athelind: (benjy)
Last week, Your Obedient Serpent let slip the single nerdiest thing he has ever said, or, in all probability, ever will say. Those who have spared even a cursory glance at this journal will understand that this is a high bar indeed.

I compared the Cutie Mark Crusaders to the Forever People.

This, dear readers, is a transcendent moment of nerdity. For one brief, shining moment, I achieved Nerdvana.

Ah, but I can tell by your expressions that this bon mot was sufficiently inbred as to be incomprehensible to any but my fellow Nerdisattvas.

As I have noted in the past, there is a tendency for fans of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Saga to neglect the Forever People, a series about a band of youthful, colorfully-garbed "gods" of New Genesis who can only be described as "Space Hippies". While the Fourth World as a whole is a product of its time, it's the Forever People who are the most dated. They're earnest. They're optimistic. They're corny. "Serious" readers find them embarrassing, and prefer to ignore them or sweep them under the rug, preferring even Kirby's work on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen to this gaudy gang of star-born striplings. Alas, some of those "serious" readers include comic professionals who attempted to continue the King's Magnum Opus.

This is unfortunate, because it is in the pages of the Forever People that Jack clearly spells out, over and over, the key concept of the epic, the Anti-Life Equation -- a MacGuffin that those "serious" readers insist that the King "never really explained". Those embarrassing space hippies are the ones who most often directly confront the Big Bad of the Fourth World, Darkseid, and encounter not one but two individuals who actually wield the Equation itself.

By the same token, there is a tendency amongst Bronies (the Periphery Demographic that helped to catapult My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic from a thirty-minute toy commercial to a global phenomenon) to dismiss, ignore, or just roll their eyes at the episodes centering around a group of secondary characters dubbed "The Cutie Mark Crusaders". The Crusaders are younger than the main cast (a.k.a. the "Mane Six"), being portrayed as schoolchildren. Originally, they were planned as a spin-off aimed at an even younger audience, and, well ... they're earnest. They're optimistic. They're corny.1

It is also in the Crusader-centric episodes that writing staff clearly spells out the key concept of the "Cutie Mark", the mystic brand that adorns the hindquarters of each adult pony. A Cutie Mark appears when a pony finds her True Calling, the vocation or avocation that that will bring her the most fulfillment in life. The Crusaders, last in their age group to achieve this milestone, are determined to do everything they can to hurry the process along.

The puberty metaphors are not accidental, but are, ultimately, incidental. The Cutie Mark is more than just a metaphor; the magic of Equestria may not be rigorous enough to satisfy Sanderson's First Law2, but the Marks and Callings nevertheless play an important role in its operation -- particularly in Season 5, currently underway as of this writing.

More than one Brony rolled over a few Saturdays ago, went back to sleep when they remembered that a CMC episode was scheduled for the day -- and discovered upon awakening that they'd missed one of the Big Episodes of the Season. Given the themes of Season 5, I would not be surprised if Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Bell turn out to be major players in resolving the crisis in the forthcoming season finale.

Is there a point to all this? Probably not, other than an amusing confluence of easily-dismissed side characters in obscure pop culture.

On the Other Claw, perhaps there is. Perhaps it's worth taking a second glance at the overlooked and unappreciated side characters in the media we all so adore. Perhaps there are more works where the real themes and key concepts are explored by the side-characters, since, after all, the protagonists and antagonists are busy protagonizing and antagonizing. Perhaps, in many works, all that foreground action is just a carrier wave, and it's the Big Bears and the Apple Blooms, the Merrys and Pippins, the Neville Longbottoms and the Etta Candys who really embody the signal.


1 There is also an unfortunate tendency for the earlier CMC episodes to hinge heavily on Cringe Comedy, though this thankfully diminishes as the seasons progress.
2 Did I just invoke Sanderson on top of Kirby and MLP? Trifecta!!
athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
The Everlasting Gobstopper* is Your Obedient Serpent's own rhyming slang for a "Neverending Doorstopper", the most egregious metastasis of Trilogy Creep.

To qualify as an Everlasting Gobstopper, a work must have most or all of the following traits:

  • Each volume in the series will run around a thousand pages, putting each individual installment firmly into Doorstopper territory.

  • There is no clear end to the progression of installments: while the saga appears to be telling a story, there is rarely a hint of actual resolution. It is, in short, Neverending.

