Between: Interlude 18y

Asks and fanart

excerpts from “illustrated wyldblow tweets” by glowspiders


Wildbown’t (@wyldblow):
Just got another disappointing call from a tv studio about how they won’t let me cast a digitally stretched Danny Devito as Taylor’s dad

[illustration]
Tall Danny DeVito: Hello daughter

Pffft! I believe I’m on record as saying the only thing standing in the way of Danny DeVito playing Danny Hebert would be his height, so this checks out.


Wildbown’t (@wyldblow):
I could edit the parahumans wiki to add the fact that Coil is a feminist and everyone would just accept it at face value. Thats too much power.

[illustration]
Coil, on sign: My body, my choice

He will fight to ensure that male timelines and female timelines are snuffed out in equal measure.


Wildbown’t (@wyldblow):
No one understands my art. Not a single one of you have pointed out that Leviathan first appeared in 1996, cementing his “middle child” design by putting him right between Behemoth the Millennial and Gen-Z Ziz.

Ahahaha

As a 1998er who has frequently been confused about whether I count as a millennial, a 90’s kid, and/or Gen Z, I can relate.


Wildbown’t (@wyldblow):
Shit I forgot I was Canadian

Consider: Worm but instead of simply having a Newfoundlander accent, Dragon speaks like a stereotypical Canadian, sorry, sorry, eh?

The same applies to Regent, as well as the narration in Interlude 3 and at the end of Marquis’ Interlude.

Worm doesn’t have a lot of 6+6 troll names, but Amelia Levere and Amelia Dallon both work.

Sylph of Rage.

I also hear Colin gets very close, with a 5+6 name that can easily be adjusted to 6+6 by doubling the L.

Gur ahzoref nera’g cbjre engvatf. Fbzr engvatf jbhyq or irel qvssrerag vs gurl jrer.

(ed.): V’z abg funevat guvf orpnhfr bs uvf fgngrq qrfver abg gb xabj nalguvat zber nobhg gur cbjre engvatf. Nf nyjnlf, vs lbh srry guvf vf va reebe, srry serr gb pbzr lryy ng zr nobhg vg va gur nfxf.

Translate here.

interesting recent post from Wildbow about his writing style
Text mirror: https://pastebin.com/ajDiZpW0

(Thank you for including the text mirror. I saw your caption after the image and let me tell you I was not looking forward to transcribing all that. :P)

Let’s see…

  • Narrative style: I think Wildbow strikes a very good balance with the “three-quarter method”. Sure, there are cases where gaps like those can be frustrating, but they can also be fun and leave room for fanfiction, and it helps to avoid bogging down the story without going so far that the theorizer parts of the fandom become frustrated with the lack of evidence on large sections of major frameworks. (Looking at you, Hussie.)
  • I am all for the whole getting into individual viewpoints thing. If there’s one thing I love to do myself in fiction, it’s that, which is why my own works tend to jump between POV characters from chapter to chapter. (I blame Robert Jordan for instilling this in me — Wheel of Time was very much a formative work for me, and much of what I strive to do in my works matches what Robert Jordan impressed me with in that series.)
  • I can relate to the struggles of writing from perspectives that don’t match my own, though in my case I tend to shy away from the topics where that would really matter, such as bigotry. I like to write female POV characters, sometimes gay ones, but ultimately I don’t write them much differently than I would a straight male one. Stuff to work on, perhaps, a comfort zone to poke my head out of.
  • b r e a s t i n g b o o b i l y
  • Like I said, Wheel of Time was a formative work for me, and another place where that comes into play is with “sprawling” works. Wheel of Time has a notorious Kudzu plot, as does El Goonish Shive, as does Homestuck, as does a whole bunch of stories I enjoy. So I absolutely love Wildbow’s tendency to let his stories sprawl.
  • (I’m not good at that myself. My stories are a bit too linear for now.)
  • “stories start from seeds and are cultivated or left to emerge on their own” — y e s
  • “but I worry I already sound like I’m self-fellating here” — mood. Get me started on my own stuff and I’ll talk way too much about it, even if it’s barely relevant and way lower quality than anything I’m drawing comparisons to.
  • “I guess you have to write a million-word epic now. I’m so sorry.” — them’s the br8ks, enjoy your homework!

Fun fact that I’m surprised to no one has brought up: Crawler still had genitalia, they just retracted into his body.

I’m sure the monsterfuckers in the fandoms are quite pleased with that tidbit.

by RecursiveMontage / Nadoriel / lonsheep / Rainn Wilson / Angela Kinsey / etc

[meme]

Skitter: F**k

Skitter: Oh geez, it’s just you Imp

Skitter: I almost swarmed you

Skitter: F**k

This is a regular occurrence whenever the Undersiders go out clubbing.

Yeah, “made” is slang for snitching, basically.

We’ve been made = our cover is blown. Mainly heard it in crime and detective fiction. Pretty sure it’s an Americanism.

“Being made” is old slang for “being noticed and recognized,” almost always used by people who would rather avoid it. You see it in old crime stuff a lot. I suspect it’s short for someone having “Made out who you are,” but I don’t know the source.

Yeah, that tracks.

There’s some talk of a second trigger events following the first. Is there anyone we’ve met so far that that might apply to?

“Sooo that would explain certain powersets that don’t quite fit for someone who’s only had one trigger event.” Who’s powers do you think don’t fit a single trigger event?

The more I think about it, the more I realize I didn’t actually have a specific example in mind when I said that.

