Well, I have my first review, and it’s harsh, but interesting. I’ve responded in the professional way, which is, I believe, to have a cup of tea and a biscuit, write down all the replies I would like to make, sleep on it, delete half of them, think on it some more, put one or two of them back in, then never, ever post it. The only point, after all, that really requires a response is the one I can’t argue with, which is that the beginning of Bad Influences is very slow.

I’m not sure how much of the problem with this is due to expectations of the disaster genre, and perhaps also of web serials, to be fast-paced action-adventure.  Bad Influences isn’t a thriller, it’s more a kind of character-play. While it does start more slowly than I planned, it was never intended to be rip-roaring, seat-of-the-pants stuff, and I don’t think it needs to be. There is suspense, and there’s danger, there’s action, there’s tension, and I can assure Kurt Vonnegut and anybody else who’s concerned, the characters will suffer enough to show what they’re made of.  There are even a few gun-fights and chases, though anybody expecting set-piece showdowns from them will be disappointed. Bad Influences is about four ordinary people with particular voices and perspectives, dealing with terrifying situations while trying to keep it together on a daily basis, and blogging about it. The conclusions won’t come from beating the virus or the bad guys, but from the growth and development of the characters, their relationships and their realisations about themselves and the world they’re blogging in. While important events will happen and will be narrated, a lot of what the characters write will be introspective or speculative. Whether the flu is happening nearby or far away or in the next room, the characters write about what’s happening to them. That’s what blog fiction’s good at.

All that said, the beginning is too slow. As I noted when I was discussing it with Wildbow here, I misjudged just how much impact the real-time scheduling would have on the pace of the early entries. In the editing process, I tried to speed up the pace in the traditional way, by cutting word-count. I should, instead, have speeded up the spread of the virus, and there’s very little I can do to change that now without messing up a schedule that makes reference to a lot of date and season-specific events. I don’t think I have too much extraneous material, or any entries not pulling their weight, but the posts should have started later and been more frequent, covering a shorter space of real time. The events I’m currently posting should have happened in around the third week of the story, rather than the fifth/sixth. Mei’s failed journey home could have been in the first week, and the more light-hearted expository banter about how they all met might have been better as an extra post on Ash’s or Jack’s blog.  I could add in all kinds of caveats about how I want to show the differences in the characters’ responses to distant, imminent and actual crisis, or why the impact of these on their everyday work and family lives before they’re directly affected hardly constitutes “existing in a vacuum”, but that would be making excuses. Parts of what Wildbow says may be matters of personal taste, or mistaken assumptions about the story’s development[1], but none of that changes the fact that I completely misjudged how the narrative time of blog fiction really works. That’s an important discovery, it’s just a shame it was too late to save the beginning of the story.

Does that mean I have to speed things up now? Well, I have been re-scheduling to try and at least not let the pace drop further, but I’m wary of over-compensating. As an overall narrative, BI still needs to be measured rather than frenetic. The slow spread of the pandemic is the point. Just because they’re not all out shooting zombies on the first page, doesn’t mean the characters are doing nothing. We need to see that disaster is happening somewhere else while they’re getting on with their everyday lives, and we need to hear about the disaster in the ways it impacts upon them – a worry about their friend who’s closer to it, wanting to help, being unable to help, worrying about how it’ll affect their job or business, their family, their community.  The overwhelming response is to focus on all the little things while avoiding the big ones, because the little things are solvable on an individual basis, the big ones require societal change.  I’ve already written an analysis of contemporary disaster fiction, putting BI in an emerging tradition in which isolated individuals seek connection and common experience. In this type of disaster, the focus is character-based, and the nature of the disaster itself is almost irrelevant except as context for the character’s personal journey. The characters need to not only experience what’s coming, but have time to reflect on it and change, and respond to the changes in the other characters. I’m not talking about lingering over irrelevant detail or filling up the time with pointless waffle, but the characters shouldn’t be bouncing between events without pause for thought.  Only time will tell if I can get the balance right from here.

This kind of story does very much rely on the reader being drawn to the characters in some way, identifying with them, finding their voices compelling, wanting to know what happens to them, and I was disappointed to find that this wasn’t happening for my first reviewer.  Why the characters’ discussions of their motivations, ambitions and external lives should have failed to impact to the point that these things seemed missing entirely, when they are in fact the bulk of what makes up the story so far, is one of those things that I could speculate on until I trust nobody’s judgement, including my own, and never want to turn on the computer again.  Instead, I’ll jump off that train of thought before it carries me into a dark tunnel with no end, and try to land carefully and keep going.

