Saiun - technicolor Reishin

The Elements of Critique 2/4: Stream-of-Consciousness Criticism

Take a look at the opening explanation if you haven't already. What I define as critique/concrit might not be what you expect if you've been pointed here from a fandom source.


Continuing with the theme introduced in the previous post - critique as a way of helping the author as well as oneself - we have what I call the "stream-of-consciousness critique," or the practice of taking notes as you go along and dishing that out to the author.

Like I said, the most well-meaning attempt at critique can be unhelpful at best, and destructive at worst. This is one way a critique can be misleading without the critic realizing how or why. Collapse )

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VP - Silmeria kicks your ass

The Elements of Critique 1/4: Giving the Good with the Bad

Take a look at the opening explanation if you haven't already. What I define as critique/concrit might not be what you expect if you've been pointed here from a fandom source. Granted, I'm several years out of date on fandom, so who the hell knows. Maybe now I'm preaching to the choir/totally wrong.


Critique and "constructive criticism" are--in my experience--contentious topics in online writing communities. I'm speaking mainly of fandom groups, but not just those. You could say I have ~feelings~ about it that I’d like to express in a pointed fashion. While I have never received a deliberately hostile critique, I have had several critique experiences that I found less than helpful, for reasons that I think can be fixed with some consideration from both parties. When you offer a critique to an author, I assume you’re doing it because you want to help them. I know I do.

So let’s be helpful! I’ll start the series off with an obvious point, which a whole lot of people still miss. Not everybody, just… a number of people that isn’t negligible.

Give the good with the bad when you critique.

No, this doesn't mean you should praise the author. (For some reason, this is always the first assumption. Why?) It means you should bring attention to the good things about their story in addition to the bad things.

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I highly recommend taking a look at that Zen Habits article if you offer critique in any context. It's perceptive and definitely worth reading.


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Miang - I want to be myself

The Elements of Critique: Foreward, Explanations, Excuses

So, a while ago--maybe like, two years ago? Ha--I promised a post on critique. It turned into four posts, which I wrote some time last year to experiment with content marketing techniques. I needed something to talk about, and well, I have wordy opinions about critique that I firmly believe are the right ones, and I'm not going to let reasonable arguments get in my way!

However, since the series was originally written for a class exercise, the style is a little different from what I normally post on LJ/DW. I don't think it needs rewriting otherwise, so I'm slapping it up as-is. If you think it sounds arrogant, try to remember two things: 1) it is, and I'm not sorry which you should expect by now, and 2) you don't write the kind of article I was experimenting with unless you intend to sound like an expert. Based on my studies, it doesn't seem to matter whether that expertise exists or not. :P

Unfortunately, I've spent so much time in fandom that it inevitably crops up in my examples when I address things I don't like. Almost all of my fandoms have, at some point, had ugly fights (usually via anon-meme) about the right to deliver concrit and the obligation of writers to listen to their reviewers or have specific aims for their writing process. And I definitely have opinions about that.

Also, something to be aware of:

In this series, critique =/= fic reviews.

Confusion on this issue has cropped up in the past, so I want all readers to understand that I'm talking about a formal review process--the type you usually see in writing classes, circles, and so forth. I'm not suggesting that this process be applied to your average FFN/AO3 review. If it's applicable to anything fandom-specific, I guess you could draw parallels between this and the beta process, although again, it's been a long-ass time since I had a beta for my fan fiction. I do eventually criticize the point of view that cropped up in those anon memes, and I do it precisely because those commenters seemed to be equating the two types of feedback when talking about the importance of listening to their reviews, and in retrospect I don't agree.

tl;dr, this is the kind of topic that starts arguments. May as well get the most obvious potential misconception out of the way. I'm trying to define the good and bad things about serious critique, not just fic reviews or related concrit, but it comes up.




  1. Critique: Giving the Good With the Bad

  2. Stream-of-Consciousness Criticism

  3. Unsolicited Commentary

  4. The Perfect Critique

If there's anything else you'd like to see examined, let me know.


