Archive for May, 2014

Fandom Aspects: Cosplay

Cosplay is perhaps the most visible of the ways people show their love for something. And I don’t mean that in the way that means “the most people are aware of it,” but in the way where, while most fandom activities allow you to hide behind your anonymity on the Internet, you can’t really hide your cosplay. Oh, sure, you don’t have to tell your friends, family, or coworkers about it, and you can wear things that cover your face, but there is a whole other level of commitment that comes with creating a costume and then wearing it out in public where other people will see it.

Hirako Shinji from Bleach

Hirako Shinji from Bleach

Cosplay is short for costume play, and the term has been around since the 80s. Cosplay consists of selecting a character from a movie, TV show, comic, book, etc. and dressing up as them, usually for conventions or Halloween.

Cosplay also is interesting in that despite the time and money that goes into creating a character, the person making/wearing the costume may not be as interested in that character as, say, fanfiction writers would be. Some people cosplay because they like the costumes, or because they look like a character, whereas other people may go as a character they are less or not familiar with to match their friends.

A lot of cosplayers will belong to a cosplaying community, where they can find other people cosplaying from the same series, get advice on new techniques, and share their results. If you’re interested in looking at people’s costumes, several websites allow their users to upload in progress and finished photos of their costumes. Cosplay.com is probably the largest.

Cosplay can run the gambit from “found clothes” costumes, where people take clothes from their closet that best match their characters, to complex costumes made completely from scratch that may include wig styling, armor and weapon creation, embroidery, and even making shoes. Many conventions give people an opportunity to show off their handiwork at costume contests. Some contests may also allow skits, which allow cosplayers a chance to act out a scene as their character. (Or just be silly. This is one of my favorites. Also this one.)

Have any favorite cosplays, Squiders? Have you cosplayed yourself? Have anyone you’ve ever thought about dressing as?

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Fandom Aspects: Memes and Gifs

psyduck

I feel like this has really only become a phenomenon in the last five years or so, probably because of the prevalence of digital images and video which make it easy to make a screen capture of something and stick some text on it. And then websites like Tumblr and Cheezburger make it easy to share them with the world.

I would say if this isn’t the fastest growing area of fandom, it certainly feels like it. Things pop up on Twitter and Facebook, on Pinterest. People send me links in chat or email.

Mal Dance

In some ways, I really enjoy the trend. It’s fun to see something witty or something that reminds me of my favorite part of something, and it doesn’t take much time for creator or recipient.

On the other hand, it’s really easy to get eaten by these things, and then, when you look back at the time, you find that you have accomplished nothing and feel unsatisfied. So.

(But I do love them in small doses.)

How about you, Squiders? Got any favorites you’d like to share?

Fandom Aspects: Fanart

Fanart is probably the second thing people think of when they think of fandom.

Star Trek - LOLNarwhal by YoukaiYume

Star Trek – LOLNarwhal by YoukaiYume

As is probably obvious, fanart is when people take (usually) characters from stories, games, movies, etc. and create art around them. Drawings are probably the most common, but there’s also jewelry, textile art like knitting or cross-stitching, stuffed toy versions, etc.

I personally rather like fanart. There’s a lot of really talented people out there and I like to see what they come up with.

If you’d like to peruse some fanart as well, I recommend DeviantArt. Their search function is excellent and there’s a lot of excellent artwork up on there.

In general, fanart is less controversial than fanfiction, probably because people feel like it messes less with the core of the characters, excepting NSFW fanart which you know exists because this is the Internet. And while I am not an artist, it seems to me like fanart creators are less looked down upon by “real” art creators than fanfiction writers tend to be by “real” writers. (I may be completely off-base there. Let me know if I am.)

Are you a fan of fanart? (Har har.) Have a favorite piece or artist you’d like to pimp? (Please make sure you credit the original artist if at all possible. Poor people have enough Internet piracy on their hands.)

Fandom Aspects: Fanfiction

Well, Squiders, we’ve talked about fandom a bit in the past, but I’ve had a rather worrying bout of it recently. (Not even about anything specific. Just…stuff.)

You see, I am going to a con in mid-June and not only do I not get to them nearly as often as used to, but this also the first one in a few years where I will not have to wrangle family as well, so I got a little overzealous about things, and have had to resort to bizarre measures to stop myself from putting together fifteen cosplays in the next few weeks.

So for this week and next, we’ll be looking at the creative aspects of fandom, and perhaps the one people think of first is fanfiction. Heck, Amazon is even publishing fanfiction now, so there you are.

Fanfiction, for those of you have been living under a rock, is where a writer takes a world and/or characters that are not theirs and writes a story in it. Wikipedia tells me that the first known work of fanfiction was written in the 1400s by Robert Henryson (based off of one of Chaucer’s works). And apparently the Bronte sisters wrote real person fanfiction back in the day.

The modern era of fanfiction was started by Star Trek fans (no one is surprised) back in the ‘60s.

The world of fanfic can be kind of a scary place. I think my first journey in was back in the ‘90s when I found Pokemon fanfiction. (Don’t judge me, Pokemon is awesome.) And without knowing what things like genfic or slash or AU mean, you can stumble onto some things you wish you hadn’t.

If you’re interested in reading some fanfiction, you can try a site like Fanfiction.net, which is a repository for several different fandoms. Many fandoms also have their own websites. Be aware, before diving in, that the quality of story can vary widely, from things that sound like a five-year-old dreamed it up to epic tales that may, in some ways, be better than the source material.

