"I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth."

--Ursula K. Leguin

November 2009

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Posts Tagged: 'writing'

Mar. 21st, 2009

Newmeme? Muse bait

So, xie_xie_xie made a rather entertaining post about how to lure straying muses back, and solicited her flist for their own tactics. I thought this sounded fun, and why not spread it around?

I have to admit, my own best results seem to fall along the ‘challenge’ line too. My muses and I generally share a very strong “I could do that better” reflex, so one thing that often produces results is to hit the biggest comm for a given fandom and look for trends that outrage me. If I haven’t written anything lately to reverse the ukefication of some character, that’s usually a pretty good bet (see: Ed, Yukimura, Tsuna).

Chatting with a likeminded writer often works, too, sometimes beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Prime examples: Tennis Sanctuary, The Bond Between the Land and Sea. Once the rhythm of “would’t it be cool” and “yeah, and then…” gets going, the positive feedback resonance tends to boot things right along.

So what about other people?

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Jan. 28th, 2009

Femslash: cross it up

So there are a handful of posts lately about femslash and the technically conservative trends in that genre. It made me think about my own femslash stories (well, actually, it made me think about the western-media vs anime/manga fandom divide, and how never the twain shall meet even for the sake of being able to read more girl-on-girl stories, and how the western-media side is defining the whole genre of femslash as western-media over against yuri when the anime/manga side is more likely to want to use both, terms and conventions alike, and that this exclusion/division pisses me off personally, but after that it made me think about my own stories), and, indeed, I note a pattern. The ones that work with canon-possible pairings are little bits of fairly isolated fluff or smut. The ones I think are really kick-ass are the ones that do weird stuff like crossing canons. I still think the Une/Hawkeye was one of the best I’ve ever written.

I think part of the reason for this trend in my own writing is that the f/f pairings tend to have hidden stories. You have to dig for them, for the possibilities, for the way these two women might interact. Rukia/Orihime, for example, has marvelous possibilities, but none of them are obvious because the two of them don’t interact enough in canon to create a strong template. Most of my m/m, on the other hand, comes out of dynamics that are pretty much shoved up the viewer/reader’s nose.

Given this, you’d think that a fandom like Utena would be the one to produce reams of f/f, but… really not so much. And when I try to imagine Utena/Anthy stories, I have to admit, I get lost. I could write fluff, I could write smut, but how to write actual plot when I’m already drowning in glorious, glorious plot in the source? It’s like trying to write Julia/Spike. So there’s the other extreme: not hidden stories but huge, wide, deep stories. It’s hard to find a place to start with either.

Then, too, most of the hooks, the suggestive situations, the shoved-up-your nose, well canon doesn’t give us much of that for the girls. Fraught relationships, competition, saving each other, about the only place I find that is in some, not all, shoujo and it’s always accompanied by such relentless, centralized het romance that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. Consider, for example, Sailor Moon or Fushigi Yuugi. We can step around the boys, the same way slash steps around the girls, but we have to step wider because they’re taking up more space.

And so I come back to the weird stuff: not the huge stories, not the hidden stories, but the stories that don’t exist at all yet, the hooks that can be created if you’re willing to ignore common sense. Utena/Anthy is hard, so what about Anthy/Lain instead? If Miaka is hard to separate from Tamahome, what about Yui and Shuurei? Orihime could probably do with a good lecture from Sakura about how the healer has a duty to guard herself.

A few of those get my brain loosened up, get me thinking about how, actually, if Daley just pounced Leon, then I bet Linna would take her opportunity, and Priss, with both hands. How Ami is really the best answer to Makoto’s constant boy trouble. How age seems to mean nothing to shinigami and therefore I could totally get something going with Unohana and Orihime.

Settling for the simple answers seem to be part of what hobbles femslash and/or yuri, at least for me–a weird sort of inverse of pairing wars, in which cleaving to the obvious pairings leads, not to war, but to silence. The odd possibilities seem much richer.

Sep. 3rd, 2008

The charge of action scenes and the flexibility of porn

Going back, today, to revise a story I’ve been let marinate for a while, I find that there’s only one section I need to heavily revise, at this point, and that section is the paragraph of sex.  I wrote the paragraph during one of those phases of “just get the thing done and on paper and fix it later”, so this is not entirely surprising.  What catches my attention is exactly what needs to be fixed.

