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Progress Report – June 2016

Progress Report – June 2016

June 2016 is in the books!

Posted Works

June 2016As has been my pattern recently, June 2016 proved to be a month of very little new writing. Instead, I concentrated on getting older works spread and promoted as school and work at the wedding blog, plus podcasting, took up a lot more of my time and for very good reasons. My summer Capstone project keeps me hopping but the work is of interest and it is bringing in actual paying work. Plus I got a raise at the wedding blog!

Furthermore, at the G & T Show, we are looking to spin off my law and fandom show, Semantic Shenanigans.

On Fanfiction.net, I finished posting You Mixed-Up Siciliano. I then started to post Spring Thaw.

On the G & T Show forums, I kept on posting Together.

On Wattpad, I further expanded Later Days, adding The Rite, Finnan Haddie, Bread, Escape, The Decision, The Medal, A Hazy Shade, Completely Hers and the beginning of Faith.

Milestones

See the Stats page for individual read and review counts.

WIP Corner

I continue to work with beta readers on The Enigman Cave. Beta reading takes a while and the story is a long one. I can see it will need some overhauling but I am simply far too busy to do that right now. It will be tackled in late August or in September in anticipation of sending it out for professional editing and then querying later in the year.

Prep Work

I continued to research this year’s planned NaNoWriMo novel, The Real Hub of the Universe. I have also been putting together the outline, which I can see while sprawl over maybe three books.

This Month’s Productivity Killers

School, work, and podcasting – aren’t they enough?

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Lessons from Fan Fiction

Personal Background

I have been writing (with considerable time off), in some form or another, for the past 4 1/2 decades, no exaggeration. My initial writings were crudely drawn images in old calendar books that would have otherwise been discarded. Inevitably, they were all about more or less the same thing – anthropomorphized dogs going on adventures.

I used to own (many of them are still in my parents’ house) little plastic farm animal toys.

English: Two plastic animals (a sheep and a st...
English: Two plastic animals (a sheep and a st…

Many of these came from my father’s business trips to Munich, and they were fairly well detailed. When not drawing picture books, I would play act stories for these toys. Usually, it was some sort of journey.

The toys still exist, but the old calendar books are long gone, in some landfill somewhere (they were discarded before recycling was really mainstream).

As a teenaged girl, I had diaries, but all of those are also gone to a landfill. I did not get back to writing anything resembling fiction until my senior year in High School, when I had an AP English teacher who encouraged such things. I took Creative Writing in college, and a Law School boyfriend also encouraged me to write. Then I set it all aside until maybe 2000 when I did some short works and then started writing fan fiction in 2004.

After a few more short works, I set it aside until 2010. Ever since starting up again (with Reversal), I have written something pretty much every day, whether it’s Star Trek: fan fiction, wholly original works, blogging and/or fiction outlining.

Lessons Learned (in no particular order)

Write to keep writing

While I suffer from writer’s block, just like every other writer, I suffer from it less than I probably should, because I make an effort to write nearly every single day. This keeps it all going.

Take and Keep Notes

I have a large timeline for fan fiction, spanning a few millennia. I have other timelines for wholly original fictional universes. These are kept with MS Excel. Timelines are incredibly useful, as you immediately know things like ages, and if character lifetimes overlap.

Fiction Stacks
Fiction Stacks

I keep wikis (more like informal detailed outlines, as I am the sole contributor) for all major series, and separate ones for wholly original fiction. These are for world-building, and they contain everything from character heights to birthdays to naming conventions for various items. It’s all decided once and the references are at my fingertips.

I also keep a list of plot ideas, which also contains possible titles, species ideas, possible character names, etc. (Eriecho was originally going to be Klingon). This ‘parks’ new ideas so that I can concentrate better on the story I am trying to finish.

Don’t Throw Anything Away

Character names from 1986 have shown up in fiction written in 2011, no lie. A quarter-century later, and in a different universe, the names still work.

Your Work Should be Shared

I belong to several writers’ groups online, both for fan fiction and for wholly original work.

Fan fiction in the making
Fan fiction in the making

There are a lot of people who are terrified of sharing their work with others. These are not people holding back because it’s work they want to try to have published. They just plain aren’t ready to share anything.