As for the pacing of the posts, I’ll be rescheduling as I go, partly in response to feedback but mostly by my own sense of how time is passing, and possibly adding extra entries if it feels to me that the gaps between posts have been too long or the characters’ lives not fully fleshed out.

More reviews, ratings and feedback are welcome. Bad Influences is up on Web Fiction Guide, Muse’s Success and Top Web Fiction.

[1] I’ve added a tag-line to the story to try and emphasise that a functioning internet throughout the disaster is a central conceit.  I was going to use an extra behind-the-scenes blog, called “BLink”, to simulate an information-sharing tool the characters use and give extra technical information on background aspects of the story like the workings of the W4, but I decided it was a bit clunky. The background of the world should come out through the story rather than requiring meta-textual explanations, and I think all the information you actually need about the W4 and Socnets is in there if you look. There is existing technology that could feasibly be developed into a self-sustaining, global broadband satellite communications network in the near future, and there are plenty of ways to keep the Socnet servers on the ground running – especially if there’s capacity in Iceland, which is already developing server farms to run on its abundant geothermal power. Still, it’s not important that all readers understand all the technical details of how the internet keeps going, only that they accept the scenario as plausible.


10 Responses to Reflections on Time

  1. Wildbow says:

    I hope you don’t mind my chiming in, though this wasn’t necessarily meant as a direct reply to me/my review (so much as an indirect one, going by the opening paragraphs).

    Epidemic stories (and to a lesser extent, zombie stories) are natural disasters, in a way. The underlying drama and the tension are drawn from humanity in the face of an inevitable force, something greater than them. Don’t misinterpret my review to be expecting/demanding something along the lines of a thriller or action-adventure story. I reviewed one other story that wasn’t such. I definitely think there’s room for a story that covers the slow, encroaching, inevitable disaster and the changes it prompts in the characters.

    That said, there has to be something substantial to fill in the gaps between the major realizations and character changes.

    In writing, I feel, there’s a triumvirate. There’s the author-text interaction, the text-audience interaction and the audience-author interaction:

    The author-text interaction involves the writing process, the author pouring themselves into their work, honing their craft and shaping the work. Through this relationship, the text speaks to the author in those amazing f-ing moments where we’re writing and we get this idea we never wouldn’t have gotten if we weren’t in the middle of writing a sentence.

    The text-audience interaction is how the reader takes things away from the text. Pretty self explanatory. Flow here is pretty crucial, providing all the necessary information, creating immersion, all that stuff.

    The author-audience relationship is one that’s often neglected. Through a huge number of elements, the author sends signals to the audience. How apparent is it that the author put in effort (this is key for web serials – consistency, reliablity, quantity and frequency are major parts of building up that growing audience)? The accessibilty of the work is another part of it. My review, in point #7, mentioned how one should (if following K.V.’s advice) write to please just one person; a great author can do this while still appealing to a large number.

    I digress. The impression I get from B.I. is that it seems very focused on the writer-text relationship and the text-audience/author-audience relationships seem to come second to that. The fact that it’s a research project may force it to be biased in this way; you’re focused on the text as a matter of necessity (as your PHD depends on it), and your hands are tied when it comes to possibly sacrificing the text for the audience’s sake (ie. rewriting the opening or deviating from the pre-scripted plot).

    When I talk about the way the characters exist in a vacuum, I’m talking more about the complete picture the audience gets from the author and from the text (the audience-text and author-audience relationships). There’s no distinct sense of the characters existing in a complete world beyond the confines of the story (except for Mei). In reality, each and every person has innumerable issues and problems. It’s human nature that, if we have none, we manufacture them or we bloat up minor problems until we have stuff to complain about. (See the first world problems at http://www.quickmeme.com/First-World-Problems/). These characters are people with a voice via. their blog, and yet their focus (except for Mei) is on the blog.

    These guys don’t really do that. Ash has his daughter, Elaine has her work, Jack has his parents and dream of making a living as a cartoonist, but these things get a relatively small share of attention. Ignoring Mei’s blog – Of the 10 posts released to date, three were the introduction posts and three were the quiz posts… more than half of the overall content where much of the discussion was on the blogs or disasters. Maybe that sixty-forty divide would be a good balance, but Jack has another post where he spends a fair share talking about the blog (breaking his resolution), and Elaine has another (pushing polenta) talking about the flu epidemic. One is password protected. That leaves only one post that talks about or expands the world beyond the ‘Bad Influences’ construct.

