It’s Not Just About the Writing Anymore

How Online Creative Writing Has Changed in the Last Decade

When I was 15-16 years old, it was easy to upload a story on the internet and hope for the best. All you had to do was construct a good synopsis (200 words or less) and make sure that your story was unique and interesting enough to carry the audience onwards. For me, I depended purely on the story and the writing itself — my own craft in the art of storytelling to rouse the interest in readers all over the world.

It is not so anymore.

Today, 6-7 years later, it’s not just about the written word anymore. Writers have to actively be involved in a writing or reading community, social media, and design to gather an audience. From my experience on Authonomy, (now demised) Inkpop, and several other online writing platforms, it’s hard to obtain readers when there are so many original fiction being highlighted on the main page, their hits being public, and reviews/comments being masked. (You know I’m being morbid when I start using serial commas.)

On many online writing platforms, they feature stories that have high hits or reviews/comments on their main page. The problem with this is that many of those hits and reviews/comments are “swaps,” where authors read and comment on each other’s writings as a transaction. I do not like to comment on material I dislike or where the author does not approach critique with an open mind (in that they have no wishes to improve their story, but rather they just want more reviews/comments). I understand that these writing platforms are a community for both writers and readers, but this encourages writers to read each other’s works for the pure exchange of assets (to get more hits and comments), rather than to enjoy the vast array of writing on the site. I feel that if you are genuinely looking for a critique, then there are plenty of skilled and great betas out there eager for a good read.

I also believe that hits are arbitrary. Hits do not constitute a stable audience, therefore I try not to pay attention to the number of hits my stories get on Wattpad. Moreover, the hit counters on Wattpad ascend even when I shuffle through my chapters, which skews the data. My entering my own story should not count as a reader when I’m not a reader, but the author. Otherwise, authors on Wattpad can build up their own hits, and hits on Wattpad actually counts as an achievement. This is one of the reasons why I prefer FictionPress. Not only are my stories’ hits not public, but when I’m signed in on FictionPress and start flipping through my chapters, it does not count me as a hit. I appreciate that.

Wattpad also counts my review responses as a review/comment. My own response on or about my own work should not be acknowledged on the review/comment counter. Again, this skews the stats, for if an author responds to every review/comment on their work, then their review/comment counter should be halved. It irritates me that Wattpad counts my own responses as a stat when my responses do not add value to my work or even entices potential readers from continuing because, obviously, my comments are biased.

These skewed stats take away from the writing, for readers are not just looking at the synopsis or genre to find a good story, but these arbitrary numbers distract readers. Readers, and even writers, value the quality of the story based on hits, reviews/comments and, lastly, the cover design. Nothing takes away from the writing more than a cover picture. It is true that people judge a book by its cover; it’s why publishers spend quite a bit of money and time on designing the perfect cover for shelves. For authors who cannot design (such as myself) or too possessive to allow another to design a cover for them (such as myself), a poor cover could destroy the story’s success on a site (Wattpad, Authonomy, etc.). Before FictionPress and Fanfiction’s updates to include cover images, I felt like FictionPress and FanFiction were the only places I can search for a story without being visually distracted. However, now that FictionPress and FanFiction have cover images by each synopsis, I find myself (unconsciously) looking at the cover and not at the synopsis. In one glance, I immediately make a snap judgement on the story and either read the synopsis, or bypass the story altogether. I do not believe that I am the only one who does this.

Back when I was 15-16 years old, it was all right to just upload your story on the internet and hope for the best. There didn’t seem like there was a lot more you should need to do. I survived FictionPress without commenting on forums or replying to reviews. I believed that my writing should speak for itself. There was no need to market myself rather that my story.

It is not so anymore.

It isn’t enough to just be a good author (or sometimes not even a good author). As an online author, you need to participate in the writing community. You need to spend a lot of time contributing to forums, exchanging reviews/comments, engaging with your audience (including on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, WordPress/Blogger/etc.). It is even better if you can get into a niche market. You have to understand the basics of design and know how a jpeg file works, or even what a jpeg file is. You have to live, breathe, be social media. You have to spend more time marketing yourself than writing your story.

And even then, you may not even get readers.

6-7 years later, and I find myself in a flummox. I’m excited when a good story is recognized, and upset when a poor story achieves top status. (Authonomy does not build good writing; it builds competition.) I’m happy that there are more online writing platforms, but saddened by their poor execution — the need to reap from writers and readers instead of encouraging the craft and art.

