Saturday, 30 January 2010

Cities of Fan Fiction: Slimming Down

It's been a while since I updated this thing. Generally, there was no need with issues being either very temporary or too small to post them here.

Lately I've been browsing the Twilight section of FFN. Truly, no other part of the website matches the abysmal stupidity and pig-headedness of members there. I'm a hopeful person that gives people several helpings of second chances, but you know how some individuals are criminal failures, as proven by the repetitive anonymous commentary this essay got on its first day and some fans' disregard of other fandoms for whatever reason. How I got to this conclusion is a long and complicated story, but its synopsis is simple. Before I begin, though, I'd like to make it with an analogy.

There are three types of sections on FFN. Ghost towns, neighborhoods and cities. Ghost towns are the easiest to describe: they are dead. Updates are scarce, there are little stories et cetera.

Small sections (say 15k stories) are like neighborhoods. There is a fixed number of people that stay, the core landlords. They are the backbone of the community with others either moving in permanently (writing alongside you for long periods of time) or renting accommodation. Those who rent basically stay in the shadow of their idols on FFN and have a short lifespan. They move from section to section without having a clear home plate. Sure, when their idols leave the website for whatever reason, they might buy the experienced author's accommodation and use the free niche to prosper. It happens often when some fans decide to prolong the work of some inactive author. Cutesy.

Neighborhoods have perks and flaws. The perk is that it's possible to spread any message via several idols effectively. Since people tend to know one another after a while, communication is fast and you get quick feedback. Another advantage is that people seem to care for one another in such sections. They make friends and gain respect as part of a fixed group. Sadly, that very glue that bonds the community can be an obstruction. When a certain policy/decision/reform is put against an idol, the whole community might start an uproar in support. Stubbornness and inability to accept certain publicly useful decisions (because the benefit to the idol is smaller than that of the public [people are selfish]) can lead to stagnation when it comes to quality of housing (posted stories). One more issue can be found when a person wants to enter the community. When you're that new guy at a party where everyone else is friends with all except you, it might be tough to enter the circle. You're not with the in crowd, so you stay shunned.

Now we reach the question of big sections or cities. I consider Naruto, Harry Potter and Twilight writers the most prominent examples of city folk. A city has LOTS of people. The people rarely interact and you don't notice many strangers in its streets. It's very easy to disappear, blend into the crowd in a city. Likewise, it's easy to find friends in one because city dwellers are lonely. This lack of integration and being scattered into tiny isolated groups makes people very sensitive to communication. That's a definite perk. It's a lot easier to find like-minded people in a city section than a neighborhood. However, it's very difficult to gain sufficient leverage in a city for anything at all since most people will not notice you. Example: by the time you click and review one story on the front page, it's already on page two. This way, a lot of things remain in the shade, and you never know what exactly you have missed. Maybe a gem waiting to be discovered or a guy with a knife waiting to butcher your eyes. Cities are dangerous places. Crime and filth can call them a safe haven, though. The more people, the easier to find a sucker to rob. If you die, chances are nobody will care. In a neighborhood, everyone would mourn you. This is one of the reasons why inhabitants of cities (people who write mainly in those sections) end up depressed and their creative health deteriorates to animalistic urges. Why try to have a nice friendly home when you can open a whore house and reap benefits from sad individuals? Not a question.

Some of you are probably curious why I've gotten through such an extensive visual tirade. I'm a critic. I review fictions with the goal of attaining a higher level of literary quality in a section. My home plate, Sonic the Hedgehog, was successful in that sense. How come? It's a neighborhood. Yes, it was a bit difficult at first with idols opposing critique, having been used to pure praise and nothing less, but eventually constructive criticism became a standard. Now it's a beautiful sight: people are not afraid to speak their mind! When someone posts an outright abusive story, they don't get censored greeting cards and flowers, but what they deserve. It's a marvelous example of community spirit with central values. Improvement and quality are just a few of them. Branching into other neighborhoods (like Pokemon) also proved itself a worthwhile experience. Changes have occurred there, too. That's the power of change one person carries.

And now we reach Twilight, the big city, and a peeve one person cannot physically contain. I can't even start explaining how horrid the experience of a critic is in those parts. In a neighborhood, there is a certain standard of respect. People try to mirror one's levelheaded reviews and ask intelligent questions. Moreover, account age is also a factor people consider before making judgments. Not the best way of evaluating something, but it works. In a city, there is none of that. Any 12-year-old that is not of legal age to write on FFN will subject any random critic to verbal abuse for as much as touching the issue of spelling and effort. The sensitivity and personal intake of critical messages make communication downright impossible.

The typical conversation goes somewhat like this:
- review
- angry response with 'don't read if you don't like + this is my story + i write what i want'
- my reply of 'i can't like/dislike a story without reading it first + respecting readers is a core value for a writer + guidelines prevent anarchy'
- the recipient's message 'i don't care what u think + i saw worse stories'
- my post with 'you're typing so much text telling me you don't care it sounds like you care + it's best to use better stories as an example, not worse ones'
- the already mad author 'i have a difficult life: my mother is a drunk + i really don't care what you think about me not caring (in 5 sentences)'
- the finisher 'you have written me more text saying you don't care than it is necessary to fix your whole story'
- the critic is blocked

It's impossible to approach them with kindness because the recipient merely starts laughing. And, generally, all conversation ends up in a standstill with excuses. The issue becomes absurd when some nihilist poster decides that script is legal here because nobody told them it wasn't. My reasoning is as simple as lying about one's age to start writing. Guidelines are accepted and read before posting. One should have enough boldness and tactlessness to ignore them to start with. Now, ignoring the call to change the outlawed story before it is too late is out of any logical frame.