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VP - Shiho

The Purge begins. (Completed.)

As promised some time back in September, I'm locking down the majority of my old entries. Here's what you should know if you're interested:

  1. A select set of entries will be unlocked again. Here's the list.

  2. Friends-locked entries from January 2016-onward are exempted.

  3. I'll take requests to re-open others, but no guarantees.

  4. I probably won't cross-post new entries to LJ, but I'm still thinking about it.

This process may take a few days. I'm not exactly in a hurry.

And uh, yeah. Guess that's it. Comment if you have any concerns, but I'm just going to plug away at this task while I'm still motivated. Feelings of motivation often die suddenly and horribly when I least expect it.

EDIT: But why the hell is LJ adding random number hashtags to my tag lists on edited entries? WTF. Not all of them, just some.


02.06.2018 - done.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

Maintaining mirrors and the recent LJ exodus.

It's that rare beast: an unlocked entry!

My concerns these days are pathetic and not at all fun to read about. The one exception, I'd say, is the cats. Who doesn't like cat stuff? I mean.

...Yeah, I mean. If you don't, just don't tell me.


So, about the subject line.

Listen--I hate ads and like convenience, so I'll spend money on journal platforms if that's what it takes. Even though I don't post often nowadays, I still like to have an unnecessarily extensive selection of user icons to choose from, and LJ specifically locks its mass-entry editing behind a paywall.

Livejournal has shitty customer service, though--not to mention questionable policies and zero transparency, or at least that's how I remember them. (I'd be lying if I claimed to have paid attention the last two years.) I don't want to give them money anymore. Dreamwidth costs enough, considering my post frequency. More than enough. I kinda sorta want to get rid of the LJ account, but I have a few concerns about that:

  1. There might be people following me that still use LJ as their primary writing/reading service;

  2. There are probably a lot of backlinks to my so-called meta posts, which I've been encouraged to keep public despite my desire to shut the whole thing down;

  3. I don't want to risk losing the name.

While at this point I think it's dumb and paranoid to think people out there still hate me enough (usually for RPGamer stuff, but there were other... incidents) to impersonate my account, it HAS happened before, and I'm not interested in leaving that door propped open even a little. The one benefit that maintaining the LJ account has is that it's an established area I've been known to occupy for over a decade.

So, the point? I'm considering locking down the content on the LJ mirror (though I may unlock specific entries, like the ones on this list), and posting primarily on DW without cross-posting. However, I'm not sure how LJ's dead account detection works, though, so I might continue cross-posting, but stop keeping track of comments. Considering how inactive I've been, that won't make a difference for most. Just to keep everything clear:


One of the things I'd like to do (eventually) is streamline what's locked and what's open so my journal looks more coherent from the outside. You know, just in case. But that's really hard to do--not to mention a whole ton of work I don't need--when you've got to repeat those changes across platforms.

Now, I'm buried under work/classwork at the moment, and probably won't make these changes any time soon, but I wanted to open comments to anyone who might have them. I've mentioned this in locked entries before, and have pared down my original intentions, which involved locking/deleting everything. If you have an opinion:

  • On DW, everyone with a valid account can comment.

  • On LJ, comments are restricted to my Friends List to avoid spam. Sorry. :/

If you don't have an opinion (which is what I expect), I'll do something about this lockdown when I need to avoid some real work or a final project. So, sounds like we're looking at December. :P Possibly earlier, but... yeah, no.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Dragon Age - Alistair

100 Things 020: Mystery Formula

Brought to you by the mystery novel formula, although the post isn't about mysteries of that sort.

In the end, I had to give my Tales of Zestiria obsession a little outlet. Not too much, because the last thing I need is an epic on my hands, but something. I found out I'm pretty rusty when it comes to fan fiction. I also noticed a few other things.