I think the best example might be Flechette, with her precision thinker power not really having much to do with her striker power, but for that we already have the implication that it’s a result of being part of a multiple-person trigger event. Though perhaps that’s connected, in that being part of such an event causes the early second trigger?

Come to think of it, I should totally be giving some members of the Ascended multiple powers like that. Many of them are former victims of the Ascended themselves, coerced or convinced into joining, and so they were likely subjected to crowd trauma.

In a way, aren’t we all dumb teens who barely know what we’re doing?

Oh absolutely.

For more on Night & Fog: revisit 7.10, CTRL+F ‘boring’ and read that paragraph and the one after it.

I already did that, during the blog. 🙂

Shell 4.3 said: “Glory Girl got her powers by getting fouled while playing basketball in gym class.”

Right, she got fouled, that was it. Fair enough.

If you double-check 9.3, Shakers were in the same “mentally driven” category as masters, tinkers and thinkers.

Hm, interesting. I don’t know if that means much, though. The classifications are defined in-universe by the PRT and often tied more to the capes’ practical abilities in combat than to the exact nature of their powers, even when that nature is known. Sure, they have scientists on their side, and scientists may use similar classifications in slightly more accurate ways, but there’s still an element of uncertainty and “what do we need to know about how to fight this person or use them as a fighter” to the way the entire system is designed.

My point is, the system does not seem to be designed to closely align with the latest parahuman research (and may in fact be inhibiting the research as a consequence of researchers using a system that wasn’t designed for their purposes), and it is typically applied in ways that hardly match up at all. So even if the system said Shakers were mentally driven, that would at most be a “most Shakers are mentally driven”.

Also, actually looking back at 9.3 finally, what’s said is that

[Sentinel 9.3]

A study by Garth and Rogers suggests that psychological stress leads to a higher prevalence of mentally driven powers. Tinkers, thinkers, masters, shakers.

This isn’t necessarily saying that all Shakers are mentally driven, it’s saying that people with mentally driven powers are likely to be Shakers.

Given how horribly broken Night and Fog are, I suspect Gesellschaft’s program to create parahumans is closer to the government ones the TA discussed than to Cauldron. You know, pick likely people and torture them, have most attempts fail and the ones that succeed often create people who are either too upset with you or too unstable to work. But they’re either Nazis or in bed with Nazis, so they don’t care.

I totally called stuff like this the moment I learned about trigger events.

‘Bow is so good about reminding the reader that part of why some monsters are so terrible is because they’re human monsters.

I know, right? I do think he sometimes tips a little too far towards the humanizing side, but to some extent that’s the point, isn’t it? They’re uncomfortably human and that’s the problem.

Wildbow has told us that Brockton Bay is north of Boston. Given the length of Massachusetts’ coastline and the fact that Brockton Bay used to be a port city, I’d guess that it’s out of that state. I tend to place it on New Hampshire’s short bit of coast just to the north, or at the southern corner of Maine, around Portsmouth is.

Huh. North of Boston, interesting. I suppose that helps avoid awkwardness with a changed coastline or Brockton Bay’s position on the real coastline colliding with the historical significance of Plymouth.

But yeah, I can accept this.

Found something on reddit I absolutely have to share.
From Local Existence: The real question is whether anyone has realized they’re all Naruto characters. There is the mind controller, the bug controller, the dog controller and the guy using shadows to hamper his enemies. Tattletale doesn’t quite fit, I admit, but only because superpowered intuition in dire situations is kind of a baseline power in a shonen anime anyway.
From misterspokes: The Slaughterhouse 9 are the Akatsuki, either by abilities or personality. They both include a semi-immortal transhuman cyborg, an artistic nihilist, a fighter that uses semi innocuous household items to deadly effect, a suicidal immortal, and a super powerful monster that is secretly a projection of a weaker agent.

Huh. I never got very far in Naruto — just didn’t vibe with its style — but parallels like these between unrelated works are very fun to think about.

Writing essays

Did you think we were done reading Wildbow’s words on how his writing works? Nah. The K6BD patron sent me a couple of essays he wrote, which… I was supposed to read in the previous Between post but forgot to, whoops.

About Writing: Cause, Effect and Power

May 30, 2013

Cause and effect as they relate to Wildbow’s writings should be straight forward enough, but what does he mean by power here? Agency? Societal power of the characters?

No idea where to begin, so I’m going to jump in the deep end here.

Cause and effect.  Action, reaction.  It’s something I’ve seen discussed in some depth in a number of visual mediums, but less so with prose.

Huh. Why would that topic not come up as much with prose?

An action prompts an equal and opposite reaction.

Newton’s laws of motion are surprisingly apt for character development. I’ve thought about that before myself, too.

dissonance in that simple, central dynamic can be either a powerful tool or a horrific flaw in the writing.

They say you gotta know the rules so you know when to break them.

Let’s talk about the issues first.  Without getting into too much detail (which would be a breach of implied confidentiality) something came up recently in a work I was critiquing.  I went over a chapter, where a character was assaulted in the street, mugged, their possessions scattered on the ground.  The character was hurt, abused and humiliated, but bystanders didn’t step forward to help them.  In the wake of the event, the character argued with someone, collected their scattered belongings and made their way to the nearest phone, where they explained that they were mugged.

The cause and effect don’t line up.  Being mugged, fearing for one’s life, being injured, there should be a degree of shock, but cogent arguments and an explanation of what happened hint at a fairly firm mental footing, where the character would be justified in being mentally and emotionally off-kilter.

