Spoiled by Supplements: How Too Much Material Ruins Writers and Readers

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On Saturday night, my brother Richard and I were having a slightly tipsy discussion about Star Wars. Over time, I’ve grown to enjoy The Last Jedi more, but my brother continues to dislike it and finds a lot of the plot unbelievable. While I was trying to explain, he asked, “Where was that established?” When I told him it was in a Star Wars EU book I’d read, he sighed and said, “But it wasn’t in the movie. You shouldn’t have to read fifteen books or watch twenty films in order to understand why something is happening in this movie.”

While I think he’s still a little too harsh on Star Wars for this failing, he does have a point. As big franchises grow bigger and media becomes even more interconnected, the amount of supplemental material continues to grow… and it isn’t always clear what is supplemental and what is actually necessary in order to understand or appreciate the story. While it’s nice to have a story or characters enriched, and it’s interesting to hear what someone intended or was going for in a commentary or interview, when you leave key pieces of plot, character, and/or motivation to be explained or even addressed in a side comic, you may have a problem. 

The fact is, we as readers and viewers have been spoiled by all of this supplemental material. And I’m afraid it may have an impact on the stories we write and how we construct them. After all, if you’re sure that something will be addressed later in an encyclopedia or short story compilation, it can be easy to forget to establish it at all. That may not be a problem if it’s a side character, but if it directly impacts a major plot point or character arc, then the resolution can seem to come out of left field. Conversely, we can get too detailed if we have too much material to squeeze in or don’t know what to focus on, creating a jumbled mess rather than a streamlined story. We can’t assume that everyone is going to be a die-hard, balls-to-the-wall, completionist type of fan. It’s (usually) fun to find out more about a fictional universe you enjoy, and I’m not against the presence of supplemental material. But there is a Dark Side to the entire affair that I think creators and their audience should be aware of.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to address in more detail some main problems with being spoiled by supplemental material including a few (possibly overlapping) case studies:

Issue 1: The Research Trap: How much is too much?
Case study: The Earth’s Children historical fiction series by Jean M. Auel

Issue 2: Incomplete/Muddled Multimedia Story-Telling: Where and how can we access the story?
Case study #1: Star Wars and its sprawling Expanded Universe
Case study #2: Doctor Who and its numerous, often not-well-advertised “specials”

Issue 3: Overlapping & Long-Running stories: Where’s the entry point?
Case study: Marvel, specifically the MCU, but especially long-running comics and shows in general

Issue 4: When Canon and Commentary Collide: What is “part of the story”?
Case study: J.K. Rowling and the Sexuality of Dumbledore (among other misadventures in possible retconning)

 

I hope you’ll share your thoughts on supplemental material, both the pros and the cons, in the comments throughout this blog series!

2019: The Year in Review

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Good grief.

Um… well… *sigh* Yeah, I don’t feel like I did very well this year. I didn’t really accomplish any of my 2018 goals. Mostly I’ve been sinking, treading water, sinking again… Been sleeping too much (but not well), eating too much, and generally feeling frustrated and worn down. I’m trying to keep a positive outlook, but at the moment I’m hard-pressed to remember successes or positive aspects of the year.

Continue reading “2019: The Year in Review”

The Capitalization of Passion

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Image by Andrian Valeanu on Pixabay.

Around this time of year, a lot of people complain about the over-commercialization of the holidays. While I really do enjoy wrapping and unwrapping gifts, I agree that it has gotten way out of control. But what I don’t hear about is the over-commercialization of hobbies and passions, usually via the rising gig economy.

The problem with this is that it seems like anything and everything can (and should) be turned into money. It may not be a substantial or steady source of income, but it does dangle the tempting carrot-myth of “making a living doing what you love” in front of discouraged and disillusioned creatives such as myself. It also turns the word “opportunity” into a guilt-trip. If you’re doing something you love for free, you’re missing an opportunity to make money from it. I mean, if you’re doing it anyway, you might as well try to get paid for doing it, right? Passing up the chance to market yourself is considered just plain stupid. This is the capitalization of passion.

Continue reading “The Capitalization of Passion”

Pyrrhic Victory

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Photograph by Samuel Francis Johnson on Pixabay.

National Novel Writing Month is over for another year. I was pretty excited to start, but had to drag myself, bruised and battered, to the finish line. Between the growing gloom of winter, getting sick every single weekend, and the increasingly devastating hormonal flux that comes the week before monthlies, I got 10,000 words behind and never properly made up for that. It’s technically complete, but I don’t feel like I have much of a novel.

