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Fan Fiction - November 14th, 2004

Updater on Duty: ketsugi
Lucca is extremely double-jointed and can bend all her fingers back. All the way.


I received, all in all, seven emails in response to the questions I posed in the previous update. Not as many as I'd hoped, but more than enough to get an idea about what I need to do in the future. All seven replies will be posted here in this update, so if you sent me an email and you don't see your reply here, it means that you screwed up, and your email didn't make it past my filters.

Before I go on to the replies, just a quick word about emails. I know many of you have been sending out submissions or emails more than once because you've been receiving bounce emails in return. Allow me to explain the cause of this. The fanfic@rpgamer.com email address is a mail forwarder that sends your email to me, as well as to my team of staff reviewers, most of whom use free webmail accounts for this purpose. Not all my reviewers can check their mailboxes every day, and the address attracts anything between 100-300 spam messages per day. As a result, your emails can sometimes be bounced back. However, as one or two of the reviewers use Gmail, and I use my own domain-hosted email for the forward, at least two to three of us will receive every copy of every email that is sent to fanfic@rpgamer.com. Which means that I often receive 2 or more copies of the same fanfic, which annoys me far more than the spam does. I understand that this is not the sender's fault, as the sender has been led to believe that his or her email did not make it to the intended recipient. I now assure you this is not the case, and in the event that a legitimate email/submission is missed by any individual reviewer, I will be notified and will hasten to forward the relevant email to that reviewer's personal email address from whence it will not bounce.

Now that that has been said, on to the responses! As you may recall, and I repeat it here for the benefit of those who don't, I posed two questions in the last update.

  1. Why do you think fewer people are writing good fanfics nowadays, or at least why fewer people are submitting good fanfics to RPGamer.com nowadays, and
  2. What do you think we should do for the next fanfic challenge?

I will hereby post and respond to the replies given to the first question. Replies to the second question, however, I will keep in my email client and my head for me to mull over before I issue the next fanfic challenge, hopefully next week.

Please note that while I have, for the most part, not bothered to edit the emails for spelling and/or grammatical errors, I may have cut out or performed various other edits on the text.

Jurhael writes:

Actually, people who are writing good fics still do write or they're new and happen to be good. The reason why it looks as if fewer people are writing "good fanfics" is because there are a slew of people who don't write "good fanfics" that are far more active and they outnumber the "good" writers. So, while it looks like fewer people are writing "good fanfics", it's actually not the case. They're just buried under the bad ones. Then, there's also people just moving to other fandoms.

As for the second part, I think people have just given up or gone elsewhere. I mean, why submit to RPG Gamer, when one can submit to a place where they can just "get in" and get more feedback? No is saying that RPG Gamer should be like FF.net, but when people get rejected, they just look elsewhere and either choose not to return or procrastinate. It's not like they're trying to get original fiction published in the real world, so why dwell on getting accepted into a fanfic site? Plus, what would be a "good fic"? For some people, all it takes is the wrong pairing, or character, or plot and it's immedietly dismissed. Some fics are technically sound, but are not much else. Some fics are enjoyable and otherwise decent, but could improve on grammar. Clearly, it's best to have good grammar, so that would come first. Nothing wrong with that. Grammar can be fixed. Preferences in terms of what gets accepted/rejected are not so easy, and if a submitter isn't comfortable with that, then they might not even bother.

Jurhael is right to bring up the question of what defines a "good" fic. With our reviewing staff, we have a number of guidelines that we follow, plus a number of unofficial rules that we all seem to adhere to. I will discuss the review procedure later, and try to make things a little more transparent for all the fanfic authors who plan to submit fics to RPGamer.

Kitt writes:

For the first question: If you ask me (though you can't call me an expert on the situation), I think the reason why you guys are seeing less good fic these days is due to two factors: a.) the increasing amount of very, very young fans who are writing out there, and b.) places like FanFiction.Net that allow people to post their work regardless of quality.

I can attest to the growing numbers of young fans myself -- I've been active on FanFiction.Net for years now (my pen name is The Jack of Spades). In the beginning there weren't as many, and they were balanced by the older fans. But then many of the older fans started moving on -- they no longer had the time to write fanfic, or were just burnt out, etc. In their place, more of the very young have arrived. FFN is swamped with "kiddies," to put it plainly, and I think the same thing is occurring elsewhere.