With the modern world becoming so intrinsically involved with the visual and aesthetic qualities — with the fast information of numbers and stats on the internet, I feel like good writing — good, solid, take-your-breath-away writing — no longer holds as much value as before. As my co-worker said today: “I can’t read long paragraphs. I like short sentences and fast information because I get distracted by pictures.” (It hurts even more when my friend, who just graduated from Teachers College, said that as an English teacher, she wouldn’t care much about grammar. Grammar: the foundation of our language, writing and understanding. I nearly screamed. I want to cry.)

Am I wrong in being cynical? Am I wrong to think that numbers and pictures are taking away from the writing itself? Am I being too traditionalist here? I still believe that the writing should speak for itself, but these online writing platforms are making it hard for the story to be highlighted.

What do you think?

甄雪清

Rosemary | Faithfulness, love and remembrance

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7 thoughts on “It’s Not Just About the Writing Anymore

  1. I always worry that I talk your ears off with my giant comments, but I know it’s also aggravating when you spend forever writing something important to you and no one actually replies properly, so I didn’t cut down on the length when I was finished. I always have to do that with the chapter reviews though, or they’d be almost twice as long xD

    Yeah, the reviews on ff.net often don’t have much substance. I only ever look at those that are a bit longer. Sometimes, there are interesting opinions. FictionPress has more interesting comments, generally. And considering I like speculating about Nocte, reading other people’s comments can even be helpful! Wasn’t there someone that actually correctly guessed who the Darkness is? And the text width, yes, that’s a little annoying. I always had it on 3/4 width anyway, since my screen is pretty wide, but even that took up more space than the current “full screen”. It must be really annoying for people who’re used to an actual full screen.

    Animexx isn’t perfect, but there’s a lot other sites could learn from it, I think. It’s unfortunate that it’s a German site (although they do have some English stories by now) because there’s quite a lot less activity in the German fanfiction community. Unsurprisingly, of course. Who ever wants to learn a language that difficult? English, on the other hand, is incredibly easy. (I don’t think it ever came up, but I actually am German! Out of curiousity, could you tell that English isn’t my first language?)

    An average rating by reviewers is my sweet, sweet dream. It would make everything fairer and easier to navigate.

    A trope is… difficult to explain, I’ll give you that. It’s a sort of convention that can be expected by readers/the audience/whathaveyou. Like, you have a typical Middle Age-ish Fantasy setting, so you’re going to expect some sort of Evil Overlord, complete with a certain set of characteristics (tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilOverlord). It happens all the time, so it’s become a trope. Or, the protagonist group has for some reason often five people, which TvTropes calls the Five Man Band, made up of the Leader, the Lancer (aka second-in-command), the Smart Guy, the Big Guy (aka the muscle) and the Chick (not necessarily but often the token female). The “token female” itself is again a trope (tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheSmurfettePrinciple) that says if a work isn’t aimed at girls, the main cast probably only has the one girl.

    So basically, a trope is something that can be called a cliché if done wrong. After all, Harry Potter’s Evil Overlord was an actual threat (good use of the trope), whereas, say, Eragon’s Evil Overlord hadn’t even shown up until the last book and hadn’t even done anything overly evil that couldn’t be reasonably explained (bad use, cliché. He existed mostly because in a typical Middle Age-ish Fantasy setting, you’re supposed to have an Evil Overlord.). This lead to a lot of Broken Base (aka hate it or love it) and people Rooting For The Empire (aka people wanting the bad guys to win, because they like them better/don’t like the good guys), since Eragon has a huge case of Designated Hero and Designated Villain going on (aka they’re hero and villain because the author says they are. Looking at their actions alone, you wouldn’t think so). After all, Eragon even gets called out on some of his worst actions In-Universe! We call this a What The Hell, Hero?

    So, um, in case my enthusiasm wasn’t quite obvious enough yet, YES PLEASE, let’s make a Nocte page! It shouldn’t be too difficult (I hope), they have step-by-step instructions and everything. And I’ve been lurking there for so long, I know what it’s supposed to look like, at least 🙂

    – schattenmalerin

    PS: The Nocte stuff I mentioned: You wrote once you kind of want a list of Spells and weapons everyone uses, so I ended up making one recently (for the major characters, at least). And while I was at it, I also wrote down stuff that sounds like foreshadowing and unanswered questions. Since you said you like reading our speculations, I thought that might interest you. And then I read through your World & Characters posts and picked out some mistakes that managed to sneak in. These are the things I end up doing if you don’t update weekly! xD

    PPS: Shoujo manga, hm… There are several I like. For example, I’m always up-to-date on the latest chapter of Skip Beat! I haven’t read up on Kimi ni Todoke in a while, but I’m seriously impressed by it. I spend the first dozen or so chapters just crying my eyes out and then I had to stop because I had a headache 🙂 I’m also very fond of Kaori Yuki and Clamp, both of which do mostly shoujo. And it was pretty recently that I got around to reading Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers, which is pretty much THE shoujo classic, isn’t it? I really liked it a lot, better than most shoujo made these days.