Even without reading the actual work he’s describing, something about the reaction in that first paragraph felt off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was there.

Unfortunately this is exactly the kind of flaw I think crops up a lot in my own writing.

This was a character that had probably never been in a real fight, facing an assault that was unexpected and brutal.

Is that kind of reaction always a bad thing?  No.  Consider the same scenario, but add context.  The character might be a veteran or a spy, unruffled by something that’s comparatively minor to the risks to their life they face every day.  It could be a powerful device, or a framing for a chapter where the character is abused by bystanders, only to turn around and get revenge in a cold, calculating way.

Oh yeah, characterization definitely matters.

One shouldn’t forget that the action can (or should!) prompt both a mental and physical reaction.

I think sometimes I focus too much on the mental side of this.

The flip side of the issue is something that came up in a piece of fanfiction that was sent my way for me to check over.  Based on my ‘Worm’ web novel series, it included a famous, respected and feared character within the setting crossing paths with the protagonist.  The protagonist runs, manages to slip away briefly, then gets cornered.  My complaint was simple – for someone held to this degree of esteem, powerful in every sense of the word, it didn’t fit.

That the protagonist manages to slip away partially?

A ‘how to draw comics’ book I read as a teenager covered this issue in a very simple way.  You depict one character punching another.  Assuming they’re ordinary people, a simple punch generates an appropriate reaction; the person on the receiving end staggers, his face contorting in pain, arms spreading out for balance.  If the one delivering the punch is particularly strong, the reaction is out of sync with the blow delivered: the puncher doesn’t even adopt a particular stance, they thrust out one fist, their back straight, eyes not even focused on their target, and the reaction is the same, with the stagger, a face contorted in pain, arms spreading out for balance.  Scale up the strength of the attacker to an extreme, and you have someone flicking their finger at a subject, only to generate a geyser of blood, shattered bone and muscle.

So translated into the metaphor, the effort the powerful character had to go to in order to create trouble for the protagonist didn’t fit.

The flip side is equally true.  A punch, with the puncher in a typical fighting stance, their body drawn in such a way as to show the flow of the movement, the sheer force behind the swing, and the punchee flinches, but doesn’t show pain, doesn’t lose their balance.  At the extreme end, you have the weapon hitting harder and the punchee not even blinking.  An early scene in Superman Returns film employs this technique, with Superman taking a bullet to the ball of his eye and not even reacting.

No-selling.

I feel “the punchee not even blinking” vs “the punchee flinches” is a distinction on the plane of mental reactions.

In prose, the visual impact is lost, but there’s still room to employ the technique.  Maybe more room, in a sense.

You get to play with this without being restrained by what can be conveyed visually.

People with power can generate the same big effects with small actions, and it’s not limited to beating people up.  As a flick of a finger from a person of incredible physical power might do devastating damage, a single word from a person with political power could crush a kingdom.  A person with social power could ostracise or doom someone with a gesture or body language.  A person with skill can achieve more with less effort.  This applies on a number of levels.

…we’re back to Wheel of Time again folks, because this is something Wheel of Time does really well and makes a point of.

In Worm, it’s often focused on the “skill” part, so far, though we also have the Harpies as a small scale example of social power.

Imagine the effect when a person entering a room is enough to quiet arguments, to cow the more bullheaded and stubborn people present, and take the fight out of his or her potential opponents.  Simply by being there, they express their innate power.

I love that one of the most Wheel of Time paragraphs I’ve ever seen from Wildbow happens to contain the words “bullheaded and stubborn”. This right here is just straight up Cadsuane, among others.

The inherent power of the character can also be expressed through the medium of the work.  For those who don’t know, I studied Applied Language and Discourse in university.  I love the moments when I can talk about how the author interacts with the work (the process of writing) or the audience (the cues in the writing that communicate something to the audience without spelling it out in the text), and how the work interacts with the audience in indirect ways.  I could go on about this for days, but I’ll throw out one example instead: imagine if, instead of the simple appearance of a character simply bringing conversation and interaction in a room to a screeching halt, their arrival end the chapter?

Oh yes, that’s the good stuff. Metanarrative communication.

Or the entire story arc?

As happened in Buzz with the Endbringer sirens.

Action: making an appearance.  Reaction:  the entire story stops, for however long it takes the reader to turn the next (or next few) pages.

Boom.

One has to keep in mind that this implication of power is a fragile thing.  The moment the joke character Squirrel Girl gets the better of Thanos, the big bad of the setting, Thanos’ carefully constructed aura of power is shattered.  The illusion is broken, the spell ended.

That sounds like you underestimating Squirrel Girl, which is a dangerous thing to do.

(But yes.)

As I scrolled down, before seeing the tinypic caption, I thought for a second that this sad round fren was supposed to represent Thanos’ reaction to having his aura of power shattered.

And frankly, from everything I’ve heard of the dude, that sounds about right.

(I haven’t actually seen Infinity War or Endgame, so the closest I’ve been to consuming official media involving Thanos is Guardians of the Galaxy, which involves his daughter, and the new-ish Squirrel Girl comics which have Squirrel Girl mentioning to an even bigger bad how she totally beat up Thanos. “You know him? Half goth ’cause he’s big into death, but half hipster ’cause he makes his own gloves?”)