Now I'm not saying that there aren't good authors in that age group -- I've seen quite a few fourteen-year-olds who could put twentysomethings like me in our place. But not everyone is going to start out that way in writing. Like most of us when we were kids, today's very young writers need help and encouragement in order to get somewhere. But the problem is that they don't go to the right places to get that sort of thing, and some are even petrified of criticism -- when you try to lend them a hand, they snap your head off.

Then there are the types who just want to post silly stuff to get a cheap laugh, and the readers like them who give those authors more encouragement than they deserve.

From the viewpoint of those people, why submit here (or at any other major RPG site that has a fan fiction archive) when one could merely post one's story on a site like FFN without worrying about it being rejected? Why post elsewhere when people insanely obsessed with reviews can post at FFN and beg for the attention they need there?

Dignified fanfic archives such as this one are seeing less coming in because the very young fans who just want to post silly stuff already have a place to go, a place where such junk is accepted (no matter how hard the FFN staff tries to stanch such things). And those very young writers who are willing to put effort into their work aren't getting the help they need to properly mature as authors. I've also noticed, in speaking to many of them, that they're mostly unaware of archives like this one.

A potential solution to the problem: More older authors should consider going out on a limb and lending a hand to those who are trying on sites like FanFiction.Net. The least we can do is help raise a generation that, when they become "older," will have enough confidence and pride in their work to take it to other places. After all, to build a good reputation as a fanfic writer, one can't keep posting at the same place. Another potential solution: word of mouth. Writers who've had good experiences here should consider telling their fellow authors about it.

I'm very flattered that you consider RPGamer's fanfic archive to be a "dignified" one. I'm not altogether confident that it deserves the praise, but thank you anyway.

Just a quick comment on Fanfiction.net: I don't visit the site much. I'm sure that FFN has its share of good fics, but people only ever seem to link me to the bad ones (which tend to be very, very bad) and that certainly doesn't help its image. I often catch my sister reading Harry Potter fanfiction there, which I assume is mostly either erotic, homoerotic, some kind of slash, or whatever. I'm frankly not very interested. The needle-in-the-haystack argument doesn't quite work with me because the needle usually isn't worth the hay. And it's usually not just hay in the stack, but massive piles of dung as well.

Kitt's suggestion for more mature authors to help out at FFN is a good one, but I'm unsure that it is entirely feasible. For one thing, it would require said authors to spend a large amount of time reading drivel to try and find the few fic authors there who do have some potential. Again with the needle and the dung. If you have the time and patience to do this, please go ahead! Most of us, I fear, have neither.

M14Mouse writes:

Good question but here is a better one.  Maybe, it is rpgamer.com part of the problem or blame. What does RPGamer.com think is "good" fanfiction? Yes, I have read the FAQ for your fanfiction. Perhaps, it is because you have five different people on staff. Five different people with five different opinions on what makes fanfiction good. The readers also have a different opinions on what make fanfiction good as well.

Another thing is your rejection letters and your long response time to writers and readers. I can understand that your staff is busy. Your rejection letters are cold and can turn off new writers or future submissions from those writers like an ice bath. Your note is "Oh, just go to this list to find out what wrong with your fics?" No, writers submit to YOU and not to some list. Perhaps, a line or so of positive feedback.

For example, "Your idea is great but..blah blah."

A little encouragement can go a long way.

It is difficult to know when your section is updated. Your section is at the bottom of the page and not all of time will a new update with show up on the main column. Perhaps, a e-group mailing list for updates would be a good way to remedy that.

Lack of updates? Sometimes, I forget you guys are still around from lack of updating. Is because of lack of good fics or your staff gets busy or computer problems, etc.? We like to know if you still alive over there at fanfiction section. Say something!  :)

Thanks, M14Mouse, for not being afraid to point your finger in our direction. As I mentioned in response to Kitt's post, I will discuss our reviewing procedures later. However I would like to note here, that our "five different people" with "five different opinions" almost always tend to rate the same fic in the same way. On very few occasions have I needed to make a tiebreaker vote on a fic; our opinions are almost always unanimous.

With regards to rejection letters... I'm afraid things are worse than you think. When I first took over from Lucca, I did send out rejection letters according to the template she passed to me, with the addition of a paragraph suggesting the use of the RPGFFML as a resource for peer comments (from the description you give in your email, it sounds like you received one of those). Since then I must admit I have ceased the practice of sending out rejection letters completely, for various reasons which I care not to discuss at the moment.

