Monday, November 23, 2009

Fanfiction: The Writing Process

I have a personality where I love to start projects but never finish them whether it is cross-stitching or novel-writing (or this blog-entry which I began writing in July). Thus, I can confidently say that my ten-year-old fanfiction The New Trials of Card Captor Sakura is by far the most persevering I've been on anything. Over the years, I have received numerous emails from various readers who also are writers themselves, telling me how they were inspired to go write their own fanfiction. This always makes me very happy. The root of any creative endeavor is the inspiration. But of course, then comes the concrete writing, pruning and publishing. There are so many unfinished fanfiction out there because people lose inspiration midway, I believe. Each writer has his or her own method of writing, but I thought I would like to elaborate on how writing a typical chapter of my fanfiction New Trials is like.

0. Introduction aka Inspiration

I was first introduced to the anime Card Captor Sakura on Korean TV back in June 1999 (though I became aware of the franchise when I was around sixth grade when my Japanese friend gave me stationary with Sakura and Tomoyo (and didn't even realize it was them until I went back and looked at the artwork years later). I immediately fell in love with the show. Those were the days of dial-up modem, I believe, and anime was not streamed online. Watching anime meant I had to sit down at 6:00PM to watch each episode of CCS dubbed into Korean. At one point, I also watched on cable TV the NHK2 broadcast of Season 3 of CCS (ending in March 2000) though at that time I didn't understand a word of Japanese.

So, back in early fall of 1999, when I was pretty much new to the internet and anime fandom in general (I had just gotten a PC less than a year ago), I began reading fanfiction for the first time. At that time, there were only a handful of CCS fanfics online, and I remember using to find them. I haven't read fanfics before in general, so I basically had no clue what I was doing when I got started (that header note on the Prologue makes me wince a little time whenever I read it, but it also feels like a shout out from my 13-year-old self.) Because I couldn't find many CCS fanfiction that I thought were believable continuations off of the characters I've grown to love, I had two intentions in mind when I started New Trials and that was 1) make characters stay true to character and 2) entertain myself and indulge in my own fantasies.

Thus, I began writing New Trials at the age of thirteen with that inspiration in mind. The way I write fiction is very much like the way I write my school essays. There are two types of writers--the ones who make an outline and write according to the outline, and then those who just write the body first and then copy and paste to structure the essay (okay, I know there are other ways as well). I'm the type of person who for an English essay will type up all the quotes, write up the body, then the intro and conclusion. I know, all in reverse order. That is pretty much the way I have written all 64+ chapters of New Trials. I write the scenes that I feel like writing at that moment, sometimes in the middle of work, sometimes in the middle of writing something else; when I have a dialogue replaying in my mind, sometimes I hurry to type of the conversation as fast as I can before I lose the essence of it, then go back and make sure it's all coherent.

The Writing Process of a Chapter of New Trials

1. Brainstorming: The foundation of any story; this process can take a couple minutes or years and usually is the fun part because I derive ideas from everywhere, from dreams to lectures to something I see on the streets (ie. the fashion show in Chapter 63 was inspired by a mannequin wearing a pastel green shirt and beige blazer in the Men's Section of Banana Republic). I have only recently jotted down some of my ideas on Words because I'm afraid with my declining brain cells, I might forget something essential down the road. Also, the plot now in Arc 4 is much more structurally complex than it was in Arc 1. I mean, back then, I never thought I'd be still writing this fanfic 10 years later.

2. Scene writing: This can be considered as brainstorming on paper/MS Word. I often write the core scenes, the vital conversations or events of the chapter out first before I forget them. These scenes aren't written in chronological order, and I might have scenes from several chapters in advance depending on when I feel like writing them. For example, last year I was inspired to write a scene for last chapter of New Trials. My defense to my friends who think I'm lazy when I miss out on a night out, it's actually because my mind is very busy plotting. ^_^

3. Plot configuration and scene replay : Most writers would do this first. But for me, once I know what key scenes and story I want present in a chapter, then I have to figure out all the technical details aka. the action/climax, ie. what dark forces there will be (unless the dark force plays an important role in the chapter development and I planned it out in brainstorming process) and how the force will be sealed, what outfits people would be wearing, where the action will take place. I used to end a chapter when I got tired of writing it, but now that we are in Arc 4, I pay more attention to what information is revealed/withheld each chapter and how much development along the plot line there is. This part usually takes the longest time, and I am consistently replaying dialogue or sentences in my mind while I'm walking back home, exercising, though not so much before falling asleep at night anymore (but back in high school, I used to fall asleep to playing out scenes out in my mind which was a lot of fun). The reason this process takes so long and is important is because I have to put myself in the character's position and think how the character would react in a certain situation. I believe there are plot-writers and character-writers. Plot-writers use their characters as a means to convey the plot whereas character-writers use the plot to convey the characters, and I am the latter. Oftentimes, I have to rewrite certain scenes or dialogue because I realized that the character would not act in a certain way, and hence, I would have to reconfigure the plot.