And that’s unfortunate, as their work can stagnate with no feedback. Fiction isn’t meant to be hidden away, locked in a drawer somewhere.

 

Constructive Criticism is Gold

English: Crystaline Gold
English: Crystaline Gold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone providing constructive criticism of any sort is fantastic. Being told that I need to define a character better, or provide more details, or that a scenario is not credible – any and all of these criticisms makes me a better writer. Learning to take constructive criticism graciously was an enormous lesson I have learned.

 

Destructive Criticism is Dirt

While not everyone will love what I have written, I’ve learned to separate critiques into constructive and destructive, and can tell the difference.

Vermont dirt, up close.
Vermont dirt, up close.

There are those who go into reading a fan fiction who are biased against a particular series, or character or character pairing, etc. They might dislike a certain plot point (e. g. not everyone likes time travel), or they just might dislike all fan fiction.

Most of what these folks say is not worth reading, or repeating. Fortunately, I haven’t run into too many of these folks in my travels.

As for those who engage in personal attacks, they should be blocked without a second thought. No one needs to be trashed in order to be effectively critiqued. Ever.

Do Your Research

In one of my first-ever fan fictions (There’s Something About Hoshi), I misspelled MACO as MAKO, and was corrected by a reader. At the time, I was overly sensitive and felt it was petty. I have since come to realize that of course this person was correct, and they were only trying to help me get better.

Pay it Forward by Reading and Reviewing Others’ Work

Sitting back and expecting everyone else to do the heavy lifting of reading and reviewing is pretty selfish. Writers, of course, should take care not to steal from each other, or plagiarize. But the building, nurturing, and sustaining of writer communities means that you, the writer, need to also become the reader, and the critic. Always be a constructive critic.

Practice and Edit

Not writing does not make you a better writer. Only writing, and reading, can make you a better writer. So do both.

Don’t Crowdsource Your Ideas

I see this a lot, where potential writers, terrified that they have a bad idea, ask their peers for a judgment about whether something is a ‘good’ idea.

This is bass-ackwards. Instead, writers should be writing. Their ideas are, likely, perfectly fine. Why do I say this? Because most ideas are fine; it’s their execution that demonstrates quality, or the lack thereof. Consider the following story idea.

Kafka
Kafka

A suddenly disabled man is late for work one morning. Ignoring his new infirmity, he tries to go to work, as he is the sole supporter of his mostly ungrateful family. When they become, by necessity, more independent, they abuse and neglect him and, unappreciated, he eventually dies. They go on without him.

Don’t know that plot? It’s Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, easily one of the top 100 (if not 50) works of fiction ever written. Ever!

But that plot summary isn’t too promising, eh? It’s in the execution where Gregor Samsa comes to life.

Your ideas are fine, except for the idea that you need others’ approval before you can start writing. Nonsense! Write anyway.

You’re Better Than You Think

Unless you are out and out plagiarizing someone else’s work, there is probably someone out there who will like your writing. That leads to my next point.

Find Your Ideal Audience

Sites which cater to, say, only Star Trek: Enterprise will not appreciate Star Trek: Voyager fan fiction as well as sites that focus on it. That may seem obvious, but it’s a point that people sometimes seem to miss. If your work isn’t being read, try other sites. You might do better elsewhere.

Fix Your Technical Problems Before Posting

Always look over spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word choice (e. g. make sure you are using the right words, and they mean what you think they do), and grammar. A few stray errors are fine, but try to fix most of it before posting. This is a courtesy to your readers.

Not Everyone Wants to read your entire Saga

Readers’ time is as precious a your own.

Busy
Busy

Their not wanting to read your entire 10 million word saga is less a reflection on your abilities (or their love of your work), and more on their own busy lives.

Expecting your audience to read your entire saga is a discourtesy; you are not being respectful of their time. Respect their time by mixing in some short stories as most people can find the time to read something less than 10,000 words (even better, less than 5,000).

Compete With your Peers

This ups your game considerably. Put yourself out there, and don’t expect to win. Competitions are also a great way to get more people to read and review your work.