All the action is there.  All the physical details are just the way I want them to be. And it’s really boring.

What’s missing is the meaning. This section has nothing at all about what the experience, the sensation, the action means to my pov character. And this, it comes to me all over again, is why writing sex is just like writing tennis or swordfights or any other kind of action.  All action, in print, has to mean something.

I’ve had people ask, before, if I’m just using the porn as something to hang the characterization and inter-character development on, why use porn so often? And, looking at the kind of meaning I’m starting to layer into the scene I’m revising, I think I have at least one answer (in addition to a) why not? and b) it gets attention).  It’s because porn can happen anywhere.  To get my characters to the kind of realizations I need, for the story to wrap up nicely, I need them to be in a charged exchange, one in which physical action and emotional meaning can resonate, and sex is a lot more flexible to set than tennis.

Today’s writing epiphany brought to you by the letter F and the number 2.

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Aug. 12th, 2008

The twelve heavenly generals in anime

(Note: this is a preliminary skim of the subject.  For the full account, after research, see this entry.)

This will make more sense later, after I post an actual review of Shounen Onmyouji, which everyone, incidentally, should go watch. Right now.

For now, though, research results and links (which may help for YnM, too).

The Juuni Shinshou (Twelve Heavenly Generals) are Buddhist and come to Japan from India via China. They are, variously, known as yaksha (nature spirits), devas (warrior spirits/gods-of-a-minor-sort), and tenbu (Japanese take on Devas). They are initially associated with Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha, and healing.

However, twelve being a popular number in Buddhism, they have become associated and overlapped with the twelve cycles of time (hours of the day, years in a cycle, etc.) and the twelve animals associated therewith. These are the animals commonly known in the West as the Chinese zodiac (see also Fruits Basket). (Maybe. See eta.)

Because the animals have elemental associations from the Taoist system (which is different from the Buddhist elements but quite similar to Shinto, oh god don’t get me started on the elements), the twelve generals have picked up elemental associations to go with their animal associations.

Important! These associations are variable! There are several variations on which animals go with which generals. Which elements go with which animals varies on a larger cycle of years as well as each having a fixed element and a base association with yin or yang, and, when filtered through the creative license of anime/manga, the whole thing gets… complicated.

In any case, it appears that the zodiac filter is how the yaksha Sanchira, for example, becomes the Serpent of Destructive Fire. Certainly the personalities given to the characters in both SO and YnM have some good matches with the zodiac personality readings.

Where the particular names come from, apart from the elemental constellation names given to the strongest animal in each element (Dragon becomes Seiryuu, Horse becomes Suzaku, etc.), I’m still trying to figure out. Similarly how the notion was arrived at that Abe no Seimei’s generic plethora of shikigami should correlate with the Juuni Shinshou in particular. I have, as yet, found no source explaining that that is not clearly contaminated.

ETA: I have also come across some indications that the twelve guardians of the Medicine Buddha and the twelve elemental/time figures are, in fact, separate groups that have been confused because of the similar translation of their titles: 神 in the first place and 天 in the second, so that it might be more precise to say the Twelve Divine Generals and the Twelve Heavenly Generals, respectively. Results of this line of inquiry will appear in a later post, if it comes to anything.

Aug. 6th, 2008

Echizen’s real tennis

I was probably asking for trouble, when I started considering all the ways in which Echizen does not, as initially indicated by the early story, seem to find a tennis that is not a copy of Nanjirou’s. Now my Echizen-muse is insisting that I figure out what his own tennis would look like and write it.

Incidentally, spoilers ahead.

So let us meditate on this. The last reference point we have in the original “become not-Nanjirou” trajectory is the Regional finals. There we see a move of Echizen’s own invention, Cool Drive. It’s a move born of necessity, of needing to get up high enough to smash back a ball with the right spin and of figuring out exactly how to do that, however it takes–by climbing the referee, in the event. This move comes after Echizen has already pretty much burned himself out of muga no kyouchi, and it is, as Sanada notes after, a gamble. Using it gives Echizen an even chance of returning a shot he has no other way of getting, and he takes it without hesitation.