4. Pruning and rearranging (aka fitting the pieces of the puzzle together): This process might be sort of unique to me, but it's when I actually get to writing out the chapter in a coherent fashion. It is also when I start to reorder the scenes because being me, I don't necessarily write in chronological order, especially now that there is a cast of two dozen characters and five different subplots going on. I ask, is this information needed in this chapter and are there any loopholes in the story of the chapter or anything that will create loopholes later on. Somewhere along this process, everything "clicks" together in terms of plot and language, and it's a satisfying feeling because it indicates that the completion of the chapter is near.

5. Editing: Usually, this is when I do some final pruning. I usually end up pushing some scenes back to a future chapter, which also means that I have the foundation for the next chapter to work off of. I used to love this process until the chapters turned 80 pages long. Ideally, I would like to have perfect, errorless chapters, but I am only one person. I actually edit a lot in the process of writing, so at this point, it's usually purely grammatical and typos that I'm checking. I've had people offer me to edit, which I am very grateful for, but at the moment, getting out chapters with speed is priority, so doing a one-man-show has worked out best thus far. There was an earlier chapters editing process going on last year... I wonder what happened to that. One day, I will go back to edit everything, hopefully.

6. Publishing: Finally, when I decide I'm too sick of the chapter to work on it any longer, I upload the newest chapter up at at some wee hour in the morning, post a message at announcing latest chapter and fall asleep. Usually, I don't want to look at a chapter again for at least a week, but usually, within the next couple days, I discover some major typos and then freak out, edit and repost--or ignore because I am too burned out and it's a hassle to reupload everything.

7. Recuperation: For the next two weeks, I don't think of anything about New Trials (completely not true, actually). I catch up with responding to backlogged email, feeling guilty about emails from a month or two ago. (I am sometimes very quick, sometimes very slow to response, not on purpose though. I usually read emails on the run, so I oftentimes don't have time to respond and forget to later on.) But even if I don't respond, remember, it might have been your email which motivated me to actually go back and finish up that next chapter. There is usually a point in the midst of writing a chapter when I run behind schedule because of a writer's block or just from hecticness in real life. And then, a lovely email awaits in my inbox which inspires me and then I revert back to "Wish-chan-mode," inspired to hurry up and pump out the next chapter. Lol. Anyhow, after recuperation, it's back to step 1. (But usually, I have at this point a bit of stages 1 and 2 already done because we are now in Arc 4 and everything's culminating).

8. Every writer's enemy - the Writer's Block: Each writer has a different means of writing and there is no right and wrong way. The method I have described is one that developed from writing a chapter by chapter long-running series. Hence, I suffered from many long periods of writer's block or overload with school/life/work. It's sometimes difficult to balance real life and hobby. Because writing is sort of a meditative hobby/ life calling for me, I could keep at it for so long. Writing takes many many hours and lots of patience. The funny thing about writer's blocks is that some of my favorite stories derived from such periods where I was stuck in the main storyline. If you suffer from writer's block, take a break from writing, go out enjoy the sunlight, take a walk, watch TV, read. I think more ideas generate when you engage in life. Or, write about something else, a different character, a different plot line. I think a lot of New Trials Specials derived from having a writer's block. On the reverse, there is something very fascinating how when I'm so busy with other things, I always suddenly get an idea or an urge to write. We all know the phenomenon where it's so much more fun to do something when you're procrastinating studying.

The main difference between "fanfiction" writing and "academic" writing for me is that in New Trials, I do pour a 100% of my soul into my writing. But if I were doing academic writing, there would be another step after #6 which would be "sentence-by-sentence pruning." That oftentimes takes as much time as it takes me to write. For school writing or something published, I would read over each sentence and analyze whether each word is necessary and prune, show restraint, edit more and fine tune the writing technique. But the joys of fanfiction is that there is no word limit, no time limit (arguable) and no limit to the imagination, hence I can truly be me.

Anyhow, RIP, my first website and first real home of New Trials. Geocities is gone forever. I have a horrible feeling I still had stuff left on the server but I guess time will tell.


  1. well that sure was an inspiring text. I'm glad that you have decided to follow it through! And if this gives you any encouragement at all; I think that I've been following/stalking your fic maybe 8-9 years now? And I'm pretty sure that I will follow it till its done, no matter how long it takes! lol. Keep it up wishluv!


  2. Amazing. I love how you're still going with New Trials. I've been following this epic piece of work for... wow, nine years now. Back in Web 1.0! Daayum. You were the one who inspired my 12-year-old self to start writing a novel, and served as a source of thought-provoking questions that kept me up all night and eventually got me really into philosophy. Thank you for being amazing, keep it up! :D