Please enjoy this hilarious and informative panel on how to be the best possible writer through research from AnimeFest 2021.
Today is my Blogging Anniversary and 9 years ago when I started this blog as a mandatory assignment during my time in university: I would never have guessed the highs and lows this journey has taken me on.
I’ve written about my darkest moments, my highest highs, my life and times and the world as it was.
I got canceled by guinea pig stans, finished college, got my first career job, fell in and out of love and coped with the loss of my mother and father.
Thank you all for joining me on this journey. I wouldn’t be here without you.
I started writing fanfic when I was 12. I don’t really know why; I always had an overactive imagination and a strong desire to escape the world I was in. It started, shockingly, with To Kill a Mockingbird because I guess I had some feelings to work out about a Southern boy and I quickly found myself inserting shades of myself into various narratives, mostly anime. The characters I created then were hollow; overpowered fantasies that were all beautiful, lily white and strong and always paired with whatever character I had some feelings about; that or they were some kind of estranged secret sister that never came up until now. We see these kinds of writings now and mock them but for formative youths, it was almost necessary to have a way to escape daily life.
I did my school work and came home to write, then mostly on paper with pencil so I could always fix a mistake and I shared my work with almost no one. I was proud of my work but in the sort of way anyone is proud of a secret. It was something that I could keep to myself; a place that only I knew.
I didn’t start sharing my work until I was 14 both physically with friends by sliding folders full of my unfettered musings between classes and on lunch breaks and later in the year online on sites like Quizilla and Xanga. I grew fairly popular because I was attached to a ship that was popular (mostly slash pairings with Envy from FMA and the occasional InuYasha piece). Typing made my work so much easier and I could spend hours in Notepad writing out my deepest desires for characters now in hindsight would start to shape nearly every part of me and my sexuality and orientation. Looking back, I had no idea what I was going; especially as I began to write out sex scene and explicit material. I was mimicking what others were writing; most of us also underage and hadn’t seen the anatomy of the other biological sex. We were all the blind being led by the blind but I don’t think we cared. We continued on as writers with the foundation we built together, as a community, and were prepared to go out into the sea with our headcanons, ships and shipping manifestos.
I was 15 when I started my longest running fic, a Gravitation series I used to help work through some angst about my sexuality and gender and more importantly helped continue to hone in who I would become as a writer. Unreliable narrators, first person limited, lots of commentary from your main character and occasionally out of character behaviors but always rationalized and rooted with the canon lore of the series. This was also when I started writing to music, letting the beat and rhythm of each song carry my fingers along and focus the many noises in my already-filled brain. I’m listening to music now as I write this piece. I kept writing fanfic well through highschool, even writing some original fiction and taking commissions for pieces from friends where I was paid in favors, clout or money to write them a few chapters or scenes with a character they were particularly fond of with a character of their choosing either canon and original. I liked providing that for others, giving them an outlet, too, as I had given myself.
When I graduated highschool, I gave up a lot of my anime and manga, assuming that I would grow out of this “phase” that had occupied nearly a decade of my life by then as my aunts had hoped. I didn’t. Within a year, I was back to writing and added roleplay to the mix. I thrived in large roleplay forums and with many partners in many series with OCs perfectly tailored for every situation. Again, this taught me a new skill: completing actions. RPs were based on making sure actions were closed and completed; if you left a door open within the RP, that open space could be used by anyone. You’ll notice that in my fiction that anytime a door is opened, someone closes it; if a product is brought into the scene, it is set down somewhere solid, rooms have depth and proportion and items because rooms aren’t blank slates and to this day I still draw out room layouts and home layouts for various works.
I had a dedicated RP partner when I was in my third year of college; she was the most formative to my works and my continued dive into fanfiction. She was my muse, my everything. She helped me grow as a writer by giving me a challenge, something I rarely felt like I had. Not that I ever thought my skill was that grand but she was really someone who could keep up with me and could match my energy levels in a way that I could have only ever dreamed of. She continues to be my partner and I am grateful for that.
