General writing discussion thread

Did you write something for the Simpsons, Futurama, original fiction or another fandom? Feel free to post it here!
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General writing discussion thread

Post by c_nordlander » Fri Mar 26, 2021 8:41 pm

One thing I've noticed about many writing forums is that they can be difficult to strike into, if that makes any sense. So many threads are either reviews/opinion threads for discrete stories or very narrow discussions about a certain writing topic, neither of which have much room for detours.

So there's this thread. Yak about writing in general, ask questions, spitball ideas. Whatever takes your fancy.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by gkscotty » Thu Apr 01, 2021 1:03 pm

Unfortunately I don't have much to say except complain about lack of inspiration. Not sure what brings that back. I guess all writing starts with confidence.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by c_nordlander » Thu Apr 01, 2021 8:04 pm

I've had long fallow periods myself. Play games, read stuff, see what ideas come into your head.

If it's any consolation, we all think you're a very good writer.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by SirMustapha » Fri Apr 02, 2021 1:36 am

gkscotty wrote: Thu Apr 01, 2021 1:03 pm Unfortunately I don't have much to say except complain about lack of inspiration. Not sure what brings that back. I guess all writing starts with confidence.
It's funny, because I recall starting out stories without much confidence at all. All I had was an idea, and a willingness to see how (and if) it would work out. I figure that, if the idea is compelling enough, I'll make an effort to chase it. Coming across compelling ideas... well, that's the problem. I'm not very good with that, I think, so I just let them come to me.

I probably wouldn't be able to make a living from writing alone.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by SirMustapha » Mon Apr 05, 2021 5:54 pm

There's one thought that's been buzzing inside my mind lately, and I guess it's a pretty broad and complex, but that's exactly the kind of stuff I get caught up with. The question is, more or less, how far does the edge of a writer's "style" reach; in other words, how much of a piece of writing can be validly criticised, before we actually start interfering with the writer's conscious choices and preferences.

And mind you, I'm not asking this as a reader, or a critic, or a beta reader who makes concrit, but as a writer myself. It's more a case of, how much of my writing is actually my style, and how much am I just creating excuses for deficiencies and flaws? One example off the top of my head is that, in general, my stories aren't very rich in visual descriptions, whether it's the characters, the settings, the scenery or anything. I suppose the main reason is that I'm just not a visually-minded person. I've tried on occasion to look at people's faces and try to describe to myself what exactly makes one face different from each other, and it's really, really hard. So, if I had to imagine a face, it's either a complete blur, or a rough approximation of someone I know. It's very hard for me to memorise people's faces, to the point where it can be troublesome: if the person in front of me in the line to the cashier has to leave and asks me to reserve their place, in a matter of seconds, I just forget what they look like, and I get worried that I won't recognise them when they're back--so, theoretically, someone else could take their place and I wouldn't even notice.

So, for example, would it be fair if I made the claim that my stories are short in visual descriptions and details simply because that reflects who I am as a person? Could that work as a "defence" against criticism that my writing is dry? Or should I do the proper thing, which would be to exercise and develop my vision? Do I have a "non-visual narrative style", or am I just lazy and/or incapacitated?

The reason why this bugs me so much is that there are plenty of writers whose style could be criticised as lazy, or even bad, but they're super renowned. One extreme case is Portuguese novelist José Saramago, whose novels have these MASSIVE run on sentences, to the point where it can be hard to read. The dialogue lacks any tags or any cues of what the characters are doing while they're talking, and the only mark that the character speaking has changed is a single capital letter (so a fragment from The Formicide Gang would read like this: It's awful when it happens, right, Dani, When what happens, Insomnia, you couldn't sleep, Yeah, I couldn't, I've brewed some coffee, you can have some, Yes, I saw it, but then, I'll lose my sleep for good, Well, have a seat here, then.). In short, the prose is messy, convoluted, tough to read, and sometimes can make you lose track of who's saying what. The guy had a Nobel Prize in Literature. He didn't have shitty prose: it was his style.

