Archive for May, 2006

Meta-meta-fanfic

May 23rd, 2006 by Reinder

Last week, Adam and I wrote what is referred to in fannish circles as a sporking, essentially a written MSTK-ing, of a chapter from the Harry Potter fanfic Hogwarts Exposed for an online community dedicated to that sort of thing. Besides being unbelievably awful,Hogwarts Exposed, noticeable for being based not just on the original Harry Potter stories (indeed it has very little connection with them at all) but on two other fanfics, from which it cribs backstory points about the defeat of Voldemort and Harry's fifth and sixth years at Hogwarts, which presumably weren't available to the HE writer when he was working on it. This makes HE a meta-fanfic.
Because Adam and I wrote our response in character, Adam as the cast of a webcomic he is writing, and me as the main cast of Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, and because the process got way out of hand —the chapter is quoted nearly in full but the quotations make up only a small part of the finished product— the finished product reads more like a freestyle Role Playing Game than a point by point mocking of a bad fanfiction. I suppose that makes it a meta-meta fanfic. And one in which I let my own characters go out of character for the sake of some cheap gags. Ah well.
Why did we do this? For my part, I'd seen Adam and other writers doing these things before and it seemed like a fun writing exercise, and possibly a way of making the time wasted rubbernecking at Hogwarts Exposed worthwhile, so I thought I'd have a go. All chapters had already been assigned but Adam was willing to share. It's quite a lot of work, actually.
While we're on the subject of fanfics and the canon they're supposedly based on, Andrew Rilstone has something to say about the source material for The Da Vinci Code: the HMS Jesus/Mary Magdalene won't sail, based on what the Gospels actually have to say about Mary Magdalene, which is very little.
Andrew, in case you hadn't seen me wittering on about his writing before, is always a good read and one of very few bloggers who write about Christianity, from a Christian (C of E) perspective without coming across as some deranged fundamentalist.

I am probably going to regret posting this late in the evening after a long working day. Apologies in advance for any lapses in grammar, style or comprehensibility; I'll edit out the worst faults in the morning when my head is clearer.

[Adam Cuerden (a.k.a. Einar)] Web Comic Problems

May 23rd, 2006 by Adam Cuerden

Growth of power. It's a particular problem for any long-running comic or story, and really shouldn't be: We should be glad that the heroes are moving up in the world a bit. However, not when the protagonist starts always having the perfect power for a situation.

EXAMPLE COMIC:
The local grouchy wizard isn't particularly powerful, but has enough talent to be able to eke out a living helping villagers with their petty problems. He'd probably take it better if half the men weren't always asking for spells to enlarge their manhood. After a while as a gag comic, the writer decides to add a bit more plot, and so begins to add more quirky, eccentric characters to the mix: relatives, friends, and a romantic interest for our wizard, all of which have flaws that keep them as underdogs. The wizard's magic, low-level as it is, begins to find a certain amount of use in helping and protecting his friends.

So far, so good. It's an interesting story, and if the characters are good, it'll be fun to read. However, problems could well arise...

These side adventures lead the author in a new direction, and, having played out the village, he conspires to have the wizard thrown out of it.

Actually, this may be a very good idea. Forcing your characters to uproot allows new plots: We can see how the wizard struggles without his source of income. However, all is not well if, despite the repeated references to our wizard being poor, we never see him work or get paid again.

The plots begin getting more complex, and so the wizard's power "has" to increase to let him battle the new challenges. His magic begins becoming rather more impressive and far more useful with little explanation why.

...No, no, no. You CAN make him more powerful, but have to make it fairly. Either let him study to prepare for a challenge or other "fair" way of increasing power, let him learn to use his old power more effectively [e.g. whereas before it took him quite a lot of time to prepare a large sphere of silence to allow the group to slip into hostile territory, now he just puts it on the soles of their shoes and the hinges of ny doors they come across.], or have all this practice slightly increase his power. If the only way to resolve the plot is to give one or more of your characters a rather major and unprecedented new power, then:

A. You need to think of another way of resolving the plot,

B. They're going to fail, then. Institute damage limitation by them with what power they have, and start a new plot to deal with the consequences of that failure,

or

C. Set things up in advance. Well in advance and subtly: The readers can see an undisguised McGuffin a mile off. (It is, of course, acceptable to surprise the reader, so long as theey can go back and see the hints.)

However... there's more problems ahead for our heroes...

