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My writing group changed its format recently. The first half of the meeting is devoted to a particular topic of writing technique, complete with a pre-assigned writing exercise, and the second half of the meeting is devoted to the critique of one person's piece of writing. Because of people's summer schedules (I was gone much of June, both of the other women were gone much of July), we've only had one two (it's been a while since I first wrote this entry) meetings with the new format. Our topic for the first one was "voice":
Each writer has a distinct personality. Hemingway, for example, would never write like Mark Twain. How does a writer develop her/his voice? What is the difference between voice and style? A writer must master narrative voice. How is it done, and what exactly is it? A story's voice is created by some fundamental tools a writer must have in their "writerÂ’s toolbox." We will discuss these and look at how this all works.
Our assignment was:
Create a narrative voice that is distinctly different from your own by changing a key element of the character. If you're a woman, write in a man's voice. If you're under thirty, create the voice of a character over sixty. Make a change in appearance or education or background.
As you probably already know, I'm not a big fan of change, and as you may not know, writing assignments make me nervous, so my first, snarky response was, "Oh, geeze. That's what I do all the time!" Snarky, yes, but true, too. I suspect that there are few things fan fic teaches you as well as it teaches you how to write in someone else's voice. Because, really, that is what fan fic often comes down to: someone else's voice. Whether you're writing about actors or hipster band members or vampires, fan fic usually means writing about someone who is "distinctly different" from you, and, in the case of FPF, writing about someone who was originally created/written/presented by someone "distinctly different" from you.
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This entry is part of a series.

They didn't call on me before the discussion moved on from how fan fiction has changed your reading habits to some other topic, so you get to hear about the other piece of my perspective on this (this is, after all, what a blog is for): I am much less tolerant of world-building and description now. When I read fic, I already know all of that, and I want to just get to the story part of the story. Now, even when I read original novels, I just want them to get to the story part of the story rather than spending forever and a day on setup. This is especially true of books in a series. I remember hearing that Lois McMaster Bujold's Beguilement and Legacy were originally one book that got split into two due to length, and it shows, especially when you compare Legacy to Passage, the third book. Passage resets the stage for us (although more gracefully and less tediously than other authors might) where Legacy just keeps going from where we left off in Beguilement. One of the worst - or possibly best - offenders is Catherine Asaro who seems to just copy and paste the same two paragraphs about how telepathy works in her world somewhere into the first chapter or two of each Skolian Saga novel. Bad because it's irritating; good because once you've read it in the first book, you can skip it every other time. (This relates to an interesting discussion from the bad books panel at last year's WisCon: one woman said she thinks we need to relearn the lost art of skipping. She contended that when you read letters and whatnot from people of the past [I have the impression of eighteenth or nineteenth century literary types, but that might not be who she meant], they were always skipping parts of books. She decided to take up this practice when she realized she'd been reading Anna Karenina for three years. She liked the Anna parts, but would get stuck at the other parts, and so she just started skipping the other parts.) Because of fan fic, and especially the matter-of-fact approach it takes to whimsical genres like wingfic, genderswap, and centaurfic (yeah, that last one is new to me too), I'd rather Catherine Asaro just tell the story without feeling like she has to give a sciency-sounding explanation for the telepathy. Similarly, I loved J.L. Langley's My Fair Captain, but found the blahblahblah about the Regency background of the society tiresome. Don't try to sell me on your world; just tell me the story. If you're any good at all (and J.L. Langley is), I'll pick up on the background as we go along.

"But Ruth," I can hear you thinking, "what about all that stuff you said six posts ago about not enough description?" Yeah, I did say all that stuff about not enough description. Somehow, there has to be a balance. I have to know enough to get what's going on, but not so much that I stop reading because there's no story amidst the description. There also has to be the right kind of description. Nathan first seeing Aiden? Yes. Regency background of their world? No.
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I keep forgetting to put at the top of these posts that they're part of a series. I'll try to be better about that.

One of the panelists asked how reading fan fiction has changed your approach to other reading. WisCon is a book con, not a media con, so this didn't go in the usual looking for subtext in everything direction (or if it did, I don't remember that part of it).

