adventures in prewriting

So this weekend I sat down and Did a Writing Thing. Initially I sat down just To Write but after frowning at my laptop and making no progress on my work in progress, I said “No, okay, my brain has this other story it wants to think about and I’ve spent far too long being afraid of that idea and not letting my brain go there, so what would happen if I let it? What if I finally just, like, tried?” And I did. And I’m very proud of myself.

I know this seems simple, seems obvious. But nothing about writing has been simple or obvious for me for two years now, and I’m the type who likes to finish projects before she moves on to new ones. So giving myself the permission to set aside that other fic and develop a different idea altogether was a liberating moment for me.

But I even my liberation is organized, okay? I’m not the type who can sit at blank document and freehand sketch a story from nothing. Free writing is intimidating terrible bullshit for me. I am a crap free writer. I think a lot before I put a sentence on a page and prefer to have “seen” or “heard” a scene play out in my head before attempting to commit it to text. (This process happens either really fast or really slow; results may vary.) Anyway. I’d already written an intro and several subsequent scenes for this story—the stuff I’d seen/heard/felt inspired to get down when the idea first hit—but found myself stumped (for over a year) because I didn’t know what came next, what I was writing toward. Not specifically. And the backstory was a mess of “OMG WHAT IFs” living in the back of brain and, actually, that’s why I gave up writing the fic straight out—it felt like every new word I put down depended on all these decisions I hadn’t made about setting and time period and personal character choices. So this weekend, that’s what I did. I plotted.

I literally followed this post (appropriate gif is so appropriate), point for point, whether I felt like it was actually necessary for “just a fic” or not and my god. While defining the character profiles for this AU, suddenly a timeline plopped in my lap—yes, yes, it’s so obvious I need to set x event in z time period, holy shit that means I can work in b, and ZOMG now that means q and p will make sense! And while writing out the straight chronology of events (including that goddamn backstory) I found I had to stop my fingers from adding in too-detailed descriptions. I was automatically filling in those what comes next? blanks that had simultaneously felt like giant, unjumpable chasms and brick walls before—all because I sat down and forced myself to write a flippin’ outline. (P.S. It really did take all day. Or, two half days. Granted, I spent a lot of time poking at Twitter and Tumblr instead of focusing . . .)

The outline also gave me permission to strip out stuff I’d been clinging to. The clarity of and expediency of making a list made me see that, no, that cute little side conversation isn’t important enough to warrant throwing out these five other bullet points to make it fit, and that, yes, ending X makes way more sense than ending Y, even if it is achier and readers might hate me—it doesn’t matter, it’s what’s best for the story.

This was a really empowering exercise. I always outline my fics by keeping a bullet list of things I know need to happen, but I don’t often attempt to write stories that cover wide swaths of time or move beyond the bedroom (read: any convenient, available location or surface generally), so although I know how to write a character’s climax, I don’t really know how to structure a story toward a climax of the not-sexytime persuasion. But I think I’ve made a pretty decent attempt. What I have isn’t perfect. There are still gaps. I still haven’t quite seen or heard the climatic twist play out in my imagination yet. But I have a long list of other exciting things to develop before I get there, and now the gaps feel like room to play instead of endless scary stretches of darkness. Rather than just wanting to write this story, I feel like I can write this story.

Now to find the time . . .

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a fan studies crisis of the existential kind

SCMS day 1! Early this afternoon I attended the workshop “The ‘F’ Word: Fan Studies in and beyond the Academy,” chaired by Casey McCormick and featuring Paul Booth, Louisa Stein, Anne Kustritz and Bertha Chin as participants. The workshop used as a launching-off point the fact that a bid for fan studies, as a discipline, to host a special interest group at the SCMS conference has been postponed, as the organizers felt fan studies hadn’t quite yet articulated its raison d’être, as distinguished from, for example, audience studies. The workshop therefore posed a set a questions toward the end of developing a more concrete definition of fan studies or—as it was put a few times—”legitimization.” These questions included why claim fan studies as a distinct discipline; how has fan studies influenced media studies pedagogy; and what are the the ethics of fan studies scholarship.

The ensuing perspectives and discussion were great and—as someone who feels she spends a lot of time on the sidelines—it was fascinating and exciting for me to hear top minds and voices in the field (such as it is) hash this problem over, introduce new complexities, and poke at each other’s reasoning. Most of the conversation centered—reasonably—around fan studies in the university setting: its marketability as a discipline for job candidates, the responsibilities and risks in “teaching fandom,” what “best practices” can be—or whether they should be—implemented as a means of delineating the work done within fan studies, etc. The topic of what fan studies means for those “beyond” the academy wasn’t as widely touched on. There was talk of fans’ recognition of their subject position as a objects of study, but not, say, how one might explain fan studies to one’s mom. Or what it is to be a fan scholar without an institution behind you or a PhD candidacy to blame your interest on. Or how to tell your boss/hair dresser/customs agent that, well, see, actually you’re going to this conference you’re paying money and taking time off work to attend for fun.