In an exciting plot, an important and well-liked secondary character manages to overcome a major weakness that was almost defining to his character due to how much it limited him.

Well... yes. That could be a good plot, and done well, I'll be cheering for him. However, it becomes a major problem if this leads to flawscrubbing: The removal of all weaknesses from a character. By all means, let this open up new pathways for him, allow him to do new things he couldn't before - but leave him some flaws and things he can't do.

Also, realise it's going to take him some time to get used to his new freedom: He may well keep thinking he has the weakness, and use the techniques he developed to work around it for some time. Indeed, there could be further problems: I didn't have the glasses I needed whilst growing up until I had been rather badly nearsighted for some time. Even now, over a decade later, I have to think about it to pay much attention to the more distant scenery that always used to be blurry, and tend to walk paying attention mostly to the ground 15' in front of me until hazards like roads mean I have to look up and look around.

The wizard begins to get more and more powerful, and the secondary cast become more and more dependant on him.

Ooh. Bad. Bad bad bad! No character should be the centre of a universe.

The rest of the secondary characters are either flawscrubbed or disappear from the comic. Everything now centres around the hero or the most important secondary character, the villains now become either very powerful politician types or demons and other superbeings themselves, with the loss of all grey areas, and any plot snippet generally runs as follows:

Character tries to do thing himself, manages to some extent, then calls on the now godly main character to finish things off.

By the time it reaches this stage, the comic is unsalvagable. Don't make your character godly. It's never a good idea.

Here are some things to avoid:

1. "The Chosen One": Suddenly, your ordinary character is the only one that can save the world, and he'll need to work hard to get the incredible amount of power he needs to save it. It's that last clause that causes the problem. This storyline is going to ramp your character up to cosmic power, able to save the world from the worst threats. So... what now? The world's in trouble EVERY BLOODY WEEK? I mean, bet with all that power any plot with anything less'd be a sinch. Also, you've just pushed one character far above all the others, demoting them from his equals or near-equals into groupies.

Please don't go on to raise each secondary character to cosmic power in turn. That's just painful.

2. The stupid weakness: He may be all-powerful, but the colour yellow makes him useless. Er, unless he tries really hard to overcome it. ...I'd say that noone'd be quite that stupid and transparent about their false-dramatic plot device, except that it exists. This just changes "The solution to every secondary character's problem is the hero" to "Almost every storyline culminates in the hero either making a great effort and overcoming his weakness briefly, or the secondary characters coming along and pulling the weakness away so he can finish up." Please don't make your plot arcs all identical.

3. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away: Whilst he has any power he should need, it's immediately forgotten about after the story. Again, results in every plotline being the same: Everyone mucks about, then the hero manifests the ideal power to save the day.

4. And the angel came unto Joseph, and said unto him, "UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A SELECT START" Possibly the worst of all: The character has some sort of mystical experience or meets a supernatural being, and suddenly gets one or more new talents. Only time this works is when the information given is really MINOR, e.g. the location of a keyhole, or if your name is Diana Wynne Jones (who seems to be able to take anything that's normally a hallmark of an awful story and somehow find the hidden potential in it to make pure gold).

This might *JUST* work for languages, as, let's face it, it's no stupider than any other way heroes commonly learn them. And, of course, if the character is a robot or automata, this might be more valid, as long as you don't go overboard.

In short, by all means, let your characters grow more powerful, but let us see their struggles to become it. We'll cheer all the more when they finally get a bit of recognition. But don't go too far: You'll either force all your stories to be samey, sap out the life of everyone but your protagonist, create a rampaging Gary-Stu out of what used to be a rather interesting character, or, most likely, all three.

Remember: everyone likes the underdog. If you want to keep them the underdog, don't try and kid us by saying that one character is demonstratably the most powerful person on the planet, but he still has all these problems because.... er... Well, because he stupidly doesn't use his powers expept where plot convenient, I guess.