    The focus/bias, then, is that (without touching on Mei’s stuff) maybe 70-80% of the focus is on the blogs themselves or on the disaster/disasters in general (the subject of this overarching story). 88% of the posts deal with these things in some way or another. The impression the audience gets, when reading Ash/Jack/Elaine’s stories, is that the focus of Bad Influences is Bad Influences. Does that make sense? If Bad Influences were a person, it’d be spending too much time talking about itself.

    When I talk about tension or about character motivations or desires, I’m not talking about making B.I. into an action story or even about changing the pace. I’m talking about involving the real-life drama of the characters, so that they exist as more than props. Until they break away from that obsessive focus on B.I. itself (the blogs or the disaster), their introspection, realizations, or development don’t come across in a greater context.

    And in the midst of adding a wider focus, you can introduce tension or be brutal to your characters now, so we have a reason to care about what happens to them.

    Even something as mundane as Jack being forced to get a job and getting kicked out when he can’t has promise for a whole lot of drama and tension, without making the story an action-adventure or thriller; Does he send messages to Jack or Elaine from the librayr, wanting to stay with them for a while, and get upset when they refuse? When the epidemic comes and things start getting bad, he’s already at a disadvantage, living in crowded shelters, being hungry, not having a place where he can hole up. There’s tension for the reader there. There’s emotional investment, because we’re all somebody’s child and we can compare our own experiences or imagine how our own parents would react if we pounded on their door, begging to be let back home because people out there are sick (and yet they know -we- may be sick as well).

    • Wildbow says:

      “That leaves only one post that talks about or expands the world beyond the ‘Bad Influences’ construct.”

      Should read: ‘that exclusively talks about or expands…’

      • Emma Pooka says:

        Wildbow, I very much appreciate your interest in my work and the processes behind it, and that you’ve taken the time and effort to engage with both – but I think you’re putting a little too much emphasis on my processes rather than the text, and making some assumptions about both as a result. I’m happy to discuss my processes, and you’re welcome to ask about them, but that’s a separate issue from whether BI is working for you.

        On the various textual relationships, you’re wrong about my priorities – if anything I’ve paid most attention to what you call the author-audience relationship, that is, the structure of the work, how it’s accessed and read and the options for participation. It’s my recognition and analysis of this relationship that my PhD depends on.

        Strangely enough, what prevents me deviating from the pre-scripted plot is not my PhD but Vonnegut’s rule #7. I’ve already written and edited this story for one person, and while I want reader comments to have an influence, I’m aware that changing tack to try and please readers will leave me with a confused and pneumonic story.

        The multiple reading orders, secret posts, quizzes and other interactive elements are my communications to the reader on how to approach the text. They are the formal elements of the blog structure that appeal to me as a reader, that I’d like to see used to greater effect in blog fiction, that I’m experimenting with in the hopes of finding readers who also relate to the use of these elements. When you say this seems secondary to my relationship with the text, I’m not sure whether you’re telling me that this isn’t working, or that it just isn’t working for you. Perhaps you’re not interested by the same elements I am, or perhaps there are other elements you feel I’ve neglected? It’s true that I don’t have a predictable schedule for updating each character’s blog, but I do post at least two updates a week, and have multiple options for keeping readers informed of updates. While, for a web novel, you might expect two chapters a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, for a real-time blog fiction it’s part of the structure that characters blog at unpredictable intervals, just like real bloggers.

        As for the text-audience relationship, I take your word on your experience with it, but it’s a little beyond my control, again for reasons of rule #7. Rather than try to write for yourself and have mass appeal at the same time, I think this advice is meant to suggest that you can’t please everyone, so concentrate on an audience who likes to read the things that you do, and to hell with “mass appeal”.

