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March 17th, 2013, 3:28 am

Zelkova Asks III/Doing the Write Thing, Part II

I sure do like series, don't I? I think this is the third time I've done a sequel to a blog-style post, after Zelkova Asks and The End is Nigh.

I also seem to have a weird Roman numeral fetish....

Anyways! I'm a week early, but I finished all my plans for the day (including working on my novel for the first time in months) and wanted to reward myself. And since I really like writing, and I really like myself, writing about myself seemed to be the best way to do that!

Also, I'm out of Oreos.

So, without further ado, let's get back to Zelkova's questions!

Question 4: What made you want to become a writer. You don't suddenly wake up wanting to write for a living. There must been some kind of trigger for you.

Uhh, actually, there wasn't a trigger. I mean, I didn't always want to write for a living, but before I decided on writer I didn't really have an alternative. I never wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut or a wolverine tamer--I was just undeclared, basically. But as I got further into my first book in middle school, it started to make more and more sense to do it for a living. Everyone I'd ever met responded positively to my writing, and it was always pretty easy for me. As I got older, it started to make even more sense because I realized how awful I would be at just about any other job on the planet. I am very dominating in a lot of ways and would make a terrible employee. And I don't deal with people in person very well. I can be pretty argumentative.

Plus, my high school English teacher told me I was one of only three students in her 30-year teaching career that she thought could write for a living. So there's that.

I guess it's really just a case of me doing what I love and hoping to make money from it. I don't ever remember not writing, so if there was ever a trigger it was when I was like five.

Question 5: Would you be the type to give the fans what they want or be the type to hold your ground in the name of good writing? For example you decided to kill off a character as you have this planned all along. You found out that fans really enjoy that character and even went as far as making a petition for him. Would you revive him with some kind of a**-pull or would you keep going as planned?

Oh hey look I censored you, Zelkova. YOU HAVE NO POWER HERE.

I assume you mean in the case of like a series or something like this that updates at a fairly frequent rate. Because I don't think anyone would publish a standalone novel with a character dying and then six months later publish a sequel pamphlet that just said "B-T-Dubs he's alive."

I'm pretty sure the only time I can think of where doing something like that was a good idea is in the case of Sherlock Holmes, because he is fricking cool and can come back to life as many times as he wants. But other than that, I don't think it's ever a good idea to fluff up the fates of characters or the end of a story for the sake of pleasing the fans of today. If my work survives for a hundred years, I don't want it to be a big joke because I caved in for some crazy petitioning fans and turned a respectable series into an almost-epic story with a terrible, contrived, disparate ending.

That being said, in cases like this comic, I do take fan opinions into account. If fans are reacting positively to characters or plot points, I do try to incorporate more, as long as it feels organic. This kind of goes back to my rant about Rorschach and how he got written in more because people really like him. But I also made a point of not making him the center of the comic because that would ruin the story as a whole, even if it might make scenes in the moment more interesting. There have been a few other cases in which fan input has changed the fate of this comic, but the overall plan remains the same as it always had, and not just because this whole thing is based on a game.

So, basically, no, I will not change things just because fans want me to. However, if I honestly think it's a good idea, I'll try and incorporate it, as long as it doesn't impede on other, more important aspects of the story. But I think killing of characters and things like that almost always have important reasons for having been written, and if I were killing off a character I wouldn't want to diminish the meaning of their death by bringing them back, especially if the method doesn't fit into the style/tone of the story.

Unless their resurrection was because of a certain machine in the Pokemon League building. But that was the plan all along.

Question 6: Quality or quantity? Some people just like long stories and couldn't care less if you are beating a dead horse. See The Simpsons. Most people would agree it should have ended long time ago yet some people couldn't care less how horrible it is compare to years before as long they have something to watch.

Overall, I would definitely say quality, but I think there's something to be said for quantity. And while I'm not well-versed on The Simpsons, there's a similar example very close to my heart that I think will greatly aid me with explaining my position.


Now, before I start, I'm going to preface with the fact that I hadn't actually watched the show until it had finished its seventh season. But I watched the first six seasons in five days and watched season seven a couple months later, and now I'm watching season eight live as well as re-watching the older seasons on Netflix. And I've done a lot of research about the show because it's been really eye-opening in a lot of ways. So some of the opinions I present partially belong to critics and other people like that, but I'm still putting a lot of my own thoughts into this. I'm also going to try and make this easily-accessible for those of you who haven't seen the show (AKA the psychos who haven't watched my favorite show ever).