And then, of course, the story shears off into Nationals and the internal AU and focuses on muga’s “three doors”. And Echizen achieves the third, which no one but Nanjirou previously had, and thereby alters the progression of his skill from “finding himself” to “finding True Tennis is his father’s footsteps”.

Bah, I say; that isn’t nearly as interesting. Let us, therefore, take muga in its initial, less fantasy-esque, application, as a state of heightened awareness or response and leave it at that. What interests me more are the implications of Cool Drive.

For one, developing it shows that Echizen has started thinking in terms of evolving his own game. That’s a major hurdle right there, and indicates to me that he’s already reached beyond simply perfecting and reflecting back everything Nanjirou does to actively striving to find new ways to do things for himself. The alphabet drives in general show that, and the way we see him working on Cool Drive shows the importance he’s started to give the project (before Konomi lost his mind, anyway).

For another, the shape of the move shows something about Echizen’s approach. He doesn’t bother with conventional wisdom, which might be to work on strengthening his legs enough to jump for the height required. He also doesn’t choose to cultivate the strengths of his own body type, which might result in working on his ground speed to catch high shots when they come down and apply a different spin on return. Instead he takes all shots head on, and finds a way to meet and return them directly. And then he takes that way despite it being a risk and a gamble.

From this I take the conclusion that Echizen’s tennis doesn’t have a reverse gear. It doesn’t even really have brakes. He will just keep moving forward, believing that the skill and strength he has will find a way, and taking whatever way presents itself.

Really, it’s no wonder he does so well at Seigaku.

Echizen throws himself into the breach. Translated into actual martial arts, I might say that his style is purely aggressive, moving straight in and directly blocking rather than diverting or avoiding counterstrikes. He’s a stubborn little cuss.

So, for all his penchant for adopting everyone else’s moves, I don’t think he will ever use things like the Tezuka Zone or Fuji’s Triple (and counting) Counters very much. They’re not his own style. And, as he moves away from copying his father, I think the modality of copying in general may become a secondary rather than a primary tool for him. I don’t doubt he’ll use whatever move he knows that will do the job to win whatever game he’s in. But his own game, the moves he develops on his own, those I think will mostly be drives.

So I think what I would expect to see, in the future that is not a cracked canon-AU, is Echizen working to develop more such moves and using them with determination and forward momentum. Damn the torpedos and full steam ahead.

Jul. 31st, 2008

Inventing swear words

Whenever an author goes to create a world, soon or late they have to deal with the issue of swearing. Even if the decision is “not used in this language” it has to be dealt with.

One of the common options, especially in fantasy, is to invent gods to swear by, but this can sometimes come off as contrived. I therefore offer this small compilation of swearing patterns to assist those starting out.

A lot of swearing is some corruption of an expression of respect, when you think about it, the original form having been someone calling on their deity to witness their sincerity or truthfulness or, alternatively, the severity of the situation–possibly in hopes that, having noticed, the deity in question will fork over some assistance. This, of course, quickly devolves from deliberate calling upon to simple expression of exasperation, anger or other strong emotion. So the first question is: how for down this progression is the swearing in question?

If it’s still early days, some reliable formulae are “by deity-name!”, “by deity-name’s identifying-object!” or “deity-name significant-activity!”

A bit further on, you can start loosening the association with the actual deity. For example, if you take a body part associated with the significant activity, you can use “deity-name’s descriptive-adjective body-part!”. If the identifying object seems like a better bet, “deity-name’s descriptive-adjective identifying-object!” is also pretty standard. The degree of respect or facetiousness in the descriptive adjective should be matched to the manner of the character doing the swearing.

Eventually this can progress into the downright silly, at which point it may well start expanding also. For example: “deity-name on/in/with a strange-descriptive-adjective totally-unassociated-object”.

Now, if you decide you want to avoid deities entirely, you can always use animals instead. Some common variations on that are “domesticated-animal undesirable-byproduct!” or “domesticated-animal troublesome-behavior!”.

If you’re far enough along the aforementioned progression, you can even combine this with the deity version, for something like “deity-name troublesome-behavior!”.