There are other examples that are not that extreme, but that have brought me problems. In some of my works, I've tried to use extremely short chapters, and the narrator explicitly addressing the reader. Those might look like awkward choices, but they were some of the "trademarks" of Machado de Assis, the greatest Brazilian novelist in history (and they can be seen, for example, in Epitaph of a Small Winner, which includes, among other thing, a chapter that consists exclusively of punctuation marks). I deliberately aped that style in The Error, which has a particularly wacky chapter structure, and even though it might look quite gimmicky, I still like that story.

Of course, wacky chapters and "conversational" prose are a conscious choice, and though many people might not like it, I could defend that as a literary style. Now, a lack of visual description is more of a deficiency, but, would it be honest to try to turn that into an actual stylistic choice? I mean, at the very bottom of it, there's no "rights" or "wrongs" when it comes to art, just conventions that pertain to genres, movements, scenes, etc.

Also, I have to make a confession: books that are too loaded with visual description can be very overwhelming to me. If the author spends two paragraphs making a verbal painting of a town, or a forest, or a person, it inevitably becomes a jumble of information in my brain, and I can't just turn that into my own mental picture. On the other hand, sometimes I just naturally, spontaneously create mental pictures of places and people, which may or may not correspond to what the author intended to create, and I think there's a certain beauty to that: the beauty of indeterminacy in art.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by c_nordlander » Mon Apr 05, 2021 6:48 pm

Gonna start right off the bat by saying that I don't have an answer to your question. It's something I've been asking myself, too, especially when reviewing other people's work and realising that they have different stylistic goals than myself.

First of all, glad I'm not the only writer here who doesn't have a very visual imagination.

I remember your short, descriptively-titled chapters in The Error: I consider them a memorable and personal part of the story.

I think some people get their ideas of what is good style from very prescriptive "how to write" books. The style they've learnt may be perfectly fine, but they've come away with the idea that that is the only way to write fiction, and criticise everything that falls outside those narrow limits. Then again, obviously you can't just lean your elbows on the keyboard for thirty minutes and call it "my personal style," either. There are always unhealthy extremes around the middle ground.

At the end of the day, I tell myself that nothing beats getting constructive criticism from a fair sample of people with a range of tastes. The last part is the key: it will help you find people who like your style while still being able to tell you that some things need improvement, as well as people who may help you curb the excesses of your style. Something we all need sometimes, I think.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by SirMustapha » Wed Apr 21, 2021 4:35 pm

So there's another reflection/pondering about a theme that I often see raised, though, admittedly, mostly in film reviews and discussions: the character arc.

Also, I'll freely admit that this mostly ties in to some creative decisions and choices specific to The Formicide Gang, but I believe this applies to writing in general, so that's why I'm writing this here.

I think it might be unfair to bring here a topic that I almost always see applied to movie discussions, because it's quite well known that cinema is a very different medium from books (even more so when we're talking about mainstream cinema); but, to me, it seems like cinema and TV series kinda deal the cards in how stories should be told, and with so many high profile book-to-movie adaptations, it at least feels in the industry side of things that movies are the "supreme" form of storytelling, at least to the general public.

I started to really form this thought in my head after I watched Lindsay Ellis's video comparing Spielberg's War of the Worlds with Independence Day, asking which one is the most effective "alien invasion" movie. I confess I haven't watched War of the Worlds, so it's not like I can confront Ellis's opinions with my own, but I don't think that's necessary. One of her criticisms of that movie regards one of the characters, the teenage son of the protagonist. She states that his role in the film is confusing, and that he's relegated to moving the plot along by making some very bad, infantile decisions, and, at the end, he seems to have learned nothing. There was no payoff.

Here's the thing. Again, because I haven't seen the film, I can't say how accurate her assessment is, but the character in question is a teenager. Teenagers make a lot of shit decisions. The entire role of the teenager in Western society is to make shit decisions. I've been a teenager, ya know, I can say that. And some of those "lessons" we have to learn, we might take years to "learn" anything. I'm 35 and I'm still "learning" from the stuff I made when I was 16. However, in a movie, it's expected that the teenage kid learns his lessons and becomes a "better person" within the span of two hours. Otherwise, the lack of "payoff" makes an unsatisfying ending. In other words, if a person behaves like a person, that's a flaw in the story.

Isn't that kinda backwards?