  • The characters rarely manage to accomplish anything of significance. They are tossed around from event to event, becoming increasingly mired in events outside their control.

    • Corollary 1: The more sympathetic they are, the less they manage to accomplish.

    • Corollary 2: Any minor "victories" will happen early on in the series. As it progresses, the characters become increasingly less effective, as the author finds it easier to play on readers' sympathies tormenting characters rather than advancing the story.

  • Readers often develop Stockholm Syndrome. After investing so much time and energy into a work, they are not going to walk away and leave it unfinished, no matter how much of a slog it has become or how little they care about the characters anymore.

  • As the work continues to expand, it becomes increasingly likely that the author will walk away and leave it unfinished.


While these symptoms are most commonly found in Fantasy Literature, the contagion has spread to other genres and media as well. HBO's Game of Thrones, of course, is the most obvious example, being a direct adaptation of one of the quintessential Everlasting Gobstoppers.

An example native to television might be Supernatural: after the resolution of its original story arc and the departure of the creators, the series has continued without actually progressing, to the point where one can tune into any random episode from Seasons 6-10 without being able to determine if it is, in fact, a rerun.

In the world of comics, Hickman's multi-year run on the Avengers titles spiraled into a Gobstopper. Hicman managed the rather impressive feat of making the defeat of a vast alien armada seem ultimately meaningless. Geoff Johns' tenure on Green Lantern and its spin-offs deserves a mention, as well: it even outlasted the original author (though Mr. Johns is, thankfully, still with us); after his departure from the books, those who followed him kept spinning out the plot threads he set in motion, stretching them ever-finer and more tenuous.

Note that an author can crank out novel after novel about the same characters for decades, but if the characters resolve the issue at hand in each installment, it's not a Everlasting Gobstopper. The continuing adventures of Philip Marlowe, of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or even those of Harry Dresden do not qualify as Gobstoppers. Yes, Harry's saga has an ultimate over-arching story arc, but each volume is largely self-contained; he and his friends resolve the most immediate of threats and dangers, and even multi-volume plot threads are resolved every few books. Butcher lets his characters win now and then, and that big looming metaplot actually progresses as we learn more about it.

I am ... not a fan of Everlasting Gobstoppers, and I try to avoid them. I get sucked in on occasion, of course; the Agent Pendergast series seemed like a tidy batch of fairly self-contained superhantural thrillers until it swallowed its own tail diving into the protagonist's dysfunctional family background; ultimately, I walked away from that one and haven't looked back. More recently, after thoroughly enjoying the tidy trilogies and done-in-one works of the preposterously prolific Brandon Sanderson, I picked up The Way of Kings ... and discovered, as I was immersed in the second volume, that Sanderson intends to run that series for at least ten full doorstoppers.

Coyote help me, I am looking forward to them all.


*The phrase, of course, is borrowed from Roald Dahl's masterpiece, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
Recently, I've had several conversations with different people about franchise fiction, why it becomes popular, and why so many franchises develop followings and fandoms far out of proportion to their literary merit (at least as perceived by the arbiters of such intangibles).

Since it's been a while since this (or any other) topic has come up in this venue, let's review (and rename, and renumber) Snark's Athelind's Laws of Fanfic Transformative Works:

  1. Athelind's First Law of Transformative Works:

    • A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic.

      • Corollary: Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market (see TV Tropes: Running the Asylum).

  2. Athelind's Second Law of Transformative Works:

    • The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.


Analysis:

Phineas & Ferb is a very good show, at least as good as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Both shows are smart, snappy, extol virtues of creativity, cooperation, diversity and enthusiasm without being pandering or insulting, and are packed full of Parental Bonus humor.  They have fluid, slick animation and simple, crisp, geometric character design (P&F's creative team have gone on record as saying that the distinctive designs of the cast were intended to make them easy for young fans to draw).

And yet, while Phineas & Ferb has a following, it doesn't have a fandom with the same level of ... devotion ... as the Bronies.*  I will note that it also doesn't really have a premise that lends itself gracefully to fan-made characters;  a neighborhood full of eccentric grade-schoolers with a penchant for Mad Science is entertaining to watch, but adding one more quirky personality to that particular mix isn't something that excites the imagination.  Sure, it would be a blast to be nine years old and live on the same block as the Flynn-Fletchers, but nobody fantasizes about being Elmyra to Pinkie and the Brain.**

This supports the Second Law: Given two shows of approximately equal quality, I submit that the factor that makes one attract a hard-core fandom is how readily one can inject one's self or one's own creations into its milieu.