1. It took approximately 0.05 seconds for me to slip right back into the Pairing Fanfic Formula.

2. I hit the same story/characterization triggers every other Zestiria author does, though I didn't know that until I looked at the AO3 archive afterward.

3. Gasp, this... is not actually a bad formula.

I also realized that I open original stories differently, but that's another topic. Short stories - at least as I write them - involve more plot, and therefore need more precise openings... not that I always manage to make that happen.

The formula I default into isn't a bad formula by itself. It has setting, buildup, and payoff, which is why it can be satisfying to read; it can, and often does, have some kind of "emotional turn" that makes the scene feel complete-- like something happened. (I don't recall which writer gave me the phrase "emotional turn," but it has served me well every time I've bothered to use the concept while writing.) It just so happens that in pairing fic these elements are focused on cuddling instead of something else. It's actually not a bad basic structure for individual scenes.

I think this would still be true if the content is entirely fluff. You can still have a transformation of mood and/or emotion in the scene, which satisfies the requirement for "change" in fiction, which I know people loooove to argue with. Stories don't necessarily need conflict! Shit doesn't have to change! It can still be interesting! And I guess that's all true in fan fiction, when a reader might want to just wallow in their obsession with Mikleo Sebastian Maglor a character they love, and see some stream-of-consciousness contemplation on a canon event. I don't think that's very interesting, but whatever. Some people do. Point is, it's more interesting if something changes, even if that change means we're just moving from contemplation to happiness, or giddiness to contentedness, or some other minuscule difference. The formula can do that.

Which isn't to say I think I should write it all the time. It IS a formula, and if I write ten things according to this formula, they're all going to sound the same, since those ten things will definitely all be pairing fic. Somehow this doesn't happen if I use it for the basis of my scene structure in a longer story, because there are other things happening (and how exactly is a Sorey/Mikleo makeout session not something happening, I mean really) and the formula becomes a vehicle for other elements of craft.

So yeah. I haven't come up with an excuse for #2 (automatically falling into all the cliches) yet. Give me a few more hours for that one.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

100 Things #19: The Valley Filled With Clouds

"The problem with writing is writing. The discoveries in writing will be made in writing. The solutions to story problems - structural, motivational, existential - will be found in writing. ... Your middle will not arrive through thinking, and while it may arrive in dreaming, dreaming is more likely to produce results if you fall asleep while writing."

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, p.30

My own creative process drives me crazy. This problem probably isn't unique to me.

For as long as I've been writing, I've been what people call a "pantser" - when I've got an idea for a story, I skip the outlining and development parts and jump right in, figuring that it'll take care of itself. Who needs a plot to start with when it'll just grow out of the process on its own like a slimy, scary-looking mushroom? And I thought that's how it was done. I didn't take writing classes until much later, and it never occurred to me - apparently - to pick up a book on how to write fiction when I was younger.

By 'younger,' I mean seventeen or so, which is when I first attempted to write seriously. Prior to that I had written "novels" and storybooks and stuff, but not with any intent. I did it to get ideas out of my head, or sometimes to entertain my friends. Plot isn't really necessary when you're pandering to your own group and their in-jokes.

But this is still the way I work, and knowing how important plot is, thanks to my overpriced degree and experience (I guess), I keep feeling like I should grow up and start plotting before I write. Have an outline. Actually develop characters before I try to write them! No doubt that would make them slightly more interesting.

Have I tried to do this? Yes.

Has it worked? No.

I understand the concept. I could write an essay on it, or pass a test. I can diagnose the problems in novels, short stories, fan fiction. I can even (apparently) give good advice on improving plot and addressing related problems when I'm asked to give someone a thorough critique on their work. But sit me down with my own outline, which I will have spent quite a bit of time on, by the way, and I think I might be able to follow it for two chapters before I run off the rails and end up somewhere completely different. Part of me feels that sticking to that narrow path will stunt the creative growth of the story, but the real problem seems to come down to characterization. Like: I think Character A will do these things and make these decisions, but after writing her for two chapters I realize she'd rather do something different. I might've spent hours working on her backstory, her details (e.g. profile stuff like who her extended family is, or what her education is), and think I developed her personality, but I always find out I'm wrong.