I mean, I understand that, when we hear, read or watch a story, we usually want a satisfying ending. ... but why, really? Is that what we actually want? When you're in a pub with friends, and someone talks about that time they got drunk and almost caused a fight in a party, the whole entertainment is the story itself. We don't expect our buddy to end with "and that day, I learnt a valuable lesson, and I never made that mistake again". If anything, we hope they didn't learn anything, so they could keep making stupid decisions that led to more funny stories to tell in the pub. If there's anything that real life teaches us, is that people don't really "change" all that much. Yes, we evolve, we learn, we change slowly over time, but do we really stop making old mistakes all of a sudden? Do we really get completely rid of old habits just because of one specific incident that could be narrated in a two hour movie?

To me, life seems to be way more complex than that. However, mainstream cinema has somehow convinced us that characters must, as a requirement, "change" within the span of a story. That "change" can be the defining factor on whether a film is acceptable as a narrative story. One of Ellis's arguments for why Independence Day is a more effective movie is that there's a "payoff" for each character. Everyone somehow becomes "better". A noble movie embiggens the smallest man. Could that really be the case? Is Independence Day the better movie because each character goes through an impromptu "coaching session" and comes out as a "better person" (according to which standards?)? I'll go further: could it be that this requirement for magical self-improvement in movies has led the way for people to look for those actual "life coaching" "professionals" that sell you a magical recipe that will change your whole life in two weeks? Here, do this little activity, and you'll be more self-confident, more assertive and more proactive, just like a character in a Roland Emmerich movie! Because, if you don't improve that quickly, you're a failure in life.

... well, so... the point is, maybe this idea that there must be a "character arc" for everyone, that necessarily leads to some kind of "improvement", is not only a strict requirement, but can kinda be detrimental overall. And that's one of the things that's buzzing in my head as I look through the events of The Formicide Gang: I don't want everyone to come out as a "better person" at the end. I don't want everyone to "learn a lesson". If there's any "message" I'd like to deliver with this novel is that, really, sometimes there are just no "lessons". Yes, it's true, the characters do go through a transformative process as the story goes on, and they make decisions that affect their lives greatly, and it's not a stretch to say that, by the time they go home, they're no longer the same people they were whey they arrived. At the same time, they're all teenagers. They don't "learn" things that quickly. They don't necessarily become "better people" by the end of the story. They just live a succession of events, and they have to navigate it the best they can. I actually want to be careful not to give the wrongful impression that some characters "did the right thing", as if I'm trying to teach teenagers how to live. I don't want this book to be a coaching session or a life lesson. I want these characters to be interesting for what they are, not for what they become.

Yeah, I think this text has been more of a vomit than a careful elaboration or an attempt to answer a question, because, well, I don't think there are "answers" here. Just possibilities. But that's what I feel I have to say right now.

(Fernie didn't learn anything by the end of this rant. That's a totally unsatisfying ending! Clearly Independence Day is better than this.)
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by c_nordlander » Wed Apr 21, 2021 10:15 pm

Cheesy Hollywood writing conventions are an easy punching bag. And no, fiction shouldn't always be about making the characters (or audience) into better people. That would get really predictable, for a start.

However, I personally never got the impression that a "character arc" necessarily implies that the character becomes a better person (whatever your metric for "better person"). I'd say that any character development counts as a character arc, and I know from what I've read that several of your characters in The Formicide Gang develop over the course of the plot (even though I'm still not up to speed with it). In other words, there's their character arcs. (And from what I've seen so far, it's all natural and unforced.)

In the wider scope, I think any work the length of a novel or feature film will need to have the main characters develop somehow. If I read a full-length novel and the main characters stayed static, my reaction would be that a) this is badly written, or b) this is a deliberate decision from the author. Some literary critics would even say that if the main character doesn't change as a result of the plot, what's the point? I don't necessarily think that all stories have to be character-centric, but it's still something I keep in mind.

Notice that we're talking about The Formicide Gang, not a short story. Some very short fiction might be set during the same timeframe it takes to read/view it... which still doesn't preclude the character changing. But it's not going to be as marked as the change over the course of a novel.