Harry Potter, My Little Pony, Star Trek, superhero comics ... They're all setting with a "sandbox" quality to them.  They have or imply Loads and Loads of Characters, and lend themselves to letting you be one of those thousands.

People write Monk fanfics, but they don't drop personal alter-egos or original characters into the Monk milieu unless they're Mary Suing. I love Babylon 5, but it has a finite story arc all centered around a particular cadre of Important People. People don't make their own imaginary Earthforce vessels like they do Federation starships.

I think the two purest distillations of "Milieus You Can Become A Part Of" are Furry Fandom, which has actually dispensed with ANY central narrative or setting and revolves primarily around the fandom's own self-created personae more than any particular commercial work ... and superhero comics, where the entire process has long been a matter of dropping a creator's own ideas and alter-egos into the larger setting.


* It's hard to think of many fandoms as devout as the Bronies.  Not even the Beatles, and they were more popular than ... well, they were pretty popular.
** Almost nobody.


athelind: (hoard potato)

One:

I've finally figured out my utter dis1 for DC's recent business model of resurrecting Silver Age characters who got killed off in the '80s and '90s because they couldn't sustain their own titles.

As I mentioned the other day, I don't like zombies.2

Certainly, remembering, as one example, the long, dragged, out "Trial of the Flash" that closed out Barry Allen's run months before he met his end in Crisis on Infinite Earths is not that far removed from having the fragrance of three-month-old sea lion carcasses waft unbidden through one's amygdala.3

At least when Marvel turns its colorfully-costumed characters into shambling undead mockeries, they're occasionally honest about it.


Two:

DC is releasing a series of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic graphic novel, Watchmen.

I reserve judgment on whether or not this is a bad move; really, I'm finding myself far too tickled by the outrage of the fandom (and Alan Moore) to really have many objections myself (and besides, one of them will have Darwyn Cooke art).

However, something occurred to me the other day:

Watchmen is older than most of the "old comics" it was based on were when it was published.



1disinterest/disappointment/distaste/disdain/disregard/dyspepsia ...
2I wanna shoo-oo-oo-oot the whole trend down!
3I have a dread suspicion that that storyline, which seemed to take forever at the time, might seem a masterpiece of snappy pacing compared to the "decompressed" storytelling of today's "decompressed".

athelind: (Warning: Memetic Hazard)
Oops!

I was going to post the last answer to The Better Than It Sounds Meme a week ago, and I forgot.

For those of you still keeping track, the only description left unguessed was #2:

Two small children and an adorable puppy help a career police officer come to terms with the death of his wife.


I gave the following hints:

  • It's a movie.
  • This description spoils the last ten to fifteen minutes.
  • The police officer has drug issues.


And the answer is behind the cut! )


Please don't hurt me.
athelind: (no help whatsoever)
Okay, [livejournal.com profile] paka was wrong: posting my own version of the Better Than It Sounds Meme only made me feel stupider, when I realized how vague and general some of my descriptions were.

#8 is the worst. The problem, obviously, is that the description I gave could describe dozens of other movies; I think I described a full-on trope rather than a single movie.

I'll go ahead and post the rest of the answers tomorrow night, but for now, let's see if some hints will help: )

Have fun, and please don't shoot me when the answers come out!

"Please don't shoot me" could work as a hint for at least two of the really tough ones, come to think of it.
athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
This one's going around:

Pick 20 movies/anime/video games/literary works/comics/etc and put their summaries from the TV Tropes entry, Better Than it Sounds, and have your friends guess what they are.


The original meme was to use entries directly from the page, but most everyone I read seems to be writing their own summaries. I agree with [livejournal.com profile] paka: this meme makes me feel stupid, and the best way around that is to do my own version!

(The original meme also specifies "No Cheating", but I hardly need to add that, since a) you can't look these up at TV Tropes, and b) the people who read my LJ, by and large, aren't assholes.)

