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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Trials Character Profile: Akagi Aki

I've always been meaning to do a character profile for the original characters in my fanfiction New Trials of Card Captor Sakura, but never got a chance to. I decided to start off with Akagi Aki, Sakura's classmate since Junior HIgh.

Akagi Tomoaki (16) is the youngest child in the Akagi family, who are considered "nouveau riche" and made their fortune in the horse racing business in partnership with the Tamemura family. He is younger brother to famous actress Akagi Arima, and his older brother is currently heir to the Akagi business, a graduate of MIT. He used to be a grade below Tanaka Mikai back in elementary school at Eitoukou Academy. Aki transferred to Seijou first year of junior high and has been in the same class with Sakura-tachi since then. He is currently class president at Seijou High, Editor-in-Chief of the Seijou High newspaper and pointguard in the Seijou Basketball team even though he is only a freshman. He was captain of the Seijou Junior High Basketball Team and voted MVP two years consecutively and student council president. Though he has a carefree demeanor, he has a tendency to be bossy and a perfectionist when it comes down to his work.

Relationships: Since Christmas of their third year of junior high, Aki has developed a big crush on Daidouji Tomoyo. Because of his extroverted personality, he gets along with everybody at school and is liked by everyone but despite his flirtatious nature, he has trouble finding a girlfriend. Syaoran used to dislike him a lot because of the Winter Wonderland incident (Arc One), but since then has grown to value Aki's steadfast presence in class. Sakura grew closer to Aki when she was recruited into the journalism club and finds him one of her few male peers that she feels comfortable to talk to. Miho and Aki clash a lot because they both are so headstrong, but Miho genuinely respects Aki as an editor and journalist. Tomoyo thinks Aki is like a big golden retriever (she thinks Syaoran is like a Siberian Husky and Eriol like a tabby cat). Aki's greatest idol back in elementary was Tanaka Mikai, but he gets greatly annoyed by Mizuki Kai. The person he is most scared of is his older sister.

People have been requesting for a picture of Aki, and unfortunately, I only have a rough sketch I drew quite a while ago. Hopefully, I'll be able to do a color picture of him when I have more time; he's actually a pretty fun character to draw. I mentioned before that Aki was originally named because there needed to be more male characters in Sakura's class, but somehow, he just stuck around. Unfortunately, I find that he is the only "ordinary" guy in the entire cast of New Trials; he has a very simplistic nature. He has trouble hiding his emotions, and he speaks what he thinks, hence is an antithesis to Syaoran, I guess. His fashion style is sporty and on the flashy and flamboyant side (think Hawaiian Tropical). In the sketch above, the boy on the right is Aki. The boy on the right... can you guess who it is? It's young Tanaka Mikai. You learn more about Akagi Aki's past in the Kaitou Magician Origins Special I actually should post the next chapter up, because I think I've caught up to the point in New Trials where I can reveal more about Kai's past. Anyhow, I wonder which character profile I should do next.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Trials of CCS Chapter 63 and xxxHolic 192

Sakura and Syaoran Ending by ~wishluv on deviantART

Chapter 63: The Joining of the Circle is posted at (ver.2) or and refer to Sakura's Magic Circle chart after you read the chapter.

I don't know why it is whenever I try to post my chapter, something happens and the server is down briefly (which always gives me a little heart-attack.) This chapter was very difficult to write because of its length and also content--it's 80 pages size 11 font Arial in Microsoft Words. I've written all my chapters size 11 Arial in Microsoft Word, for a whopping ten years. Anyhow, Chapter 64 is another 80+ pages (currently in editing process) but I might hold out releasing Chapter 64 till December because I'm really busy right now, and I also like to synchronize
the story with the season . ^_^ Chapter 63 and 64 were meant to be one chapter-- I mistakenly thought I could fit the entire Christmas storyline in one chapter. It was strange writing a non-action chapter and more of a drama saga. I'll refrain from commenting anymore until the next chapter comes out, which I had more fun writing. I wrote the beginning of this chapter, with Sakura's father in the hospital early in the summer (right after Chapter 62 came out). Anyhow, I had the worst dream that night about losing my father; I still remember it vividly because it was one of those dreams where you wake up feeling like you were crying and crying. The next day, I kept wondering why I had such a sad and disturbingly realistic dream, and it was because I'd been writing that particular scene in Chapter 63, and also, that previous day, my coworker had been talking about how her mother was ill with cancer. Dreams have often inspired ideas to write about, but this was one of the rare times that it was vice versa.