Don't force character development, I guess is what I'm saying. It shouldn't fit into a neat arc of a certain number of degrees, but if it happens, it happens. Like most things involving writing characters, if you have a clear enough idea of the characters, their development will come on its own.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by SirMustapha » Thu Apr 22, 2021 3:49 pm

Cheesy Hollywood writing conventions are an easy punching bag.
Yes, I realise it's a bit obvious, but my intention was not just to ruminate on film cliches on themselves, but on the way they might create a common belief that this is how stories should work, like when a tradition turns into a convention and, eventually, into a rule. I find that rather insidious.
In the wider scope, I think any work the length of a novel or feature film will need to have the main characters develop somehow. If I read a full-length novel and the main characters stayed static, my reaction would be that a) this is badly written, or b) this is a deliberate decision from the author. Some literary critics would even say that if the main character doesn't change as a result of the plot, what's the point?
For me, the reason why a character staying static for the length of a whole novel can be equated to bad writing (save for cases when this is intended and makes sense within the work's proposal, e.g. a character is the personification of a concept, or the narrator is unreliable, or something like that) is the same as my original argument: people just aren't like that. People are complex things, and our behaviour can vary pretty wildly in different situations; also, we are endlessly profound, and you could write volumes and volumes about a moderately interesting individual. So, when you read a novel, you're pretty much spending time in the company of those people, and if you don't get to know something about those people along the way, then it must've been a very dull experience.

Yes, I think the idea of discovering the characters through the duration of a story is important, and, to my own taste, a gradual unfolding process is more interesting than the "set-up/conflict/pay-off" formula that I mentioned earlier. Also, this doesn't mean that every conflict needs to be "resolved" eventually, like a joke needs a punchline.

Also, I realise that my novel does have quite a bunch of those "pay-offs", where something that is addressed at one point is eventually "fixed", even if not in a definitive manner. The source of insecurity is the idea that having this character that doesn't "improve" at the end is a big flaw, even if it's somehow justified. And there are other quirks about this novel that makes me start worrying about potential criticism, like the fact that the "main plot" takes so long to get started, and then is resolved around the second third of the text, and then it keeps going. I keep getting these voices telling "that's not how a story works!" and such.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by c_nordlander » Thu Apr 22, 2021 8:39 pm

SirMustapha wrote: Thu Apr 22, 2021 3:49 pm
Cheesy Hollywood writing conventions are an easy punching bag.
Yes, I realise it's a bit obvious, but my intention was not just to ruminate on film cliches on themselves, but on the way they might create a common belief that this is how stories should work, like when a tradition turns into a convention and, eventually, into a rule. I find that rather insidious.
I get that. I just think that most people reading this forum probably won't have such simplistic ideas of writing. (That said, everyone needs to hear something for the first time.)

Heartily agree with all your other points. I have nothing to add.

I would say: just don't listen to the insecurity. If your readers are so narrow-minded that they think all your characters need to become better people by the end, you probably don't want them as readers. And if you just stick to writing realistic, complex characters (who will develop in certain ways as suits their personalities and experiences), you'll probably end up with a story you can be proud of.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by Nidotamer » Fri May 28, 2021 12:04 am

There's been something I've been thinking of that I'm not sure is a particularly agreeable topic.

Basically: I think backstories are overrated. Really overrated.

I won't lie, part of it comes from seeings bits and such of newer Simpsons episodes and the way other places seem to treat backstory as king. Like I tried watching one that people keep praising, "Uncut Femmes" and it totally failed to grab me at all. Even though it was touted as some big deep look into one of the most obscure characters, which on paper, I tend to go nuts for.

Another part of it was a screenshot LP of a pretty horrible Pokemon fangame I'd been reading. It did a LOT of things wrong (like, say, having a part based on the Irl suicide of one of the players in the RP it was based on and then having someone else call that character an idiot or having the player character essentially be a sexy lamp) but one thing that stuck out was how a lot of the cast that all had these characters with big elaborate backstories of the often tragic kind (it was comically edgy, except straight-faced...) yet in practice, hardly any of them stood out at all. And the ones that did were mostly obnoxiously gimmicky ones. Most of the other readers had to keep double-checking who was who. Everyone else was an indistinct edgelord. Their various backstories didn't make them good. It made them bad characters but with a ton of padding.

