26 February 2014

The Closest Thing to Me Ever Releasing My Awful Fanfiction

... Then in a few years that statement will bite me in the ass.

Anywho. Time to vent.

Whenever I sit on my lazy young adult bum with a roof over my head thanks to owing thousands of dollars in loans for something called "education", my mind wanders. Usually the ideas are silly or nonsensical in the grand design of the universe. But sometimes when I use my imagination, I usually wonder how I could use my ideas in a productive manner. Writing was the only tool I knew I would have the easiest time using. Maybe not to the degree of becoming an author - though my one friend has urged me to - but enough so I could articulate my thoughts well in English. Other times, I could destroy someone's grammatically poor rough draft and give him/her pointers to make a better piece before the final copy is due.

If I put enough effort into it, I could write a well-written, grammatically sound paper. The actual quality behind or emitting from the mechanical aspects tends to confuse me more. My teachers and professors say my knowledge of grammar is solid, but how do they know what I'm saying is worth a cent of thought? What do I say that ensues my earning an A-?

Outside of academia and term papers, I always wonder, what makes a story "good"? How do you know it "clicks" or "works"? Preferences for style and genre only can go so far, I'm sure. Still, determining what is "good" bothers me when I look at my own work.

Since I doubt I will ever release it to the public ever because it's shit, it wouldn't hurt to reveal a bit more about my Persona 3 fanfic. If you are familiar with the terms Peggy Sue or Groundhog Day Timeloop, you have most of the premise down already. Cliche and predictable, I know.

Okay! Okay! I'll be serious.


*sighs* For the sake of this post, I'm still going to use Rin as the FeMC's name. It's all for the sake of consistency.

At some point I need to give Hiro more attention.

The moment before she dies, Rin defiantly fights against her fate, sending her soul straight to the Velvet Room. She claims to the baffled residents that she can find a way to stop the end of the world without having her or any of her friends die. While he and the others keep dark forces at bay from capturing her, Igor allows Rin to continue her journey. There are a few catches. The first was to keep the existence of the Velvet Room a secret - as the residents consider themselves third party advisors (or else there'd be no plot). The other is for Rin to not give up or lose her conviction.  If not her despair will either allow the increasingly agitated entity to claim her soul or she will have to become the Great Seal to keep the entity at bay.

And thus Rin relives the one year of fighting against the Shadows, Strega, and Nyx until she can achieve that happy ending she claimed she could achieve. She experiments around, trying to avoid some events, finding new solutions to problems, and discovering secrets she would never know about the first time. Rin does find out something extremely important pieces at a time: an old group of Persona users are the ones who would instigate the January doomsday cult and ensure the arrival of the Fall. The good news? Including Strega, there are supposed to be nine members, whom call themselves "the Children", that want the prophecy of the awakening of their "parents" to spread like wildfire and instill fear in the general public. As long as Rin defeats the Children, the Fall and thus the fight against Nyx will be much easier to manage without casualties in theory. The bad news? Some of the Children are hiding; some are missing; and others are living somewhere else. Skipping school and traveling around Japan are very likely requirements.

Like other timeloop stories, some timelines are used as a means to an end. Rin would skip class to build a rapport with the delinquents in the alleys to get word of Strega's activities. She would use the password she overheard Mitsuru give to Fuuka so Rin could hack in and search later. Another time, she dropped out of school completely and went on a cross-country search to find the Children not in the Tatsumi Port Island area to test their abilities.

Other than the creepy guys in a room referencing an Edgar Allen Poe work, only Rin retains memories of the timelines, even though they are erased and overwritten. She wishes she could be more open with her friends, but she knows there's a 99.99999% chance of her dying in the end. And when each timeline ends, everything restarts in late April with only Rin retaining the memories. Even if the Velvet Room attendants were to reveal the bizarre supernatural shenanigans, no one would remember it if Rin dies in that timeline. If Rin puts too much faith in a series of events that may be the one but it fails magnificently, she will suffer great disappointment if not complete hopelessness. So far in this story of over 500 pages, Rin started over at least a dozen times.

