Reviewing Fan Fiction ?

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Have you ever wondered how to go about telling your favourite author how amazing their work is?  Or would you like to be able to help a budding fan fiction writer improve their craft?  Preferably without chasing them off the pasture?

If you have, read on.  If you haven’t- well- uh- have a puppy.

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I read a decent amount of Fan Fiction.  Maybe not as much as others, but there’s a good reason for that:  While someone else might go and consume everything out there with their particular OTP in it, or dig into the trenches of their fandom’s archive, I read what I’m being given on the /r/FanFiction Discord server.  Sometimes that means I will read a short.   Sometimes a single chapter of a novel length piece.  Or, at occassion, the whole 350k word behemoth.

And I read to review.  Hardly ever will I leave a fic without dropping a comment / review on my way out.  Most often than not multiple ones, since I firmly believe every individual chapter deserves my attention.

Depending on my relationship with the author, or their explict wishes, I may even try to leave constructive critisim.  Though at the end of the day it is not my job to try and edit their work, or mold their writing to fit my taste or standard.  Considering that they are doing this for the joy of it, and not for profit, throwing unwanted advice their way can have a very discouraging effect.

So, what do I do if I am being asked to review / beta / callitwatchawant a piece that doesn’t live up to the quality I am otherwise used to?  Yeah, I might think Oh boy, but-

That. Does. Not. Mean. It. Sucks.

All it really means, is that the author has picked writing fan fiction as a hobby, but isn’t necessarily very good at it. Yet. We’ve all been there, an universal truth that we sometimes forget.

So.

Let us assume that I’ve read a fic by someone who does not have English as their native language, therefore obviously has grammatical errors in them.  They are also rather new to pacing and to character development / introduction, and make mistakes such as using the word orbs for eyes and mentioning everyone by the colour of their hair.

I’m being given ten chapters of all those clumsy little words, and asked to tell them exactly what I think.

What do I do?

Pick my battles. 

Throwing myself in there and lumping it all together would likely feel like I’m absolutely slamming them.  And that would have the opposite effect to what I am trying to accomplish.  It’d drive them off.  Maybe even make them want to stop writing.

We do not want that.

So what I tend to do is, for each chapter, I pick up things that I believe should be addressed. I might mention specific grammatical mistakes in each, a handful at best. Sometimes I correct them in detail two or three times, before only mentioning them in passing.

Then, I mention what I like.  I highlight sentances that were good.  Show them what they are doing right, because not only will that take away the sting from before, but it’ll also provide a comparison to what they did wrong.

In short: This is how you shouldn’t do it, but look, this is right!  Keep doing this.  But stop doing that.

Then I move on to the next chapter, giving them the same treatment there, but focusing on a different set of errors.  If I talked about grammer first, I might now touch on the epithet elephants in the room.  Or hand them a few alternatives for orbs.  Like actual eyeballs.  Squishy, squishy eyeballs.

Before too long, we are back on what they did well, and by the end, I hope to have a tall stack of nicely layered critique sandwiches.

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Mmmm… tasty tasty sammiches.  After all, they deserve the good stuff too, more so still than the advice I have to give.  If anything, I prefer encouragement, and to show them that however bad they think their writing might be, it is not a lost cause. No writing ever is.

From there on out, it is up to them.  Do I hope that they’ve learned something?  Sure, why wouldn’t I.  Would I feel dejected if they decide to disregard what I’ve told them?  Yeeaaah- probably, though since we assumed that they’d asked for help, we’re more entering “How to accept advice.” territory here.

What I’ll never do though, and what gets my blood boiling if I see it done, is throw their writing under the bus.  It’s not my place to do so.  It’s no one’s place to do so.  To think a writer (or any artist, really) would abandon a craft they love because someone couldn’t keep civil, breaks my heart.

*The above is written with Fan Fiction in mind, and not meant to represent the job of a paid editor working with an author preparing a book for publishing.  Neither does it cover betaing or editing agreements between Fan Fiction writers who want to get their work torn to pieces.

 

Book Review: Forbidden Enchantment

Welcome to a world of subdued magic and beauty in this short queer romance novel by the incredibly talented Bran Lindy Ayers.   Get it from Less Than Three Press, it’s worth it and will leave you smiling. 