The Age of Steel (spoilers)

May 21st, 2006 by Reinder

Another episode, another long series of whinges from the fandom. Mind you, without having read anything hidden behind livejournal cuts so far, I can see why people might feel this episode didn't work for them. "They got their emotions back and then everything exploded" is a cheesy, hackneyed, overused way to end an episode. And the cyber-ized John Lumic in his cyber-ized wheelchair was the biggest, most dreadful ham in the series so far. The saving grace of the actor's performance so far was that it was free of "Muahaha" moments, so it was a bit of a disappointment to watch him in his metal suit going "NOOOOOOOO!" and getting out of his cyber-chair to give chase, culminating with him climbing up a rope ladder after our heroes. In short, the big finale, the sequence that this episode and the previous one had been building up to, sucked. Hoo boy, did it ever. Almost as much as the get-out-of-the-cliffhanger cop-out at the start, but let's just chalked that up to being a tribute old Who.
That was the bad news. Now for the good. The epilogue was moving enough to wash down the suck with, and before the bit that sucked, we got 30-odd minutes of tense build-up, a nightmarish sequence in which the Cybermen rounded up the citizenry and took them to the even more nightmarish cyber-factory to be "upgraded". Wonderful stuff, neatly backed up by the unescapable stomping sound of the Cybermen's robotic, martial gait. The horror of alternate-Jackie Tyler's conversion into a Cyberman was well-done, and even the bit with the emotion inhibitor being broken in one individual Cyberman worked well, transparent Deus Ex Machina that it was. It was only when they all started running around like headless chickens and holding their heads in Am-dram despair that the whole thing went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The trailer for the next episode suggests that we're getting more suck next week. I hope I'm wrong.

Suomi Perkele!

May 20th, 2006 by Reinder

Just when you thought it was turning into the Warsaw Pact Song Contest, Finnish entrants Lordi win the Eurovision Song Contest. They... don't look a bit like Värttinä:
Lordi's ideal-son-in-law type frontman.

I've been told this is Finland's first win, but if they just send Finntroll next year they'll have their second victory in the bag soon enough.

The clean-cut instrumentalists

Monster band has Finland fretting over face it shows - International Herald Tribune backgrounder

Stephen Moffat on Rise of the Cybermen

May 20th, 2006 by Reinder

I haven't seen this forum exchange sourced properly, but the excerpt is too good not to quote in full:

Other poster: "he gave us a 1980's retread [referring to Tom MacRae's 'Rise of the Cybermen']."

Steven Moffat: "What are you TALKING ABOUT you mad, mewling fool??

If that episode had shown up in the 80s (or the 70s, or the 60s) we'd all have fainted of joy on the spot! Whump! All of us! Every fan in the country - gurgle, whump, living room floor. Medical experts would've been flown in from all around the world! "My God," they'd have cried, "every geek in Britain is unconscious!! Quick, let's pull their pants over their heads and draw moustaches on them!"

The Elder Statesmen of Fandom, in their vast and mighty Council Chamber (in Mum's bedroom), would
actually have EXPLODED!! Into CLOUDS OF VAPOUR!!! Every breath taken in the whole wide world wide would have contained a measurable quantity of IAN LEVINE!!

And here you are, you lot, and you don't even know you're born. Some of us had to go to school the Monday after the Giant Rat!! No, REALLY! Think about that! Added ten years to my virginity, that did, Giant Rat Monday! Oh, I haven't forgotten!

Kids today!

Sheesh!"

I'm actually hearing Moffat's opening salvo in the voice of Tom Baker. Probably posted somewhere on Outpost Gallifrey.

Blogplug: LGFWatch on the Hirsi Ali affair

May 19th, 2006 by Reinder

Like Martin Wisse, I've been greatly enjoying the Hirsi Ali affair. My take on it is similar to Martin's, although I am a little more sympathetic to Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself: I believe her heart was always in the right place, she was sincere in her struggle for the emancipation of women in Muslim countries and women immigrants from those countries, and she deserves better than to become the American Enterprise Institute's token black, feminist liberal. I do think her choice of the AEI leaves one with the impression that she's a lot less smart than she's made out to be, but then again I don't think she ever had much of a grasp on any issues other than the one she's closely associated with.
Rita Verdonk, on the other hand, has once again proven that instead of the steadfast maintainer of strict rules that her followers see in her, she's weak, incompetent and flip-flopping. She was against Hirsi Ali's citizenship before she was for it, then against it again, and now that Prime Minister Balkenende has told her to be for it, she's for it again. You heard that right: Balkenende of all people gave the so-called Iron Lady a big ol' smackdown. I'm respecting him a little more already. Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn.
I do wonder when all those other VVD parliamentarians and ministers who knew in 2002 that Hirsi Ali didn't have a valid Dutch citizenship will resign.