Keep Track of your Stats

You don’t have to be as analytical as I am, but it pays to at least have a handle on what’s popular, and what isn’t. These findings will probably differ from site to site, and having objective data means you’ll have a better idea of whether a story will go over well or poorly at a particular site.

Use Your Time Wisely

We all have lives, so writing time often has to be rationed. Determine what you want and need, and how well various sites satisfy those wants and needs. Do an informal cost-benefit analysis – does a site offer ease of posting? Better critiquing? A bigger audience? A better-matched audience to your work?

Build a Readership

Book reader
Book reader

When I learned I was going to be published, I told pretty much everyone in my network. A lot of people said they were excited about potentially seeing my wholly original work in print. This is not only ego-gratifying, it’s also, potentially, a source of reads (and even sales) and reviews for professional work. I’m not saying to become a writing mercenary.

Rather, cultivate and nurture your most loyal fans.

That doesn’t just mean being kind to them (which should be a given), and thanking them (another given); it also means listening to them. Do they want to see more original characters? A new horror story? More time travel? Do they think your last book dragged in the middle? Take them seriously. They are really trying to help you succeed. Let them.

Upshot

I have come a long way from picture books that I showed to no one, and stories that I left to rot in a trunk and are no more. Fan fiction has improved me as a writer, and has taught me to believe in myself. It has led me to becoming a published author. I owe it a lot.

Thank you.


You can find me on .

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Starts

Boldly Reading asks us, now, about Beginnings.

First sentences, first kisses, first missions, etc. – what are some of your favorite ‘firsts’ on Ad Astra? What sorts of openings and firsts and premieres get you to keep reading?

I enjoy a good beginning as much as anyone else does, I suppose. Crafting the perfect opening line is a challenge, and some writers do a better job of it than others, just like anything else. Here’s a great one.

“I was sure I was going to die, but was so afraid I wouldn’t in time.”

Little Black Dog’s Aftermath cuts right in, immediately, and you realize that something awful has happened, and is being (maybe) recovered from.

Here’s another.

He spoke flawless Federation Standard, possessed perfect visual acuity and hearing abilities unmatched by human ears.

kes7’s Year One opens not necessarily with a bang, but it’s obvious that whoever this is, he’s physically superior to humans. Is he an Augment, perhaps?

DHA Molecule
DHA Molecule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And here’s one more, if you’ll indulge me.

“I … I think … I need to see a doctor.”

trekfan’s While You Were Unconscious pulls two people together, although the details are a little … tricky. Yeah, there’s a good word for it.

Bonus questions!

How do you convert blank pages and blank computer documents into works of art? How do you get first ideas? What gets you started, or re-started?

I find that, for me, getting a story started is difficult but of course it’s necessary. Otherwise, nothing is ever produced! But sometimes the ideal opening is elusive. When that happens, I try to write the middle, or even the end. And I will go over and over again, in my mind, when it comes to the opening line of a story. I want the reader to continue, of course, but what I also want is to set the tone.

Reversal‘s opening line was written on the fly (as was nearly all of that story). It is, simply, this –

It didn’t hurt.

I really, really hope the reader’s question is – what didn’t hurt?

It is, possibly, the best opening I have ever written, and it colored the remainder of the story. Other stories have had good openings. I particularly like the ones for Paving Stones (“He’s too young.”) and for Brown (They were both pregnant at the same time.). Both of these opening lines defined the stories that followed, and shaped them.

The Week Never Starts Round Here
The Week Never Starts Round Here (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often a good opening line can get me going, and can really sustain me. However, sometimes I need to get restarted, especially after I’ve had to leave a story for a while, for some reason or another.

One thing I try to do is to keep writing (this includes blogging). More or less continually getting ideas onto paper or pixels means that it takes a while for all ideas to dry up. But sometimes that’s not feasible. When it isn’t, I also like to just reread my work, and not necessarily the work I’m trying to finish. I just need to, I feel, review past successes, at times, to remind myself that I can still do it.

Here’s to new beginnings for us all.

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What is it Now?

What the hell?

As a sequel to Where Did it All Begin?, I’d like to give a little information on where I am now, and where Star Trek is, from my own perspective.