Your suggestion to provide personal rejection letters with accompanying feedback/criticism, therefore, comes almost as a slap in the face. I agree it is generally a good idea, but I have some concerns. For example, what do I do with fics which are so horrendously written that I cannot say anything that doesn't sound like an equally horrendous insult?

Having been a longtime RPGamer.com fanfic reader, since 1998, I have never found the location of the fanfic header to be a barrier to finding out if the section had been updated. The color coding (orange for new, red for old), while not always accurate since it doesn't use cookies to track your viewing data, has usually been helpful to me in ascertaining if an update has been made. If any of you feel the same way as M14Mouse, though, please feel free to let us know! This is the first time I've heard of anyone having this problem, and the RPGamer staff can't fix a problem if we don't know it exists.

Finally, regarding the lack of updates... I'll address that in response to someone else's email down the page.

Elizabeth writes:

Well, I believe that people get put down for an orginial idea and people tell them to change it because it does not sound fesiable or realistic. Another reason might be is because teenagers who play these games are in school and they are forced to write things and read, which makes them less wantful to think of fresh ideas, or write at all.

Unless I'm reading this the wrong way, you seem to be suggesting that reading and writing cause people to be less creative. I have no idea where you picked up this opinion, but I'm pretty sure you're dead wrong. I wouldn't be half as interested in fanfics now if I didn't have a childhood that was filled with the fascination of reading and writing. Language is often considered the backbone of civilisation; how can you say that encouraging its study and use could cause people to become less creative?

I sure hope I misunderstood your email, Elizabeth.

Minmei writes:

An unfair question really does deserve an unfair response, but I'll try to be as fair as possible.

I recall a time when the fanfic staff sent e-mails to people whose submissions were rejected. In these letters, the staff member would inform the author his or her story had been rejected, and even give a little bit of constructive advice or encouragement. Some time ago, the staff stopped writing these letters. As a result, authors don't know whether their stories have been accepted or not until they're either posted, or until the numbers under the Status count have fully diminished and they're left to figure it out for themselves. Even on the guidelines page, it says "we are unable to respond personally to authors if their submissions are not accepted."

I find this lack of communication unfair, at least when it leads to the staff complaining about lack of submissions. Why are fewer people writing good fanfics nowadays? That's the wrong question to ask. I'd estimate that the ratio of good to not-so-good has more or less been the same now as it has been in the past. But people are likely submitting them elsewhere, or not submitting them at all.

So why are fewer people submitting good fanfics to RPGamer nowadays? I don't think you can expect good fanfics without expecting fanfics in general first. And if you're expecting fanfics, are you doing all that you can to reel them in? Consider this for a moment. I think that lack of communication is slowing down submitted entries. As I said before, an author doesn't know if something is accepted or rejected until changes are made to the fanfic section. In either case, they may be waiting for some kind of confirmation. The longer it takes, the less faith they'll have, and the more likely they'll turn to someone who'll give them feedback more quickly.

It's true, patience is key, but when the time between updates grows and grows, people begin to wonder, "Why should I wait this long?" To be fair, you probably feel that you can't update with so few submissions, but if you look at it another way, people probably feel they can't submit with so few updates, or that they shouldn't bother. It's good that you're asking questions about this now, though, and so I'm going to make a suggestion.

Please bring back the e-mails you used to send to authors when their stories are rejected. If you want better fanfics, then provide a little constructive criticism. I realize there is a Guidelines page, but there are some things it doesn't cover. Also, constructive criticism is something given on a more personal level. It helps improve authors, and authors that improve will produce and submit better fanfics. Tell them their OC is insanely powerful, or that they need to start a new paragraph when a new person speaks. I'm not saying to be mean or snooty, but just be honest as well as encouraging. If authors can't handle it, then they probably need to think a while before submitting anything else.

While you're at it, I think you should also e-mail authors when their stories are accepted. It will help move things along faster, and even encourage the author to submit again. If you're already doing this, I apologize; it's just that I, personally, haven't received confirmation for every story of mine that has been accepted.

I just think that if there truly is a shortage of submissions, then you probably have a bit of time on your hands. The time you spend wondering about the lack of submissions and lack of quality could be better spent opening the lines of communication and providing constructive criticism. That is just how I feel, anyway.