So the character isn't going to do that in chapter three, and because she doesn't, chapter four is a wash. And we probably can't get to Point C on time; there'll need to be eight extra chapters. Maybe. Who's counting? And I can't say she won't change her mind in chapter five, because I just decided that such-and-such must've happened to her when she was a kid - it sounded good when I wrote it down just now, anyway! - and so Point C might be a no go. Oops.

This is both more fun (because I can do whatever the fuck I want and just have fun with it) and more irritating because it means I'm always going to have to waste a first draft on exploration.

Or it means I don't know what I'm doing.

Or it means I'm doing it wrong. Fuckit, then; who cares.

I like exploration. That's more than half the fun when I write fan fiction, after all. But I've never been comfortable or happy with the idea that I can't get something right on the first draft, so the suspicion that I'm always going to have to "waste" the first one makes me angry. There's no way I can get the first round right, because I don't know what it's going to throw at me, and yet that's the way I feel most comfortable in the development phase... you know, when it's actually going on. After I'm done for the day, though, I sit here and think I shouldn't do it this way. I should know better. Or do it better.

That quote at the top of the entry is something I found recently, which seemed fitting. But what made me think about all of this again - I don't normally dwell on it - was Terry Pratchett. He said two things that hit me as true-- for me.

How do you write stories? You make it up as you go along. This is a terrible thing to have to tell people.


But it's what I call "The Valley Filled with Clouds" technique. You're at the edge of the valley, and there is a church steeple, and there is a tree, and there is a rocky outcrop, but the rest of it is mist. But you know that because they exist, there must be ways of getting from one to the other that you cannot see. And so you start the journey. And when I write, I write a draft entirely for myself, just to walk the valley and find out what the book is going to be all about.

A Slip of the Keyboard, p.58-60

He goes on to compare his style of drafting with what he knows of Larry Niven, who's fond of index cards. He's "sure true writers do not work like this." Me too, except that apparently isn't the case.

So I read this, maybe two months ago, and thought if he could do it, I should give it another try. Try to embrace it. I did just say it was fun, somewhere up there. The process of discovery really can be. And when I try to change it, I clearly meet resistance on the inside, even if I think I'm trying to do the right thing. I tend to abandon stories that I start the other way, with outlines; I never abandon the ones that happen more organically. (Excluding some of the really long ones that I decide aren't working. If we're talking short stories, it's true.)

It's hard to embrace. However, it seems to me that kicking the plot into shape after might work better for me, because there's something to shape, whereas doing it at the beginning means trying to work with very little. And it's no wonder that it's so difficult when I'm trying to build a recognizable house with only a quarter of the materials when, if I wait, the others will show up later.

It might be less profitable to fight the process than it will be to fight the issue with multiple drafts. Which I've made progress on, but I still feel deep down like I shouldn't have to. Acceptance is hard.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

Innominat, Maotelus, and The Five Lords

Wow, rain. It's coming down hard.


Tales of Zestiria has a decently interesting world. It saw fit to explain very little of that world, unless I missed a ton of skits or scenes. Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing; it told me what I needed to know, and anyway, a world like this, with so many mysteries, is exactly what I would've loved writing fan fiction for. It leaves room for creative speculation.

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In Zestiria's defense, I did try to finish the game quickly; I might've missed things. I tried not to, because I like completing things, dammit, but I had limited time. :/ I went for the prize, and didn't take the time to do the thing with Edna's brother, or the crucibles, so I dunno, maybe those explain more? (Although the crucibles looked more like gameplay challenges.)

So whatev. Either these are dumb questions, or the game needs a sequel, so I can buy it.