Ironically, an abuse report is as potent on a small story as it is on a long scripted epic. The posters of the latter tend to think because their story has a few more reviews than the next fiction (that is legal), they are above the law and can post just about anything for drones that copy/paste reviews from one story to the next. Seriously, when you get a one-liner review, chances are the person never read the story at all.

Abuse reports take time to write for any individual upload. For big cities where crime remained unpunished for a long time, that is also quite a labour-taking task. In Twilight, I have seen stories that stand next to poison in terms of the message they bring. Those fictions get praise, naturally. They are copied and that poison spreads. Eventually, one comes to the realisation that the whole fandom is going downhill via numerous negligent posters that consider writing about shallow topics the best medicine for impopularity. During a single brief visit in the Twilight section, I have found that the authors consider the following legal:

First updates page infractions:
- author's notes for multiple chapters
- author's note chapters to avenge criticism
- scripted author's note chapters
- two-liner author's note chapters
- MA incest
- MA vore (cannibalism for sexual pleasure)
- MA sadism/masochism
- MA child molestation
- MA exhibitionism
- MA violence, including decapitation
- MA paraphilias
- MA titles
- MA summaries
- spam chapters
- scripted chapters
- IM chapters
- centred script chapters
- unchaptered script
- character submission interactivity
- idea submission interactivity
- voting interactivity
- advertising interactivity
- aggressive disregard to proper language
- aggressive disregard to structure and format
- aggressive formating in bold and/or italics
- all-capitals titles
- all-capitals summaries
- spam summaries
- duplicate posts
- plagiarism

Et cetera.

Since I'm unused to such volume of wrongness thrown at me in a single day, I asked myself the logical question: "How could this happen?!" The website has quality control, so where are the moderators looking, too. No matter. One can complain only after taking significant action.

The difficulty with acting in the Twilight environment is that communication is stilted in a city. One removed story makes a drop in the sea of filth. Users have gotten so bold as to advertise openly sexual innuendos and pornographic content right in their summaries on a teenage domain. Not only is this immoral and wrong, but also shows how...uneducated are the actual writers there. And all of them use the same excuse of having seen worse stories. My eyes were ready to explode when a thirteen-year-old posted a story with a woman diving on a 20-inch penis. Children of that age are not old enough to read their own works. For a psychiatrist, Twilight is a goldmine of various pathologies and disorders. I have actually yet to read a story void of swearing and emotional negativity there. The material available there is plainly dangerous.

What upsets me the most is the hedonism found in an increasing amount of new members' writing. I can't call it creative fiction or fiction at all. Stories start off with explanations of boredom and things being average. Then comes the perfectly undescribed painless sex scene with no sense of proportion. Advertising of one's videos, websites and hogwash comes next. The whole page looks like an assortment of scripted speeches with 'he said' slapped at the side. Story after story, it looks equally bland. The mainstream posters (not writers!) don't strive to feed one's soul. They just want to take. Page hits, reviews, attention, popularity. There is no giving. No sharing.

Something of a virus is easily found in uploads at Twilight. Members do not feel the need to write descriptions. No. They merely post links to pictures of objects/characters inside the story (for instance: The first time I've found a post like that, I gawked for a while. Some rummaging later, one could notice it's not a rare phenomenon. When I looked at the guidelines, I didn't even know which infraction was it. The level of utterly miserable literary failure was so unfathomable, so impenetrably deep that one's logics need to create a wholly new toolkit to manage a response.

And they get praise.

And they believe the praise is well-deserved.

I shuddered. Despite the grim outlook, things are salvageable. What one person cannot swallow, a group can easily share. The fact a city establishment makes it easy to bring a reform up to particular members plays into the hands of authors that actually try to write. Honestly, why do people break the guidelines? To get better stats. What are the results? Quality stories are drained of attention and disappear in the sea of dirt. That said, it is field day for a reviewer to do just about anything to make the gems more noticeable and drain the mud. Medicine tends to be bitter, and nobody asks the virus about its reflections on the matter.

That's why it's my pleasure to present you the Literate Union, an organisation willing to help deliver the vaccine. See, ladies and gentlemen, there are people that want to make change. They can make change. And they will. How do I know this? If one person can protect several thousand people from neighborhood poison, one group can protect a city full of inhabitants.

It's a positive note for the otherwise moody essay. Things may be bad there. Heck, a hundred stories worth erasing probably popped up in Twilight during production of the previous few paragraphs. But it's a trend. And trends are not made of concrete.

Anyone curious about the Literate Union can find its members here:

Have a nice, abuse-free day.

P.S. I'm not in the Literate Union. Misguided comments are misguided.

P.P.S. The conclusion is: tons of stories were removed since February. The angry illegal content addicts had to move, receiving no leverage or support from the owners. Don't underestimate your critics.