    There are some others I read occasionally (I knew about half of those Nocte read at Marie and Burghard’s place), but I tend more towards shounen. Too many shoujo manga are all mostly the same. Shounen… can be like that, too, of course, but less so. And shounen definitely has more variety when it comes to art styles! I always feel like half of all shoujo mangaka are trying to copy Arina Tanemura too much. I don’t even give manga with that style a chance anymore, and there’s a LOT of those. I also have a soft spot for sports manga and those are by definition shounen.

    My all-time favourite is One Piece! It’s creative, it makes me laugh often, makes me cry like a baby about once per story arc, I like pretty much every character and it manages to surprise me regularly. Second place probably goes to Eyeshield 21 (American football manga). The tactics are realistic, the characters fantastic (there is not a single person who read it and doesn’t love Hiruma), the major games are TENSE and it’s often hilarious. Third place should be Vagabond. It has three of my favourite things: detailed swordfights, philosophy and incredibly beautiful artwork (TvTropes calls it the manga equivalent of calligraphy and that isn’t an exaggeration). After those three, I can’t really rank anything anymore, though. I’ve read far too many manga by now 🙂

    • O.M.G. I did NOT notice that English was your second language. Your sentences are well built, and your diction is a lot more sophisticated than those whose English is their first language. I think that’s pretty awesome! ^_^ (I always wondered who in Germany could be reading my stories. Is English a popular language in Germany? I wish I was more worldly ’cause I feel so inconsiderate asking question like that. >_<)

      Thank you for your trope explanation! That's the best explanation someone has given me about the topic, and I can understand why you would want to make a page for Nocte! 😀 Do we have to sign up for an account? Or is it open like Wikipedia? I'm thinking you should start it (because I'm having a really hard time navigating through the site???) and then e-mail me (under Contact page) the particulars. Also! Please tell me the mistakes on my World and Character pages so I can revise them. ^_^ Interestingly enough, the things you do in-between Nocte updates are the exact things I do! LOL! I have a binder full of character stats, world information, weapons, spells, etc., etc., etc. I showed it to Sorelliena once and her eyes went WIDE! ^_^;

      Look forward to hearing from you soon!

      – Zhen Xue Qing

      P.S. For shoujo manga, I'm always on top of Skip Beat too! I read a lot of Kimi ni Todoke (it broke my heart and put it back together again!), but I'm pausing now since the two has gotten together. I haven't read Hana Yori Dango yet, only because I've seen the live action. I liked Beauty Pop and Crazy Tokyo Paradise (those are usually my recommendations for everyone). For shounen, I'm currently reading Naruto ('cause I write Naruto fanfiction). I read Prince of Tennis and reading a bit of the sequel. If you like sports manga, try Crimson Hero – it's a shoujo, but about volleyball. Also, if you want to try josei, I like Nodame Cantabile. It's about classical music and it's really inspiring!

      P.P.S. I've heard One Piece is really good. I might take a look later. The number of chapters is a bit daunting for a beginner like me. ^_^;

      • It’s fine, ask away!

        You kind of have to like English in Germany, since we’re adopting more and more English words, especially concerning computer stuff. And since it’s currently the number one world language, you have to learn it in school for several years anyway. Either you learn to like it or you’re going to have a terrible school life. That said, I have yet to meet anyone who really dislikes it. As I said, it’s easy and sounds pleasant enough. For me, it’s become as natural as German.

        You don’t really have accounts on TvTropes, just handles, which basically means you get yourself a user name and the site installs a cookie. No information input required, so if you want to make one, feel free. I made one earlier, since I’ve been considering it for a while now anyway. This was just the opportunity to convince me 🙂

        I did start Beauty Pop once and I liked it well enough, but it didn’t really grab me. Tokyo Crazy Paradise is somewhere on my list of stuff to read. If you’re recommending it, I really should get to it sometime. I’ve heard of Nodame Cantabile, too. Doesn’t it have an anime? If it’s classical music, the anime might be a good idea… And I’ll definitely look up Crimson Hero. I don’t think I know of it.