If anything, I feel like backstories are only particularly good as a slight supplement for a character. Something to solidify what's already there but not explicit yet. Like Hurricane Neddy did a great job, playing on the other times Ned really lost his cool (and made "You knew I had a temper when you married me!" into a brilliant reverse brick joke) but most of my favourite spotlight episodes on rewatch was the likes of "When Flanders Failed" or "Bart The Lover" neither of which even mention their featured characters' pasts beyond one line about Ned's former job. Instead they just humanized their characters. And it helped that characters like them, Apu and so on had something going for them already. They were basically templates but that was actually perfect (and I could go way further into that in terms of character creation) You could bend them a little and it'd still feel like them. Whereas characters like Sarah are so blank-slate, or characters like Brandine (who's also getting a spotlight next season) are too rigid that they'd have to become unrecognizable. The former bunch didn't need a scully-esque jewel heist plot stapled on. And just to be fair I'll even throw in a Jean era example I think was good too, Nelson.

Actually, a lot of characters I do like from various things have little to no backstory themselves. They just manage to be engaging on their own. Dr Eggman has no backstory, Bowser has very little (he was raised by the court wizard and possibly an orphan, that's it) Wario has no backstory, and so on. They just manage to be strong on their own merits and in Bowser's case, still manage to grow a lot without getting into his past.

Um, I'm rambling a lot because I don't know when to put a sock in it but basically, I don't like the obsession people have with backstories, especially as a character's entire development. It really shouldn't be so big, instead I think expanding on them in the present is a much better method. Then they DO become a good albeit possibly mysterious character instead of a one-note character or a blank slate that something interesting happened to years ago that has little bearing on anything.

... actually that's the other point. A lot of backstories I keep seeing don't seem to have any impact on anything. Again contrast something like Bart the Lover which made Edna into one of the most beloved characters on the show.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by c_nordlander » Fri May 28, 2021 9:27 pm

First of all, I know that making your tone come across over the internet is difficult, so if I disagree with you on anything, it's not meant to slam your opinion. (And this is all our opinions, anyway.)

I think you exaggerate a bit. Most of the things you criticise aren't a problem with backstories; they're a problem with bad backstories.

If there is a problem, I think it may be similar to what Fernie said about character arcs: aspiring writers are often told that character arcs and character backstories are a good thing in themselves, when really, they are tools that you should choose when to use, and that can be used more or less well.

An important difference, though: I think character arcs aren't always necessary, whereas realistically, backstories are, except in very specialised cases (say, if your character is a robot who was literally created yesterday). Even a child will have memories and previous experiences, after all. Of course, a lot of it depends on the scope of the story; if it's a very short story, the character's past might get little to no space (unless it's the focus of the story). But even then, chances are the character will have some background. For me, I find I'm thrown out of a story if the main characters have no backstory, or just a few scattered tidbits that explain their present-day quirks.

The amount of focus the character gets matters in this case, too. If they're not a viewpoint character, obviously their backstory is less easy to bring up: it pretty much requires either for them or for another character to mention it, and that in turn will require the right circumstances to come off as natural. (Plus, the character might not want to talk about some parts of their past at all.)

I do agree with you that there are good characters that have little backstory, and that backstory isn't a substitute for being well-written (totally agree with you on Edna Krabappel in "Bart the Lover"!). However, note that the examples you give (Dr. Eggman and Bowser) are 1) villains (i.e. not viewpoint characters), and 2) from fairly light-hearted franchises. Even among villains, I find that the more shaded or empathetic ones (for example Darth Vader, or Silva in Skyfall) tend to have backstories.

I'm rambling a bit myself. I can see what you're saying, that some writers are too obsessed with character backstories because they think they're a good thing in themselves. On the other hand... we are our backstories. We are our pasts. With a well-written character, there won't be a meaningful distinction between their backstory and their characterisation, because you can't have one without the other.

On a sidenote: edginess and angst can totally be overdone. If you overload a character's backstory with gore and rape and torture, it's not only going to come off as distasteful, but any actual horror will turn into unintentional comedy. At the same time, to be blunt, those things are all things that happen to people, and depending on the kind of story you're writing, they may well be in the characters' past. Just, you know, treat it with respect and try not to make it titillating. Also, remember that everyone reacts to trauma in different ways. The character may have lived through something bad that they will never talk about or think about, and that's fine.