In writing the fanfic I didn't go over the first few hours of the game. I still explained the basics of the world, logic, and "mythos" - for lack of a better term - but in different ways. Some beginning game moments were reworded and some new scenes were added to get the point across in a less dialogue-heavy manner. Once that early hump of awkwardness and redundancy passes, I very loosely follow the calendar system. Moments and scenes from certain days mattered, not every single action performed every day and week. If that were the case, the final time loop - which is the main focus narratively - would be so damn long. And it wouldn't include Rin's memories from past scenarios for exposition purposes.

Oh, Aki. XD
Other elements I diminished or removed were the Social Links. They were used instead as occasionally humorous background references and shout-outs for anyone who played the game. Considering how dark (and violent) the plot gets at points, especially by September, something lighthearted had to be put in somewhere. Most of the school day moments serve as breathers from the stress everyone in SEES suffers at some point and time. Summer can best be described as the whole team being assembled and having fun before everyone is pulled apart. While all ten members are truly unified for about a month in Persona 3, my fanfic only has it last for a week at most. One person runs away, many get injured, and/or one moves away from the city as the conflict worryingly becomes more public.

Though this is still mainly Rin's story, I let the other characters have their time to shine. Akihiko is slightly less passive outside of combat to the extent that he's one of the first to notice something seems "off" with Rin. The leadership roles are more clear-cut. Rin is the leader in combat only; Mitsuru is the true head of SEES who informs the club advisor of their actions. However, due to Rin's confidence of events, she comes off as more competent and reliable, leaving Mitsuru doubtful and insecure.  Fuuka has a closer relationship with the others, especially Yukari, which itself both helps and hurts her in the long term. Even Theo, who eventually decides to break the unspoken rule of the Velvet Room, has a character arc focusing on his naiveté and inability to proactively help Rin. And unlike some of the social aspects in the game, other characters interact and make choices behind Rin's back.

It's been over a year since inspiration dictated me to exercise my creative muscles and try to write a story. I have written over 600 pages; at least 120 are scrapped drafts I kept in extra files. I have a document noting basic plot points, character details, Persona abilities, and Greco-Roman mythology references. To call this a long, thought-out project is to say the sky is blue. It's the only giant pile of ideas I jotted down that finally grew and came to life.

But I always ask myself: is it any good?

The short answer: of course not.

Sturgeon's Law dictates that 10% of anything is worth your time. The other 90% is irredeemably awful and wasteful. Call it self-depreciation or being realistically pessimistic, I'd only consider my fanfic somewhere maybe in the mid-to-somewhat-upper end of the 90% crap spectrum. The area where it's closer to good than a bowl of moldy yogurt. Mediocre and predictable, or uninteresting but tolerable. There are a couple of reasons why I sometimes question the quality of my story.


It's really old to rag on Twilight for any damn reason in 2014, but I really believe it's a good benchmark on how to not write a story or characters in general. Bella is a clingy, bitchy Mary Sue with no self-confidence or hopes and dreams beyond marrying a guy, riding him, and having his babies. Edward is just as passive aggressive, but he's overly melodramatic and mopey for no justifiable reason beyond "I'm made of marble". The most violent thing he did to Bella - other than not realizing that hundreds of possible positions could have not led to bruising a girl during sex - was destroying her truck so she couldn't go anywhere. The other characters don't need any thought put into them because they mean nothing. No villains, no threats, no resolution, no tension, and no character arcs, this is just the self-indulgent fantasy an estrogen and baby-making machine is theoretically supposed to find enthralling.

*gags* But I do bring it up because I have to remind myself how I'm writing Rin.

This was Aigis, except it was her whole body rather than the arm.
Since Rin wants to make sure everyone survives, that one date pretty much needs to just not ever possibly happen at all. She may want that badly, but overhauling that one date was a pain in the ass. Ignoring the possibility of romance happening (which it does, since I'm so damn predictable), a whole storm of other conflicts arise due to a condensed supernova of insanity thanks to multiple wham episodes for the characters happening at once.