With that in mind, yes, as independent scholar it would be nice to lean on an accepted, “legitimate,” traditionally respected field when explaining what I do and why it’s important. But as a fan, the idea of becoming The Man I’ve spent years gleefully subverting makes me squeamish. Plus, you know, it’d be nice for fan studies—and fans—to be respected just for existing (i.e., isn’t it the world that needs to change, not us?). In some regard, I don’t have a stake in this—I’m not, and don’t want to be, in the academy. I don’t need tenure. I’ll never teach students to “do” fan studies. Seen another way, though, I am the stake in this—independent scholarship is my fan practice, it’s how I fangirl. I am the “beyond.”

Toward the end of the session a little dust was kicked up over whether someone can be called a fan based solely on participation in practices typically considered “fannish.” There’s a difference, it was asserted, between self-identifying as a fan and labeling someone a fan. So, for example, as my friend/colleague and I broke it down later: is reblogging a .gif from a television show on Tumblr a performance of fandom whether or not you label yourself a fan of that show? (And if it’s not, necessarily, then what’s with the impulse to tag those posts with things like #i don’t even go here?) It’s a little bit of a false equivalency but just as a thought experiment, from my position outside the academy, I almost feel the reverse can be asked: does attending academic conferences about media make me an academic? Is there a difference between academic and scholar the way there is between liking a thing well enough and feeling fannish about a thing? Who gets to do the labeling? Am I more “legitimate” if others call me a scholar/academic than if I call myself one?

I don’t know how to square all this yet. Or if I have to. But it’s damn well satisfying to think about.

In fact, my favorite point during the session came from Ashley Hinck (@hinklet), who proposed that perhaps it’s more useful to think of fan studies itself as a question rather than an object. I love that. Maybe we have to be okay with open-endedness. Maybe fan studies isn’t a path, but a useful intersection of many different roads. Maybe it’s kind of important to be illegitmate.

As a side note: I was surprised by how viscerally I responded to the ideas and perspectives floated today. Whether I agreed or not is sort of beside the point; the point is that I felt it every time. Heart flutters, brain lightbulbs, gut wrenches—the whole shebang. It was cool, if weird, to feel physically engaged as well as mentally. Makes me think maybe I have a stake in this after all.

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proximity, again

It sounds like the set up for a bad joke: How long does it take for an introvert to realize she’s lonely? The answer’s not really funny, though. In my case, it was years.

To be fair to myself, it came on slowly. First I moved out of the house I shared with two other media-savvy, scholarly girls who supportively fed my fangirlishness. Then, after I moved to a literal island and in with my partner, I was dopily, happily cohabitating and fell out of all my exercise and writing routines. Eventually I noticed the island thing was a hangup to seeing people I used to interact with daily—or weekly, or monthly—but I had a healthy crew of online friends and didn’t feel disconnected. It was around that time the fandom sea change from LJ/DW to Tumblr happened, though, and—reticent to share as much of myself as I had been on LJ/DW on Tumblr—I stopped writing up meta, or blogging much at all, because I got scared to share a public opinion. I lost touch with a lot of my online network. Writer’s block hit sometime in 2013 and my fic productivity still hasn’t recovered. Then 2014 happened, bringing with it several weird injuries and illnesses, interpersonal drama, unexpected job stress, and overtime work. And somewhere in the middle of that mess, just a couple months ago, the realization dropped heavy and sad like a sack of flour: I’m lonely.

The reason 2014 felt so unceasingly, foolishly hard and the reason I felt like there was no escape from it was because I literally didn’t have one. It was just me, myself, and my problems. There wasn’t time, it seemed, for anything else. There was too much distance between me and the people and things I loved and relied on; it was too much work to close the gap. Easier, better, to keep my head down and push on through. I’m a pretty self-sufficient girl and proud of it (so proud of it I had to mention it, had to defend myself just now from the mere possibility anybody might’ve just tried to write me off as I’m weak or needy, because heaven forbid I might not be able to bear my own load, or admit to needing assistance). But in this case, my self-sufficiency and my pride worked against me, made me take longer to see how I had been—how I am—holding myself back.

I feel like this is my AA moment—Hi, my name is Shannon, and I’m a recovering overachiever and silent sufferer. (Feel free to chime in: “Hi, Shannon.”)