Genre: Fantasy / Romance / LGBT
Explict content: No

Sidhe cannot lie. Yet Cedric lies about everything from being happy to being human. Hiding his true appearance with glamor runes, he’s managed to live quietly among humans for nearly fifty years. But as he journeys to the capital at the behest of the empress, a chance encounter with the first dragon to be seen in a thousand years threatens to reveal all his secrets.

Talfryn commits a taboo every time he leaves the mountains. Yet for an outcast, long banished from the dragons’ last city, taboos are trifles. He’s more interested in acquiring items for his hoard. Drawn by the scent of a rare enchantment, he’ll risk everything, including his freedom, to find the source.

In Forbidden Enchantment, traditional high fantasy themes rub shoulders with Celtic mythology and flirt with the idea of modernisation.  It’s imaginative.  Vivid.  Has characters that come alive within the first few lines of their introduction, and gives each of their leads their own, unique mysteries and secrets.

Forbidden Enchantment

I adored all of them. Cedric— Talfryn— Jurryt— they’re a real delight. Cedric I mostly admire for how he’s lived his life with dignity.  Talfryn for his curiosity and want for more, and Jurryt— Jurryt for being an incredibly strong and resourceful boy.  He stole my heart almost immediately, and probably with a great deal more ease than the narweed he was after.

All world building is subtly woven into the story, leaving just the right amount of gaps to be filled by the readers imagination, and making you want to know more.  Least it made me crave more, and I’m still horribly curious about the Sentinels and the wealth of different magical creatures that we get to see glimpses off.  But especially the Sentinels. Damn.

The plot itself is clearly focused on romance first and foremost.  We see Cedric and Talfryn pulled together despite their conflicting heritage and a world that has it out for both of them.  But even so, there is more going on around them.  They’re not suspended in their own bubble, but individuals within the greater gears turning around them. Gears which we get to see glimpses of as they keep the world turning and remind us that there is more to see past Cedric and Talfryn.

And that brings me to the… more.  Or the lack of it.  Forbidden Enchantment ends rather abruptly, the last quarter feeling just a little rushed.  While there aren’t any unanswered questions, and no real loose ends wanting tying, I do wish there’d been more time spent with our heroes and the hardships they had to endure towards the end. 

That, and the Sentinels.  I wanna know about the Sentinels, damn it.

Anyway.

Overall, I’d highly recommend Forbidden Enchantment.  It’s a quick enough read, well written, and I’m fairly certain that the characters will stay with the reader far longer than the last turn of the page.  They did with me- and I’m not likely to forget them any time soon.

Star Trek Dicovery: Chin Up. Smile.

Star Trek Discovery

2800 words, complete  @Ao3  by ChronicallyOwlish
Genre/What to expect: A Sylvia Tilly character study.  Warm and full of hope.
Rating: General Audiences
Pairings: None / Gen

Friends are hard to come by when you’re a little too smart, a little too loud, and a little too weird for the people around you. Sylvia Tilly has always had one dream, to join Starfleet, but there are a lot of voices out there telling her she isn’t cut out for it. She’s going to prove them all wrong.

Suitable for fandom blind readers? Yes


I don’t very often find real affinity with characters, even if they might share some of the tropes that I recognize when I look in the mirror.  Tropes which I embrace, by the by.  While I’m not saying whoever writes my life is a good writer, they do at occasion pick good tropes.  But anyway.

Tilly.  Sylvia Tilly.  Let’s talk about her.

Sylvia Tilly

Look at that cinnamon roll with her bright smile and the stubborn joy in her eyes.  Why she didn’t pop out at me after her introduction in Discovery is beyond me-  though I may blame the pretty colours and flashing lights of the rest of the show for distracting me.  What can I say.  I am a simple person.

But then I read ChronicallyOwlish‘s one-shot about Tilly’s life before Starfleet, and I’m never going to be able to look at that character the same way again.  Which was how?  Dismissively.  Much like a great deal of the rest of her world treated her, and- hey- look at that- that sounds familiar- I dismissed her.  I shouldn’t have.  Because under that wild mess of red hair, and behind the happy bubbling noises that string together to form words (lots of words), hides a person.  A genuine and incredible person, something that Owlish has captured beautifully in her short story.