Let's just say that due to the incompetency of and the lack of action from multiple characters... someone drops the timeloop info bomb, one of the Children goes coo-coo for Coco-Puffs, Aigis nearly gets blown to pieces, and Rin comes dangerously close to giving up. This mess does end up with SEES better understanding how to end the Dark Hour, but Rin is mentally near the end of her rope. It becomes harder for her to just go through the motions with a smile, and her fears of making one small mistake ruining everything she worked for intensify tremendously. Though very tired and stressed before, Rin knows she can't hold on any longer, even when this is the closest she has ever been to that happy ending she dreamed of.

"Okay, I get it, " you may say. "It's fairly reasonable for Rin to 'run out of steam' at some point. But what exactly is the issue?"

Well, I sometimes question what kind of person Rin really is. The narrative is not third-person limited; the thoughts of nearly every character I focus on are illustrated at some point, not just hers. So I wonder how much of her that interacts with the cast is really she. Is the Rin that talks to Theo or Igor in the Velvet Room the same girl who attends Student Counsel with Mitsuru every other day? Is the girl who teases and bickers with Junpei the real her, or is it she who patiently works with Shinjiro when he runs off and does his own thing in the middle of a fight? Is Rin a cheerful, talkative girl who serves as emotional support for her friends or a jaded aging soul in the body of a teenager, waiting for the curse to end? Was the real Rin the girl who waved goodbye to her foster family back in March, what felt like eons ago?

"Those who possess the Wild Card are often
symbolized by multiple masks."
Because I have not figured it out, I wonder how much that shows in my work. Basically what I mean is that the language of the story makes it seem to the reader that I am aware of the different ways she presents herself that make the real her a mystery, rather than Rin simply being a contradictory character flipping and flopping unpredictably for no reason. One could say the ambiguity of her character does not stray too far from the Jungian concepts of one bearing and using multiple masks for different contexts and situations. Another may just simply call it bad writing.

The other problem I get even antsier about is whether or not Rin is a "decent" female character. Without needing to look at any one page of my half a million-worded story, I can assure myself my story fails the Bechdel Test. Though many characters are male, Rin, Mitsuru, Yukari, Aigis, Fuuka, and Chidori all have important roles to play in some way. They have had conversations amongst each other for a whole scene without a man butting in, but they do mention a man in their dialogue. So yeah, I failed it epically. But I have a defense to that.

The Bechdel Test does not determine the strength, value, and integrity of the conversing female characters; it only illustrates that some people just don't know how to write meaningful dialogue between two humans capable of breastfeeding. My point is simple: I would have more respect for two female officers talk about taking down a terrorist in a military operation than two princesses talking about ball gowns and million dollar heels. Yes, there are times when the girls in my story do talk about their feelings and their relationships with their male teammates, but the guys in my story do the exact same thing in reverse. It's not petty gossip. The kids in SEES look out for each other and remind themselves that they're still just kids. They're the only ones capable of saving the world, they get injured often, and they're practically soldiers fighting alone on an unexplored minefield. They have to take some downtime now and then to remember they have lives and relationships they must take care of. The story would be even darker and more depressing than it already is otherwise.

Oh, and I guess I can thank Madoka Magica for inspiring me to torture the cast in all sorts of ways. Akihiko had two unfortunate encounters against a giant mecha-spider; Junpei suffered a ton of concussions. As for Fuuka... man, that attack quickly disabled Lucia and effectively killed the team spirit. Ken and Koromaru may have had a few minor flesh wounds, but no one is safe.  Even some of the villains have... unpleasant ends.

And not in the mythological or figurative sense.
When I'm not finding new ways to destroy SEES, I stop and think if Rin a good female character. I hope so. She can strategize and plan to bring certain teammates along to make a balanced party while Fuuka analyzes an enemy's affinities. Rin balances schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and SEES's progress while doing well at all three. When things get lopsided, she makes amendments to her schedule and puts more effort in what she's behind in to rebalance everything. Rin encourages her friends to speak freely and honestly to minimize stress and tension, while earning their respect. She drops hints about the Nine Children without forcing them to believe her. And even when she falls in love with Shinjiro, Rin somehow finds the strength to continue her duties despite the progressive build up of heartbreak and regret over always failing to save his life.