        I think I begin to understand what you’re driving at about the characters not existing outside of the text. You confused me by talking about lack of character exposition or a failure meet Vonnegut’s rule #3 (wanting things), when it’s more about the uneven share of word count/story so far given to each character, so that you know more about some than others. I didn’t think this would be a problem, but perhaps it is frustrating to be introduced to four characters, given the option of which to concentrate on, and then find that one of them is getting far more frequent updates, so that your focus is forced and you have little sense of what’s going on with the others. I had hoped their participation in the comments would be enough to give them all a presence, but in the comments they are perhaps playing the role of supporting characters in each other’s stories (though not entirely flat ones, I hope). What you haven’t really seen yet is Elaine, Jack and Ash taking their turns as protagonists. Again, this is a fault with my editing of the beginning – I cut out a lot of the early stuff for everybody but Mei. I’ve already put some back in, and I’m going to try to move some later observations to come in earlier (but not earlier than the point I’ve got to – maintaining the real-time element is more important that retro-actively improving the beginning!)

        I am somewhat relieved to find you did see there were other things going on in the characters’ lives. I would have found it more useful if the review had said there was an uneven focus and more entries were needed from the characters other than Mei. You’re entitled to say whatever you like about it, of course, but I don’t think anything you’ve said here has justified your implications about the other characters being one-dimensional and not wanting anything. In fact, your own perceptions about them contradict that.

        I’m having trouble with some other contradictions between what you’re saying here and in the review. The first part of the review suggests that I had too much filler and not enough information out about the disease, and now you’re saying you want more about the characters’ everyday lives because I’m concentrating too much on how they’re affected by the disease. Would I be right in supposing that you’re not really saying there’s been too much or too little of either element in particular, but that you’d like to see more of both, sooner? If that’s the case, then this is just another “slow start” issue.

        The only other point I’d argue with is your assertion that I need to be brutal to the characters now, so that you can care what happens to them. Surely you need to care about what happens to them before you see them brutalised? Personally, I don’t like it when characters are introduced in the midst of dire situations without giving them any real background or personality, and I’m expected to care about them because they’re suffering rather led to care that it’s them suffering. I fully understand the need for drama, tension and jeopardy, and these are good ways to build character, but even allowing for the slow start I don’t think I need to throw them all into the fire just yet. I maybe need to dangle them over the frying pan and get the oil sizzling, which is what I hope is beginning to happen. Mei is in the frying pan now and will find herself in the fire pretty soon. The others are only beginning to feel the heat. Based on your ideas for what should happen to Jack, I think our different approaches are about pace – you might not want a thriller, but you want high drama and you want it now, while I want slowly rising tension that breaks at the right moment. I may have misjudged the speed of my approach, but I’m happy with the trajectory.

        Reviews on WFG are strange hybrids of review and critique, mixing advice to readers with advice to the writer, which is a difficult line to tread. Critics can’t make assumptions about the writing process. Trying to say whether somebody has been “writing for one person”, for instance, isn’t possible: you can only say whether or not they have succeeded in writing for you. I’d note that Vonnegut and Orwell both include in their rules the caveat that writers who know what they’re doing should feel free to break them. If BI isn’t working for you – and I’m very grateful you took the time to explain why – I would have found it more useful to hear that expressed in terms of why it’s not working for you as a reader, rather than what rules of writing you think I’m failing to follow.

        Incidentally, I do a session on my course called ‘The Rules of Good Writing and How to Break Them’ – my golden rule is that you need to understand the rules and the purposes behind them so that you can break them properly.

        • Wildbow says:

          It’s a fact that WFG tends to blend critiques and reviews because it’s largely a community of writers. 90% of the people on the forums, for example, are serial writers.

          Responding to your post:

          I don’t think that rule #7 specifically suggests that we should write for ourselves. Doing so is dangerous, because our own sense of the work is clouded; we don’t have the objectivity to analyze it. In ‘On Writing’, Stephen King suggests that we’re better off writing for our ‘first reader’. For him, it was his wife. For me, it’s one fellow who’s gotten in contact with me since my story started. The fact that our ‘first reader’ disagrees with us and has the objectivity to call us on our bullshit is invaluable for the work.

          I think the problem with the quizzes, the multiple reading orders, etc, is that the intent seems to be serving the text, first and foremost, rather than serving the audience. It might involve the audience, but they demand effort and time from the audience to a degree that seems to outweigh what they give back in terms of an experience (or at least, they did for me). Maybe you’re right and it forms an audience-text relationship, but I can’t help but feel that the text comes out ahead in that transaction.

          Add in the statements of ‘I don’t want to rewrite the opening chapters’ and ‘I don’t want to deviate too much from the script’, and just how much the blogfic thus far seems to be referring back to the blog posts themselves or the general subject/genre of the blog (disasters), and that’s where I got the sense of the text being served first and foremost, rather than the audience.