My own personal beef with backstories is a certain type where each character has specifically one trauma/failure/dark secret in their background, and their entire life revolves around it until they make peace with it. The Final Fantasy games seem fond of using that one (for example, Cloud's big dark secret is that he failed to qualify for membership in SOLDIER). I actually used to like that approach to character development: it gave the character an emotional driving force, and made them feel more real than someone with no past at all. But now, I find it too simplistic. Yes, we are formed by our experiences, and we have some big or traumatic ones, but any adult will have at least half a dozen of them, probably many more.
Nidotamer wrote: Fri May 28, 2021 12:04 am... actually that's the other point. A lot of backstories I keep seeing don't seem to have any impact on anything.
I agree with you on this; this is bad writing. I think this is a flaw of long-running franchises like The Simpsons: after years of development, the major characters are going to have such ingrained personalities that you can't add a new important part of their backstory without it feeling tacked on. It won't affect their personalities, because it was never on the table when their personalities were written down.

I think my least favourite example of this type of thing comes from the Futurama episode "Attack of the Killer App", where we find out that Leela has had a sentient boil on her butt her entire life. Leaving aside the fact that someone over age eleven wrote that plotline with a straight face and got it greenlit by a multi-million-dollar entertainment company, it's... shit. Not because it necessarily conflicts with canon (they actually added an explanation why we've never seen the boil when we've seen Leela's bare butt, seriously what the hell is wrong with people??), but because it adds a big new element to Leela's life that has never been addressed previously. So either having a talking boil hasn't affected her at all (yeah, that sounds plausible...), or all the times we thought she was insecure and self-conscious because of her cyclopism and bullied childhood at the Orphanarium, it was actually because of her talking boil? I don't know which is worse.

So yeah, I like backstories. In a lot of ways, I guess, it boils down to personal taste.

Oh, and it's nice to hear from you again!
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by SirMustapha » Fri May 28, 2021 10:22 pm

I can only speak for myself, but I like your rambling, Chris. I often find myself having the unstructured inner rants about whatever subject, and I find it fascinating to hear those "inner rants" from other people, especially fellow artists; and especially when they elaborate on an interesting subject. So, do like Led Zeppelin and Ramble On!

I also think that May's grievances come from specific instances of poorly executed backstories, which may be the result of this widespread idea that backstories are a good thing in and of themselves (and I think Chris addressed that very well). But indeed, the investigation and elaboration of a character's "backstory" is part of actually constructing a character, because those past elements inform their current actions and decisions. Thing is, you might not necessarily narrate or even mention that backstory in the story itself--but if it does add to the story, and if it does have an impact on the narrative, then it can be a good idea to show it.

I think the rule of thumb is, a good backstory has to be a good story--because that's what it is. A "backstory" that is relevant to the narrative is just, well, part of the story, isn't it? So, if you do want to give a character a backstory, make it interesting. Relevant too, of course; but I guess some of those problems May mentioned come from people thinking that a backstory is self-justified, so "anything goes".

Just a curious bit: the MLP story I'm currently writing was in large part inspired by me thinking exactly about this topic. I had been thinking of writing something to expand on Dainty Tunes' backstory, and I sorta heard him saying that a "backstory" is a silly thing to have; if there's a sequence of events that explains who he is currently, that's a story. His story. If I were to write that, just using it as an excuse to explain the character isn't gonna cut it; it had to be interesting. So, I ended up going on another direction (though some of that backstory is mentioned in it, but I ain't gonna spoil it).

Also, thanks but no thanks for reminding me of that Futurama episode, Chris. Erk. I remember how utterly uncomfortable (and not in the good sense) that episode was to watch. But a relevant example of a very stupid backstory.

... yeah, I've rambled too, haven't I?
For me, I find I'm thrown out of a story if the main characters have no backstory, or just a few scattered tidbits that explain their present-day quirks.
*looks at The Formicide Gang* ... uh oh.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by c_nordlander » Fri May 28, 2021 10:36 pm

If I were going to quote everything I agree with, Fernie, I'd quote your entire post. So yeah. :) (Except your Formicide Gang characters have plenty of backstory!)