        I’ve read Prince of Tennis, but the entire Pillar of Something-something business got a little ridiculous near the end. I don’t like obvious Deus ex Machina. Besides which, I never did like Ryoma much. This is actually one of my eternal problems! I often have trouble finding protagonists I like. I’m not even sure why, but most of them just seem to rub me the wrong way. Naruto, too. Post-timeskip, he’s what TvTropes would call The Messiah, a trope I hate with a passion. Though the manga in general is good enough, but it has developed the typical problems of a long-running shounen series: it doesn’t know when too much is too much. It just keeps dragging on with very little actual development. Maybe it’ll get better again when we get some explanations for what’s going on with Toby and everything, I don’t know.

        One Piece also has a story arc or two that drags on a little, like Marineford, since there’s way too many named characters that all get a little screen time. But for the most part, it has a great pace. And heh, the length right now is nothing. From what Oda has planned, it might get twice as long. Catch up while you still can! Depending on how much free time you have, if you read diligently, it’s probably going to take you between one and two weeks.

        I’ll put up the mistakes in the Characters post if you don’t mind, so I don’t clutter this post with unrelated stuff too much. And I kind of need to do some chores now before I forget it again, so the TvTropes stuff could take another two hours. Not sure how long I’ll need. But I’ll try to be fast!

        – schattenmalerin

      • Okay… I think I made a Nocte Yin page on TVTropes. Here is the link: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/NocteYin

        If I am wrong, I’ll have to Google how to delete it… T_T

        I agree with Prince of Tennis. It got to the point of being ridiculous, and the sequel frustrates me. I’ve come to realize that popular shounen manga, like Naruto and Bleach, have very short chapters. This irritates me… A LOT. The chapters don’t contain any plot advance, and they always end in a cliff hanger. That is no fun. And it’s okay if you don’t read Nodame Cantabile, the anime and live actions are pretty fun in themselves.

        Good luck with your chores!

        – Zhen Xue Qing

  2. So I finished reading this and then was immediately hit by the irony of “Share this: Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest” at the end. Kind of made me want to headdesk. Because my opinion? Basically boils down to YES, to all of the above.

    If I ever write something that I have enough confidence in to put on the internet, then I don’t want to go on a great advertising campaign. I feel like basing ranking on hits or comments is cheating. It doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of the work. Like, I click on a lot of things if they’re vaguely interesting and then I read a chapter or two, and THEN I decide whether it’s worth it to continue reading. Often, it isn’t.

    And comments? What if something is so bad, most comments just criticise it? I think for example of “My Immortal”. You might have heard of it, it’s known as the worst fanfiction ever written. It probably had the most comments on all of ff.net, but most of them were rather hilarious flames. (I read about half a chapter, then had to stop because it was so terrible and went to look what all of those comments were about. I think I spent some hours reading them and crying with laughter.) And even if I do like it, as I told you in my very first comment on LJ, I’m one of those people that rarely review anything at all. It’s mostly just when I really want to talk to someone about my love for a series that I end up reviewing. I don’t know anyone in RL that knows the series, so I end up talking with the author, at least one-sidedly. (This would also be why I can’t seem to talk to you about anything without mentioning Nocte sooner or later. Otherwise I have to talk about her to myself 🙂

    I mean, of course comments can give you a guideline as to what you might enjoy, because a lot of other people enjoy it, too, but there’s a point where it just gets too much. Take me, for example. When I want to read fanfiction and just go browsing, what I do is this: if possible, I enter which main characters I want at that moment (and I am aware that I probably miss some interesting things where main characters aren’t listed, for example, but with how much there is, you have to narrow down your choices). Then, I just look over the synopses and if there’s one that grabs my attention, I look at the title (stupid titles are a big no-no), the author (I might know them), and then the number of reviews. If a story has an average of ten comments per chapter, it’s PROBABLY pretty good. If it has less than five, whether I read it anyway will depend on how curious the synopsis makes me. If it has, say, twenty per chapter, then I will definitely check it out.

    However, I have both been disappointed by twenty-reviews-per-chapter stories and been blown away by less-than-five-reviews stories. The number is often a helpful guideline, but nowhere near absolute. In a way, it would be better if I couldn’t see them, because then I’d have to judge by the synopsis only. But considering the amount of stories, it’s a guideline I appreciate, because it’s not like I have unlimited free time to check out everything. And then there are the authors who just can’t do interesting synopses, but who have stellar writing. I would overlook the story because the synopsis is boring, but I take a look because of the amount of reviews. So it really goes both ways. And anyway, I like to read what other readers think, especially as far as speculation over future development goes.

    Hits, on the other hand, are totally useless to anyone other than maybe the author.