One thing to remember in all this: don’t get too carried away with sniggering and go overboard. Otherwise you’ll wind up like Steve White, who is clearly a little too personally amused by the literal translation of some earthier Russian figures of speech.

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Apr. 21st, 2008

Oddities of ownership

Whenever I think about IP I find myself suffering from having one part of my brain considering the practical economic issues, another part working in abstract legal and ethical terms, and yet another part thinking about the practical writerly and interpretive issues.

For example, consider the notion of owning a character. In practical economic terms, I agree that it is useful to pretend that a concept plus description can be owned, in order that a writer be able to profit from supplying stories about that character. In economic terms I can see this working nicely as the sort of limited monopoly that, for example, patents offer, which allow inventors to recoup R&D costs and make a bit of a living.

In abstract legal terms, on the other hand, the notion of owning a concept strikes directly at something I consider a pillar of sensible and ethical practice: that ideas cannot be owned, only products. In these terms, only the specific words on a page can be an author’s property, and only direct copying of those specific words considered a violation of rights. Even a trademark, after all, that most ephemeral of intellectual property, must be a material, embodied symbol.

This touches on part of the writerly portion of my thoughts, because one thing I find curious is any author getting wound up over what another author does with “their” character.

As though it were the same character. Which, of course, it isn’t.

A character inside my head is not the same one as in someone else’s head. I might call it the same name, it might look a bit the same, but it isn’t the same character. No one can do anything to someone else’s character, because the only place someone else’s character lives is in that someone else’s head and on their page. The character in my head and on my page, that’s, well, someone else. The general agreement, in fandom and elsewhere, to pretend that all the Rukias, all the Leons, all the Rodneys we read are the same one, the shared fantasy of unity, masks this fact, I think. But the unity and the distinction exist side by side, and, in writerly terms, it is the distinction that I see most clearly. So the occasional diatribes about the “violation” of one’s characters being used by someone else seem to me to ignore some basic facts about how separate people with separate brains write.

It strikes me sometimes that many writers have a very poor sense of boundaries.

But, then, another part of my writerly thought understands, intellectually at least, that the emotional investment of writing leads very easily to a strong sense of ownership and identification. This part is entirely in sympathy with the desire to not know of the existence of stories that imagine other histories, other existences, for a character you wrote. It’s even more in sympathy with the wish to be clearly acknowledged as a source, and, if any profit is being made, to get a suitable share of it.

And that brings me back around to economic issues, and the search for viable models for licensing for commercial use. Alas, we have none yet, so this is where my thought process usually tails off into wild fantasies of a rational world.

When I try to imagine how all these different threads might actually be reconciled, that’s when I get irremediably tangled up. Practically speaking, it seems to me that the economic measure of copyright has dovetailed so neatly with emotional investment that the conjoining has become naturalized: people have started to think that copyright should protect the emotional investment and not merely serve as an economic incentive. This is certainly the direction European law seems to be moving in, witness the Berne Convention. I do not think it is a very productive direction; I do not think law should be based that immediately on emotion. But there it is, and it is certainly a fact that law changes and evolves over time, and someone will always not like it.

Which, now I think of it, probably means we’ll always be in this muddle. There will likely always be a huge middle ground that is ill defined and fuzzy. We’ll always be arguing over it from a slew of different, likely conflicting, perspectives. This is, after all, how rules are generated and laws are made.

So I suppose my conclusion today is, let us not try to quash any of these thought-threads in a vain effort to arrive at the One True Answer. Let us disagree and debate and not ever be ashamed to hold forth for what we each think is right in each moment and circumstance. The answer will change as we go exactly because no one of us controls it, and, all things considered, I can only think that this is a very good thing.

Mar. 25th, 2008

Canon amelioration: YGO

Canon amelioration is kind of a fic hobby of mine. When canon kills off or otherwise gets rid of a character I want to write more with, I try to find some way of bringing them back. I like to make it at least marginally plausible.

The ending of the Yuugi-ou manga makes this harder than usual. Not only is everything wrapped up, but it’s wrapped up in such a way that to change it will reverse some wonderful and necessary character development, which is anathema to me.