If you're living abroad, don't speak Dutch and want factual, accurate reporting on the whole affair, you could do a lot worse than to go to LGF watch for coverage and translations from the Dutch media. While their use of the facts as a club to beat Little Green Footballs and its rabid commentariat over the head with gets a bit old... ah, who am I kidding. That never gets old. In any case, LGFWatch, with the help of its correspondents, presents a reasonably accurate picture of the circumstances surrounding Hirsi Ali and Verdonk, as well as a good critique of the misrepresentations in certain right-wing blogs.
Relevant links:
Breaking News
How stupid are lizards?
We get mail
Oh Dear...
The Verdonk Files
Free Speech, Dutch Style

Dear everyone on the Internet and quite a few people in book publishing who really ought to know better

May 18th, 2006 by Reinder

That introductory bit in the front of a book that an author or publisher typically invites someone else to write is called a "foreword" not a "forward". If you get a book in the mail and then send the package on to someone else, that's a forward, from the verb "to forward". A foreword, by contrast, is a word, or rather a lot of words, that comes/come before the main bit. It's not that difficult.

Yes, I'm cranky today. If you had spent the day fighting Paint Shop Pro, you'd be cranky too.

(Triggered by Comixpedia where I do actually have an account, possibly two, that I could use to comment, but I haven't been able to log in there in months.)

Dear everyone on the Internet

May 18th, 2006 by Reinder

The adjective form of "camp" is "camp", not "campy". It is not derived from the noun "camp" or at least not in the usual way. In fact, there isn't really a noun form of the word unless you mean a bunch of tents. "Nounized" forms of the word occur only very rarely, usually to allow speakers more readily to define or comment on the phenomenon. As "camp" is undefinable, this is a pointless activity that should be discouraged. Use the correct adjective and forget you've ever heard the noun used.

(Triggered by use of the wrong adjective form on the blog under Dominic Deegan, but could have been triggered by a million other occurrences.)

It’s not always a good high

May 17th, 2006 by Reinder

Running this evening has really messed me up. Almost two hours past the end of the training, I'm still not experiencing any of the euphoria I felt after the trainings of the past few weeks. In fact, I'm not even particularly hungry, which is unusual. Normally I spend the rest of the evening wolfing down food.

I overdid it. I was still somewhat sore from Monday's rather extensive uphill/downhill exercises (carried out on the footpath at Zernike Science Park), and I'd eaten a little more than I should have beforehand. It didn't help that we got another uphill/downhill training again on the same footpath, albeit one that prioritised endurance a little more than Monday's exercise. I got continuing pain in the calves, intestinal cramps, and quite a bit of nausea towards the end of the training, although that's alright now.

A couple days' rest should do me good. Actually, now that I'm writing this, I'm becoming a bit more coherent and focused, signs that I'm less knackered. But the fact that I'm still not very hungry is not good at all.

Another “King Groy” update

May 14th, 2006 by Reinder

A slight change from my original plan: I'm now going to stagger the writing work a bit. I will develop the first half or so of the story into a drawable script with page and panel divisions, so I have something to draw while working on the second half. This allows me to take some cues from where the art takes me, and makes scheduling the work easier. I expect to start drawing it in June. "King Groy" will be about as long as Guðrún was. That story didn't have a typed script at all, so I expect I'll be able to keep things organised and making sense throughout the project.
In the latest revisions, the material I kept from the original version from 1997 has been cut and shrunk and filled out again with new material. I'm looking for economy of action, something which was very lacking in the original.
Adam is settling into his role as script editor very well. He gets to see everything I write and often when I'm stuck with something I'll just blather at him in IRC. If he comes up with an suggestion I consider it; if not, I'll often think of something myself. He has a preference for low farce that I don't always want to indulge, but he is good at picking out bits that don't work, and he's especially good at pointing at unnecessary exposition.
Adam's influence opens one rather wriggly can of worms. For the original version, Geir Strøm performed a similar function. I didn't involve him as early in the process as I did with Adam (if I had, the story would have ended up being better and I would not have had to do this rewrite at all), but I did ask him for help when I'd written myself into a corner. The good suggestions he provided me with then earned him a co-writing credit for Koningsdrama, but it looks like all his contributions will be gone in King Groy. So Geir pulls the short straw. And here I am still not working on getting the Chronicles of the Witch Queen site running again. Nevertheless, I still want to acknowledge his work on the original. I'm not quite sure how to do that but I'll think of something.

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