Me, Now

Yeah, this is really me
Yeah, this is really me

This image was taken last year and it’s more or less an accurate representation of the real-life jes.

I turned fifty last September (2012).

My Own Personal Fandom

Given my age, you’d think I’d be a big TOS fan. And, while I am a fan (and I recall seeing at least some of it in what was likely first run), my heart really belongs more to ENT. I love it for its closeness to us, its passion, its flawed characters who change and grow, and the fact that the tech is far from perfect.

I know the many, many flaws in ENT. I have had them pointed out to me numerous times (so many people seem to love doing that). Still and all, I enjoy it immensely.

TOS and TAS (I really put them together) are second for me. I like the drama and the writing, much of which was really terrific. The effects and animation are abysmal, and the costumes and makeup aren’t too good, either, so a lot of the tension comes about from the acting and the writing. I also enjoy the social commentary in a lot of the stories. And, much like in ENT, there are real senses of danger there. You do sometimes wonder if/how they’re going to make it.

I suppose TNG comes in at third for me, and more because of the trio of Wesley, Geordi and Data. I also like Beverly, and I like Miles and Keiko. Picard is … okay. I am not a rabid, screaming fan girl about Patrick Stewart although I certainly appreciate his talent. But I do feel that the ship was too huge and luxurious, and a lot of hazards were bred out of the experience. As Q says (and I like him, too), space is dangerous. And they (and we) should not forget that. As for Riker, the less said, the better.

If I had to select a fourth, it would probably be, really, VOY. I like the generalized idea of it. Travel stories have been around since the Odyssey and The Canterbury Tales, and probably before then, too. But I tend to like only isolated bits, and they are usually the parts that other people don’t care for at all.

Then, it’s a tie between the films and DS9. The films are okay and I have not seen all of them – I haven’t even seen more than bits of The Wrath of Khan. Some moments in various films stand out – the trial on Kronos and imprisonment on Rura Penthe, T’Saavik emotionlessly reporting David Marcus’s death, saving the whales, Zefram Cochrane doing his thing, and even Kirk’s death (I love how it was small and non-heroic, because the end of life is far more likely to be like that). But then there’s tons that’s just meh to me, from the overly-loving closeups of the Enterprise in the first film, to the Sybok wackiness of the fifth film. I don’t hate the 2009 film and I do believe it’s Trek (and I find it weird sour grapes for people to declare that it isn’t Star Trek because they don’t like it. Tough, it’s Trek, get over it). But it’s not a fave. It’s … okay. I am not a fan of pure action flicks and it was pretty close to that. I have not yet seen Into Darkness.

As for Deep Space Nine, I’ve always had trouble getting into it. I like Louise Fletcher as Kai Winn, and I like Dr. Bashir. Plus I like the idea of the Trill. After that, I get a meh vibe. Sorry to those who love it.

My Writing

I got into writing Star Trek fanfiction in 2005 and then promptly gave it up for five years. During that time period, my attitude changed considerably, and then suddenly it was October of 2010 and I was spinning Reversal out of whole cloth. And it became a monster that launched two big series and tons of stories, and, no lie, hundreds of thousands of words.

Including, of course, this blog and its accompanying website.

I am writing, or I am thinking about writing nearly every single day.

Others’ Fan Fiction

I generally enjoy reading others’ works although time doesn’t always permit that I really look super-closely. I try to give a story a chance, at least for a while. For a 60+ chapter story, that might be five to eight chapters. For a 20,000 word story, it might be only one or two chapters. For a less than 10,000 word story, it will probably be the entire thing.

I make an effort to go out of my comfort zone and read stories that take place in eras or on ships that I do not know. That often means Deep Space Nine although it can also mean various expanded universes. There are so many missing pieces in canon that it is very possible to set an entire universe within the missing bits, and that’s even how In Between Days was originally going to be.