My response to M14Mouse's email covers this partially, so I won't repeat myself here. Minmei's suggestion to send out acceptance emails is interesting and I think I might consider that one very seriously. At least it won't be as hard to do or as painful to do as writing rejection emails. As to the lack of updates... more on that later.

Runic Kenshin Hayate-Sama writes:

I think I can tell you why there are fewer fanfics nowadays. Let's face it, RPGamer is primarily a site for the Japanese console RPG enthusiast, and the Japanese console RPG scene jumped the shark three years ago. The hard truth about this specific type of game we all love is that, without Square and especially Final Fantasy to set the bar, the genre is nothing. What has Square done since Final Fantasy X, that anyone can write much of a fanfic about? There was the guilty pleasure known as FFX-2, but writing a fanfic for that game means publicly admitting that you like that game, and I suspect most fanfic authors fancy themselves more sophisticated than that.
Konami had Suikoden 3 and Namco had Xenosaga, but in this gamer's opinion -- which I believe is widely shared -- neither of those were even remotely the equal of their PS1 predecessors. So what is a fanfic writer to do?

Whoa, buddy, slow down. I think you're way off base here. Square has produced several noteworthy RPGs since Final Fantasy X. The most noteworthy one that immediately comes to mind is Kingdom Hearts. And what about Final Fantasy XI? We still haven't received any acceptable fics for that game yet, and in fact if I count rejected fics, I believe we have received a grand total of one fic for FFXI, despite FFXI's excellent story, characters, and detailed world backstory. What about Drakengard? You might contest its status as an RPG, but it's covered by this site so it's fair game. Drakengard had a great storyline and great characters (in my opinion). No Drakengard fics yet. No Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced fics yet either, though I'd originally thought that game's story would be great material for RL-crossover fics.

And why consider only Square RPGs? What about Dark Cloud 2? Wild Arms 3? Grandia Xtreme? Disgaea? The .hack series (for which we have received some excellent fics)? You do yourself a great injustice if you're only playing Square games. Believe me, I used to be like that too. 80% of the RPGs I've played are Square games. But there's more to the genre than that.

Your declaration that the Japanese console RPG scene jumped the shark (which is, by the way, an expression that's hardly used outside of America, so here's a link to tell you what it means) is, in my opinion, seriously flawed. Even if it were true, it doesn't explain the dearth of Knights of the Old Republic fanfics. Or Neverwinter Nights, or Morrowind, or Dungeon Siege, or Ultima, or Quest for Glory.

All in all I think your views are far too narrow and you need to broaden your horizons. And by the way, I'm perfectly happy to publicly declare that I loved every bit of FFX-2. It is a great game with a weak story, but a combat engine and job system to die for. It is definitely on my replay list. So there.

Wallwalker writes:

One, there are fewer good fics in general, or at least they're being drowned out by the bad ones. More people are starting to write fanfiction, and many of them don't seem to care about things like grammar and spelling, sad to say. Also, the people who've written good fanfiction in the past are more and more giving it up for other hobbies.

Two, I think that the lack of regular updates does put off some of the would-be submitters, because they think there's no one to put the fics up and don't necessarily check to see that it's just a lack of fics. I'd suggest posting non-updates more often - maybe instead of just posting an apology, post a question about fanfiction or writing in general, then collate the responses and put them up next time. It would give people something to think about and let them know you're alive, and it might spur more responses. That's my two cents...

Three, there's just the difference in what some people might consider good; some people enjoy genres that others automatically reject. But that's a personal thing and nothing that can really be addressed, I'd say.

Yes, people. Please listen to Wallwalker. Spelling errors and grammatical errors are your greatest enemy. Eradicate them at all costs. More on that later.

Wally is the third (and last) person to comment on the lack of updates, so I guess I should talk about it now. Normally updates are late for a few typical reasons: updater is lazy, updater has real-life commitments, updater forgot, updater is too busy playing <insert current game here>, or there are simply not enough fics to constitute a satisfying update. Admittedly, the last reason is not usually the cause of late updates, but in the past few months it has become increasingly so. The August fanfic challenge was issued to combat that, to reasonable success (we got a lot of fics, but my last update was, well, late). I will, in future, be less hesitant to update without fics, so hopefully we can eliminate that last reason from the list. I don't know how much of an impact this will have, but we'll see how it goes.