Also, sincerely sorry for mentioning the national disappointment attack of the blah blah.

EDIT: Actually, when I wrote the bit about "characters who have no backstory except random tidbit to explain their quirks" I was mostly thinking about a fantasy series called The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. It was garbage for many reasons, but one thing that got on my nerves was the fact that the protagonist Richard was probably in his late twenties when the series started, yet we learnt virtually nothing about his life up until that point unless it was directly foreshadowing some plot development. Even when his favourite childhood book was mentioned and I thought "finally, a bit of characterisation," it turned out to be a Chekhov's gun.
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Re: General writing discussion thread

Post by Nidotamer » Sat May 29, 2021 12:28 am

Ah it's fine, I've not even textwalled in a while, I keep forgetting half my points. I think you probably did put it better than I did in some ways. In hindsight half of what I was saying was unbelievably dumb. But also I think one thing Fernie mentioned I definitely agree with. It might be important to have that kind of thing planned out but it doesn't always need to be said... or probably better yet, it doesn't need to be dumped out all at once.

Dunno if it counts as a bad example because it's kinda of a light-hearted show (well as light as one that revels in excessive g-rated violence can get anyway) but I like how they handled Eddy, from Ed, Edd n' Eddy. Particularly, bits of his backstory were sprinkled throughout the whole show regarding his brother. He'd act like a big shot like his brother supposedly was, and brag that his brother was so awesome. But anyone who remembered the guy was terrified of him, including Eddy, and most of the things sent his way turned out to be cruel jokes. I think that might be what you mentioned with backstories and characters being so intertwined?

And since I praised how Nelson was handled, I think I'll bring up that his deal with his disappeared dad didn't just spring up out of nowhere in Sleeping with the Enemy, a few other episodes before alluded to that... and he clearly had a crappy home life even in season 7 ("I'm goin' away for a week, see ya") and it's maybe a little controversial (perhaps a bit TOO emphasized on) but it actually does that thing you were bringing up where it did have a meaningful impact on his character. Particularly making a less shallow connection with Lisa and his more needy side tying up why he bothers to hang around people like Bart and Milhouse (as in, probably nobody else would) He's still a violent bully a lot of the time, mind, but overall it did make a change that they could do some things with instead of just being that guy who goes "Ha-ha" sometimes. He's probably one of the characters that has waned the least over the years even. So they can do it right.

If anything the bit about development never being on the table is kinda interesting. It's maybe not unique in this sense but The Simpsons, because of its long runtime, and... not so tightness with writing, there's some characters where there's a lot you could scrape together into a a possibly interesting development probably on pure accident. It's a big reason why I latch onto Sherri and Terri so much, there's a lot of things that come off as odd or don't add up. Like how they keep hanging around with second-graders. Or how while they're sometimes lumped in with the popular kids, yet whenever they're actually acknowledged (let alone have lines) they're always alone... or how they'd even count as popular in the first place when they're a pair of podgy, weird looking oddballs. Or a bunch of other things I'd probably get yelled at for going on about too much.

Point is, there's some cases where it's because of the show being long running that you could scrape together something for someone that'd feel natural (as in, accidentally or not is based entirely on things that did happen) Actually that's kind of how I approached them when I've been doing writing, hopefully getting something more nuanced (and lively) while still feeling like them. I almost take pride in basing nearly everything on stuff that's shown up either on the show, comics or other official material (I mean if I failed I'd like to be told, honestly...)

... just typing this out, I think I realized something when it comes to fanfics. Like the whole building on established stuff can be done, has been done, but more to the point I think I get easily bored of fanfic that's drama but presents no interesting spin on the cast. Like a lot of it ends up repeating the same beats and the same scenarios even in future fics where the possibilities are almost endless. And in that case, I tend to switch off quickly. Also, probably why outside of personal biases I found one fic engaging enough to read multiple times because the setup, the portrayals and everything else was actually super different to most fanfic (centring on Bart, Nelson, Jessica and the twins as a group dealing with the paranormal in a thoh-ish universe... and also had the only engaging use for Jenda ever)

I've been waffling on for so long I forgot my own point. Hi my brain's all over the place lately sorry.
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