I continued to roleplay and that kept me satiated as far as fiction came but it was when my then-girlfriend began to grow interested in my work that I returned to fanfic: picking up my Gravitation series as it was a series that helped bring us together. I would write mostly for her, because of her and at her behest and encouragement. I had a captive audience of one and it was more than enough motivation for me to continue to write. That strategy worked out perfectly until she broke my heart and left me.
I lost my will to write. I lost my Raison d’être and I couldn’t stomach looking at my work again. While during that time I had another RP partner who kept me entertained from time to time, it was a time I mostly focused on non-fiction and getting this humble little blog up and running. My schedule then didn’t leave me with much time to think about fiction and my day job that also had me writing plenty didn’t leave me with the needed creativity once I returned home from work to want to write much else.
It was in my late 20s that I decided that I was going to finish my Gravitation series mostly out of spite. I was tired of looking at the unfinished document and tired of feeling sorry for myself and my broken heart: I kept writing, sometimes manically and for hours on end late at night sitting on my bed in my shitty one-room apartment. I finished the series and was triumphant and elated; celebratory in a room to my own and then promptly began working on the sequel knowing that it was unlikely anyone else would see this work ever again. It was too personal, too old, too problematic and too close to my heart to share with others. It was my dirty little secret to be buried with me in death and rot with me for an eternity.
It took me a long time to decide on posting fanfic publicly again: mostly a desire to reclaim a lost part of my youth and for the most part, my fiction slid under the radar. That was before I started working on a passion project: a MattxMello fic from Death Note that would later balloon to over 50,000 words and 40 chapters. For the first time since my teen years I had an audience, an upload schedule, comments and cliffhangers and fans.
I had regained part of myself that I had shunned for years and now, it feels even better than ever to be back.
I started my video game journey in earnest with Pokemon back when I was a wee demon living in suburbia. Pokemon is well-known for its clueless NPCs and how invasive you can be in their lives. Now, let’s back up: an NPC is a non-playable character in a video game. Typically they hang out in the background and only provide things to move the plot along or are just random extras. Sometimes they’re given really fun lines but for the most part they are meant to let you continue on in your own quest for fame and in-game self-importance.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has changed that for me in a way that I currently find unsettling and interesting. Animal Crossing is a game in which you (player and character) live on a land or island with villagers that are your neighbors and you help them out with mundane tasks and interact with them on a daily basis creating strange parasocial relationships with fictional characters. As stated, I started my journey with RPGs with Pokémon and for the most part the NPCs in any given region are pretty linear with their motivations and movements. Sure, they can walk around and move around but they rarely seem to exist outside of you. The houses don’t feel lived in, the parks don’t feel full, they are ghosts that fill a landscape for you: the hero of a Nietzschean wet dream. You walk into a house and rummage around the trash for goods and talk to someone, sometimes but for the most part, the unmoving digital eyes care little for your activities or actions. It’s perfectly normal within Pokémon to walk into someone’s home, steal their shit and leave.
Animal Crossing is not Pokemon and I didn’t think that fact would unnerve me until I tried to leave Rocco’s house without saying anything. I had entered in the hopes of giving him a gift to build clout, I mean because he deserved it for doing nothing, and when I found him working away at his workstation, I left without acknowledging him. I was shocked to see how he reacted to that. Of course he would react and not kindly but with confusion. I entered his home and said nothing; that’s deranged and rude. But Rocco was confused and that gave me pause for the first time in my decades of playing video games. NPCs are watching me. I never worried about that until recently. I never cared about how I dressed in-game or how I behaved but now playing Animal Crossing I feel like I have eyes on me all the time. Characters’ eyes follow me when I run around; when I enter their homes and greet them they are often interrupted from a previous task. When I don’t see them, they are disappointed and when I talk to them too much, they comment on that.