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VP - Shiho

100 Things #018: Writing blocks, and the fear of thinking

When I think of writer's block (that thing which supposedly doesn't exist), I imagine what I went through in 2010: a complete lack of motivation to write, an inability to string five words together in a way I thought was decent, and a trend in which everything I managed to finish was awful. This sort of thing understandably makes me stop writing for a while. It's miserable. I've learned not to hate everything I write as a rule, so when my mental state starts backtracking into that territory, I know something is wrong. It took me a while, but I figured out that stopping was the only way to get past this for me, personally.

There's also the sort of block that involves not knowing what to do next. That one sucks too, but I think it's the easiest to break through, because the problem can be solved by continuing to work on the story-- just in a different way. Researching, reading, discussing with friends (if you're not as paranoid as I am, see the last entry), and all that.

The one that gets me every time is probably a type of fear. Not fear of doing badly, or of what people will think, or of failure, or of success... but of thinking. At all. And then of putting that thing on paper.

Years ago, Arcana and I decided to co-write on a story about angels. I love angel lore. He had just read some related material. In addition, some weird combination of Star Ocean II, Angel Sanctuary, and Vagrant Story had me itching to write some Lucifer/Gabriel fic, which may (or may not?) sound strange to you, but it worked wonders in my head, I assure you. (This was a long time ago. A REALLY long time ago, mmkay. It's a bit embarrassing to talk about, or at least this particular fixation is. :P)

We both eventually stopped working on the project. Only, I would revisit the universe sometimes and write new snippets, because my obsession with angel lore hadn't ended, and I liked the characters we had created. I think we had a really good plot hook, too. So one day, probably for some daily writing challenge, I came up with this story about Raziel asking Metatron to go down to earth and be human with her for a while so she could do some research, and this turned into a thing where she really liked him, which turned into a, well, a THING, and then my brain shut down.

If you don't know, the body of legends involving angels makes clear that sex is a Very Bad Thing for them to do, and they're not supposed to have desires of any kind. Yet while Lucifer (Samael, in our story) and Gabriel didn't bother me, Metatron and Raziel did. Does Samael's status as a fallen angel make it "okay" to be in love and have sex and all that, even though Gabriel's stint as fallen isn't very long or serious, and therefore shouldn't make it more "okay" for her than any other angel? Metatron was originally Enoch, according to legend - a human. So he knows more about being human - and being in love, theoretically - than Raziel every could; is it the disparity of experience that made me uncomfortable? (Clearly not, considering some of the pairings I got into with later fandoms.)

What I'm getting at with this anecdote is that I still run into a block when I try to imagine this story. For whatever reason, I do not want to go there: I don't want to transgress on some imaginary moral ground and write about angels doing it together. It's like I'm afraid of what they'll think when they find out, even though I'm not 100% sold on their existence as independent beings. Even if they did exist, I suppose they wouldn't give a shit. Maybe I've just been indoctrinated by years of listening to my grandmother watch television evangelists, and some part of me is afraid of committing a mortal sin by writing two angels boinking. I lol just thinking of it that way.

It may sound stupid, but this is the strongest block I've ever run into. Nothing else is stopping me; I have the plot, I know the characters at least as well as the game characters I used to write about, I have the history of the world mapped out in all the ways that matter for writing this little story, and all I have to do is start typing.

If you asked me, I'd say no: I'm not religious. I don't think the Bible is true, any more than I think the myths about Greek gods are true. I believe in God because I want to, and because my family, brought up Catholic, put that little bit of fear in me that says I'm damned if I don't. But if that tiny fear is the source of my block, it's no wonder I have such a problem getting over myself. That runs back pretty far.

Some people are afraid of what their readers will think of them because they write from the POV of a murderer or pedophile. Me? I'm afraid of what imaginary beings will think of me for writing them into what is essentially fanfic.

I'm laughing, even though it's kinda sad.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

100 Things #017: Creative Community and Trust

By 'creative community' I mean something like what we used to have here on LJ - a group of friends all writing about the same thing (Fire Emblem, Suikoden, whatever) and talking about the source material, inspiration, blah blah. Fandom was my writing community for twelve years. Without it, I find I write less often, with less devotion, and in general have a harder time finding motivation for anything.