    And then there are the covers. I am NOT happy about the addition of covers to ff.net and FictionPress. Covers are something I appreciate in bookstores, because I can’t apply search filters there, but I can’t look at every single book either. So in bookstores, I look for an interesting combination of cover and title, and if I like it, I take a look at the cover blurb. Then I either read a little if I have the time or look at the comments on Amazon, and then decide whether I want to buy it or not. But on the internet? I don’t want to know if the author knows how to use Photoshop. I want to know if they can WRITE.

    Covers distract from that, because yes, of course everyone makes a snap judgement based on the cover. And I know some people like to make them for their stories and they will appreciate this feature. In fact, there is one story I’ve started where I ended up looking for a pretty cover. Actually, I don’t even mind if you can put some up for your story, just please NOT where the synopsis is. When you’ve already clicked on a story, THEN seeing the cover is fine. This is what Animexx (a largely German fanfiction site) does.

    If you’re worried about your covers, the ones on Wattpad are fine, though the one for the fifth Nocte is a bit generic. (I just noticed, but now I finally know why it’s an arctic landscape! Yeah, I’m totally not slow at all.) Or maybe you could ask Sorelliena if she has time to make some for you? Her works are awesome.

    What I kind of want is a rating system like Amazon’s, with zero to five stars. It shows the actual quality a lot better. Like, every time you review a chapter, you have to do a star rating. The author can see how the chapter did in comparison to the last ones, and readers will feel the need to justify the ratings they give with (hopefully) constructive criticism, especially when it’s a low rating. And readers who’re browsing through the site can see the overall, average amount of stars for the story. Now that would be helpful!

    So in conclusion: I don’t think you’re too traditionalist or anything. Books that get sold in bookstores, no matter the reason why you picked them up, will be judged by the content only. Why should it be different for stories online, when all authors are basically doing the same thing? I also think it has to do with validation. There are the types of authors that wither and die if they don’t get their praises sung regularly. Those are the ones that will make sure their stories get a lot of hits and the like. I think you’re one of those that prefer quality to quantity, not just in writing, but also in reviews. I’m that type, too. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

    Incidentally, in case you’ve ever wondered how I found Nocte: I was in need of something to read but didn’t see anything interesting at the usual places (that happens every now and then), so I randomly tried looking for Original Fiction recommendations on TvTropes. If you don’t know the site, it basically lists tropes used in books/TV series/movies/whatever in a humorous way. But make sure you have a lot of time if you go check it out. It’s a fairly well known fact that once you start looking through some pages, you will keep clicking on links for HOURS. Happened to me too, the first few times I went there.

    Anyway, since TvTropes does not primarily (or even secondarily) do recs, what they do have is usually high quality. And Nocte was mentioned enthusiastically enough that I gave it a try. Best decision ever. Since TvTropes is very well known, if you ever feel like advertising Nocte, creating a page there and linking it around a bit throughout the site would probably work. I would even help you with it. The rec page is this one BTW: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanficRecs/WebOriginal

    – schattenmalerin

    PS: I have some more (unrelated) Nocte thoughts to talk about, if you’re interested.

    • Hi schattenmalerin! I love how your comment is as big as my blog post! It’s nice to spend just as much time reading your thoughts as I used in writing the post! XD (And yes, I noted the irony with the Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest! ^_^ I think I’m going to write a post on social media, how much I learned, and how much I’m still a little scared of it. Not THAT will be irony!)

      Now onto your comment! I never actually look at the author when scanning through FF.net. I usually look at the summary and the title, and occasionally scan the number of reviews. I never really read the reviews; they’re usually one liners on FF.net. As for the covers being like that of Animexx’s, I like the idea, that way you don’t judge the story at first glance, but still get to see beautiful artwork if you read the story. (And does it bother you that the text on FictionPress and FF.net no longer runs along the edge of the screen? I liked having the text fill in the white space.) Also, having never really used Amazon before, I really like their way of dealing with reviews. I think an average rating from readers and reviewers can tell others a lot. It seems more fair that way.

      I’m surprised at the number of people who find Nocte through TVTropes! Although it’s not a lot, I still find it interesting! I haven’t actually read through TVTropes (I STILL don’t understand what a “trope” is… :/), but every now and then I like to Google “Nocte Yin” (yeah, I’m not egotistic at all… >_<) and I really appreciate FLCNPNCH's recommendation. (FLCNPNCH, if you're reading this, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE REC!) Someone suggested that I made a Nocte page on TVTropes, but I don't really know how or where to begin. If you're up for it, we can create an account and fiddle around? Otherwise I'll be totally lost. O.O

      Hope to hear from you soon! And thanks for your awesomesauce comment!

      – Zhen Xue Qing

      P.S. We can totally talk about other things! Do you like to read shoujo manga? (I'm a total shoujo manga addict!)

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