If this happens too often, you get what TV Tropes calls the Worf Effect.  In Star Trek:TNG, Commander Worf was depicted as a big, strong Klingon, a crew member on board the Enterprise.  But when the time comes for someone to show off their sheer strength, it’s invariably by beating up Worf (typically throwing him ten feet, whereupon he collapses to the ground, unconscious)

Oof. And some genres have a habit of doing this to each successive top dog.

The idea is an expression of what I described above.  If you hit the toughest person in the room once and he’s out cold, you must be strong!

But poor Worf’s durability and toughness are simultaneously worn down by this repeated abuse.

And such was my problem with the fanfiction I mentioned above.  Every little thing counts when you’re building that aura of power.  The established powerhouse comes across as just a little less stoic if they’re wounded by the new character’s rapier wit, a little less durable if they reel from a blow, a little stupider if the new character successfully eludes them, if even for a while.

With all of this in mind, the Undersiders’ first “escape” from Bakuda in Shell becomes quite interesting. Because at first, while it seems like a relentless chase so the action is still there, it looks like the Undersiders are successfully eluding her, “if even for a while”. But then it’s turned around and revealed that Bakuda was leading them, using the power of fear (which would be revealed to be her Thing the next chapter) to make them do exactly what she wants — which means they weren’t eluding her at all, she was practically toying with them. It turns from a situation much like the one Wildbow was critiquing into one where the powerhouse was in charge all along, and that little jerking of the audience’s expectations of Bakuda as set by her collaboration with the least feared villains around and her seeming inability to stop the Undersiders during the chase helps to sell her overall unhinged vibe.

In brief: keep in mind that anything that can be used to build an atmosphere of power simultaneously does the opposite when reversed.

Action: Powerhouse looks more powerful. Reaction: Victim looks less powerful.

Yeah, that was some nice food for thought. Onto the other, much newer one!

Thoughts on Writing Serials

May 22, 2017

This one will presumably bring up some things about writing long.

At this stage I’m regularly getting emails and reddit PMs asking me questions and I’m giving the same sorts of answers to each.  In the interest of cutting back on the time spent answering those emails, as much as I’d like to personalize each response, I’m thinking I might write it out as a blog post and point people to it.

Oh, neat, Q&A style.

I’m thinking of writing a web serial.  Do you have any advice?  Any warnings or things you wish you’d known?

Okay, first off, you’ve got to figure out what you’re doing.  I really, really recommend writing yourself a backlog – 12 to 16 chapters you’ve already got done before you start uploading.  I encourage 12 or 16 because it’s what I did, and because I see an awful lot of serials get started and then stop around chapter ten.  Twelve to sixteen is enough that you’re testing yourself and seeing if you have what you need to really keep going.

*looks over at his own linear fanfic that’s been stuck on chapter 14 for a while*

(See what I mean about barely relevant? Those 14 chapters are each waaay shorter than anything in Worm, and the story is not intended to go on anywhere near as long as Wildbow’s stuff.)

The backlog serves a few purposes.  Above all else, a serial is like planning a year-long hike across North America.  You’re really plotting to jump into something for the long-term.  A goal here is to really test your ability and comfort level – getting a sense of the pace you can maintain.

They’re also alike in that they’re really not something you should expect me to be able to pull off.

My experience: I initially planned a short chapter every weekday, with interwoven storylines.  I thought twice about it, and considered about a chapter every other day, and then three a week.  I wrote the backlog and realized I’d burn out very quickly trying to do even that, and shifted to a twice-a-week schedule.

Burnout sucks so much, whatever you’re doing.

The second goal for the backlog is to really just allow yourself to weather the stumbles.  You will stumble, too, because you’re writing the serial while tending to your day to day life.  Stuff comes up.  Sickness, injury, weeks where you just don’t have time, family stuff, internet outages- the list goes on.

Wasn’t there some stuff like that going on during early Monarch?

It’s not just valuable for yourself in a schedule sense, but in a psychological one too.  If you miss one day then it’s easier to miss the next, and so on, and before you know it you’ve got an inconsistent schedule and you’re not that committed.

Ain’t that a mood.

You keep that backlog alive as long as you can.  If you have a twelve chapter backlog you release chapter one from it (possibly with revisions the day prior) as you get chapter thirteen written.  Release chapter two as you get chapter fourteen written.  The backlog will shrink over time – there will be those tough weeks.  It will eventually dwindle to nothing, but hopefully by then you’ll know the ins, outs, and your strengths and weaknesses, enabling you to maintain course.  You won’t lose heart and disappoint fans.  More importantly, perhaps, you won’t lose heart and disappoint yourself.

That really is the most important thing.

After seeing how things are going with my ongoing fics without backlogs, I have thought about taking a different approach to one of my partially planned fics, and try to write everything before I publish it like some of my friends do. That should also help with the genre, since it’d be more of a mystery story than my other works and I might need to edit clues.

All of which ties into my general sentiment about setting expectations.  Being prepared and knowing your abilities is one thing, but know also what you’re getting into.  An analogy might be going on a strict diet to lose a lot of weight.

The initial part, where you most want feedback, is also going to be the part where people are least interested and impressed.  You might get a few rah-rahs or ‘that sounds cool’ lines but while you’re getting everything figured out, it’s a fairly lonely first few steps.  Some people might even be discouraging or believe you’ll fail.  Because a lot of people say ‘I’m going to go on a diet’ and get nowhere.  A lot of people say ‘I’m going to write something’ and few actually finish what they’re working on – if they even get started.