When How I Met Your Mother first started, it was a pretty instant success in a lot of ways. It featured a believable main character in Ted, an intriguing format (being told entirely through flashbacks to the present day while being narrated by Ted in 2030), humor that didn't rely on the same old sitcom jokes, and arguably the most memorable breakout television character in the twenty-first century (the legendary Barney Stinson). Throughout the first two or three seasons, it picked up momentum (and ratings) as it expanded its world and developed its characters, while dropping hints about the fabled Mother. It was a refreshing half-hour of television that was the highlight of many viewers' weeks.

Around season four, however, many critics felt that it started to derail a bit. Not enough to ruin the show, but enough to where it didn't feel quite as fresh as it used to be. Slowly, Ted's quest for his perfect woman moved away from the forefront and the humor became more stale as the situations became more contrived and the jokes began relying too much on established character crutches. There were a few standout episodes here and there, such as the one-hundredth episode with its epic musical number (NOTHIN' SUITS ME LIKE A SUIT!) and several heart-wrenching moments in season six, but most people that thought critically about the show felt that it just wasn't what it used to be and needed to focus less on the How I and more on the Met Your Mother.

Now, since I didn't watch the show progress from the beginning, I didn't see the reviews of the episodes. I also didn't see the gradual slope of the show. In my opinion, the show never wavered as one of the most impressive displays of comedic brilliance and character-driven emotion I've ever seen. Within five days it became my favorite series of all time, beating out House, Lost, and, dare I say it, even Dexter. Now, I can't say this for certain, but I don't think that the speedy viewing affected my perception of the show much. I honestly don't believe that I would have agreed with the critics, although upon reading some of their reviews I can see where they're coming from in certain instances. To me, this show has always been incredible.

Now, we're on season eight, which I've been fortunate enough to watch live. I've been able to actually experience that week-long anticipation for the next episode, and I've also been able to take some time to think about each episode and decide how I feel about it as opposed to just clicking on the next episode. This season has also been unique in that I've been able to read the reviews as they come out, which has let me notice something very interesting.

The beginning of this season, without giving anything away, took a big step to the reveal of the Mother. After a few episodes, it became apparent that this would likely be the final season of the show. Besides the fact that the episodes were moving at a greater pace towards the predetermined finale, Jason Segel (Marshall) was resisting signing on for a ninth season because he wanted to move on to film acting, which is a perfectly reasonable wish after eight years tied to a single show. When interviewed, the creators of the show mentioned that they were currently writing season eight as the last season, but if it was renewed for another season, they had a completely crazy idea for how to make it last one more season, and they were open to either option. Like I said, though, the pace of the season made it more and more obvious that this season would be the last.

The reviews for this season weren't terribly great, either. A good portion of this fall's episodes were the subject of criticism from many reviewers, and none of the episodes garnered the praise of earlier classics.

But then, something strange happened.

The mid-season finale, the two-part episode that aired just before the holidays, did something I don't think anyone was expecting. It provided an honestly jaw-dropping hour of television featuring genuinely-hilarious jokes, ingenious connections to scenes in previous episodes that had initially been cause for complaint, and an emotional finale that, while not exactly surprising, delivered on nearly every level. The episode was without a doubt the best in a long time, and put the show back on critics' radars. It proved that there was some life left in this old machine yet.

The show took a month or so off and came back in incredible form. Since the new year started, almost every episode has received the praise that the show deserved, and the show's reputation has been escalating back to the pedestal that, in my eyes, it never dropped from.

Oh, and one more interesting thing happened. Jason Segel gave in. He signed the contract, and the show was officially renewed for a ninth and final season.

What, dear sweet Francis-not-the-Pope, does this mean in regards to my answer?

It means that sometimes quantity can turn into quality, just as quality can cause quantity. If you keep going long enough, you might just get that spark back. Sometimes it takes a bit of struggling and half-decent entries in a series to get back to form. Sometimes it takes a lot of them. But just because something keeps going after it's initial awesomeness has faded doesn't mean it can't come back. And, in a lot of ways, that slump is necessary to facilitate the return to form. It's sort of like riding the bus. You can get off at your stop and be right where you want to be. You can miss your stop and get off at the next one, causing a bit of an inconvenience but not really ruining your day. Or, you can let the bus take you wherever it's going to go. It might take you far away from where you want to be, but eventually it'll come back around to where you wanted it to drop you off, and you might have a pretty awesome adventure along the way.