They have lives outside of me: something I rarely have had to think about for an NPC. I am part of their world, not a part of mine like most traditional narrative structure in games.My villagers are neighbors, on par and equal to me. While I am the main character, I am in many ways in service to them. I have to weed and water and pick up rocks and fill the museum and catch bugs and fish and keep the entire economy running by selling to a gaggle of capitalist tanuki.
It created along with it a strange short of shame to me that I rarely feel in video games: most games allow players to be shameless with their dress and actions. You are the ubermensch of this world and it bends to your will. So what if I break into someone’s house in Legend of Zelda. But in Animal Crossing the characters have a life outside of you. They leave their homes, they sleep, they fish, they do things where you don’t matter; where I don’t matter. I am as much an NPC to them as they are to me. They are people creatures who truthfully would probably be fine without me sans “missing” my character and things getting full of weed because someone has to do the damn work around here.
I’m a vain person, which is hilarious considering how low my self-esteem is. I’m image conscious even in games. I had this concern while playing Animal Crossing when Clyde, a horse I do not like, showed up on my island. I was told by friends that hitting him with my net and generally being a damn menace would encourage the horse to leave. I was fine with that, I’m used to being a sociopath in games and decided that I wanted to appropriate his land for my Japanese-themed garden on the island and proceeded to hunt the horse down mercilessly and hit him with my net repeatedly. I was then shocked to see the horse show visible frustration and sadness and when I spoke to him he said that his feelings were hurt and it was my fault.
This is a video game. This horse isn’t real. But I broke down over that. I hurt the horse’s feelings and hurt him. And while of course that makes sense because don’t hit random people with nets, for god’s sake, I was shocked that my actions had consequences. In video games, I am a lawless sociopath doing as I wish but here I did something that caused a reaction and one that was not positive. I was emotionally crushed in that moment (thanks, trauma) and I have left the horse alone for now to continue to mar my land with his existence but too afraid now to harm him.
An NPC’s gaze can be powerful, more so than I ever assumed before. Now, I am paranoid, anxious and scared with so many virtual eyes on me. It has affected how I dress, act and move in-game and now has me wondering if I’ll ever view NPCs the way I used to again.
I have been watching a lot of very easily bingeable media and one thing I really like are compilation videos: they can be hours long and I don’t have to skip around and they provide consistent noise; something I need while working either at my day job or the myriad of other projects I’m a part of. What I didn’t expect was that I’d find a very strange sort of serenity in watching the world at its most chaotic: during car crashes.
There are countless hours of dashcam footage from cars all over the world. Some of it records aliens, meteors, space launches, ghosts and most importantly: car crashes. Car crashes scare the hell out of me; like most people, realistically. I’ve been in a few accidents but very few actual crashes, to which I know I am quite fortunate but my anxiety around cars has stemmed from a pretty nasty accident I got into when I was just starting to drive. I’ve never felt entirely safe or secure in the car, especially if I’m driving; it’s still one of my least favorite things to do. I much rather be a passenger and let someone else do the driving. I never found it freeing, relaxing or anything; it’s always been a chore to take up with a sacred solidarity because as someone operating a car, you are in fact in control of a two-ton death cage careening at high speed. When I was in driver’s education, the deadly aspect of driving was really hammered home and that’s a fear I’ve taken with me some 15 years later. And to be perfectly honest, dash cam culture is a fascinating look into people who trust no one (valid) and record everything; sparking some interesting conversations about surveillance culture, consent to be filmed and just what is one to do with literal hours of footage.
But in my hunt for content that I rarely need to engage with as a means to minimize distractions in a world full of them, I’ve found dashcam footage from car crashes, brake checks, road ragers and more and; well, let’s talk about it.
Car crashes are horrifying but much like train crashes; it’s hard to look away. A mangle of metal, a tangle of tires, a barrage of bumpers. It’s all a horrid and profane symphony and honestly, some of them are just beautiful. The force required to turn a car into a crushed soda can is immense but also can be so random. I’ve watched hours of crash content and the things that have caused accidents are vast and capricious: just like the things that can endanger real human life as well.