Fanfiction may also be the most controversial of ways people show their love of things. Some creators don’t like the idea of other people messing with their characters, especially in situations that may involve more sex or violence than the source material had. Even among writers, there’s arguments about whether or not writing fanfiction can help you hone your writing skills.

I know we’ve talked specifically about fanfiction here before, but feel free to let me know any thoughts you have on the matter, whether you like it or not, read or write it, and if you have any examples of truly awesome stories to share.

Premise vs Plot vs Structure

Some time ago, Squiders, we discussed Premise and Plot. (That’s a fairly short post, but for those too lazy to click through, the basic gist is that a premise is the idea of the story, whereas the plot is the series of events in a story.)

Today we’re going to expand this a little and talk about structure. What is structure? The structure of a story is how the plot is presented. It’s chronology, viewpoints, tense. It’s when certain events happen in a story.

The plot doesn’t necessary vary based on structure, but the structure can make for very different stories with the same plot.

For example, let’s say we have a plot with plot points A, B, C, and D.

Story 1 is presented in a linear fashion, so A, B, C, and D are presented to the reader in the order they happen.

Story 2 is presented in a nonlinear fashion, so we start with C, go back to B, then back to A, and finish up with D.

Story 3 has multiple viewpoints, so character 1 presents their side of the story, and then character 2 presents their side.

Story 4 intertwines A, B, C, and D with a separate story of plot points E, F, G, and H, alternating between the two plots.

The plot points don’t change because the structure changes. The events still happen in the order they happen. What changes with the structure is merely the presentation.

Your story has a structure whether you think about it or not. Some people plan their structure out in advance, whereas others just happen.

Perhaps the most common structure in story-telling is the Three-Act structure, which consists of a beginning inciting incident, a middle section where conflict builds, and a final concluding section. There are, of course, other structures, and even Three-Act structures can vary, based on when the turning points in between acts fall. (Some people say the inciting incident should occur about 10% of the way through the story, while others say 25%, for example.)

A common variation of the Three-Act structure  looks more like an increasing sine wave (sorry, engineer, don’t know how else to explain it) where a series of mini-climaxes accompany the act transitions, leading up to the final climax at the end of the story.

So.

Premise = idea

Plot = series of events

Structure = presentation of plot

Antagonist and Protagonist

Craft post today, Squiders.

Protagonist, antagonist. Self-explanatory, right?

Well, to some extent, yes. But let’s talk nuances.

Your protagonist is the main driving character of your story. It is the person whose dilemma we care about the most. In most cases, this is the main, viewpoint character but not always. (A “main” character may play a narrator or sidekick role instead.)

Additionally, scenes and subplots can have a different protagonist from the overall work.

In simple terms, the protagonist is the person trying to accomplish something in any particular scene, plot, or work. In more general terms, the protagonist is usually the main character, the one who readers identify with and stay with throughout the story.

An antagonist, by definition, is someone or something that stops or tries to prevent the protagonist from getting what they want. In many cases, especially in a clear good vs evil plot, this tends to be what is referred to in the writing world as a Big Bad. (Or maybe it’s a TVTrope that we writers have just stolen. I am unsure.) The Voldemort to Harry Potter, the Empire to the Rebel Alliance, the Maleficent to whichever prince it is, the Ganondorf to Link–you get the point.

But ANYONE who acts in opposition to the protagonist is an antagonist. To continue with the Harry Potter example, because that’s probably the most univeral, both Snape and Draco would be considered antagonists as well. But so could Hermione in some cases.

Have I lost you?

There’s places in the narrative throughout the series where Harry (our protagonist) wants to do something, and Hermione actively tries to stop him from doing whatever it is. Since she’s acting in opposition, she counts as an antagonist in those scenes.

Protagonist and antagonist are highly subjective and depend on the point of view. Flip viewpoint character in a scene and who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist can swap.

And an antagonist doesn’t need to be a person. It can be an object, a force of nature, even a character’s own thoughts and feelings. Whatever is preventing the main character from getting what they want counts.

But almost everything will have both, in some form. Because without both, you lose conflict, and without conflict, a story isn’t interesting.

Know any really interesting interpretations of protagonists and antagonists, Squiders? Share them with the class.

To Word Count or Not to Word Count

So, after last Thursday’s post I got to thinking. And I realized that word count is a major indicator of progress to me.

And I also realized that this is probably because I didn’t start finishing novel drafts until I started Nanowrimo, and, of course, Nanowrimo is all about quantity over quality, not spending too much time thinking, just doing.

And it made me a little uncomfortable, honestly. I got to wondering whether “real” authors keep track of their progress in word counts. Like, say, does John Scalzi sit down when he starts a draft and calculate how many words he thinks it’ll be? Does he keep track of how many words he’s written in a day, and how many days he will need to write to get to that proscribed number? Does Brandon Sanderson? Did Anne McCaffrey? Isaac Asimov?

Part of me wonders if my writing process has been infected with this concentration on word count, and whether I am a lesser writer because of it.

Of course, most of me realizes it doesn’t really matter, and if keeping track by word count works for me, what do I care what other people do?

But there’s a little bit that whispers, “Maybe you’re so focused on your word count that you don’t let the story flow naturally. Maybe you add too much in, or leave too much out. Maybe your stories would be better if you focused on the progression whether than what your word count is versus where you think it should be.”

And the rest of me worries that that little bit is right.

And if it is? I don’t know how to judge progress without word count. Do I outline the whole thing, and then just judge progress against that?

I feel all befuddled. I mean, I’ve never forced a story to a word count if it wasn’t going to go, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost something of the craft in the way I work.

Do you also write, Squiders? How do you judge your progress in a draft? If you don’t use word count, what do you do? How does it work for you?