Monday, May 26, 2014

Right Here, Right Now ::
Writing and Hosting Your Own Fiction

Guide Time!

I was asked by those lovely people at the NBI (The Newbie Blogger Initiative) if I'd be prepared to contribute a number of Guides to various process that may seem intimidating for those new to the art of Blogging. One such area I offered to cover was fiction, which is something I've been dabbling with since last year. Writing stories seems wonderfully simple in principle: using blogs to tell those stories is pretty much a marriage made in heaven. After all, the concept of a daily or weekly 'serial' in written format is nothing new: Charles Dickens' literary career began with The Pickwick Papers being published in 'episodic' format, the last one selling 40,000 copies in 1846. Dickens was also a journalist at this time, so his 'serious' writing and fiction existed side by side. If you have the ability to blog and create stories in the same space, you should grasp your opportunities with both hands.

However, there are some things you ought to consider before you press 'Publish'. If you'd like to contribute others in comments I'd love to hear them: as a starting point, here are:

10 Things To Consider before Publishing Your Fiction on the Internet. 

1. Is is ACTUALLY your Fiction?

Plagiarism is serious business, not simply in fiction but everywhere. If you want people to notice you and be interested in what you do, stealing someone else's work and passing it off as your own is likely to tick the former box but really won't help at all with the latter. With something like Warcraft, people like me are clearly borrowing from an expansive Universe, but at NO POINT am I attempting to make readers believe I invented it. I'm also creating situations that other people have undoubtedly considered and may have written about, but every word comes from my head. I am well aware of some very sensible people who have done some extremely stupid things when it's come to attribution: as a first point of order, these have to be YOUR WORDS and nobody else's. Using other people's Universes is perfectly acceptable, just remember to thank them every time you do with a suitable acknowledgement.

2. Has anyone else read this?

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is as a writer to find people to read your work for you before you publish it. You will be stunned at how much you miss, even down to simple spelling mistakes that your own proof reading may not pick up (it happens, and yes, if you're not using a spell checker in a word processing programme you really should be.)  However, that's only half the battle. What tends to happen, especially when writing about places inside Games, is that you forget that your readers won't have the same frames as reference as you do. Vital details that only exist in your head and not on the page means what you've written may make sense to you but will seem odd and out of place to others. This is where a good Beta Reader will come in. If you find people prepared to do the job thoroughly, hang onto them for all you are worth, for they are a rare and precious commodity (/hugs her betas.)

3. Have a Plan (Sometimes)

Publishing 40,000 words in one lump on your Blog won't keep people engaged, and it won't keep them coming back for more, which is pretty much the point in posting your Fiction in the first place. I always consider myself aiming for the Penny Dreadful approach to publishing stories: cheap, sometimes sensationalist, and designed to keep people coming back for more. That means sticking in a cliffhanger from time to time, and splitting up your stories into easily digestible 'lumps' for people to read at their leisure or catch up on in one large session if they so desire. That means if you have a story, having a plan of what happens what and when roughly in the back of your mind (or even on paper.) Of course, you don't have to stick to it, but it helps to at least posses it for reference, even if everything suddenly changes after a late night burst of inspiration.

Here for Eva Green. Move along now.

4. Accuracy is Everything.

When you're the one setting the rules for fictional content, you can imagine whatever you wish. When you decide to start basing your stories in a fictional world created by someone else, sticking with the chronology is a Good Thing (TM). When you've got almost a decade of lore to consider as backdrop this can actually make your job more complicated, which is why I tend to try and ignore stories bogged down in details. My work tries to focus on characters and reactions to big events, which are only often mentioned in passing. When you pick your Universe to inhabit, be aware that often it comes with a great deal of baggage even you may not be completely aware of. Be ready as a result to stand by your decisions if you choose to do something that isn't part of the already established chronology.

5. Be Ready for Criticism.

It will happen. If you publish stuff, people will have an opinion on it. Many won't say a word in your comments, but those that do deserve to be treated with respect when they do, especially if they are critical of what you've written. Of course, if they are rude or dismissive, that's a different story (see point six.) If people take the time to tell you what's wrong with your work, and they do so in a sensible and rational fashion, at least take the time to read what's been said and understand why it has been mentioned. I have had some really very useful comments on my work from utter strangers which has helped immensely in refining my processes over the last year. It does happen. I love to throw the phrase 'every day is a school day' about because it's absolutely true. YOU NEVER STOP LEARNING. Make sure you take as much as you can from every comment.

6. Separate Trash from Treasure.

This is also a very good time to separate the good from the bad, to grasp when someone is trolling and another is trying to be helpful. If you've taken the time to learn about the people who visit your site you'll know who's around for the long haul and those who've just turned up to cause trouble. Remember to treat everyone with respect and frankly you won't go far wrong. In fact, as a rule, being overly pleasant to people attempting to wind you up is an extremely effective deterrent. Because you had someone read your work first before you published it you know it is sound and worthwhile. Don't let people tell you otherwise, but be aware that nobody is perfect and there is always room for improvement.

Learn what's useful and what's not :D

7. Resist the Temptation to Fiddle.

This one is a bit contentious, and I'm going to do an /epic side eye at George Lucas here because of what he's done recently concerning what now constitutes 'canon' in the Star Wars Universe. If you start a story one way, make sure it ends the same way. It may be tempting to go back and 'amend' details as you travel but this only serves to confuse your readership. This is why I told you to have a plan back at point three, after all. You need, as a writer, to have a conviction in your storyline. If you don't, neither will your readers, and that's an important point to consider if you intend to make a series run overs several months or even years. Trust me, if you change something somebody will notice, especially if your work is popular enough to garner a fandom. Ask George, he knows all about that ^^

8. Pick a Format and Stick with It.

As an aside to this point, consistency in your writing is fairly important. I publish stuff as often as I have it and my beta can get it to a stage where we're both happy it makes sense. As neither of us is a publisher and has other jobs to do, that means it gets fitted around two fairly busy schedules. I therefore try and give people warning of what to expect and when, and when I actually publish the stories they all use the same conventions and layout: this also involves giving a rating for each piece, similar to that you'd get for a movie. These are all standard Fan Fiction conventions I learnt from my early days of writing online. Once you pick a 'format' for your work, try and stick with it. Your audience enjoys consistency, trust me.

9. Personal Experience Works for Gaming Fiction Too.

I feel my best work in Warcraft fiction has come from when I've been able to marry personal in-game experience with the characters I am writing. As you are effectively an 'actor' yourself, playing the part of your avatar in pre-scripted 'drama', all those experiences have a validity if you are attempting to use them to tell a story. Don't be afraid therefore to draw on the feelings you had when you killed Arthas in 25 man, or how you felt when you watched the Wrathgate cinematic for the first time. These experiences are just as valid as real life events in helping you shape a gaming 'fiction' that is as believable on the page as it is when you log on. It will also help other players associate with you and the experiences you are sharing.


Finally, and most importantly, if you're not having a blast writing your stories, it's time to go and do something else. If you're just thinking about the money you can make from site visits, you're doing it wrong too. Eventually, people will see right through you, and your ability to write will become largely academic. What matters more than anything else is the enjoyment that you garner from writing. After all, if I didn't love this job I wouldn't be sitting here now producing this Guide for you. It's all about priorities, people.

Pick your words with care, for they are powerful and can change the world.

1 comment:

Brunold said...

Okay, Blizzard devs value the first three points, I'd say. Not so sure about the others. Fiddling? Happened. Stick with your format? Definitely not. Separate trash form treaure? Actually, I'm happy that I'm still allowed to play WoW. ;)