Exciting xxxHolic manga chapter this week. Chapter 192 refers to Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle characters again. Mokona Black mentions that Syaoran-tachi are still traveling and have recently returned to Piffle Country (my favorite!) and that Kurogane got himself a new prosthetic arm/ automail if this were Fullmetal Alchemist (yay!) I'm feeling a little better knowing that we will be hearing updates of Syaoran and crew like this, which leads me to believe that the TRC crew might play some important role in the future of xxxHolic. After all, there will be a point when Syaoran/Tsubasa will be freed from his price of always traveling and Watanuki from his price of always staying at the same place, hopefully. The new artbook cover for TRC is lovely as well, showing a grown up Sakura and Syaoran (Tsubasa and Tsubasa), actually looking like Mama and Papa S+S; we can tell it's them Tsubasa!S+S because Syaoran is wearing his awesome outfit from the final chapter in TRC. Maybe Tsubasa/Sakura will give birth to Clone!Syaoran some day in the future in a wonderful loop of events (hopefully not).

I like the idea that Watanuki is still learning his trade, that he doesn't always know how much is the right price to take from a person, and that he gets hurt by this. And perhaps Yuuko is in the same place where Clone!Syaoran and Sakura, because to me, TRC was THEIR story and whatever seemingly semi-happy ending CLAMP left us with Tsubasa!Syaoran and Sakura in the Epilogue of TRC is an illusion, disguising that "Clone" Sakura and Syaoran's story actually is a tragedy (thus far). I ended up feeling so sorry for Syaoran writing the new chapters that the Christmas chapter turned into semi-fluff. Lol.

Spoilers: My favorite scene this chapter is Mike and Erika's breakup scene. Maybe I'm a little evil like that. I enjoyed continuing off the "father" theme from last chapter, but this chapter I think was all about girl-power. Well, next chapter's all about the boys.

Sakura's Magic Circle of the Star Version 1

SPOILERS for Chapter 63: The Joining of the Circle>>>

It actually took a long time to figure out the order everybody is seated on the Star Circle in order to keep balance, etc., but I like how it came out. I created this diagram more for my own benefit, because I kept getting confused. It's even color-coded. This is just version 1 of the Star Circle from Chapter 63. As you can see, it's slightly different from Sakura's regular star circle because as of Arc 4, Sakura's magic circle has an extra crescent moon around the five-pointed star. Also, Sakura's regular magic circle is centered differently (the moon and sun and each have one point). The original vector of Sakura's Magic Circle is done by Yamamoto114, which is probably the best vector of Sakura's magic circle out there, except the alignment of the stars is slightly off. Still, I based the star-moon circle off off this model, and I just left it so that the centering of the stars is off and the sun and the moon aren't at equilibrium. (You can compare with image below of Sakura's regular upright magic circle). I had a hard time deciding whether to use this format or not, but in the end decided to stick with the off-aligned version for the star-moon circle because I like the idea that Sakura's magic circle is off balance in some way. Click on chart for a larger view.

A sign that you've been working on a chapter of New Trials too long is when you start counting 13 points on Sakura's star instead of 12. (Yes, this is a real life story). I panicked and thought, how could I for the past 9 years think there were 12 points and how come nobody pointed it out before? I was really really tired. I recounted later and voila, there was 12 again. Anyhow, Eriol's guardians are more like his minions. I technically should have erased Kai's name as well. In the Li spot, Meilin is currently standing. The positioning of everyone is important because the powers need to balance each other so that "equilibrium" can be reached, and because of this, the positions aren't stationary but will change accordingly to who is in the Magic Circle.

Sakura: Nee, Kero-chan, what order are people going to stand on my star circle?

Kero-chan: Random order? Height? People who get along?

Sakura: Hoe, this is so complicated!