But I think I may have found a way. )

Jan. 24th, 2008

What is ‘in character’?

This is a bit like asking the “correct” way to spell a Japanese character’s name using the Roman alphabet. There are so many possible answers it boggles the mind.

But let me simplify it a little and specify more: should one stick with information presented in the anime/manga, which is frequently contradictory; or information presented in guide/info books, which often provides more background detail but may, again, be contradictory; or information pertaining to real life?

For example: if Tezuka acts like a serious-minded, reserved and careful thirty-year-old in the anime while the info books tell us he’s a rugged out-doorsman and we know that, in real life, fifteen-year-old boys act like, well, boys… then how do we write him?

Do we write anime/manga characters the way they’re written, or the way real people might act in their circumstances? Do we go ahead and use the fluid and exaggerated physical proportions, which are generally there to make characterization points, or do we take the numbers in the guide books and stick to them?

I don’t actually think there’s a single answer to this, of course, but it’s something worth thinking about as we write.

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Jan. 10th, 2008

Distribution of labor

Say to any writer “I have a great idea for a book. How about if you just write it down, and we can split the proceeds?” Depending on their temperament, the writer in question will either turn red and start to steam or laugh themselves sick.

This is, of course, because the part of writing that takes the most work is the writing itself. Unsurprisingly. Ideas are easy to come by, but getting the words down on the page in the right form to tell a story, especially a lively and engaging story, takes work, experience, determination and more work. Writing isn’t just having a neat idea, it’s getting a story to coalesce around the idea, complete with transitions and motivations and all the parts that aren’t neat ideas but rather the bones of narrative. Any writer knows this.

Given that, I find it a bit surprising that both professional and amateur writers will carry on in equal measure about writing being stolen and ideas being stolen.

Now, if you’ve gone to the work of the writing and then had someone scan your writing and send copies to the whole world, or pass your writing off as theirs, I can certainly see hollering and quick-drawing your lawyer. That’s weeks or months or years of work at stake.

To go to the same amount of trouble over an idea rather lacks proportion.

Being scooped in a commercial arena, now, that could be cause for agitation, yes. If, let us say, I were a writer of Star Wars tie-in novels and had come up with this great idea for how to get Mara Jade her groove back, and I found out that some other tie-in writer had sold the notion to Lucas before me, and I had reason to think that the other writer first got the notion from me… I’d be hollering indeed.

But if I found someone else writing the parts or the way I didn’t, even with characters or worlds I have already done up once, well, if they want to put in the weeks or months or years to write it differently than I did, that’s their work and their time, and no skin off my nose.

The whole notion of stealing an idea has only limited applicability. For, e.g., George Lucas to insist that no one but him (or his minions) can write about the Jedi Order, forever and ever amen, is pointless. You’d think he had invented the notion of mystical orders, or manipulable life energy, or even mentor-student sexual subtext. And, I hate to break it, but that would be D, none of the above. So what exactly would someone be stealing?  One noun phrase?

Another favorite example, equally ridiculous, is for a fic writer to complain that a canon writer stole her idea. First of all, the illogic makes my brain hurt, because if writing about other people’s ideas is an offense, then the fic writer sinned first (and so did Lucas). And on top of that, fic is non-commercial and could not have made money by implementing the idea first. But, more importantly, the idea hasn’t been stolen. It’s still there, still available, there’s nothing stopping the fic writer from still writing it.

No two people’s weeks or months or years of work, getting the words to do what they want, are ever going to produce the same story. No other story about the Jedi will be Lucas’s story–however much he tries to make it by choosing plot-based, character-weak authors to carry on. This is why ideas themselves cannot be copyrighted–only the expressions of ideas, only those months of work and words on a page.

I can see being protective of the work, the sweat and hair-tearing and effort. But the ideas? And maybe a handful of proper nouns? I know of no authors who write any kind of derivative work save out of the desire to make it different somehow–to make things move and change. So this howling about stealing ideas really seems to miss a critical point.

Even aside from that point, though, no one gets to have it both ways. Either ideas are sacred and the offer to split the take evenly between idea-maker and writer is more than fair… or they aren’t and it isn’t.

So which is it going to be?

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