Quality is definitely more important than quantity. There are certain people out there, like my arch-nemesis James Patterson, that don't even try for quality and go directly for quality. But sometimes the quantity comes from a genuine love for what the writer is creating, and that love and constant dedication can have a pretty impressive payoff, even when people lose faith. Case in point: the upcoming season nine of How I Met Your Mother, which I have no doubt will be far more fulfilling than anyone is expecting.

With my writing specifically, I don't plan on writing anything in the near future that lacks either a concrete ending or a specific length of time or number of volumes to finish. So I'll be focusing most of my personal writing to quality as opposed to quantity. But I think writing a TV show or comic without an ending in sight would be a liberating and exciting thing to do, so I might try that sometime. I'd always try to put most of my effort into quality, but that would be the sort of situation where I'd also have to balance that with an unforeseeable number of entries, and I think I'd be up to that challenge at some point.

Question 7: Do you control your characters or do you let them act on their own? I forgot who said this but someone stated that if your characters are good enough you shouldn't have to think what they should do next, they would already be doing it. Of course this is nice in theory but sooner or later the plot will have to come in. I guess the question could be reworded to: how willing are you to let your characters go out of character for plot elements?

That's sort of difficult for me to answer directly, because I'm not sure if I let the characters act on their own or not. I'm a very control-minded person and therefore I can't say for sure if how I write is letting my characters do their own thing or if I've just made sure they're written in such a way that makes it easy to progress the story with them. I take a lot of care to make sure characters act in a manner that is consistent with how they've acted in the past, and if there's something that I want to write later on that would have them deviate from their personality, I try to start the progression to that new stage of their personality early on. Example A: I wanted Haun to have an emotional breakdown in the cave, so I made sure to make him get progressively more irritated during the chapter or so before he yelled at Ashlyn.

In terms of writing dialogue and things like that, I do kind of let the characters speak for themselves. Haun, DJ, and Rorschach are the easiest for me to write dialogue for, because I'm almost always speaking like one of them: reasonably, sarcastically, or silly-ly. So I usually have Tyton present a topic (usually what to do next) and then decide how I'd respond to it, then give those various responses to the appropriate characters. The more difficult ones, like Gerald and Chester, I usually have to think about a bit more, and I think that's part of the reason why they don't feel as fully-formed as my other characters. But I usually try to make each character have at least one piece of input on a certain topic so that they all get represented. This is sort of a writing exercise for me, and one of the characters' statements usually continues the conversation in a way that makes it really easy for me to write a transition to the next scene. Usually, I have three major scenes planned for a chapter (such as Chips having the training session, the fireside scene, and Gordon's appearance), and I use the characters' interactions to flow between them. In some cases, I get ideas for character interactions that are just too good to waste and end up really expanding them (AKA almost all of Vapors), and that's always exciting.

Moving away from the comic a bit, I mentioned in the previous post that I have some characters from my first book that I might pull out and insert in another world at some point. I created a few really powerful characters that have actually managed to have lives in my head without me having written them for years. So, I guess I do let characters just be who they're going to be, and sometimes they're so alive to me that they just hang out in my brainhole until I find a place for them in the real world.

Everyone say hi to Derrick! He's waving at you from somewhere in my frontal lobe.

So, yeah, I guess they mostly act on their own. Hm. Cool. Answered my own question by answering yours.

Question 8: Getting enough questions already? What happen to your blogging idea? I gave you a list of topics but you really didn't say anything after that day about it.

I'm sorry, is this not bloggy enough for you?

I'll get to those other ones later. You gotta have some patience, chiiile.

Question 9: How do you feel about series repeating the same story? Pokemon being a good example. A 10 year old kid (more or less) collect 8 badges while stopping an evil group in the process.

Oh, you mean like James Patterson? Seriously, that man. Jeez.

Okay, so this kind of goes back to my The End is Nigh rants. I do in fact have a huge problem with repetitive stories. Like I said, it's why I hate Call of Duty and why, despite Pokemon being so dang fun, I'm always a bit disappointed. In fact, it's also part of the reason why I got out of manga.

I dunno if I mentioned this, but back in middle school I was pretty on the edge of being a full-fledged... whatever that word is for being a huge anime fan. Okatu? Otaku? Oldtaco? Anyways. I had a serious issue. I read all the major shonen series--Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball, Shaman King, One Piece.... For like three years I followed probably twenty to thirty different series.

This, coupled with the fact that I'm a book collector, resulted in me spending over $1000 in manga.

But you know what I noticed? THEY'RE ALL THE FRICKING EXACT SAME. You want to play a game? Let's play a game. It's called, "Write Your Own Shonen Story"!