Since this is the Do-It-Myself version, you only get eight (I may come back and round it out to ten). Movies, comics, short stories, novels, TV shows, whatever: they're all fair game. Be advised that there's at least one really egregious spoiler in this list.

Oh, and some of them may not be better than they sound....

I'll bold these as people get them, but I'll only put the answers behind a cut, so EVERYONE can play.

  1. An explosive encounter with a rebellious teen forces forces a repressed professional man to confront his inner demons in this Cold War allegory.
  2. Two small children and an adorable puppy help a career police officer come to terms with the death of his wife.
  3. A man with a debilitating medical condition risks his health, sanity and personal integrity to help a man in a dead-end job find a new direction.
  4. A long-haul rig, a cute teenager, and no gas stations in sight: Hilarity Ensues.
  5. A band of reclusive senior citizens pull the strings on an implausible series of events to bring a hard-headed cop and a stubborn nurse together. After the pair get hitched, their kids go into the family business.
  6. At the height of the Cold War, a stoic, implacable polymath and his scantily-clad companion stand against a cadre of terrorists who plot to turn advanced technology against the international diplomats of the Security Council.
  7. A beleaguered ad man neglects his family as he tries to save his failing company, but a clumsy, slobbering St. Bernard will make this summer one they'll never forget!
  8. An urban professional's civil servant's job performance becomes increasingly erratic as he becomes increasingly obsessed with his job.


Answers! )


If you do see some of these summaries on the various TV Tropes pages at some later date, remember that Your Obedient Serpent is a regular contributor to said wiki.
I am so going to hell for some of these....

athelind: (Warning: Group Intellect)
J.K. Rowling is getting sued by the clueless again. Yes, yet another plagiarism accusation. Making Light goes into great detail about the spuriousness of the claim, and the wretched quality of the claimant's allegedly-plagiarized work.

You don't really need to read all that. You'll find the meat of the whole issue before you even have to scroll down the page, when Ms. Hayden points out three things about such lawsuits. Her second point addresses something that comes up a lot in pop culture conversations:

“Non-writers think it’s the ideas, rather than the execution, that make a book. They’ve got that backward.”



I submit this as a Law of the Internet, on a par with Godwin's and Poe's: "Hayden's Second Law".

As I said, this comes up a lot. "Plagiarism", per se, is seldom invoked, but milder euphemisms abound: "derivative" is a popular epithet, and to many, "originality" seems the highest criterion for literary merit.

The career of the Gentleman from Avon indicates otherwise.

I should note that I'm guilty of this, myself; I've repeatedly tabled my own flailing attempts at writing because my characters, settings, or plot seem "derivative".


Addendum: just a few hours before I made this post, [livejournal.com profile] foofers provided a technological example of "it's not the ideas, it's the execution" -- in this instance, whether the ideas got executed at all.
athelind: (Default)
J.K. Rowling is getting sued by the clueless again. Yes, yet another plagiarism accusation. Making Light goes into great detail about the spuriousness of the claim, and the wretched quality of the claimant's allegedly-plagiarized work.

You don't really need to read all that. You'll find the meat of the whole issue before you even have to scroll down the page, when Ms. Hayden points out three things about such lawsuits. Her second point addresses something that comes up a lot in pop culture conversations:

“Non-writers think it’s the ideas, rather than the execution, that make a book. They’ve got that backward.”



I submit this as a Law of the Internet, on a par with Godwin's and Poe's: "Hayden's Second Law".

As I said, this comes up a lot. "Plagiarism", per se, is seldom invoked, but milder euphemisms abound: "derivative" is a popular epithet, and to many, "originality" seems the highest criterion for literary merit.

The career of the Gentleman from Avon indicates otherwise.

I should note that I'm guilty of this, myself; I've repeatedly tabled my own flailing attempts at writing because my characters, settings, or plot seem "derivative".


Addendum: just a few hours before I made this post, [livejournal.com profile] foofers provided a technological example of "it's not the ideas, it's the execution" -- in this instance, whether the ideas got executed at all.
athelind: (clobberin' time)
I should note, incidentally, that some people assume that the term "fanfic" is perjorative. That is not my intent in this matter.

When the Second Law says "indistinguishable", it means indistinguishable -- functionally identical in all important respects.

Alan Moore's Watchmen is a superhero story of unparalleled excellence.