I noticed something odd, though, when I would watch these crashes often during hours-long segments as some means of horrible crunching white noise: I would relax. My body would ease, sag into the sofa, I would become at ease and let out a held breath. I could finally be rid of the tension held in my shoulders and just let a small wave of endorphins and calm crash over me. I could finally relax and it immediately caused a dissonant type of concern for my brain chemistry and my sanity once I came back to my senses. When I realized that such a thought process was not only not normal but also a little worrying, I started to examine just what about literal disasters was so damn soothing to my anxious brain. And that was the key; there it was: my anxious brain.
Anxiety is a perversion of the brain’s typical defense system and desire to shield our flesh prisons from danger. The world is a scary place and if you think of our ancient ancestors, the upright apes, they were surrounded by threats to their lives from literal giant eagles to sabertooth cats and direwolves. Being anxious and weary of the world around them was a vital aspect to survival; it was the unwise that ran ahead into the option field that got yoinked out of existence by a giant bird. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown in every facet of the word and a sense of dread about a threat that one cannot see or feel yet. It’s being on edge about the car that could hit you or the person that could kidnap you. It’s the call that might be about the death of yet another family member or the fear that one mistake at work will end your entire career and leave you homeless and destitute. That’s what it’s like living with anxiety; it’s all build up with no climax, it’s constantly living on a razor’s edge waiting to finally fall and never actually falling.
I’ve been honest about my struggle with depression and generalized anxiety and I realize now, I’ve had this condition for most of my life. There’s something about facing loss and grief so early in your years and experiencing trauma that leaves the mind on edge and hypervigilant. My mind is always assuming that if only and if I had just would be enough and could have in fact changed the directory of my existence despite the futility of such thinking.
That’s why car crash videos felt so good to my brain that is already constantly braced for impact and prepared for the collision of metal and flesh. My brain finally registers that the crash has happened and I can finally let go of my breath and relax. Once I’m free from the fear of the crash coming I can then move on and process the rest of the trauma. In this instance, with just videos, I can come back down and recognize the damage done and gawk or gasp accordingly.
I did talk to my therapist about this and he mentioned wanting to see the dopamine release that clearly I’m getting from this via MRI and I agree with him. I’d also love to see the obvious chemical reaction I’m getting from watching literal car crashes. I’m sure it’s likely a little scary to admit but so is living with general anxiety.
I love the moment when a character is at their lowest point. When they can’t look up and see the light, when they’re down and being kicked, when things are a mess. I love drama and mess and catharsis. What I don’t love is when writers tend to beat characters down for no good reason. We’re going to go over a few examples of breaking characters down in mostly western dramas because it is a unique issue faced by series that go on for hundreds of episodes with a constant need to ratchet up the tension. Because we’ll be talking character arcs and plot points: a spoiler warning is in effect: proceed with caution if that’s something you’re particularly sensitive to.
Dr. Spencer Reid has been through a lot. His time in all 15 seasons of Criminal Minds saw him battling an addiction to painkillers, the death of his girlfriend at the hands of an insane stalker, the continued ups and downs of his mother’s deteriorating mental health and the death of his mentor, loss of his best friend and the faked death of a beloved coworker. Spencer has been through a lot to say the least. But what does that do for Spencer? Spencer who is already kind, trusting, supportive and loving: what does it do for him? Does having his mentor murdered and having to solve the case make him a better investigator? Does having to watch his girlfriend die make him more empathetic? Does losing Morgan after years of dating- I mean, friendship do anything for him? No, it makes him hardened and sad and pathetic. And while he is far from the only character in Criminal Minds to have episode after episode hurt him, it feels particularly undeserved for Spencer; who as of the narrative has already been through so much.