Our story begins with [Japanese-sounding name], a teenage [profession that will inevitably lead to violent situations] who dreams of being the best! However, he just can't seem to quite get it together. Then, he's targeted by [evil organization] because of his secret--he is actually [intense-sounding supernatural aspect]! Too bad he can't completely control his powers--yet. However, after a long journey full of intense training and participation in [fighting tournament directly related to profession], he will become stronger than ever and be able to defeat the organization after him. But wait! Just when he thinks he's safe, [second, more powerful organization] appears! Our hero will never be able to defeat them, unless he pushes himself to the brink of death to bring his power to the next level [absurd number of times for one story]! But eventually, our hero and his friends, [reliable male partner that is often hard to get along with] and [love interest that provides all the practicality for the group] will save the day for good! [Repeat escalation of power for both hero and enemy as needed until series is over]

Did I get it, did I do it right? I'm pretty sure that, except in cases where one or two of these sentences don't apply, I've exactly described every shonen I've ever read. Now, I'm aware that a lot of other stories feature many of these same aspects (for example, Ron and Hermione fill the partner roles almost too well), but it's just so incredibly obvious for manga series. This, more than the fact that I was spending way too much money, is why I gave up manga. It's been four years now, and to this day the only manga I still have is Pokemon Adventures and Death Note. I'll admit I've considered getting back into a few of the manga series I mentioned above because their worlds are very interesting despite the predictable storyline, but my point still stands--they're all the same.

Also, I don't understand the obsession with tournaments. Not everything is a contest--and a lot of things don't even make sense to be contests. It's really annoying.

Long story short, I have a huge problem with repetitive stories, both within a series and using the same format for a bunch of separate stories. And it really upsets me that most of the obvious examples for me come from Japan, because I don't want to sound racist or anything. I just feel like Japanese stories aren't very creative, just executed well.

Oh, and James Patterson.

Question 10: How do you feel about tropes? Do you feel like you should stay away from them (though no matter what you do they most likely have a trope for it) or do you think you must accept the fact storytelling have a pattern in our day and age?

There was a link that came with this, and I did a bit of searching around the site just to be sure I knew what a trope was. For those who don't know, a trope is basically like what I laid out for the manga series earlier--a standard format for a character, plot point, etc. that is commonly used because it's a proven concept.

I'm not nearly pretentious enough to say that I don't use tropes, because I think only someone much more talented than I am can avoid using them. But I will say that I try to avoid the obvious ones. I recently developed a theory that when you're writing something, you should almost never go with your first few ideas, because they're usually drawing on other material and are therefore not very creative. That helps avoid some of the tropes that cross the line into cliches, which means that hopefully when I do use tropes I'm using ones that fit the situation better because they're more specific and not just broad, simple stereotypes that make things easier.

I think the important thing about using tropes is to try and apply them in places where they wouldn't normally go. That way, while you might be doing something that's been done a thousand times before, you're not doing it where people expect and you're therefore taking them by surprise. And I think surprise goes a long way for making effective storytelling. It's also important to never rely on them. Never go searching for them. Never, ever make a list of them.

I think I'll manage to avoid more tropes than most people just because my storytelling style is inherently more experimental, but I know I'm going to end up using some tropes. And as long as I don't personally feel like what I'm writing is too similar to anything else, I'm okay with using them to an extent. It's all about balance.

Question 11: Are you willing to take a risk or would you play it safe? For example would you add a new major character in the middle of the series or would you recreate existing characters? You need a mechanic that stick with the group, would you add a person with that skill or would you say "Well John is likable and he doesn't have much of a background, I guess he used to work in mechanics"?

I think by now I've made it pretty clear that I like to experiment with my writing, but I'll address the specifics of this question.

For me, it's not so much about when things come to light as whether or not it makes sense for it to happen at that time. I'm a huge planner by nature, so if a new character appears in the middle of a series, I'd always planned for them to appear there. In the five-part book series I started after fifth grade, I had a very important character that wouldn't appear till book three, and that made a lot of sense to me. In the trilogy I'm working on now, I have a major antagonist that won't even be mentioned until probably a quarter of the way through the second book. So I have no problem with introducing major players at any point, as long as it makes sense for them to appear then.

As for the whole bit about expanding backgrounds to fit my needs or simply introducing more characters, I don't think that would come up in my writing much, personally. Like I said, I'm a huge planner, so John would have been a mechanic from the very beginning. If I did have to magically make someone really good at something, it would never be the main character. You should feel like you really know the main character, so it wouldn't make much sense for a secret talent to appear late in the game. It's more believable for it to come from a supporting character, especially if they haven't been fully explored yet.