So. I now understand (or maybe just finally remember) that I need an outlet and I need people—voices, friends, new thoughts, sounding boards, outside inspiration—and that’s okay. And to gain those things, I have to let myself have them, I have to make the time and the space to allow them in. Which brings me to why I’m here, updating a years-old, near-abandoned blog.

My hope is that this will become my new outlet, my new dumping ground for half- and maybe someday even fully formed thoughts about media and fic and fandom and sometimes life. I don’t plan to sit around and whine, though I also won’t promise that won’t happen on occasion. That’s not what I mean by needing an outlet. Rather, I need a dedicated place to dedicate myself to, a place to organize thoughts, a place that feels safe, or at least a step removed from the worst of internet scrutiny. A room of one’s own, you might say.

That said, I don’t expect a bumper crop of fresh comments or instafriend engagement on WordPress. I don’t expect to solve my loneliness or become internet famous. But I can dedicate myself to writing again. I can engage with me. I can stop feeling like I’m wasting my brain. I don’t promise the results will be pretty or ingenious (though I’d like to think I’ll always get a point or two for wit). But here, I hope, I can close the distance and connect again.

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back when the show was good

Whenever I reblog a photo or gif from Supernatural season 1–5 on Tumblr, I tag it with “back when the show was good.” And, okay, so it maybe it’s a little passive-agrressive, but it’s also an honest expression of an opinion a lot of SPN fans hold but try to be polite about. Unfortunately, I think I left “polite” behind a while ago when it comes to Supernatural, and I have a lot of unpopular fandom opinions (so many that I have a tag for those too), so I figure why not own this one? Sure, it’s gotten me in some hot water with other fans on Tumblr—I’ve been told that tag is wank and I’ve been grumbled about as a malcontent (which . . . yes, that’s precisely what I am. duh?). But sometimes, very occasionally, there’s someone bubbles up out of the deep blue Tumblr depths and says, “Oh, I see that. I feel that too.” One particular anon’s heartbreak inspired me to spend a little time articulating what it means to say “back when the show was good” in hopes of easing—of maybe sharing—the burden of what it is to be an SPN fangirl who’s falling out of love with her show. What follows has been reposted from Tumblr.

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Oh anon. ♥

I’m actually sorry to hear that. I’m sorry because it sounds like you share, to some degree, my disappointment and frustration. I’m sorry because it’s harder than we often feel allowed to admit when a show lets us down, when its magic begins to wear off. And that seems particularly true for a show like Supernatural.

There are folks who see no or little difference between now and then, and who openly love everything the show offers in its current form, and good for them! Sometimes I wish I could be one of them. And there are other folks who feel bitter, who stopped watching out of anger or a broken heart, or who can now only hate-watch and, okay, sometimes I am one of them. But then there are the folks mostly in between—like me, and maybe like you—who are, when you get right down to it, just sad.

“Back when the show was good” to me means back when the story and its direction were tightly controlled and the pacing kept us holding our breaths or breathless. Back when the villains were thrilling and the monsters were scary. When characterization wasn’t sacrificed for a joke, and when drama didn’t come at the expense of character development but grew out of it. “Back when the show was good” is my way of saying I’m sad the show only came into the popular spotlight only after the main story arc was over. I’m sad the writers floundered for so long in finding a new direction and sad they preyed on fandom to maintain their ratings rather just writing us a good show deserving of critical attention and worthy of our love. I’m sad that the hard truths and major themes of the original arc have been undercut and overshadowed by rehashed plot lines and character assassinations (both literal and figurative). I’m sad that I have to look for individual writers’ names to determine whether there’s a chance an upcoming episode “might not be so bad.” I’m sad that most days I just want the show to end.

I’m really, profoundly sad that what I want more than anything is for the show to find a (peaceful?) resolution and for the writers and producers to be brave enough to end it, really end it—money and the network and ratings be damned. To put us all out of our misery, whether it’s the misery of eternal shipper angst and the struggle with TPTB or the misery of pretending, of trying very hard, to love something you’re afraid to admit you’ve grown to resent.

It may not be the best version of itself, anon. It may not be what it was when we first fell in love or loved it best. But I still know I’m in it to the end. All my angry railing and ranting and wishing it were otherwise? It may not seem like it, but that’s hope. Hope that the show will do better (because I know it can—I’ve seen it) and hope it’ll get to a place where I can finally let go feeling good about how both the show and my relationship to it ended, rather than forever sad or forever bitter.

Maybe that’s naive. But maybe I’m okay with that.

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jack ryan: a man with two first names you actually can trust

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I went to see Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit this weekend and ended up inspired to do movie meta in a way I haven’t been in a long time. Hooray!

There was exactly one reason I genuinely wanted to see this movie: that reason has blue eyes and an exceptionally fine ass.