Yes, she cries a lot. She completely loses it when one of the Children mocks her for every single failing she made in every timeline in front of her friends. She doesn't always think straight whenever Shinjiro considers putting a gun in his mouth - literally or metaphorically. She worries constantly about her friends after they get sent to the hospital for the fifth time. But does that mean she's a bad character: emotional, feminine, and weak? I sincerely hope not. Honestly, I wish at least one male and one female character in my story is "strong" in some way. I'm not trying to create something groundbreaking: just something competently illustrated and executed.

The last issue I anxiously bite my nails over was if I made Rin and Shinjiro's relationship ok. Not wonderfully awesome and definitive of romance in the modern era, but not so awful that women's rights go back three thousand years. I just want something "alright". I accepted the fact a long ago that any romantic subplot was going to be sappy and unoriginal at some point. So I wrote and wrote and wrote what came to mind, hoping it wasn't forced or out of left field. P3P had that problem since Shinjiro was only around for a month, so my four-month time period was more than enough time for some sparks to go off. (And I fully credit A Fool Named Fortune for that idea.)

I brought up Twilight earlier for a reason. Whatever Bella and Edward did to each other would be the POLAR OPPOSITE to what Rin and Shinjiro do. No controlling and possessive crap going on (unless one interprets Rin's desperation to help turn Shinjiro's self-destructive attitude around could count as being selfish and pushy) and no unreasonable melodrama about one being too dangerous to be around. Granted, there was a point Shinjiro was in an... unstable state in which he could have killed Rin, but he was very sick and losing his grip for a long time. (Plus, Akihiko, Mitsuru, and Rin threw him into the monster pit known as medical attention.)

Ignoring that footnote, Rin and Shinjiro frequently talk, hang out often, and fight Shadows together. And despite all the insanity around the October 4th story arc, their relationship is not the biggest crutch of the story. Does it play an important role? Absolutely. Some happy things have to happen for these characters for the love of Oreos and milk! At the same time the story won't be ruined if their relationship doesn't last. Rin would be very heartbroken if something bad happened, but at some point she'll find a way to carry on because life is more than just a high school crush. Besides, even with medical intervention, including a heart transplant, Shinjiro's life expectancy was only extended by two or five years on top of a crappy immune system.

Yeah... and things are only getting worse. Ikutsuki and Jin are pretty flipping mad. With how they are now...

Cue the annoying chorus from FOB's recent single.

...Officer Kurosawa better get a promotion once this mess is over is what I'm getting at.

With everything I poured out in nearly 3,000 words, I can at least say my fanfic has way too many thoughts and ideas put into it. But after my rambling, is the story any good at all? Even when I try to avoid the characterizations, literary devices, and tropes Twilight abuses? Even if I feel imposed by a supposed feminism test that was originally just a concept about how women in fiction are written to ponder over? Even if the characters don't act like they do in the original game that inspired me? Even if some things walk on a shaky tightrope, where one bad scene can make a self-aware character flaw come across as an inconsistency and plot hole? Even if the story may reach Elfen Lied or Clannad levels of depressing?

I'm learning over time that projects created with good intentions can still end up awful like thoughtlessly and soullessly created ideas. This is technically the first "story" I ever wrote. None of my really terrible Naruto fanfiction came close to this one's attention, length, and planning. And at least I titled those sad little works. I have no clue what to call this project at all! It may come to me once I get the ending down. So far I came up with at least five different conclusions, mostly bittersweet, but half of them are quite depressing. Then I remember the concussions, stabbings, rogue Personas, and gunshot wounds, so having a My Little Pony-esque ending may be needed.

Anything so I don't have to hear "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light 'Em Up)" one more time...

Much better. :)

I love SMT.


Voltech said...

Aha, so the mysterious fanfic finally makes its (sort-of) appearance. I've been waiting for this moment. So let's get cracking!

"The other is for Rin to not give up or lose her conviction. If not her despair will either allow the increasingly agitated entity to claim her soul or the she will have to become the Great Seal to keep the entity at bay."

You know what? You've added in a core element -- overt and covert -- of Kamen Rider Wizard. (Seriously, go check out TV Tropes.) And that's a good thing; the "hope vs. despair" conflict is something that has plenty of potential, and I'm glad you've got that in there somehow. You've given yourself just one more toy in your box.