Sam Taggart is a nurse we meet in ER and when she’s introduced she’s scrappy, young and has a child despite her young age. She’s often referred to as Teen Mom and becomes less known for her actual character traits and more for the men she sleeps with from Dr. Kovac to Dr. Why is John Stamos Here. Sam is also known for her no good ex who is a literal convict and garbage human. She does her best to distance herself and her son from her horrible baby daddy but a dramatic season finale and season opening episode duo have her literally kidnaped by her convict ex along with her son. She is taken on a hostage road trip for a while after her convict ex stabs her then ex-boyfriend with a paralytic drug and during the road trip, she is raped by her ex. For network television, we see a pretty decent amount of the crime which turned my stomach upon first viewing. You see the light leave Sam’s eyes, you see her lay here, you see her resist and then not. It’s a tragic scene that ends with her murdering her attacker and taking herself and her son to freedom. What was that supposed to teach Sam? What is the lesson? What was the reason? Was the lesson to continue to do what she had been doing: not trusting her ex and being strong? Was the lesson that rape makes a woman stronger? Was the lesson that overcoming your attacker with violence makes a woman stronger? What was the lesson Sam and thus the audience is meant to learn from her trauma?
By now you may be asking why I care so much. You may be curious since I started by saying that I love melodrama and stakes. Well, I do. But they have to amount to something. We’re going back to Criminal Minds for an example of an arc done right. Aaron Hotchner, the person who revealed that I have Daddy Issues, had an amazing arc of him losing his marriage and wife because of his dedication to his job at the BAU. After his season nemesis, The Fox, escapes and threatens the safety of his ex-wife and son; he drops everything to save his family. The episode is full of tension and drama and ends with Hotchner losing his ex-wife, who he still loves dearly and is the mother of his only son: Jack. The funeral scene that we get of Hotchner eulogizing his wife and actually taking time off of work to be there for his son shows us how important his job is and was to him but how much this particular loss hurt him. Hotchner was broken but did learn a lesson; one he continued to learn until he was killed off of the show because his actor was bad.
Any time a character is hurt, it should mean something and shows that go on for hundreds of episodes: it’s hard to keep making pain meaningful. It’s hard to continue to invent new, fresh horrors for fictional characters to undergo and the nature of serialization means that oftentimes, many of these things happen in intense proximity to each other. Spencer Reid goes through many of his losses in what we can only assume is a year’s time. That’s enough to break anyone down. It’s especially distressing when this happens to female, BIPOC or neurodivergent characters because oftentimes trauma is a shorthand for character development for these kinds of characters. It’s lazy and bad experiences do not make up for a lack of character development. Breaking characters down does not make them more relatable, more human, more complex or anything: it just leaves them broken. And especially when dealing with characters of color, the neurodivergent or female characters; it’s so important to let them have stories that are happy and okay. So many queer characters, female characters or characters of color are faced with stories that are just punishing; they often end in death or suicide and that does something to you when the only representation you see is that of strife and pain. That does not minimize the stories that are painful, those will always be there but being able to just one see everything come out okay in the end: that would be truly something.
It’s a love affair that started when I was at the tender age of 12. I started writing fanfiction of the series that meant a lot to me as a way to escape my tenuous reality and to further interact with the shows I had nearly encyclopedic knowledge of even at a young age. For the uninitiated, fanfic or fanfiction are works of fiction written by fans based on a popular series like a manga/anime, TV show or book series. You can write fanfic to anything and trust me, there is fanfic of it even if you think whatever show or series you’re into isn’t popular. For many, fanfic is a way to either self-insert into a narrative or right the wrongs established by canon. For many writers, writing fanfic can become a way to explore kink, sexuality and even gender; I know it did for me. I was able to self-insert and live out fantasies beyond my wildest dreams even if it was something outlandish as dating the main fictional character or having my own power fantasy. It was a love affair I kept up through high school even doing commissions for friends and patrons to make their favorite ships and scenarios happen. If you wanted a lemon slash fic with your OC and an MC: I was your smut peddler. I loved sharing with the audience I had, the friends I had and I loved reading other fanfic of pairings I liked. I cannot impress upon you enough how social early fanfic was back in the day. It was all about sharing, commenting and more.