The tone of Chin Up. Smile. is hopeful from the start.  Warm.  It deals with the challenges that Sylvia must have faced growing up, and shows us how intimidating life can be.  But it does so without being on the nose about it, without trying to stab at our own experiences, or trying to make us feel sorry for her just because.  Instead, we see how strong Sylvia is.  And that, I think, is incredibly inspiring and uplifting.

That the writing is smooth and feels a bit like feeding honey to your brain, that’s an added bonus.

So hey.

Read this.  Read it if you like Star Trek Discovery.  Read it if you like Tilly.  Read it if you want to know more about her.  Or read it if you just want see how someone that doesn’t quite fit into all the predefined drawers society likes to keep ready, can navigate life with gentle fire bubbling in their gut.

What other people say:

By athousandpigeons:  This is so good! Tilly is awesome and quirky and so much stronger than people give her credit for, and you captured her voice perfectly. And that last paragraph is *everything*!

By Artemis1000:  Oh my goodness how perfect and on-point this story is, I can’t even! I love it so very much, and I love the depth of emotion and the richness of your atmospheric writing. Just give me all the Tilly fic, I’m in love

How Taff plots and outlines.

There’s a lot of information out there on how to plot and outline.  People have written whole books about the same, and thinking how they had to outline that is way more amusing to me than it probably should be.

Outlining can be a really daunting thought for many, and sometimes I hate it. I abso-fucking-lutely detest it, because what am I getting done?  Nothing, the instant-gratification-greedy-ID screams. You could have written the first chapter and started posting!  Instead you wasted a week with this shit?  Eh. That little bitch is wrong.

Because once its done, I love it.

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Latchkey Hero’s first season didn’t need a lot of outlining, since it mostly followed the source material close enough to let me get away without a great deal of preparation.  Once I hit season two though, which has an entirely original plot line, I didn’t have that existing framework to play with any more.  And I was stumped.  Least until I figured out that even without the need to, I’d already started practising my outlining with the first season, it just wasn’t as clear to me back then.  In fact, I think I did the same thing with the already existing story, sort of reverse engineering it to be able to fit Zofia into it and see where she would begin derailing things.

End. Middle. Start.

My stories come out ass first.  Yep.

For both Valiant and Latchkey, I knew how they were going to end much sooner than I knew how they were going to start.  I’m not saying I knew what the last chapter was going to be, how it’d all go down exactly, but I knew what I wanted to achieve.   And while I wasn’t a 100% clear on the details yet, I also had an idea on how I wanted to get there.  What was left to figure out was where to open it up, where the story should begin so it could lead to what I wanted to achieve, and how I wanted it to do so.

For that purpose I usually grab a big sheet of paper, draw a line across it, and pencil in the three main touch points from Start to End.  The empty white space in-between will then be filled with…

What do we have to lose?

Here is where I take a look at the cast, and what their stakes in this whole deal is.  That includes a villain.  Each character gets a card with their motivation, goals, and my eventual choice on whether or not they win or lose.  Call it their own personal subplots if you’d like, although I like to think that my characters lead the plot, and not the other way around.

I set these cards on the page, so I can reference them, and I move on to…

The story skeleton

There’s lots of ways to build that.  Wanna follow the classic Hero’s Journey?  Have at it.  Would you rather go all Snowball method on it?  There’s tons of ways to go about it, and a lot better places to go look for them, to be fair.  Me, I’ve settled on a bastardised version of the Tent Pole method, paired with specific Scenes and Sequences to fill the timeline.

I start with arcs.  Usually three or four, each labelled clearly with what needs to happen and what the overall theme of the arc is.   They are written down on a set of cards, much like my character motivations, and kept close for reference.

After that I begin to distil the parts I’d just gathered up into scenes (chapters/sequences/whateveryawannacallem) and write them down on the line that I mentioned at the beginning.

And- done. 

Does that mean that everything is now set in stone and writing this will have lost some measure of its excitement?  Hell no.  There is still a lot to discover, and the outline will never survive entirely intact once the characters show up and having their say.  But I will not be lost.  I’ll have a compass, and that compass is incredibly reassuring when writers block comes knocking.  Since all you’ve got to do now is laugh in its face and slap it around with your handy outline.