          Does that make sense?

          My problem with the characters isn’t the uneven share given to each character, beyond the fact that Mei’s story is the only one that feels like a story thus far.

          I’ll try to clarify my thoughts on the characters and the contents of their posts: I don’t yet have enough of a sense of who they are to really believe/understand what they’re expressing when they talk. A large part of this is that nothing’s really happening in their lives. Conflict (and it doesn’t have to be major conflict) makes this far, far easier.

          I can tell you that I’m a journalist and I’m a single parent with three kids and that I’m horribly disabled, but that’s just setting the stage. Until you’ve seen me in a situation where I’m having to make decisions, you don’t really know who I am as a person. When I’m stressed, how do I react? When I’m called on to make a choice, do I set my priorities with myself, my kids, my work or something else entirely? Each time this happens, a different facet is revealed, and a sense of depth is created. The greater the conflict/amount of conflict, the more the person is uncovered.

          So yes, I’ve read the posts and comments, I know that Ash has a daughter and that Jack has his dreams and is mooching off his parents, but that’s only setting the props on the stage. They can talk all day long (and exposit to put more props on the stage) without me getting a real sense of them as people. And without my having that sense of them, what they’re saying doesn’t have any emphasis. It’s a cyclical thing, and the frustration I’ve been striving to convey is due to this cycle.

          I’ll try to clarify the (other) contradictions in my statements:

          The disease/information about the disease; there’s a fair amount of content devoted to talking about disasters or natural disasters, while they simultaneously avoid shedding light on the epidemic itself. Three quiz posts account for a third of the non-Mei posts, spending a good share of time talking about disasters, serving the story’s central conceit (and having some meta analysis of the genre/character relations to the genre), but they don’t actually provide information on the actual disaster, the epidemic that’s ultimately pushing the true story forward.

          Get what I mean? You can spend a lot of time talking about disasters but not about the disaster.

          And again, that’s maybe ok, you can explore that side of the characters and their thoughts, but I guess I’m trying to say that this is happening to a disproportionate degree and there’s consequently not enough other points of reference (particularly facets/depth of the character uncovered through other events or minor/major conflcits) to really shed light on what that means or what deeper meanings a given response might have.

          And on the tension contradiction, I’d refer you to the paragraph above – I’d just really like to see something happening so I have a greater idea of who they are. Everyone faces some drama, large or small.

          Jack’s example was more to show how some elements could work into the story as a whole. I’ll point out that I also brought up small issues – see my line about first world problems with the attached link – Elaine complaining about some could shed a hell of a lot of light on what her priorities in life are and what her instinctual responses to issues are, prior to the the real issues showing up.

          Structuring the rules of writing into the review might have been a mistake on my part – I found myself wanting to bring up several of them, and decided to go in wholesale to see if I could. Maybe that wasn’t fair.

          • Emma Pooka says:

            Thanks for saying this – I’m glad to have clarified where the problems lay. It has been helpful, both for improving the edit/schedule for what’s to come and analysing the effects of the features I’m using.

            I’m finding WFG really interesting, and I’m looking forward to writing some more reviews there myself when I have a bit more spare time.

            On Rule #7, I wasn’t suggesting writing solely for myself – I said “concentrate on an audience who likes to read the things that you do”. I did have feedback on the first and second drafts of BI from a number of sources, including my academic supervisors, and they did have problems with the characters at the beginning, which is what prompted me to cut and rewrite a great deal of it. This appeared to sharpen it up when read off the page, but once I came to post it, as we discussed, I discovered it didn’t make any of the important points of development happen any sooner, and since I was in “ruthless edit” mode I didn’t put much extra in to replace what I’d cut. I can see now how that’s gone wrong. In serials, you can’t just skip an episode, you need to bring everything forward.