O o f. Yeah. Yeah, this is all a big mood.

You’re doing it for yourself, yes, and you might even tell yourself it’s solely for yourself, but a part of the motivation is external – you want some validation from people around you, and it can sometimes take a long time before you get that.

I am absolutely hungry for validation in my creative pursuits, yes.

You’re a couple of months in and you’ve dropped a clothes size, and externally, not a lot of things have changed – people don’t treat you differently, they don’t say much if anything.  A lot of people want to write a serial because they want to get comments and fan involvement, but weeks and months go by and they see a few upticks on the blog stats screen, but no feedback.  Months become the first year and the comments, if they exist, are sporadic.  It can be discouraging!

Views and favorites and likes are all well and good, but there’s nothing like a good comment.

…It’s at this point that I’ll stress that because so few people are commenting, the few people you do hear from are going to have a disproportionate weight.  Be wary of that one voice that gives you well-meaning advice that can derail you, and be wary of how hard that one negative voice can hit you if you’re really eager for feedback and it winds up being less constructive feedback.

And then sometimes that voice is your own.

Real life gets in the way.  You’re trying to get into this new rhythm and flow, and shit happens.  You’ve got to travel to see people, or there are events, or stuff you’d worked into your plans for your diet/writing get discombobulated by circumstance.  It’s not always your ankle getting twisted and screwing up your exercise regime or your finger getting slammed in a car door, making typing a nightmare – it’s sometimes as simple as needing to keep doing what you’re doing when holidays happen and everyone else is relaxing from their usual plans & priorities.  (Holidays, in my personal experience, are as much a hassle for the regular writer as they are for the determined dieter.  I haven’t had nearly as much trouble with anything as I have had with holidays in particular)

“Merry Chri-” “JUST LET ME WRITE PLEASE”

The key to answering these issues is really just knowing what you’re getting into – start that diet or start that serial for the right reasons and keep those reasons in mind.  The old & tired adage of enjoying the journey rather than the destination is key.

I was lucky in that my expectations were nil as I wrote Worm.  Every new reader was a pleasant surprise, every uptick in views.  It didn’t matter that it took almost a year before comments were regular (and I stress that this was fairly fast as such things went), I was thrilled.  By contrast, people reading this post are liable to know who I am, they’ve likely seen Worm, and consequently they’re going to be aware of the fanbase and reader support it maintains.  I worry that even knowing this is happening elsewhere might adjust expectations when writing for the sake of writing and having no expectations at all might be better.

Writing for the sake of writing. Ultimately what got me to start writing MLP fic was that I had a character concept, and her friend, stuck in my head and screaming for some development. I started writing not for the validation but in order to examine these characters I’d been idly thinking about while at work.

I may have lost sight of that.

Either way, yeah, I do just want to communicate that it’s a tough and long road to travel and it’s often a lonely one to travel too.  There’s good to it, it feels great to be underway, it is supremely validating when someone gives you that thumbs up, and it really clarifies who has your back, while potentially introducing you to more people in the same vein.  That counts for a lot.

I think that mostly covers preparation and expectations.  Which leaves me floundering a bit when it comes to figuring out how to communicate some other stuff, because it’s not so tidy or easy to outline.  I’m just going to break up the sections here, in no particular order…

I have met friends, even through my silly snippets of a cloudbound unicorn’s life. Even if that was mainly through me commenting on another writer’s story about something in her fic reminding me of my own characters. (Because seriously, I’ll talk about my own stuff at the drop of a hat.)

Building a readership, key points to hit and ‘luck’.

Those who’ve followed my other posts on the subject are going to have heard these points before: Consistency, frequency, quality.

Consistency is king, in my book.

As someone who’s been personally and deservedly criticized on consistency by Wildbow, I’m not at all surprised to see it brought up here.

Consistency means having a schedule and maintaining it.  It means providing your readers with an expectation and then holding yourself to that expectation.  It’s my experience that readers are very understanding and kind (it might be that I have awesome readers), but even as they clamor to tell me it’s fine if I take a break, I notice very real trends in readership numbers when I even make a shift from 2.5 chapters a week to just 2, for any length of time.The reality is that when you’re writing an online serial, you’re writing on the internet.  The internet has millions of webpages and countless games, countless other stories or webcomics or videos for readers to get involved with.  With consistency, you enable readers to make reading into a habit, which keeps them coming back.  With inconsistency, where you have hiatuses, delays, changing scheduling, you lead to readers losing track of you – and they’ll find other things to get invested in.

There do seem to be fewer individual readers on this blog than there were back when I was… not consistent but more consistent.

There’s a double-edged benefit, too.  When you write consistently, it really forms a kind of personal momentum.  Going back to the diet analogy, having a game plan and sticking to it is going to be wildly more successful than days of starvation and days of lavish eating.  There will be rough patches, days where it’s really a grind to get through, and being able to say ‘I don’t eat junk food anymore’ or ‘I always get a chapter out on Saturday’ really forms the absolute force necessary to move forward.  ‘I wrote a chapter on schedule the last 100 days, I’m going to get the next one out, or I’ll diminish all that effort’ leads to ‘I wrote a chapter on schedule the last 101 days, I’m going to get the next one out…’ and so on.

The downside is it can lead to burnout if not managed well. This is something I’ve experienced before — a schedule keeping a project alive but tanking the quality because sticking to the schedule as much as I could led to burnout and subpar installment, and every subpar or missed installment beat on my confidence in my work.