It is also pure, unadulterated fanfic, in all but a single respect -- and that respect is that Moore recieved a paycheck from the corporate entity (a legal fiction of no literary relevance) that the copyright (another legal fiction of no literary relevance) to the characters upon whom the graphic novel was based.

EDIT: Thinking about it, with the possible exception of V for Vendetta, all of Moore's major works are fanfic.
athelind: (Default)
I should note, incidentally, that some people assume that the term "fanfic" is perjorative. That is not my intent in this matter.

When the Second Law says "indistinguishable", it means indistinguishable -- functionally identical in all important respects.

Alan Moore's Watchmen is a superhero story of unparalleled excellence.

It is also pure, unadulterated fanfic, in all but a single respect -- and that respect is that Moore recieved a paycheck from the corporate entity (a legal fiction of no literary relevance) that the copyright (another legal fiction of no literary relevance) to the characters upon whom the graphic novel was based.

EDIT: Thinking about it, with the possible exception of V for Vendetta, all of Moore's major works are fanfic.
athelind: (hoard potato)
The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.
athelind: (Default)
The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.
athelind: (Superboy Punches The Universe)
I've realized that "Running the Asylum" is really Snark's Second Law of Fanfic. The first dates back thirty years:

"Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market."

The previous entry has been adjusted accordingly.

On the other claw... is that just a specific example of the "Sufficiently Established Franchise" rule? It certainly set the stage for the incorporation of fan writers into the Official Canon.

On the gripping hand, it could be said that Star Trek fell prey to the Second Law in the second season of the original series, when they accepted a script from an unpublished college student who sent in a pile of unsolicited script submissions...
athelind: (Default)
I've realized that "Running the Asylum" is really Snark's Second Law of Fanfic. The first dates back thirty years:

"Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market."

The previous entry has been adjusted accordingly.

On the other claw... is that just a specific example of the "Sufficiently Established Franchise" rule? It certainly set the stage for the incorporation of fan writers into the Official Canon.

On the gripping hand, it could be said that Star Trek fell prey to the Second Law in the second season of the original series, when they accepted a script from an unpublished college student who sent in a pile of unsolicited script submissions...
athelind: (hoard potato)
From FurryMUCK, this morning:

[livejournal.com profile] normanrafferty tries to remember the review he read of 'Torchwood'. "I think it said, 'Is it possible for something to be new material and fan-fiction at the same time?'"

Oh, you betcha. Let's codify this, in fact:

Snark's First Second Law of Fanfic (a.k.a. "Running the Asylum"):
A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic.

When a fictional franchise has lasted long enough to induct its fandom into the ranks of its professional creators, the distinction between Canon and Fan Fic erodes. The new wave of creators start sneaking Fanon into official sources. Ret Cons abound. Writers will revisit old stories, instilling far more self-indulgent detail into the retellings than ever appeared in the original.

In short, the Inmates are Running The Asylum.

Sometimes, this can bring fresh, new life to the franchise. Other times, the same kind of in-fighting that erupts in fannish circles will play out between creative teams -- but now, the factions are all armed with Canon.
athelind: (Default)
From FurryMUCK, this morning:

[livejournal.com profile] normanrafferty tries to remember the review he read of 'Torchwood'. "I think it said, 'Is it possible for something to be new material and fan-fiction at the same time?'"

Oh, you betcha. Let's codify this, in fact:

Snark's First Second Law of Fanfic (a.k.a. "Running the Asylum"):
A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic.

When a fictional franchise has lasted long enough to induct its fandom into the ranks of its professional creators, the distinction between Canon and Fan Fic erodes. The new wave of creators start sneaking Fanon into official sources. Ret Cons abound. Writers will revisit old stories, instilling far more self-indulgent detail into the retellings than ever appeared in the original.

In short, the Inmates are Running The Asylum.

Sometimes, this can bring fresh, new life to the franchise. Other times, the same kind of in-fighting that erupts in fannish circles will play out between creative teams -- but now, the factions are all armed with Canon.
athelind: (Eye of Agammotto)
Nobody quite answered the question I thought I'd asked in my last post. They answered the part about why Fantasy fans keep doing the same thing over and over, but not the part that really interested me.