Fanfic was and still is an important part of building your fanon and defending your ship in the fan world and being able to bolster your fic with canon and headcanons became a currency to fans. While many were worried about building shipping manifestos, others were more focused on just indulging in a world entirely built on making their dreams come true through fiction. I don’t really remember what it was that got me to stop publishing fanfic. Maybe it was the sites I used to love going down or just gaining a different friend group but steadily one day I just stopped sharing the fic I worked on. But the funny thing was that college and sites going down didn’t stop me from writing fanfic. I continued on, just not really sharing my work with anyone. Even after graduation and moving into my own place I kept on writing fanfic; sharing with at the time a very eager audience of one: my then girlfriend. She was a huge source of inspiration to keep writing, to keep going, to keep creating and even though I was sure that the works I was making would never see other eyes: each chapter I finished was another little love token I could give her and I was content to continue to share. When she broke up with me, for a while, I lost my reason to write. It took a year or two after the breakup to keep going but I did and I went back to writing in solitude, mostly out of spite. I finished a work I started in high school only to continue on writing in the same universe and I was able to indulge every desire I ever had for that work and in my life.
I kept my ability to create OCs and write both the vanilla and smutty arts: it truly is a skill that needs to be honed. All the while I roleplayed and edited and continued to work in fiction and toting my ability to write fiction but still was afraid to show all the years of work that I had hoarded away like a dragon protecting its gold.
As sensibility changed I got scared of publishing because indeed the times are no longer what they were. In the early days of fanfic the word “problematic” didn’t exist and we reveled in just how much we could push the envelope or shock a reader with smut, filth, or just obscenity. It was rarely ever gratuitous: it always did serve the narrative but we cared very little for trigger or content warnings or for protecting readers from things that may be shocking or unsettling. The newer crowd is sensitive to those things and while I can empathize with wanting to be warned for things that could offend certain sensibilities I was worried that maybe, just maybe I should just go off into that good night; keep my work to myself and age out of fandom like all the new kids on the block assume I should.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what possessed me to publish again. Maybe it was the influx of fanfic I’ve been reading as a means to pass the time during the pandemic. Maybe it was just the desire to share this part of myself again. Maybe, just maybe it was a desire for feedback and praise. I don’t know what it was that got me to do it: but I did it. And so far, I have no regrets. It’s wonderful getting comments on my work again, being seen again, and being out there again. Each new moment of praise spurs me on to keep going and while it is a little daunting to potentially have a fanfic schedule again as I did in my youth I am also excited to have a burgeoning little audience that seems to like my work. It’s like exercising a muscle that I had let atrophy and writing fiction once more has become social rather than selfish. I haven’t had to sacrifice anything that I want, I get to be myself and share what I’m passionate about with other people that are passionate about the same thing.
That inherent social nature of fanfic is what drew me into this world decades ago and I didn’t realize how much I missed it when I took my years away to find myself. But the fanfic community has once more welcomed me back like an old friend and damn, it feels good to be home.
Guys, I’m floored. I’m genuinely floored. I’ve been blogging for years now and this year, I’ve hit so many milestones that frankly, I’m just humbled and shocked and surprised. So let’s go over a few of them. I hit 200 followers, managed to reach 11,000 views with just 3,000+ of those happening this year. I have been blessed to have 6,000 + visitors to this humble blog.
I’ve never been one to care about blog traffic in this way. I’ll mention milestones mostly because it’s just sort of fantastic to me that my work touches that many people. But these numbers are truly motivating, truly fantastic and honestly, I couldn’t do it without all of you.
So from the bottom of my heart: thank you.
I’m going to continue to do my best to provide content worthy of your attention.