But Taaaafff, you might cry.  Do I really need to outline?  It’s boring and I just wanna write.  Well.  Nothing wrong with that.  Valiant Remedy was written entirely only based on the ending in sight, with maybe four scenes that wanted in there, while everything else just had to fall in place around it.  Admittedly though, Valiant was my first ever long project, and I think I came away from this with a desire to be a little bit more organised.

Thief: Of Masks and Mirrors

You never forget your first. In 1998, Looking Glass released the original Thief game, and a little after that I got introduced to the world of one Garrett, Master Thief, and the City he roamed at night to fill his coat with shiny things.Capture

And we’ve got history. Garrett and me. The sort of history that shows, even to this day, with my online handle probably being the most obvious influence. It’s more than that though. He’s had lasting impact on my writing, helped define some of my favourite characters, and I don’t think I will ever forget how fond of him I was.

Which, I guess, should mean that I ought to be all over the Thief fandom, but as with all things that I treasure, I tend to stay far away from it. The times I tried I found anyone but Garrett in the fics, and after that I never bothered to return.

Well.   That’s changed now.  At least for the work of StopTalkingAtMe, who’s found her way into the Thief fandom and has given me a closure to Thief II that I didn’t even know I’d needed.

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7.8k words, complete @Ao3  by StopTalkingAtMe
Genre/What to expect: Gen.
Rating: Teen and Up
Suitable for fandom blind readers? While it will read well even fandom blind, the lack of context will make it difficult to appreciate it fully.

Six months have passed since the events at Soulforge Cathedral and the City is still recovering. No one’s too sure what counts as heresy these days. Karras has left his mark, not only on the City’s streets and sewers, but on Garrett too, and he’s not the only one.

Of Masks and Mirrors is how the epilogue to Metal Age should have played out. Or, far as I’m concerned, might as well have, because StopTalkingAtMe has done an incredible job at capturing ever facet of the original Thief series that I so unconditionally loved.

Garrett feels like Garrett. He’s the world weary thief that I remember. The jaded and somewhat defective individual that walks a lonely and oftentimes dark path. But he’s got that bit of snark too, and I love how she managed to find just the right amount without turning him into the joker he seems to have become in Thief 4, since apparently a lot of sass is what you need these days if you want to be an anti hero.

I digress though. Sorry.

So. She got Garrett right. But what about the rest?

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She got the city right, too. How it changed after Karras fell. How everyone’s still recovering. It’s in the details, in the people that Garrett meets in Of Masks and Mirrors, and it’s just as important as his own struggle to fit himself back into his life after the events at Soulforge Cathedral.

“Can’t blame ’em, to be honest with you,” the landlord says, scratching his balls through his pocket. “Bleeding nightmare, they were. ‘Praise Karras’ this, and ‘the Builder’ that, all the poxy hours of the night until the rain got into them, and then they was worse. Taffing things never bloody shut up.” He shoots a nervous glance at Garrett. “Not that I’m a heretic, mind you,” he adds hastily, in a way that suggests he absolutely is. No one’s quite certain what counts as heresy these days.

And as usual, her writing feels effortless in how it switches between beautiful descriptions and the intricate details needed to move the plot along. She gives Garrett time to reflect. To remember. With that, she builds him a little more still, adds nuances to his already pretty well layered character and reminds me why I adored him to begin with.

Oh, and by the by, she absolutely nails the speech pattern of every single one of the characters introduced. It’s like reading the Thief script, I swear.

I don’t really want to see much about the plot, since anything I might say could end up spoiling the experience. So please- please- if you like Thief, then give it a go. Have a read. Leave her a Kudos. Drop her a comment. She deserves both.

Latchkey Hero Season 02 – Last Four Chapters outlined!

I’m excited. Relieved. A bit terrified. And I am really looking forward to writing that epilogue.

Also, that means I’ve finished everything I had planned for this Saturday:

  • Read two fics
  • Finish outline for Latchkey Season 02
  • Beta an amazing Elder Scrolls fic chapter
  • Clean a little

Though I’ve also gone ahead and started working on my portfolio / not-Tumblr blog, and that’s exciting too, because it’s always nice to have new things to play with.