This could be a complete misconception on my part. I haven’t actually gone back yet to look over what I wrote. There are a few scenes I remember which are pretty good, but I had to throw in a lot of notes and word-vomit in to make it to 50,000 words. Even though I reached the NaNoWriMo word count goal, I’m not sure if I earned it. I certainly don’t feel like I did.

Spells in Sepia has potential, but right now I don’t think I have a real plot. It’s just a random assortment of disjointed scenes and concepts. Not a lot actually happening, just a bunch of internal monologuing from my main character. I don’t feel like I have the world-building under control because I haven’t done enough research into the places where the story is set. I’m just tossing out nonsense, which means I’ll to go back and make sense of it all and that prospect is utterly daunting right now. The thought of having to continue writing, then go back and kill all my darlings, then repeat the whole thing over and over and over again makes me want to curl up in a tiny ball and start whimpering. The thought of then having to query and look for agents makes me want to crawl into the deepest, darkest cave I can find and start screaming.

Right now, writing isn’t very fun. And I really want it to be fun again. But I also want to, you know, finish stuff. Which I can’t do unless I keep going through this process of rolling the rock of Sisyphus up an endless hill.

So… yeah. Sorry this isn’t the uplifting peon of victory you may have been waiting for. I was hoping for one too. At the moment I’m just exhausted, discouraged, and so behind on so many things.

But at least I can binge-watch my Blu-ray of Good Omens now.

More Than I Can Chew…

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There’s a reason I’m not usually a pantser. Mostly it’s because I write myself into a corner. But it’s also because I hate feeling like I’m being inaccurate, even when it’s just the first draft. Or I just hate feeling like I’m floundering about, retreading old tropes, taking the easy way out.

Spells in Sepia (SiS) is tackling a lot of new ground for me, and it might be more than I can handle. I’m trying to just let go and write, but at the same time, I feel like I’m missing a lot of narrative opportunities, directions, and ideas because I don’t know enough about what I’m writing.

Unlike most of my other projects, this is an urban fantasy, so it’s supposed to take place in the real world. Our real world. For the most part, anyway. But there are a few hitches: Time, Place, and Character Career.

Continue reading “More Than I Can Chew…”

NaNoWriMo begins in 3…2…1…

Hi everyone! Yes, a random bonus entry in the middle of the week because I’m actually really excited about NaNoWriMo this year and want to keep up the momentum. I’m trying to get everything ready so I don’t have a bunch of loose ends hanging over my head on November 1st. Which means I’ve been cleaning and organizing while trying not to get sidetracked by episodes of Sapphire & Steel or by the cuteness of my kitties:

Chaos found a new bed while I was cleaning the NaNo Sanctum (a.k.a. my library).

So, to keep myself on track and accountable, here is my goal sheet for National Novel Writing Month 2019. (Note that a “session” consists of writing at least 500 words.)

Date:  10/30/2019

Top Priority:  Spells in Sepia (NaNaWriMo 2019 project – urban fantasy novel)

Action Steps:

  • Write 1,667 words daily (or as much as I can and make up for the shortfalls on other, more productive days)
  • Limit social contact (mostly meaning don’t talk to anyone before writing is done or I get derailed)
  • Get up at 7am daily (although I have no idea how I’ll pull this off since I’ve been having trouble getting up even by 8am)
  • Exercise Sunday-Friday (mostly light weights since the weather’s gone cold, but I’ll try to work some swimming in)
  • Saturday = rest day (I give myself permission to veg out and do whatever I want, even if that means not writing)
  • Complete chores regularly (meaning do the dishes right after I dirty them so they don’t pile up)
  • Update LeNoWriCha Logs @ 10pm (do I’m sure my writing is done for the day and can go to bed)
  • Limit social media (so I don’t spend all my time at home being distracted by the internet)
  • Rewards!
    • 1 small (7 oz) can of Dr. Pepper during each writing session
    • 1 small (fun-size) bag of peanut M&Ms for completing each writing session
    • Final reward for completing the month: binge-watching Good Omens!
  • This is a project for FUN! Don’t overthink it!

On The Radar:

  • Write With Focus:
    • Keep up with bi-weekly Cat’s Cradle entries
    • Be ready to continue writing or start editing in December
  • Read With Purpose:
    • Urban fantasy
    • Chinese myths
    • Photography techniques (especially forensic)
  • Build Your Community
    • Check HUB weekly
    • Check NaNo site/forums weekly
    • Write at Writers Mastermind on Mondays
    • Write at Waldo’s on Wednesdays (not sure if I’ll do this or not)
    • Write at “Come Write In” at library on Fridays
Goal Sheet courtesy of the DIY MFA program by Gabriela Pereira.

 

To all my fellow writers this November… good luck! Tally-ho!