            On the Blogfic features and audience-text relationship: I wasn’t sure how people were going to respond to the quiz, but the day I posted it I got a massive spike in unique visitors to the site, mostly to the page the quiz was on, and a few extras to the story. It was much higher than the few people who’d posted their quiz results where I could see them, so I’m assuming it brought in new readers due to people sharing their results and friends-of-friends having a go. I suppose you could say that’s serving the text rather than the reader, in that it’s an attempt to get some viral advertising going (though that is secondary to the character/genre observations you noted), but I assume that readers who didn’t want to participate just read and didn’t do the quiz, while participants who didn’t want to read just did the quiz and went away again. Part of what I’m trying to do is see what blog fiction is capable of, what the formal elements of blogs and social networks can do with epistolary narrative. It is an experiment, and like most experiments, it will probably not run entirely as predicted and need some adjustments, and I’ll be able to learn from both its successes and its failures. Personally, I think those elements – when I’ve seen them used in other blog fiction – reward more active reading and participation, but don’t demand it. If you don’t want to participate beyond reading the story, you don’t have to. If you just want to read everything in order, there’s an option for that. If those elements that you don’t want to participate in are slowing it down, then once I again I hold my hands up to the pacing issues. Perhaps more of those quiz responses should have been like Ash’s, and incorporated a relevant anecdote, rather than just saying: “Hey, look at this!”

            Add in the statements of ‘I don’t want to rewrite the opening chapters’ and ‘I don’t want to deviate too much from the script’, and just how much the blogfic thus far seems to be referring back to the blog posts themselves or the general subject/genre of the blog (disasters), and that’s where I got the sense of the text being served first and foremost, rather than the audience

            I see what you’re getting at, but what I said was ‘for logistical reasons I can’t change that much at this point’ and ‘maintaining the real-time element is more important that retro-actively improving the beginning’. I’d love to go back and make it work better, but what does that do to the idea of a real-time narrative? I can’t put up new posts on dates that have already passed, or change the dates of existing entries, without ruining the order of the feed and the illusion that time is passing at the same rate for the characters and the readers. I could edit some of the existing entries, I suppose, but I’m not sure whether that will speed it up much, as the time’s already passed. It might make catching up more interesting for new readers – I’ll have a think about it and discuss it with my supervisors.

            I get what you mean now about the focus on disasters rather than The Disaster. That’s deliberate – for the characters, The Disaster is still very much an unknown quantity at this point. Disaster is on their minds, but they have no real information about the actual one, and they’re skirting around the subject. This will change very soon.

            I understand what’s meant by giving characters some tension and some action to respond to, and I’m familiar with the First World Problems meme. That’s what I meant by ‘the overwhelming response is to focus on all the little things while avoiding the big ones, because the little things are solvable on an individual basis, the big ones require societal change.’ But you’re right that I could have painted more of a picture of what was actually happening when the characters brought up these issues, rather than just have them complaining about polenta or training sessions or nagging parents in a fairly abstracted way. I do have some more active responses to these issues coming up, and I’m confident that this was a problem with the beginning and not something that’s missing throughout the story or an intrinsic fault of my writing style. If I’d given the other characters as much space as Mei at this point, you would have seen more of the things you’re looking for. It’s not that I haven’t written them, it’s just that they haven’t happened yet, or not to the extent that they should, so it’s mostly an extension of the “slow start” problem. As I said, I am going to try to shift things around a little and add in some extra posts from this point forward to get those developments going more quickly. I do accept that they could have done more in the existing posts.

  2. Just to interject on a conversation I find fascinating:

    I see what Wildbow is saying about “serving the text” because the beginning of the story , ie the beginning of each individual blog, comes across as focused on “The Disaster” when in fact the Disaster hasn’t happened to the characters yet.

    Right now in the real world there’s a “SARS-like virus” affecting people, and flu in Asia as per usual — and I’m not blogging about it. It’s a blip on the news, amidst celebrities, combat in Mali, gun control in the US, etc. etc. There’s no reason that anyone but Mei should be so focused on it. They have lives, and it should be less than one percent of that life until it hits their life personally.

    My suspension of disbelief gets strained because of the lack of life and the extreme focus on that one percent — I gather from SGL’s review that if you read it as one narrative that problem goes away because then it’s ONE NARRATIVE story, but as separate blogs each character is supposed to have a life and a story, and that doesn’t come across. As “blog fic” it’s not working, whereas it sounds like as narrative it might.

    Which might be why blog fic isn’t super popular and novels still are.

    • Emma Pooka says:

      Hi – thanks for posting.