I also make an effort to constructively critique so, yeah, that can sometimes mean that my reviews are less than perfectly positive. If I feel a canon character isn’t being accurately portrayed, I try to alert the writer. I have had that pointed out to me before, and I usually use it as a means of reverse-engineering some sort of an explanation. After all, there are times when people behave out of character, and it’s not always mold spores or radiation or the like. Sometimes it’s grief, or loneliness, or drugs or just a desire to shake things up. For More, More, More! I was told that Malcolm likely would not be helping to arrange the party. But I decided, no, he would be, as he would prefer an organized means of fraternizing with his shipmates and the NX-02, as opposed to the chance element inherent in more casual contact. I reverse-engineered in the explanation in the sequel story, On the Radio. This not only fixed what wasn’t necessarily that big a problem, it also added a little more depth to the subsequent tale.

As for original characters, a lot of people, when they are inexperienced, tend to either stick just with a kind of canon alternative (which is what Doug Beckett was originally) or they are golden children of canon (more or less a type of canon alternate – Jia Sulu was a little like that) or they are out and out Mary Sues (Lili can be borderline at times, but her overall arc isn’t, and I work hard to keep her out of that zone). A few thoughts on that, if I may.

Consider the following characteristics – beauty, intelligence, social ease, heroism and physical prowess of any sort. How many of these characteristics does your character have? Lili, for example, has intelligence and social ease. Pamela has beauty and intelligence. Doug has intelligence and physical prowess, and eventually has heroism. Malcolm and Jay both have intelligence and physical prowess, usually mixed with heroism. Blair has beauty, intelligence and social ease. But nobody’s got all of these characteristics.

And that’s the idea. Characters, like people, should not be perfect in every way. This goes for villains as well as heroes (so substitute the term villainy for heroism, above). For those five main traits, one or two are fine, and three are okay but may be pushing it. Four is really starting to push it. All five strains credulity to the breaking point. I see far too many original characters who can do no wrong and are in the five zone.

I also try to get a sense from an author (and if I can ask him or her, all the better) about an elevator pitch-style story. I pay attention not only to what they suggest, but also to elements like the story’s length. After all, if you feel that I won’t understand your universe without reading 100,000 words, you aren’t necessarily showing a lot of respect for my time and interest level. I have time to read fan fiction, yes. I concede the point. And it doesn’t have to be a drabble and we’re done. I do have a longer attention span than that. But my time is not infinite. I wish it was but, alas, it is not. If I read your 100,000 words, sight unseen, that will take up a pretty significant chunk of my time. You are telling me that we cannot date, and the only way I will know you is to get married. For a decade.

Hence I try to keep the idea of an elevator pitch in mind, and can easily single out three stories of mine that fit that bill – The Light, The Cure is Worse than the Disease, and Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions. All three are fairly short and are completely self-contained. The reader does not need to know the remainder of my mythos in order to understand them but, if the reader does go back and read that, he or she will get another dimension on each of these stories. I don’t present this idea as a perfect one, but I do hope that other authors will at least consider something like that. It’s just easier for the reader.

Upshot

My own fandom experience has changed over time. In particular, as I have read others’ original stories, characters, ships and eras, or their original takes on canon characters, ships, eras and situations, I have changed my appreciation of overall canon. Beverly Crusher, for me, is a bit of an empty nester, but also a smart amateur detective. Montgomery Scott is damaged and withdrawn, but fiercely loyal, and a badass in the Mirror Universe. The relationship between Kirk and Spock transcends traditional bonds of fellowship, but not as slash. TOS era situations come to life and are expanded upon, to great effect.

And completely original series have expanded my mind. A crew gets a shot at bringing everything back and re-gluing shattered pieces. Cadets from before the ENT era come through the  other side of the Third World War and its aftermath. The aftermath of the Dominion War ripples throughout the Alpha Quadrant, the Vorta and their allies, the Cardassians, and the Tal’Shiar; and a human and a Cardassian fall in loveVoyager‘s journey is enhanced by a look at peripheral characters who really should have been more in the forefront. Deep Space Nine and its environs see changes over time as characters age and  become renewed. A completely non-canon ship and crew stay barely on this side of the law as their collective bacon is placed into the fire again and again. A young officer begins her career lurching among assignments. A cliffhanger serial has a new installment nearly every week. And the Border Patrol has a far more interesting life than you might think.

Fandom has allowed me to step into a number of fascinating and beautiful worlds. I can only hope that what I have created is one-tenth as entertaining for my own readers. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations – words to live by.

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