“Useless English Major”

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Being an English major is a little of a running gag in my family. Out of all my siblings, I have the highest level of education and (so far) the most years in school. Yet I also make the least amount of money and have the lowest expectation of career advancement. Usually it’s just good-natured teasing, the way one expects from siblings. I indulge in it myself from time to time, but even my self-deprecating humor has taken on a sharper edge. As the years roll on, it just doesn’t seem funny anymore.

I recently read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Is Majoring in English Worth It?” The contents were pretty much what I’d expected: a half-mocking look at how the value of an English degree has declined dramatically even as the cost of college exponentially increases, making it “the most regretted college major in America.” But I hadn’t expected the intense wave of bitterness that swept over me, a deep sense of resentment that something I spent six years, thousands of dollars, and untold amounts of stress attaining, a skill that I am good at, can be summarily dismissed as the butt of a bad joke.

So, like a good little Millennial, I shared some of my frustration on social media:

I got some sympathetic faces in response, which was about all I had expected. But then my friend David asked a very poignant question:

“If you had a time machine, what would you do differently?”

Continue reading ““Useless English Major””

New Territory for NaNoWriMo

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Modified from Masashi Wakui’s image on Pixabay

It was very strange to leave home all green and summery, going to the beach where it was a balmy 80 degrees and sunny, and then coming back home to find the leaves all yellow and orange with the scent of autumn in the air. This season has grown on me; I used to despise it because fall meant it was time to go back to school. While I still don’t like the cold, I can appreciate autumn much better now. Plus, as a compulsive hoarder of blankets, mugs, and sweaters, I can now put them to good use!

I didn’t get much writing done on vacation, but that’s okay. I actually had to remind myself multiple times that, being on vacation, I could do what I wanted to do rather than what I felt I should do. It’s a little depressing how many times I had to tell myself that. Still, I got about half a stack of books read, enjoyed the sun and surf, and came home to relax and play and review a bunch of otome game demos before returning to my day job.

One of my goals, however, was to decide what project I should work on for National Novel Writing Month 2019.

Continue reading “New Territory for NaNoWriMo”

PSA: On Vacay!

Greetings everyone! Just letting you know that there won’t be a substantial Cat’s Cradle entry this week due to the fact that I’ll be on a long-awaited and much needed vacation. My brain is way too frazzled to create anything really worth reading and I’m so far behind on Story A Day and a dozen other things… so I’m packing a stack of books and heading for the beach. I’ll be incommunicado for about a week. Everything should be back on schedule when I return and hopefully I’ll be in a much better, more creative frame of mind. Stay awesome!

 

Image by Mylene2401 on Pixabay

 

Caught Between Worlds

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Once again, I find myself in an odd position where I have too many different fictional universes filling my brain, none of which is dominant enough to drive out the others and leave a clear path for inspiration.

  • I just finished reading the anthropological science fiction Foreigner series by C. J. Cherryh, so my brain is filled with alien politics and the awesomeness that is Bren Cameron.
  • I just finished watching The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance television series on Netflix, so my brain is filled with magic and fairy-folk and my YA novel Faylinn.
  • I’m currently participating in the writing challenge Story A Day, so my brain is trying to stay on task with writing and reading short stories, which is not my native element.
  • National Novel Writing Month is coming and I just got in my Page One notebook from Write Gear, which I want to use to get ready to work on an urban fantasy novel (which I think I’m going to set in Portland, Oregon because I’m sick of hearing about New York City and Chicago).
  • Ravens and Roses is back to lurking in the rear of my brain again, but it turns out that having “just a few scenes left to write” was a massive underestimation and I’ve got a ton of military research to do before I’m ready to tackle the rest of it.
  • Good Omens from Amazon Prime STILL has its demonic/angelic claws sunk deep into my psyche and it is going to take a massive amount of willpower not to watch it during NaNoWriMo because it’s being released on DVD and Blu-Ray early this November and like a fool I already preordered it… I’m doomed, aren’t I?
  • As a side effect of David Tennant’s presence in Good Omens, I have a powerful hankering for Shakespeare productions that feature him. (I’ve seen his Hamlet and now I’ve got Richard II, Much Ado About Nothing, and Shakespeare Uncovered lined up. Not Doctor Who because I cannot take having my heart ripped out by Ten’s regeneration again. I just can’t.)
  • I’m also still trying to get and keep regular life in order, which includes better incorporation of exercise and some serious calorie counting to bring my weight (and hopefully depression) back under control.

So, as you can see, I don’t know what (if anything) I’m going to get done, which is a little concerning with NaNoWriMo on the horizon… I do have a little time, so we’ll see how things go. (But seriously, I cannot wait for my upcoming week of vacation. Kat desperately needs a recharge before winter hits.)

Til next time…