Now let's talk reviewing procedures. I'm going to try and be as transparent as I can about this, so here goes.

Here's how the system works: each reviewer reads the each submitted fic and gives it a rating from -2 to +2, integers only. The ratings should be fairly self-explanatory, except for 0 which is only given in abstention, and that is only allowed if a reviewer happens to be that fic's author (not common but it happens now and then), or if a reviewer has not played the game the fic is based on and is thus unable to make a decision regarding the fic's acceptability. A fic with an aggregate positive score is accepted, one with an aggregate negative score is rejected. Fairly simple system.

Now what determines the score? Usually the first thing we look out for is spelling and grammar. If a fic has poor spelling and/or grammar, I consider the fic unreadable and will not bother with it. Chances are that unless there are mitigating factors, such a fic will immediately receive a -2 from me without further ado. The same goes for paragraphing, although this is a far less common error.

The next thing I look at is the game it's based on. If I haven't played the game before, I'll usually just give it a 0 first, and then check back later to see if I need to make a tiebreaking decision. If I have played the game, I'll read it and then go on to look out for...

Writing style, and characterisation. I'm not going to go into detail about style issues; let's leave it at this: I'm fairly open to different writing styles. I'm like Squall in that sense, I'll probably look at it and go "Eh. Whatever." You'd have to be writing like a 6-year-old, or a baboon, or both, for me to mark you down on writing style. It's difficult to pinpoint specific examples, especially without offending anyone, so I won't. Needless to say this is a very open-ended judgment and I make it based on my experience with reading large amounts of commercial fiction as well as RPG fanfiction. I'm not claiming my experience is adequate; that is for neither you nor I to decide.

As for characterisation, well, this doesn't apply to all fics, but it does to most. If you're going to use existing characters from the game, as most fics do, please make sure you capture the essence and spirit of the character from the game. Cloud is not a hyperactive sexkitten. Beatrix is not a completely bimbotic douchebag. Aya is not a melodramatic brooding poet. Keele is not a studly playboy. Yuna is not a gun-toting gungho adventur— okay fine, she is now. The point is, you're using someone else's characters. Make sure they remain the characters they were in the game, at whatever point of the game's story you're writing in. If you're writing a prequel or sequel fic and you feel the need to change a person's character, make sure you make it believable. I remember, for instance, that one FF9 fic got rejected because the reviewers unanimously agreed that it's portrayal of a Garnet was far too out-of-character.

What else do we look out for? Basically here's the point where it really starts to get hazy. We try to be as impartial as we can when reviewing, but let's face it: you're more likely to score points with me if you write a good Valkyrie Profile or Tales of Eternia fanfic. Other reviewers might swoon over Suikoden fics, or .hack, or whatever. I'm not saying that as an author, you should try and pander to our tastes: that is absolutely moronic and if you're going to do that, you should just write an original story and sell it to a publisher. I'm just saying that this kind of thing sometimes does affect how we rate a fic. Not always, not even often, just on occasion. And it's never a deciding factor. It might help clinch the whole package, but it's never a dealmaker.

Numerous other things might influence our decision. Good formatting. Adherence to submission guidelines (you won't believe how many Word Documents we still receive on a regular basis... which aren't quite as bad as the Wordperfect documents). Providing a blurb for me so I don't have to think one up for myself (just kidding; I only notice that after a fic's been accepted and I'm preparing the update itself). There aren't any hard and fast rules here, but again these are the "rules" which rarely play a major role in our rating.

That's all I have to say for now, mostly because it's 1.30am as I type this and I've been working on this update for almost 2 hours. I know it's been a lot to read, and I hope you've been reading it because you care about fanfics, and about the RPGamer fanfic archive.

I think I'm going to take the abovementioned advice, and start sending out acceptance and rejection letters, starting now. I'm going to try not to mince my words, and for all of you who are going to receive rejection letters from me in the future, please remember that unless explicitly stated, all criticism given is meant to be helpful and constructive, even if sometimes the wording seems harsh.

And finally, I give you one fic today, from the "the guilty pleasure known as FFX-2".


mrip
Joel Pan

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New Fan Fiction - November 14th, 2004

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Ro 8:28)

Blurring the Lines
By: Kitt
(thecrusader83@aol.com)
(Final Fantasy X-2) A hypothetical incident that could have occurred after the Gullwings turn the Kilika sphere over to the Youth League.