One woman said, with apologies to [ profile] ceciliatan, who was on the panel, that she's less likely to buy professionally published erotica now. I'm with her. I have two reasons, but I think she only gave one of those two. My reasons:
  1. Books are expensive; fan fic is cheap. Even ebooks are expensive. ($6 for a novel that they don't even have to print? Craziness. I'd buy a hell of a lot more ebooks if they were $2.99 or $3.99.)
  2. Fan fic is lower risk when it comes to quality. Most erotica collections are pretty uneven in terms of quality, and buying a whole book is more trouble and more expensive than trying out a piece of fan fic. It's not that hard to find fan fic that's just as good or, sometimes, better than professionally published erotica.
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[ profile] ceciliatan says that writing fan fiction teaches you how to do everything except rewrite. [ profile] hederahelix says she thinks that's dependent upon the writer, which is true to some degree. I think, however, that Cecilia has a great point about the culture of fan fiction. We (I use this term loosely and leave myself out of it) encourage people to post their epics chapter by chapter as they write them. I've always thought this was a bad idea for two reasons: First, for the writer, it means you're stuck with what you have. If you get to chapter 37 and decide that the cat you introduced in chapter 3 needed to be named Alexander instead of Cyrus, tough luck. The cat is now and forevermore named Cyrus. Secondly, for the reader, there's no guarantee that a WiP will ever be finished. How awful is it to get to chapter 87 and then wait and wait and wait in vain for a chapter 88 that never comes? If you're lucky the author will post a note letting you know she's not writing any more of the story so you know not to hope anymore. (You'll notice that I'm making a distinction between WiPs that are posted as they're being written and completed stories that are posted one chapter at a time over a period of days or weeks or months. I dislike those too, but for different reasons.) I can see the counterargument forming in your mind right now: TV shows. Which, yes, true, those go on and on as they're written. You also (usually) get forewarning that they're ending, and you can psych yourself up for it instead of waiting for a story or ending that never comes. For the record, as a general rule, I refuse to read very involved series of books unless the whole series is already published and I can read it all at once. (I say "very involved" because I have no qualms about breaking the rule for fluffy things like the Riley Jensen or Mercy Thompson books.)

Even given how I feel about WiPs and the importance of giving yourself the option to make changes until you're truly ready to post your story, I haven't done that much rewriting in my fan fic career. Polishing, yes, that I've done a lot of. But outright rewriting? Not so much. Probably the closest I've come are the things where I've written more than one version of a beginning, never made a decision what I wanted to do, and never finished the story. (My Mia/Letty with a baby story comes to mind. I think I had three versions of that one going. There's also the original novel where I have two or three versions of the beginning that flow into and repeat each other.) The one I know I rewrote is the train scene in "That Love Thing." The joke that no one but me gets is that I originally wrote the scene from Draco's pov, realized the rest of the story was Harry's pov, and rewrote it. Where Harry loves the woman with the cart, Draco doesn't quite sneer at her. Of course, I couldn't quite resist not sharing that, and I did provide that commentary in an LJ post.

When I took a piece from one of my half-started novels to my writing group, one of the women in my group said something like, "This is a complete scene. In the next draft, start with this and just focus on describing the cabin to us. Then in the next draft, you can add in something else." This was extremely useful rewriting advice that I applied to a different story. I started working my way through football.txt and adding description to the existing scenes and filling in additional scenes so it would have a plot. (I may have already said this before: on first writing, I thought of it as a series of sex scenes with a thin veneer of plot. Upon rereading, I discovered that the veneer was a little too thin, almost to the point of nonexistence.) On the next rewrite, I'll fill in more description on the original scenes, start to fill in description on the new scenes and write in any new new scenes it needs, and so forth and so on.

The Ask: Tracking changes and rewrites.
If you're a rewriter, how do you deal with drafts and versioning? My tendency is to simply save the file with the new changes. Is there any reason I should separate out separate drafts? If so, how many incremental changes add up to a whole new draft? Or should this be like a software version control system where I keep track of all changes all the time?
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[ profile] ceciliatan says that writing fan fiction teaches you how to do everything except rewrite. I think there's another exception: physical description of characters.

I first noticed this when I read "Houseplants For Beginners." I enjoyed the story, but I had a terrible time picturing the characters because I don't know anything about bandom. I found the same thing again recently when I read "In Production" - I liked much of the story, but I don't know the fandom and I couldn't picture any of the characters in my head. I don't think this is really that much of a problem for fan fiction. The intended audience, after all, is other members of the fandom, who you expect to already know your characters and their world. If, however, you're trying to convert your mad fan fic skillz to original writing, this does become a problem. When my high school football RPS AU turned original novel (to be known as "football.txt" from here on out - at least until it gets a title) was fan fic, it didn't matter that I didn't tell you what the characters looked like because they were people you already knew - or could google if you didn't. But Jake and Tony (Look! I came up with new names for them!) aren't people you know, and you can't google them. (Well, you could, but the real people with the same names are not the same people I'm writing about.)

This presents me with quite the writing challenge. I have no freakin idea how to describe people. (I'm even pretty iffy on describing inanimate objects.) It probably doesn't help that I get irritated reading excessive and excessively gushing description, which is the only time I really notice it.

The Ask: Help me learn how to describe people.
Do you have any good advice (your own or someone else's) to share about how to describe people? Is there anyone you know of (fan or professionally published) who writes really great descriptions that I could read for examples? How else might I go about learning about how to describe people?
rsadelle: (Default)
There were two points at the WisCon slash panel that I've been mulling over, and the discussion I'm having with [ profile] hederahelix is adding another spice to the mulling. (Or something. Fan fic may not have taught me how to properly construct a metaphor.) This is an introductory post, with a series of at least three posts full of content to follow.

The two points:
  1. [ profile] ceciliatan, who was one of the panelists, said that fan fiction teaches you everything you need to know about writing, except how to rewrite.
  2. Someone asked: How has reading fan fiction changed your reading habits?
I'll let you ponder while I go to copy and paste my first entry on the subject from GoogleDocs (where I'm writing these at work - scandalous!) to an LJ posting window.


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Ruth Sadelle Alderson


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