So let me ask the same question, differently:

If the appeal of Fantasy over Science Fiction is really the comfort of the familiar, why do so many Fantasy fans insist that it's "more imaginative" and "less restrictive" than Science Fiction?
athelind: (Default)
Nobody quite answered the question I thought I'd asked in my last post. They answered the part about why Fantasy fans keep doing the same thing over and over, but not the part that really interested me.

So let me ask the same question, differently:

If the appeal of Fantasy over Science Fiction is really the comfort of the familiar, why do so many Fantasy fans insist that it's "more imaginative" and "less restrictive" than Science Fiction?
athelind: (facepalm)
Over on Second Life, a friend of [livejournal.com profile] silkspider's was helping another friend work up an RP sim.

She checked it out, and described it to me.

It's the most utterly generic fantasy I could think of.

Humans and Elves and Dwarves and Halflings are Good, Orcs and Goblins and Trolls are Evil, no, you can't play a noble, no, you can't be a Furry, no, you can't do this, that or the other thing.

If the appeal of Fantasy over Science Fiction is supposedly that you can do anything with Fantasy, why do people keep doing the same damned thing, over and over?

That's not a rhetorical question. I know some of you out there in Your Obedient Serpent's LJ Friends Sphere have used exactly that excuse to explain your preference for Fantasy over SF, in literature, game settings, or both. Explain yourselves!!
athelind: (Default)
Over on Second Life, a friend of [livejournal.com profile] silkspider's was helping another friend work up an RP sim.

She checked it out, and described it to me.

It's the most utterly generic fantasy I could think of.

Humans and Elves and Dwarves and Halflings are Good, Orcs and Goblins and Trolls are Evil, no, you can't play a noble, no, you can't be a Furry, no, you can't do this, that or the other thing.

If the appeal of Fantasy over Science Fiction is supposedly that you can do anything with Fantasy, why do people keep doing the same damned thing, over and over?

That's not a rhetorical question. I know some of you out there in Your Obedient Serpent's LJ Friends Sphere have used exactly that excuse to explain your preference for Fantasy over SF, in literature, game settings, or both. Explain yourselves!!
athelind: (DRAGON!)
As most of you know, I dabble in RPG design, mostly as a sounding board for [livejournal.com profile] normanrafferty. Some of you may also know that I am (like three out of four people in the fandom) working on a "fantasy epic" of my own. Thus, many of my conversations revolve around the Theory and Practice of World Creation.

Last night, the conversation took a startlingly familiar turn. I opined, as I often have over the decades, that "The best fantasy is written by people who do research, who don't just shrug and say, 'well, it's a fantasy, I can just make stuff up.' Too much fantasy these days is written by peole who think that reading Tolkien counts as 'research'."

The response: "Why does fantasy have to be based on research into what happened? Isn't true fantasy stuff that is Completely Made Up From Scratch? The only difference between basing your game on research of ancient myths and Tolkien is that their books are older."

(I haven't attributed the source because a) I don't want the person in question to feel like I'm "picking on them" in a public forum, and b) the sentiment is so often expressed.)

The obvious comparison is SF, of course. I've read a lot of science fiction, and it's not hard to tell the difference between the stuff written by people who know something about science and are willing to do some research on a topic before writing a novel around it, and the people who just read a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars novels and copied what they did.

However, a better comparison is comic book art.

I've read a lot of superhero comics. The medium has a lot of stylization, a lot of visual shorthand.

The most adept comic book artists have a deep-seated understanding of human anatomy. Their stylizations are based on that knowledge. Jack Kirby was famous for his impossible, dramatic poses -- but the man knew how the human body worked, and how to exaggerate it for effect.

When a comic book artist learned exclusively from reading comics, it shows. He applies the stylizations and conventions without really understanding the underlying structures. He uses the shorthand without grasping what it stands for. His exaggerations become more exaggerated, until his figures are so defomred and distorted that they bear only a painful resemblance to the human form. On the surface, the art may look slick and cool and cutting-edge, but on closer examination, it just doesn't hold together.

There's also... well, as an environmental scientist, I think of it as a "bottleneck effect". When you rely on second- and third- and fourth-hand sources for inspiration, you lose nuances and concepts and ideas with every successive iteration. Writers and gamers often proclaim that doing research just trammels on their Unfettered Creativity -- but so much of their output just winds up looking the same.