"And unlike some of the social aspects in the game, other characters interact and make choices behind Rin's back."

Oh jeez. Is there going to be a betrayal somewhere down the line? Is Rin going to have to play detective before someone stabs her in the back? Given that she's doing the time warp again (and again and again), that'd be a mystery I wouldn't mind seeing.

"Well, I sometimes question what kind of person Rin really is."

As an outsider looking in, it sounds like Rin's a good person. She may have different aspects to her personality -- those masks, as you said -- but they're orbiting a core principle. She wants to help people, no matter what. And she strikes me as the sort who'll do whatever she can to see that goal realized.

But I could be reaching here. That desire to do good reaches into some dangerous territory in its own right, after all.

"I'm not trying to create something groundbreaking: just something competently illustrated and executed."

Ah, but that's the clincher. No one's asking you to make something groundbreaking -- and that's probably for the best. If DmC and plenty of "epic" games have taught me anything, it's that if you're going to try and use your story to act like some kind of prophet, you're probably going to screw it up. Just tell the best story you can, and let others decide for themselves if it's "epic".

Also, I'm going to give you a suggestion: STOP comparing yourself to Twilight. Merely the fact that you wrote a post like this, and put tons of thought into what kind of story you want to make -- characters, rules, and all -- means that you're automatically in the safe zone. Well, okay, it's true that there are always problems of execution, but what's important is that you're considering what you're doing and what you've done. You're aware of your faults long before you take to the rooftops and scream "Hey! Look at this! Look at how good I am!" Being able to realize potential screw-ups BEFORE you screw-up gives you an automatic edge.

So, bottom line? Keep writing. Put in that effort. And for God's sake, get some Kamen Rider in your life. You know, unless you DON'T want to learn how to do a Rider Kick. And who doesn't want to learn that? It'll save your life, probably.

Or end it. Best wear a helmet when practicing.

Melanie~Light said...

Well, if I ever finish it and put it up somewhere, you have every right to tear it to shreds if you wish. You don't leave many stones and plotholes untouched (poor Last of Us, DeSuTA, and Man of Steel). XD

"And that's a good thing; the "hope vs. despair" conflict is something that has plenty of potential, and I'm glad you've got that in there somehow."

I did check out the Kamen Rider Wizard entry on TvTropes and found the read interesting. The fact that somewhere it says it's like Madoka Magica in terms of how merciless it can be when bad things happen kinda made me happy. I had a hard time figuring out how to justify the characters who are closest to gods not getting their hands dirty. It's still a plot hole I guess, but having that hope/despair conflict in Rin keeps it so that no magic tricks will permanently fix the problems.

So yeah, thanks for that reference. It helps me to better focus on that hope vs despair conflict.

"Oh jeez. Is there going to be a betrayal somewhere down the line?"

I have considered that, but I haven't been able to work it in right. It's still a possibility. However, there have been a handful of cases where someone made a choice that impeded the swift execution of a fight. Sometimes SEES aren't at their full numbers and the missing members may have a better skill set than others. Or the fight's going okay, but a few get seriously injured. At one point someone choses to transfer (without prior warning) to a new school due to the conflict starting to disrupt normal life in the city. That person pretty much left SEES angry and crippled.

But betrayal? Still an idea. A possibility.

"She wants to help people, no matter what. And she strikes me as the sort who'll do whatever she can to see that goal realized."

Oh, you have no idea. Rin has done some questionable stuff (spying, murder - of the Nine but still, hacking, stealing, etc.) that not everyone agrees with, especially Mitsuru and Yukari. It's getting to the point that members are "picking sides" ala "The Answer", which is something someone in the Velvet Room always feared from the start. Staying united increasingly becomes a problem, which makes me believe that the ending won't be entirely happy, even if everyone survives.

Finally, as for my always bringing up Twilight, yeah. That's why I need an optimist to sometimes whack me upside the head. Just needed the assurance that my putting over a year into this fanfic shows that I'm theoretically a better writer than some. So time will tell if it will be ok. It can't be perfect, but competent is fine.

Thanks for stopping by as always. ^_^

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