I thought when I left that I didn't need fandom to drive my work. I've always written my originals alone, usually without showing them to anybody, so why would I need other people to egg me on? It's worth noting, at this point, that even when I was still involved in fandom, all it inspired me to write was fan fiction; original work didn't benefit by that sense of community at all. Measuring and I tried to jump start our original writing with the gauntlet challenge, but at the time I think we both pretty much ignored the orig-fic prompts (or at least didn't talk about what we were working on in response), and focused on the fanfic lists. It's what I wanted to write; it's what I felt inspired for. It's all I thought about.

Part of my motivation problem is obvious: I don't spend as much time thinking about my own stories as I did about the games I wrote fic for. The epic Summer Chronicle lasted as long as it did because the story was almost all I thought about. My pairing obsessions lasted as long as they did for the same reasons. When I walked to the bus stop, I thought about the Chronicle plot. When I stared out the train window, on the way to school, I thought about new ways to make a pairing work. When I sat around in the doctor's office waiting for my appointments (and there were a lot of those), I wondered what Tellius steampunk would look like and immediately tried to convert the game plot to the new universe.

I don't do that with original work, so it's no wonder I'm not burning to finish stories or write new scenes. No mystery here.

But: would I have thought so much about Fire Emblem and my related fics if I hadn't talked about them every night on AIM? Maybe for a while. Four years, though? Would I have pursued Summer Chronicle for years, tried to make it work even when I knew I had made a wrong turn at chapter fifteen-- all if I hadn't had someone to bounce ideas off of and encourage me? Considering the fate of my Elrond fic (not dead, but unlikely to move), I think the answer is 'no.'

Communication keeps me interested in my own stories. Or, at least, it helps me over the difficult areas of the process, where I might otherwise be tempted to abandon the project, or put it off. Talking to someone about what I'm working on keeps me thinking and moving. And you'd think this wouldn't be a big deal, that everybody knows this, that I should have known this... but it's difficult for me to trust people with my work, so for a long time I haven't bothered. This post isn't about "realizing" that I need a community; that has been clear to me for some time. Writing is a lonely process without one. You do need other eyes to examine your work and help you see what you missed. I even knew, without really thinking about it, that it was always easier to write with other people. The problem that needs solving isn't just finding that company; it's being able to trust them.

Yes, I do have that cliche fear that someone will rip off my work. I'm not the only one. I frankly don't care how realistic it is; fear isn't reasonable. But I have such a hard time trusting people at all. Take away the possibility of being ripped off and I still won't trust you! There are so many ways you can cause damage once you have the story: you can be the sort of reader/critic that tries to change everything based on what you like, instead of what the story needs; you might be the type to give only praise (which is no help, since I want so badly to believe you), or go the other way and cut everything down, under the erroneous assumption that the only useful feedback is the sort that finds problems without trying to solve them. You could be that poisonous friend who seems like she's rooting for you on the surface, but who actually harbors some negative feelings for you, and often only gives feedback that supplies unfavorable comparisons to herself; i.e. "Well, I made it, so you should be able to if you work hard! Do let me know if you need my advice, because I'm so far ahead of you I should know how to answer all of your beginner questions..." The only kind of praise I get from my family is backhanded, when I get it at all, so I'm pretty good at detecting that bullshit.

Don't even get me started on how people deliver their critiques. Or on the very important things people always seem to miss-- that stuff I actually need to know, since I think I've got the typos covered, thanks.

In short: I don't trust you. And if I don't trust you, how do I build - or find - a community?

My trust issues are epic, and in horrible need of therapy. Believe me, I know. But it's a chicken-and-egg problem, since, in order to get those taken care of, I need to start out with a bit of trust for the person who's going to do the fixing...


I'm really sorry I've missed replying to so many comments. I always intend to, and then time passes, and it seems too late. :/

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