You want "Unfettered Creativity"? Our ancestors spent generations coming up with all manner of, well, wacked-out shit. I guarantee you that twenty minutes in the library skimming the Motif-Index of Folk Literature* will give you more useful, inventive, exotic ideas than reading the complete works of Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, and Margaret Weis put together.

It will certainly get your farther than reading the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Eberron sourcebook.

I should also say, by all of this, I am not advocating that All Fantasy Must Look Like Old Fairy Tales. To the contrary, I'm protesting the sameness of the bulk of the genre. Doing research, immersing yourself in folklore and history, serves two purposes: not only will it give you a richer, deeper reserve of concepts from which to draw -- it also will help you break away from the endless litany of cliches and do something genuinely different and innovative.


*True Confession Time: I discovered the MIFL through a "Recommended Reading" article in Dragon Magazine, c. 1978-80.
athelind: (Default)
As most of you know, I dabble in RPG design, mostly as a sounding board for [livejournal.com profile] normanrafferty. Some of you may also know that I am (like three out of four people in the fandom) working on a "fantasy epic" of my own. Thus, many of my conversations revolve around the Theory and Practice of World Creation.

Last night, the conversation took a startlingly familiar turn. I opined, as I often have over the decades, that "The best fantasy is written by people who do research, who don't just shrug and say, 'well, it's a fantasy, I can just make stuff up.' Too much fantasy these days is written by peole who think that reading Tolkien counts as 'research'."

The response: "Why does fantasy have to be based on research into what happened? Isn't true fantasy stuff that is Completely Made Up From Scratch? The only difference between basing your game on research of ancient myths and Tolkien is that their books are older."

(I haven't attributed the source because a) I don't want the person in question to feel like I'm "picking on them" in a public forum, and b) the sentiment is so often expressed.)

The obvious comparison is SF, of course. I've read a lot of science fiction, and it's not hard to tell the difference between the stuff written by people who know something about science and are willing to do some research on a topic before writing a novel around it, and the people who just read a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars novels and copied what they did.

However, a better comparison is comic book art.

I've read a lot of superhero comics. The medium has a lot of stylization, a lot of visual shorthand.

The most adept comic book artists have a deep-seated understanding of human anatomy. Their stylizations are based on that knowledge. Jack Kirby was famous for his impossible, dramatic poses -- but the man knew how the human body worked, and how to exaggerate it for effect.

When a comic book artist learned exclusively from reading comics, it shows. He applies the stylizations and conventions without really understanding the underlying structures. He uses the shorthand without grasping what it stands for. His exaggerations become more exaggerated, until his figures are so defomred and distorted that they bear only a painful resemblance to the human form. On the surface, the art may look slick and cool and cutting-edge, but on closer examination, it just doesn't hold together.

There's also... well, as an environmental scientist, I think of it as a "bottleneck effect". When you rely on second- and third- and fourth-hand sources for inspiration, you lose nuances and concepts and ideas with every successive iteration. Writers and gamers often proclaim that doing research just trammels on their Unfettered Creativity -- but so much of their output just winds up looking the same.

You want "Unfettered Creativity"? Our ancestors spent generations coming up with all manner of, well, wacked-out shit. I guarantee you that twenty minutes in the library skimming the Motif-Index of Folk Literature* will give you more useful, inventive, exotic ideas than reading the complete works of Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, and Margaret Weis put together.

It will certainly get your farther than reading the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Eberron sourcebook.

I should also say, by all of this, I am not advocating that All Fantasy Must Look Like Old Fairy Tales. To the contrary, I'm protesting the sameness of the bulk of the genre. Doing research, immersing yourself in folklore and history, serves two purposes: not only will it give you a richer, deeper reserve of concepts from which to draw -- it also will help you break away from the endless litany of cliches and do something genuinely different and innovative.


*True Confession Time: I discovered the MIFL through a "Recommended Reading" article in Dragon Magazine, c. 1978-80.
athelind: (hoard potato)
A post that [livejournal.com profile] the_gneech made early this morning brought this to mind, and I thought I'd expand upon and share the thoughts in my earlier comment.

Some thoughts on the applied use of clichs and tropes: )
athelind: (Default)
A post that [livejournal.com profile] the_gneech made early this morning brought this to mind, and I thought I'd expand upon and share the thoughts in my earlier comment.

Some thoughts on the applied use of clichs and tropes: )

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