Thoughts On Forums

Every year I hop on the Nanowrimo website forums and lurk on the reference forum, where people ask questions to help them with researching their novels. Over the years though, I’ve seen some patterns.

Like, weirdly enough, one of the first questions of the year is always someone asking about  synesthesia, and another person asking about polyamoury. Of all things. Every year. Not a complaint, just an observation.

There’s generally a couple of questions about Canada. Usually one about the weather, but that never specifies what part of Canada, and thinks the weather is the same across the entire country even through it’s bigger than the USA.

There’s also generally numerous questions referring to something ambiguous do to the fact that the poster assumes everyone will know they’re talking about the United States. “Question about the west coast” for example. West coast of what?

There’s the numerous people who ask questions and they haven’t even tried to research it themselves. Like, you can literally type the title of their post into google and the first result is the answer to their question. There’s a shockingly large number of these.

And then there’s the one’s who ask a question about something they haven’t bothered to learn enough about to make the question make sense. Like, they ask a question about the X era, only X is a place name, not an era.

And every once in a while someone asks on the reference forum a question about a mythical or supernatural creature, in a very serious manner, as if they sincerely believe it exists, and why doesn’t anyone just give them a straight answer as to how much silver nitrate it takes to disable a werewolf, and whether or not unicorns mate for life rather than just mocking them. Of course werewolves and unicorns are real, silly. I’m never sure if these people are trolling. They probably are. I would, if I weren’t too lazy to make a troll ID and use it to post shit like that.

And there’s the people who post “tell me everything you know about X.” But it’s never something specific. It’s something like, New York, or Russia, or learning to fly an aeroplane. Dude, what I know about learning to fly fills a textbook. I’m not typing a textbook into a forum post.

And last, but not least, there’s the one that annoys me the most by far. It’s the people who want you to write their story for them. They post a question that’s not a question, but a request for a brainstorming question. Throwing out some vague ideas and go “what kind of character would make a good main character for my story?” or “What kind of profession should my character have?” The sort of questions that, if you’re writing a story, there are more considerations than you can convey to the readers of a forum post, and an experienced writer would know that. They want you to come up with something for them to write about, when those sorts of decisions and inspirations are the things that make a writer unique. They always get the most responses, too. Everyone’s happy to be asked their opinion on something, especially when they don’t actually have to know what they’re talking about.

There’s one more that I don’t tend to see on the Nanowrimo forums so much, but I see it on a writing forum I used to frequent, but got too sick of this specifically that I don’t bother looking at that forum anymore. It’s “Question.” That’s the title of the post. You don’t know what they’re asking unless you actually click on the post and read it. There are questions where the post title is not specific enough as well, that are almost as bad. I don’t have time to click on every post in a page of hundreds of questions to see if I have anything to offer. Please, for the love of whatever gods you hold holy, title your posts accurately and and specifically. If you don’t, I don’t have time to click on them, because many of these sites, especially the Nanowrimo one at certain times, can run slow. Us people who know shit, we ain’t gonna wait for your post to load unless we know there’s a good chance we have something to offer. Do yourself a favour.

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Thoughts on Writing Forums

I’m on a number of writing forums, and I’m a little torn on how useful they are. I found them a lot more useful back when I was a beginner writer (maybe because I didn’t know better), but these days I see more and more stagnation within a group.

Perhaps this as partly because the group I was on the longest has recently had a change of moderators and the new moderator has a bit of a stick up his butt, rejecting posts of mine that were perfectly within the rules of the group, for violating made up rules of his own. I had to make him check with his supervisors, and get the ok to post it. But I’ve kind of given up on any really deep, intelligent discussion on that particular group.

Because the other thing I’ve noticed is that the published authors – they don’t stick around. There are dozens of published authors who used to hang out in that group, but they’re not there anymore. They’re not chiming in with their opinions on answers to questions from beginner writers. Instead, the questions of beginner writers are being answered by members who have been vociferous for years about their opinions. Members who speak in a very authoritative tone, but are not necessarily validated by professional publication.

And then sometimes I see noob questions being answered by the stalwart and vociferous members, where it seems like very old ideas are being cemented – truisms that I have seen (on blogs of professional writers) refuted, many times over. But in these forums of near-exclusively unpublished writers, these sort of things that amateurs stumble on are not receiving the same educated answers I see coming from professional writers. Because the professional writers *are* out there answering these questions. On their own private blogs.

Instead these questions are being answered in the forum with “Well, in my novel (which the poster doesn’t mention is unpublished and therefore this opinion is not validated to be successful) I did it this way.” There’s the occasional “I like it when an author I’m reading does it this way,” or “So and so published author did it this way” but those are shockingly rare.

And it seems, as soon as people get published, they disappear off this forum. Maybe it takes a year, or maybe they post something every few months for a while and then disappear. But they’re not contributing on the same level they used to.

Is this because their opinions are getting trashed by the select few in the forum who think they know better than anyone else? I don’t know. I do know that when I see those noob questions being answered with a million variations of “I do it this way”, I’m not even tempted anymore to chime in, because I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t believe that anyone there will pay attention if I direct them to a professional author’s blog, where their question is answered, or to a book where the technique is used, or the problem they’re dealing with is worked around. I think my comment will be lost among a hundred other comments of varying value.

I dunno, maybe this is a sign I’m settling into my own style and way of doing things. There’s nothing wrong with amateurs sharing ideas, it’s just that I see so much of a couple of people pushing their own way of doing things. A little like the critique circle phenomenon of eventually everyone in the group writes in the same style.

Anyway, the last time I tried to post something that was publishing related, and not “writing related” (because apparently publishing is not writing related? wtf?) I was directed very cutely to one of those tiny little forums called blogs, where I can post whatever I want. I think that’s where things are going though. That forum is dying, and I’m enjoying having my own blog, and following other author’s blogs – being able to control who I see posts from, and see more posts from actual published writers. I think that’s the way things are going to go.

Bad for Characters, Good for the Story

Sometimes I brainstorm with my husband, throwing ideas around, and often his response to a random idea is “Yes, but then (insert complicating factor that he knows he knows more about than I do.)”

He’s not a writer, so he sees this as a problem. I look at him and blink, and explain that that’s not a problem, that’s delicious new potential source of external conflict in the story. There are the times when I see a complication and realize right away that it’s going to side-track the story in a direction that I don’t want to go, but at the brainstorming level, when I haven’t started writing the story yet, or solidified the plot, it’s not a problem.

The times when it’s a problem are when I’ve written the story and have a plot hole that needs to be filled, and I’m trying to think of a way to fill it. Then, those are the times when I want something uncomplicated – a simple thing to throw in to pull things together.

At the developmental level though, hey, anything goes. Ideas toss around in my head, and eventually they settle into something coherent, but until something’s been put on paper, my mind is open to all ideas. I mean, sure, it wrecks my characters’ lives, but who cares about them? (By the way, I hope I never ever meet any of them in person, because most of them would kill me. Especially Michel, and he would enjoy it.)

Though, to be fair, he’s learning. At first, he would hear my half-formed ideas and say he didn’t like them, that it didn’t sound interesting at all. I would be frustrated at his reaction, knowing that he didn’t see the story in it that I saw. But after a while, he realized what half-formed ideas meant, and realized that there would be more to the story that what I could convey at that stage in the development. He’s told me he’s become fascinated with the process of the creation of a story, and thinks it’s neat to have seen it happen from the first ideas, all the way to final draft. He has faith in me, and because he’s always been honest with his opinions of my work, I know it’s real faith, not a pat on the head. My husband is awesome, and I am blessed. 🙂