      In response to the characters’ focus on disaster: the virus was mentioned in the first post because it began close to where they had their camp on the conservation/research project where they met, so that instantly gives it relevance to all of them. After that, it’s relevant to the others because Mei’s affected by it and talking about it, as well as because of the scale of the virus, which has led entire provinces to be cut off, has a heavy presence in the International news and is prompting fundraising drives and precautionary measures worldwide. These will all tend to indicate something more than your average SARS-like virus or flu. I feel like I’m spelling out my exposition here, and I know doing that after the fact is no good if you didn’t get it from the text, but I’m not sure I could have been more explicit without getting overly heavy-handed. I found my test readers seemed to pick up on all this fairly easily – perhaps there’s something about real-time/serialised posting that makes it more difficult. Maybe the distribution of these pieces of exposition between the characters and over time makes it more complex to piece together, unless you’re really into it, which obviously my test readers had more reason to be than you and Wildbow.

      I’d say that, as multi-character blogfic, BI is both one narrative and four narratives. I accept your assertion that each character’s life isn’t coming across that well just yet, but I think I’ve done enough explaining of why that problem came about and why I don’t think it will persist throughout the story.

      On the relative popularity of blogfic and novels – it’s not a competition, y’know! 😉 I’d also point out that novels have been around a lot longer, and readers are much more used to their formal characteristics and the processes involved in decoding them. Though blogfic has a lot in common with epistolary novels and web serials, it has distinctive features that take some getting used to – the real-time and multi-linear elements especially. I can see why single character blogfics are much easier to get a handle on, but I wanted to experiment with more than that would allow. I don’t expect readers to instantly decide that this is the best thing since the printing press, or that novels are a thing of the past. I expect blogfic will appeal to some more than others.

      Equally, I expect BI will appeal to some blogfic readers more than others. In tandem with my research aims, I did write BI in the hope of readers enjoying it and continuing to read, and as I writer I’d obviously be thrilled to get a following and some good reviews, but in terms of the aims of the project, popularity and mass appeal aren’t the point. All feedback, however, is useful, and nearly all publicity is good publicity. 🙂

      I’m honestly grateful for all the feedback and I’ll bear it in mind as I continue to edit and polish up the rest of the story, but as you might have guessed, I’m not going to rework the entire concept and structure every time I get a bad review. That way lies endless frustration, and, as per the discussion of Kurt Vonnegut above, pneumonia.

      I was, despite everything, quite gratified by your review, though I don’t know if I can explain why in any detail without spoilering. Let’s just say you’re falling hook, line and sinker for every assumption of character-type that I intend to play on… 😉

  3. G.S. Williams says:

    Think, then, that you’re completely missing the point I see Wildbow making, and that I’m supporting, about serving the text and not readers. The fact you have character types that are being telegraphed and you’re excited that they were detected is a problem. Subverting stereotypes later, or making lives seem more realistic later, does not justify the beginning. It tells me its a clever story so much that it destroys the suspension of disbelief and takes me out of the story world.

    Once a beginning does that, there’s no recovery.

    • Emma Pooka says:

      I’m not trying to justify anything – I really don’t need to. I’ve agreed with Wildbow that the beginning is too slow. I’m well aware that my knowledge of how and why that happened doesn’t make it go away, but I stand by my decision not to significantly change it at this point in time, for all the reasons I’ve made clear.

      There’s a difference between telegraphing stereotypes to subvert later and developing characters over time in a way that plays on certain assumptions. The point is that those assumptions have come as much or more from the reader as the text. I’ve made certain interpretations possible, but I haven’t pushed them on you in any way. All revelations in plot or character in any fiction are based on clues and red herrings that can be read in different ways, that pave the way for developments without making them inevitable.

      Really, I think I’ve spent as much time persuading you and Wildbow that I know what I’m doing as is reasonable. I’m sorry you’re not convinced, and I’m sorry if you thought that my response to your review would be to rewrite the whole thing from scratch according to your specifications, but really, I’m not entirely lacking experience in these things and I do know what I want to do with BI. I value your feedback, but at the end of the day it is my story. If that means there’s “no recovery” for you, then I accept that you’re a reader I’ve failed to engage. It’s a shame, but I’m sure we’ll both get over it. 🙂

      Thanks for letting me know your thoughts, anyhow.

  4. G.S. Williams says:

    I don’t expect anyone to rewrite something because of me, ever. I’m explaining why I see what Wildbow is saying. All I’m doing is observing. I see a story that doesn’t suspend disbelief because of its structural signals. SGL’s review indicates that as one narrative it works better, but that’s not how it is set up. It is set up as blogs, and they are caricatures, not lives. Good luck with your project.

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Bad Influences by Emma Pooka is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.