And so when I started this blog and people asked for me to post ETAs on the next blogging sessions, it’s why I was careful to not make my “#next” posts promises, set up a solid schedule or even apologize for missing the ETAs. My brain being the way it is, the missed days were inevitable, and so apologizing would be an unnecessary beating on my conscience.

Ultimately I think the “#next” posts were the best thing to ever happen to this blog’s productivity, however, and the biggest loss of the migration to WordPress. They weren’t promises, but they still set my readers’ expectations for me to try to meet, and so helped incentivize my stupid brain to Do The Thing. For a while there I was relatively consistent about starting chapters two days after finishing the previous.

That’s why it really sucks that I struggle to get into the habit of doing “next”s on the blog’s Twitter consistently. I really think that would help me fix the current blogging rates a bit.

Frequency plays into this.  While having a goal of one post a month is consistent, it’s 29.2 days between each update.  That’s a lot of time for readers to forget you exist.  Email notifications and RSS feeds, twitter campaigns and the like can help, but there’s no guarantee that when the RSS notification comes up that the reader is going to click it.  It’s very easy for a reader to put it off until tomorrow and forget, for distractions to win out, and so on.

Ain’t that a mood.

There’s a middle ground to strike here.  Chapter number and chapter size factor in.  A chapter every weekday might be too much, or it might demand softer cliffhangers or too many cliffhangers, making the story too fragmented.  Is it doable?  Sure.  But pay attention to what you’re doing and the following you’re cultivating as you do it.  Once a week might be too little, but again, I think it verges on the doable.  Something between is going to achieve an effect where readers are either reading your chapter or anticipating the next one.

Yeah, uh…

Look at this mess. The first nine chapters were all written in July 2019 because I was doing Camp NaNoWriMo, and even there it’s not particularly consistent. 1-2-7-11-16-20-26-30-31. (Or, well, 31-30 after I later switched the order of two chapters.)

Then August hits and the frequency dips and suddenly it’s December, and then it stagnates. I’m still writing chapter 15.

Every chapter here is 1-2k words.

Without being unkind or pointing to specific examples, I think there are shows and webcomics out there that maintain a steady readership simply through frequency and consistency alone, with a very low bar for quality.  Ideally, however, we do want quality.

Yeah, that tracks.

Quality.  We put good stuff out there, that rewards and involves the audience.  We test our abilities and we grow, and we address our flaws and failings.

It’s possible, as I insinuated above, to do just fine by hitting two key points.  Can you slowly build up a readership by having something amazing that comes out on the 5th of every month?  Sure.  Can you pepper readers with something fun and intense updates – some weeks with no updates or one update and some weeks with six?  Sure.  You might lose some by the wayside but you’ll probably pick up a fair number.

That last one was Homestuck. Extremely high frequency in the early years, and high quality once it got into its groove, but so little consistency that people made upd8 notifier software specifically for it.

The reality is that readership doesn’t grow steadily, not really.  It might look that way when taken in at a distance, but in reality, it’s that one fan who links to you on a message board or that one guy who gives a recommendation that opens the door to thousands of people giving your work a look.  This is the ‘luck’ factor.

I would not be here shilling Homestuck or Wheel of Time to you guys if I hadn’t happened to have a meatspace friend who Told Me About Homestuck, or hadn’t happened to spot this huge series of books that took up nearly a whole shelf at the library, or hadn’t decided to check out Steven Universe and an Order of the Stick liveblog and the Discord community of the Steven Universe liveblogger that led me to, or hadn’t seen the recommendations of Worm to multiple other livebloggers.

I might not be blabbering about my pony fics if not for thousands of bronies making a name for themselves and Dan Shive tipping the scale to make me check out the show.

I have so many friends I would not have met if not for little moments like these. Little decisions, often whims, on my part or on others’, that have come to define my media interaction and my social life.

You might notice the curious emphasis I place on luck, with the single quotation marks.  I’ve unfortunately had a lot of people say that my success was due to luck.  My personal feeling, however, is that it’s through consistency, frequency and quality that luck happens – these are the things that open the door for luck to happen, should opportunity stroll on by.  You have to be singing for someone to notice you’re a good singer and sign you for a deal.  You have to have work out there for people to notice you and mention you to their two or ten or two thousand friends.

Or in the context of something more commonly associated with “luck”, you have to be betting to win.

Can you get lucky without frequency, quality, or consistency?  Yes.  But that really is chance and coincidence, rather than the luck one creates with time and determination.

Unless you happen to find a winning ticket on the floor.

Tending to Audience

I like to describe things using a diagram I ran into during my studies in University.  We draw a triangle and we put Audience, Author, and Text at different points.

Makes sense.

There’s a degree of interaction between each.  The author to the audience, the author to the text, and the audience to the text, and vice versa for each.  Be mindful of this.

Author and Text: it’s easy to let this slip.  When schedule demands and real life gets in the way, we can let the story drop in priority.  Given that the story takes place over the long haul and real life goes on in the meantime, it oftentimes has to.  The key thing is to remind yourself why you’re writing the story, what you like about it, and to be sure that you’re writing things you enjoy and things that challenge you.