But I think taking risks are important for writing, as long as those risks aren't done purely for shock value or something like that. Basically my whole philosophy is to make my writing balanced and logical, so I wouldn't do some controversial twist that makes no sense just to take people by surprise, unless it was very, very logical in the grand scheme of things.

Question 12: Any topics you just plain out dislike or hate and wouldn't touch? Rape, animal abuse, murder?

Well, I don't think many people actually LIKE any of those things....

There are a lot of topics that I don't like, but I don't think there's anything I would completely rule out. At the moment, I don't have any plans to bring rape, hard drugs, animal abuse, abortion, or anything like that into my stories, but I wouldn't say I'm really opposed to it. For things like that, though, I don't think I would write them unless they were incredibly important to the story I wanted to tell, and I could write them in a way that wasn't overtly offensive. Like, I would never write a graphic rape scene that detailed the physical aspects of it, I would focus on the victim or the assailant's internalization of the event and express the scene through emotion more than shocking physical images.

Things like mental illness, suicide, murder, and domestic abuse I think are more in the realm of possibility for my writing, because in my opinion they have more obvious paths to interesting stories where those elements play important factors. I just really don't like the idea of utilizing horrifying subjects for shock value or something like that.

The only real thing I can rule out is swearing, but even that I can work around if I can have an editor write in the words for me. But I also don't think swearing is a necessary part of our language, so I probably wouldn't have a reason to write it in anyways.

Question 13: Unlucky number 13. If you wrote something and it was clearly flawed for example: you wrote a plant was poisonous but only the roots are which the character didn't use then would you own up to your mistake (which have a chance of screwing up the story for the people) or would you later do an a**-pull in a different book of that series like "O, the character thought that was plant A but it was really plant B. He just got lucky." Both choices have their pros and cons.

Again with the naughty language, Zel! Might have to dock you points. =P

Okay, so. Explaining obvious mistakes/lapses in judgement. Although I'd like to think I would just own up to my mistakes, I don't enjoy being the target of blame for things. So honestly I would probably go for the unwritten third option, which would be to change the mistake in future editions of the story and never tell anyone. But I really respect the choice of owning up to your mistake, because I think people are more willing to roll with it if you just say you messed up and to disregard that detail instead of having an explanation later on that makes the canon confusing.

Well, that's all of Zelkova's questions on writing! I wasn't expecting to get more than four or five done tonight, but then I just got so excited about How I Met Your Mother....

I must say, I had a lot of fun with this, and I would be totally open to addressing more aspects of writing if people are interested. However, I'd need questions or statements to get me going because writing is a pretty broad topic and I'd have a hard time narrowing it down without some input from you guys.

If you have anything you'd like me to address in a write-up like this as opposed to the Questions section of the comic, feel free to PM me or just comment on one of these news posts and I'll take it into consideration. Do the same for any suggestions for improving these posts (what to keep, what to change, etc.).

Also, in case anyone cares, I listened to the following albums/songs while writing this:

Hot Fuss - The Killers
The 2nd Law - Muse
Karmacode - Lacuna Coil
"Dashboard" - Modest Mouse
"Touch, Peel, and Stand" - Days of the New
"Phantom Limb" - The Shins


ozymandias_jones, March 17th, 2013, 1:10 pm

It's really interesting reading all of this by the way. I have seen a lot of people on the internet and in real life (including at some points myself) say that they want to be a writer, I think that you, unlike everyone else, really have a good chance of making it as a popular writer. And when you do, I'm totally going to boast to all my friends that I was a fan of you before any of them had ever heard of you. And I'm going to get all the respect. Muhahaha!

I have a question-y thing for you. Have you ever made any attempts to get any of your work into the public eye? Ever sent a manuscript to a publishers for example? If not, do you have any immediate plans to do so?

Zelkova, March 18th, 2013, 3:48 pm

Sorry about the language, I didn't know that you even care about it.

Also for the record question 8 was somewhat a mid-questioning joke and I wrote all of these questions all at once.

I actually have a few characters living in my head. Sadly they were made during my game animation phase. They are more or less over-the-top superhero comic/manga characters or characters for a RPG/fighting game. They really aren't suitable for normal stuff. I may try editing them and see if I can use them.

coldhotshot, March 19th, 2013, 7:28 am

when I read question 9, it struck me like lighting, pulling my heart out and leaving it there, lying for it to rot. Ok, I'm not dead yet, but as a otaku(cheap one, proud of it), I have to ask, have you read eyeshield 21? And did you still enjoy the story. Because, I read tons of similar stories, but I still enjoy them.

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