There were three reasons I was skeptical about about this movie: 1) It’s being promoted as a Jack Ryan origin story or prequel, but Jack Ryan was a Cold War hero so . . . timeline whut? villains huh? 2) The (awesome) thing about Jack Ryan is that he’s a thinky hero—the thing that makes him remarkable is his brain and ability to piece the puzzle together. And yet, it’s so hard to convey a character’s inner world and thought processes as effectively as a novel without a lot of moody staring into the distance or embarrassing voiceovers (which is why just about every Jane Eyre adaptation ever falls flat). 3) It’s an action film. Another action film. With the running and guns and the everything exploding and I just get tired of it all sometimes. It’s so pat it’s not just disappointing it’s aggravating.

None of my skepticism was warranted and I got so, so much of the exact thing I wanted. This is actually a really good movie, you guys.

I tried not to spoil everything but I spoil several things so . . . you’ve been warned.

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winter walk

Despite having earned a master’s degree in it, I never write nonfiction anymore. But this happened this morning, so I went with it. Call it a rough draft, even if it’ll never become a polished piece.

I walked through winter this morning, on my way to the coffee shop. My Saturday morning treks are a ritual I started when I moved to Newport, two years ago. Unlike other seaport cities that existed before their colonists declared independence, Newport has remained a tiny town—just 7 square miles of land, all told—and I live at the south end, within walking distance of a few hundred years of history and at least two favorite coffee shops. In spring and summer and especially autumn, I like taking to the street before anyone but the joggers is awake. It gives me a chance to gather my thoughts before I sit down to write for a few hours, to be a person in the world without expectation or hurry.

But this morning it’s winter. Not only that, we had a blizzard yesterday. This morning it’s still cold, real cold, and we still have snow.

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castiel: our greatest american hero*

So you know how Cas sang to that baby in 9.06 and it was charmingly terrible? Well (and maybe this is super common knowledge and that’s why I haven’t seen much of anything about it but) the song he sang is actually the theme from a charmingly not-totally-terrible TV show called The Greatest American Hero. The show aired about thirty years ago (1981–83), and its theme was so popular that an extended version of the song, under the title “Believe It or Not,” made it to #2 in the Top 40 in 1981.

Twitter informs me Rob Thompson originally had other plans for the scene:

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And, sure, “Highway to Hell” would’ve been funny, and there of course would’ve been the connection to Dean we could’ve all snickered about, but I like this choice better. A lot better. So here’s a lot of reasons why.

Obviously there are spoilers for SPN 9.6 “Heaven Can’t Wait” under the cut.  Continue reading

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dean winchester: the decider

I don’t know if you’ve noticed Dean’s alter ego as The Decider, but it’s something I think about a lot, and have been thinking about for years. Because more important than killing monsters or thwarting the apocalyptic plans, or falling accidentally, obliviously in love with angels, Dean decides. And his decisions control both the narrative and the show’s truths. Decider!Dean’s control of the show’s story arcs is a thing that’s made me repeatedly, and increasingly, angry in the past few seasons, but there are hints in early season 9, particularly 9.02 “Devil May Care,” that the show just might finally be challenging Decider!Dean to dramatic effect.

What follows is an analysis of Dean’s role as decider throughout the show, the effects of his position (good and bad), and speculation on how I hope his character is being challenged. Please note that for as much as Dean’s actions have a tendency to enrage me, I super love and appreciate Dean in lots of other ways not under examination here, and that critical analysis ≠ Dean hate. Cool. Thanks.

all the Dean meta

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a funny thing happened on the way to subversion

In case you hadn’t heard: Amazon is launching a platform to help fanfic writers publish/sell their work. It’s called Kindle Worlds. And it’s not OK.

Fic is for fun not for profit. End of story.

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in defense of darkness

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I spent most of the day yesterday reading fan and critical reactions to Into Darkness and some of the negative ones sent me into a little bit of a funk. There have been some very pointed critiques of the movie, and I felt the need to shore myself up in the face of them. So this is me hammering out my headcanon by contrasting what reviewers saw with what I saw, or how I’m choosing to interpret/justify/connect the events without blinding ignoring any potentially problematic aspects. I should probably be waiting to do this until after I’ve see the movie a second time, but I’m impatient. Maybe there will be more meta posts like this in the future after I do get another viewing under my belt and find more bloggers and columnists to argue with.

This is just all my own blather, guys. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, just setting it straight in my head. And I’m only picking on public reviews here, not private fan reactions.

The post got gigantic, so I’ve broken it down by subject: Starfleet and philosophy, then and now; Kirk, Spock, and their antagonist; McCoy and Kirk/McCoy. Feel free to just scroll through to your relevant header. And there are, of course, gobs of spoilers after the jump. Continue reading

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