*looks at his five or so WIPs that have been in limbo for months*

Audience and Text:  Fans will have their own interpretations of the work.  As the fandom grows and the triangle takes shape, memes happen, conversations will happen surrounding the work, and the work may be tested.  There’s not a lot I can really say on this off the top of my head, except that it’s very easy and very common for fans to be faced with this one side of the triangle and to make judgments about the other point, about you.  I’ve been called a robot, a girl, Asian, black, elderly, a teenager, a Nazi, an only child, the youngest child in a large family, and three feminists in league to a demon, all by people who thought they had divined something about me from the text.  Which leads me to…

[K6BD patron]

I highly recommend the second one, if only for introducing us to the “Wildbow is actually three feminists in league to a demon” theory.

Beautiful.

The game The Beginner’s Guide is highly relevant here and I recommend playing it or watching an uncut let’s play of it on YouTube. They typically last 1.5-2 hours and it’s quite worth it.

Author & Audience: In a normal book it’s very hard for an author to communicate to fans outside of a foreword and afterword.  As a serial author, your involvement may well be a regular thing.

I mean, there are also events like book signings and author panels and such, but that’s more limited in scope unless it gets recorded and spread to a majority of the fandom.

This plays out on a few levels.  I, for example, get financial support from readers.  I’ve had many, many readers tell me I don’t need to actually write the bonus chapters I do as a thank-you for the support, but I do it in part to shore up the left side of that triangle up there.  It’s very easy for the author to become faceless, for readers to feel like they’re throwing money into a well with no feedback to indicate it went anywhere.  It’s where I really liked doing the thank-yous I was doing prior, before numbers made that rather difficult.

Yeah, that makes sense.

On another level, it might be worth just communicating to fans about where you’re at.  A comment on your own chapters, with thoughts and preliminary sentiment.  It lets you put your face out there and it does give you a hand in the discourse.  The fact that serials can enable the author-audience interaction like they do is good for you too, because it lets you adjust the story to correct or respond to misconceptions or gauge the pulse of the greater readership.  Again, be careful you don’t let too small a sample size have too large a voice (as suggested in one of the bullet points up above).

I saw a friend of mine (the same one I mentioned whose fic I was commenting on) doing this yesterday, responding to criticism against a character with her thoughts on why that character deserved a little slack in the current situation. Since then, she’s mentioned potentially including things that could help adjust the reception based on the general pulse she was getting.

On the other side of Audience, or being tended to by Audience

It’s a tricky thing, audience.  Approaching the writing of serials, it’s very easy to think that you’ll write something and people will see it and then you’ll have usable feedback and things are good.

Yeeeah, no.

In reality, it can be tricky.  When you start out, you get nothing.  When you reach the point you think you’ve put enough in to start getting feedback… still mostly nothing.  Then you start to get a few isolated voices with strong feelings about what you’re creating, and some are positive and some are critical.  It’s very easy to let that small sample size and the loudness of negative voices push you to adjust and adapt.

As those voices pipe up, try to keep in mind your rationale for the story – why you’re writing it, what your tastes are, the empty space on bookshelves where this particular book hasn’t been written to fill them yet.  Write the things you enjoy and trust your instincts.  I’ve heard far more from authors who made changes early on to respond to their fledgling audience and who were unhappy with the result, than I’ve heard from the remainder.

Write the story you want, seems to be the takeaway here.

There’s a sweet middle ground where you’re starting to learn to pare out the good advice from the bad.  Some people think that negativity and criticism are the same thing when negativity is often something so omnipresent in a given person’s voice that you can’t pare out their good advice from the midst of it.  Beware the people who only ever have bad things to say, who want your work to be something it isn’t, or who take pride in tearing things down.  Find the positive voices and the middle ground becomes something you can learn from.  In my experience it was this time when I really grew.

It was also, I’ll stress, a time that was fairly short lived in my experience.  The audience grew further, in my case.  In others’ cases, where audience didn’t swell to the same degree, I’ve heard that the moderates lost out to the volume of the fanboys and especially to the critics.  Negative voices will always be louder and more determined, and over time they’ll drown out the others.

It’s really a shame. Imagine if we as readers made a concerted effort to be more loudly positive about the things we like? I don’t mean being unwilling to hear the negatives, but rather being more willing to speak the positives.

This is something I wish I’d known to brace myself for, and it’s a hard thing to articulate and really spell out.  With extreme success comes extremely high and loud populations – success I’ve not yet obtained but have seen in others.  I’ve seen online creators have breakdowns, lash out, get physically ill, and cut ties with audience completely, collapsing one end of the triangle, just because it’s such a constant thing.  I get several instances of criticism a day about one bad part of one story I put out three and a half years ago.  Thousands of emails at this stage.  Hundreds of orange envelopes on Reddit.  I expect to get thousands more before 2020 rolls around.

Judging by how this year has been in general, I expect it only got worse once 2020 did roll around.

Just be aware that with time and success come a disproportionately high & loud population of negative voices.  It’s not a reflection on you, but just the way things go.

Yeah.

Frequently asked question 1:  Should I have a donation button?

Put off the button for a bit, is my personal feeling.  Focus on the writing.  Focus on the consistency and frequency and quality, and on shoring up the author-text and author-audience relationships.  Focus on taking care of yourself first.

It’s very easy to include the button as a matter of course as you get your site set up, it’s very tempting, but I very frequently hear from people who do so and then feel discouraged when not only is their audience low in number, but the button goes unused.  It sets up a weird expectation.

Maybe wait until the audience tells you they want the button.

If I were counseling my younger self, I’d say to keep doing what I was doing, and if people asked about it, I’d include a button.

