decade. That's just dumb.

There are a few mechanical things that stick out, too. Users are able to create groups, yet not change the name of them or delete them. Figment admins will happily do it for you if you email them, but it seems a needless contrivance. It also seems very out-of-date that posting a URL into a message or forum will not automatically turn it into a link.

This is my actual cheat sheet for inserting links and pictures and whatnot. It's not the easiest stuff to get right, either, unless you're trained in that sort of thing. I really feel this aspect of the site could be better.

These things are by no means game-changing, but I do like to give honest reviews and that entails looking at things both positively and negatively. The next section, however...

The Ugly

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, I've been using Figment for over a year and yet my profile doesn't reflect that. This is because my original profile was deleted without warning or explanation. Not only that, but none of the emails I sent inquiring about it were responded to.

Imagine my horror! All that time and effort I'd put into getting feedback on my stories, gone. Not only that, but I was in the last round of a competition so I was already stressed enough. Because of this whole debacle, I wasn't able to give my all in the finals and my entry suffered for it.

In another incident, I had a swap go sour and a 'delightful little madam' basically attacked me for asking her a question. She was incredibly vicious, even threatening to report me, and made me never want to use the site again. I have depression, also, so dealing with such bile isn't easy for me. To top it all off, I emailed an admin, explaining the situation and asking for a bit of advice on how to deal with it.

The response was basically, "It happens. Get over it."

Oh, gee... thanks.

These are only two incidents out of many, and they're obviously not going to happen to everyone, but they need to be noted. This is how the site has portrayed itself to me so this is how I tell it.

In Conclusion

So, who is this website really for? If you're out there for in-depth and professional writing advice, probably not you. I probably wouldn't even recommend Figment to you're only interested in writing novels because most users don't seem to like reading anything more than a few thousand words. If you like writing short stories and/or poetry, however, this might be a place to check out. You can have a lot of fun entering competitions and swapping/chatting with other writers from around the world (although mostly the US).

Be aware that you do need to work for it, though. People aren't going to immediately flock to read your stuff, no matter what the adverts with the poignant music might say. (Looking at you, Wattpad. Your time may yet come...) I might even do a how-to blog on Figment at some point because there's a bit of a method involved.

Who knows?

Friday, 8 January 2016

Retrospective and Plans for 2016!

Welcome to the new calendar, everyone! I know some people get very excited about this but I'm still not too sure why. Another one of life's great mysteries, I guess.

It is a good way of organizing things, though, and on that note I've decided to let you all know what I've been organizing with my organizational powers of organization.

First and foremost is (hopefully) the completion of my novel Magic in the Machine, which, if you didn't know, I started writing sometime in 2008 or '09. It took a few years to complete, partially because I did a year-and-a-half course in horticulture. I spent another year going through it with a beta-reader via email before sending it off to an editor at the end of 2012 -- y'know, when the world ended?

That was a fun day.

Anyway, Mr Editor's advice was that (while stressing that I did actually have the talent to succeed) I needed some major structural work to make the novel something that would interest an agent. My world-building was too shallow, my protagonist wasn't proactive enough, and so on.

Now, writers can be funny creatures at the best of times and hearing that I would basically have to start the entire thing again was a bit much for me. I promptly lapsed into writer's block for an entire year, wallowing in my own misery like a pickled frog. It was truly pitiful.

When 2014 rolled around, I started again with new determination and... was absolutely awful. I'd lost all my skill and forgotten why I liked writing in the first place. It took nearly another year to get back on track, but in 2015 I finally managed it. With a bolstered world-building file and a completely revamped plot, I managed to write 15 out of the planned 20 chapters. Yay!

I was set back a little way by a competition I entered, which had me write 7 short stories over all before my eventual defeat by one vote. Oh, cruel fate! But much knowledge was to be gained so I don't really mind.

However, I was set forward by two awesome beta-readers from Belgium. They are awesome, and managed to spur me on far past what I thought I could ever do. So, thanks, awesome people!

So now, we're at now, and I've already gotten stuck into chapter 16. I'm hoping to have the bulk of the novel done by May, although I might still have some work to on the in-world languages. After that, who knows? I'd like to find an agent before the end of the year but that's not really up to me. Maybe if I don't have any luck by 2017, I'll just publish online or something.

Also on my to-do list is to write a few more short stories. I found that I actually really liked doing them and they allow me to explore more of my story-world than I can with the novel. If I can find more things to write blogs about, I'll write some more blogs, too. (Please let me know if there's anything you'd think would make a good Maz-blog!)

Now that I've been writing for over a decade, I think I can really start to get stuff done. I'm not a clueless noob anymore, and things have definitely changed since I started. Namely in that I have all the powers of the internet at my disposal. Hoorah!

So, lastly, I'd like to say a humongous "Thank You!!" to everyone who's supported me so far and I hope you'll continue to do so. May you all have a productive year, too! Let me know what you hope to accomplish in the comment section below because that would be awesome.