As an aside, I try not to call it a donation button anymore, because Paypal is persnickety about the use of the language ‘donation’.  It implies charity which implies special taxation rights and rules, and when Paypal gets persnickety they often lock the paypal account and freeze the funds within.  Sometimes they freeze the bank account linked to the paypal account, and then you get into life-gets-harder territory.  I prefer to refer to it as reader support.

Huh. Noted.

Frequently asked question 2: Social media?  Advertising?

My stance is and will likely continue to be that I’d much rather spend time writing more and writing well than spending time fiddling with Twitter, Facebook, and banner ads.  I never really advertised or promoted myself, except to link to my work when asked about it, and I did okay.  I think it’s better to work toward producing something that sells itself than to try to sell something and hope it’s worthwhile.

Internet people these days are used to actively ignoring advertisements anyway.

Your feelings may vary – you may be an avid twitterer (twit?  I’m not sure of the lingo) who tweets like she breathes.

t w i t

I am all for this Twitter demonym.

But my sentiment is that promoting your work like this is focusing overmuch on the destination rather than the journey, dwelling on audience overmuch (and often in a shallow way without lasting effect) rather than tending to the text.

Yeah, that seems about right.

Frequently asked question 3: I wrote a book and I’ve decided to release it online.  Any thoughts?

So this is a complicated thing, because in all honesty it flies in the face of a lot of the advice I gave above.  I’ve reviewed a few web serials and it’s very easy to sort of classify them in two types.

FAQ #4: In this FAQ post, why did they only start being labeled and numbered as FAQs two questions in?

There’s the organic web serial – chapters are written within a few weeks of them going live, they’re adjusted in reaction to the audience, and it’s all very fluid.  Quality can vary, real life gets in the way, there are factors to consider and measures to be taken to keep it all moving smoothly.

There’s the rigid web serial – the entire thing is written, and then it gets parceled out in chunks as a serial format.

The mystery story I mentioned would be the latter type, as opposed to my other fics where chapters go live pretty much once they’re done.

My personal feeling, and I’m trying not to inject too much bias into this, is that you really do get major consistency points in the rigid serial, you can set things up in the initial week so it all gets released at set times and you don’t need to get yourself involved except to make sure things are running smoothly.  No fuss, no muss – you’ve already done the hard work.

Yeah, that’s a big plus. That writer friend I’ve mentioned twice now — dunno why I’m avoiding names, I should just say she’s Krickis, author of the latest April Fool’s chapter on this blog — follows this strategy with most of her fics, and it seems to work well for her.

The tradeoff, however, is that the rigid serial doesn’t feel like a serial in a way that really works.  Very frequently in works I’ve reviewed, you can tell that it was broken off at what felt like a good stopping point, instead of finding its way naturally to that point.  Cliffhangers may either feel shallow or forced.  The story is often well constructed and edited, but it doesn’t necessarily have a pulse, it doesn’t sprawl of its own volition or turn to face the sun when the sun shines on one part of it.  The author may be involved, but many rigid serials may struggle to really implement feedback in a way that causes ripples throughout everything that follows.  Changes and adjustments in reaction to the pressures and sentiments of the audience may be minor or feel mechanical.

I suppose it depends a bit on the length and involvement of the plot. And fragmentation — Krickis’ fics are each parts of a much larger story, in which the feedback can come into play in a later fic. Or even in creating a later fic. I myself had that kind of effect on her work by mentioning my disappointment that a moment I had been anticipating wasn’t shown, which caused the creation of a short addition to the series that dealt with that.

I guess with that in mind, Krickis’ approach lies somewhere in the middle.

Ooh, I just remembered something fun relating to the triangle and Krickis. So you may remember from the April Fool’s liveblog that after the accident I included a sequence of short, disjointed interludes labeled i to vi instead of the usual chapter numbers. Krickis is usually very active in her comments sections, the kind of author who responds to every comment, but during that particular sequence she very deliberately cut contact, creating a meta effect on the “broken” chapters where even the comments sections weren’t quite right, and forcing the audience to draw their conclusions from the text as it came out.

She temporarily disabled the left leg in order to create an effect along the right leg.

When I say implement feedback, I should stress that I don’t mean deciding the story’s direction.  I mean more in the sense of a shift in tone or featuring more popular characters, answering questions or emphasizing different aspects.

Or perhaps switching the POV of a scene to help the audience understand a character…

There’s a lot to be said for what a story gains in consistency and quality this way – several stories that I believe were written this way have gone on to be picked up by major publishers.  But serial writing is a really unique and new form, and I think there’s a lot to be said for writing to the strengths of that form and seeing what happens.  That’s just me.

Every medium has its strengths.


Since reading these essays, I finally managed to break through my months-long inability to finish any writing and wrapped up chapter 15 of Reflections in Black and Pink, the story I showed the chapter list from above. Hopefully I can keep that up (chapter 15 was a transition leading in towards some of the stuff I’ve been writing the story to get to, so that should help), and maybe spread it to my other frozen story. And maybe even the stories that are currently in the planning stage, though I want to finish Reflections first and foremost.

I definitely intend to keep some of Wildbow’s thoughts in mind during my future writing, even if a lot of them were stuff I kind of already knew but didn’t think consciously enough about while writing.

One thought on “Between: Interlude 18y

  1. Tattles absolutely fits into the Naruto parallel- she’s Naruto himself. His finishing move isn’t the rasengan, it’s talk-no-jutsu.

    Like

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