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This is probably an article I never thought I’d write given I’ve been launching articles in a never ending barrage, but in late May, I put out my last article and spent the entire month of June on break from article writing. I went from having a lot of ideas to write, to having too many ideas, only for it to culminate into an accidental burn out. Have you ever seen the meme of Patrick where he has a burnt hole in the back of his head after “Chum is Fum” and “Fum is Chum”? That was basically me in a nutshell. Now I do have a bunch of ideas in the woodworks, but I need to slow it down by a lot so this doesn’t happen again.
But for some people who don’t know what writer’s block is, I’ll explain.
If you’ve done an essay of some kind in school whether it be for class as a standard essay, had to do an essay on the fly on a test, or had to work on a 3-5 page essay project and you got suddenly stuck, that’s writer’s block. It’s when you know what you want to write, but you don’t know how to write it. Similar to me, I knew what to write, but I really didn’t know, since I had too many ideas. As of this article, there’s about five or six unfinished projects I’m working on, one that has been in the works since last month. And I know that there’s probably gonna be people who are gonna say that I should’ve taken a break after finishing up the Console Wars article series, and I’ll admit, I probably should’ve taken that break. Having writer’s block isn’t the most fun thing in the world, especially when you have to have ideas on what to write on within a weekly basis. While all my focus was on Console Wars from the end of January to around the beginning of May when it ended, I noticed that I was having trouble doing other articles that I would normally focus on, since I usually tend to do articles that are a bit different than the norm. And after I did my most recent article, my brain completely shut down. I had and still have no idea what to write, what article to start with and which ones to finish, and unfortunately while it’s a good thing to have a lot of ideas, it can also be a bad thing because you don’t know where to start and which idea to write about. While I’m glad I had a bunch of ideas to write about, having too many ideas unfortunately crippled me to the point where I pretty much ended up having an existential crisis.
Being burnt out as well, isn’t a good feeling either. We’ve all been through that moment where we worked really hard, and we need that break but we keep pushing ourselves to do more. This eventually leads to growing tired of working and taking time off to recuperate after a long amount of time of working, or working intensely on a consistent basis. I’ve always been someone who loves to work even if it’s for free. It’s a character trait I developed from my dad who keeps on working no matter what because he loves to work. But unfortunately I developed the similar habit he has. When we get burnt out, it gets so bad, it leads to quitting. I luckily broke out of this habit after only one job back in January, granted it was a job I wasn’t fond of after only two weeks, and the burn out was a whole lot faster, and a lot more uglier. But having writer’s block and being burnt out while having the urge to write at the same time, is like downing a bottle of Adderall while drinking a bottle of Jack, it’s gonna get super ugly when you crash, and the hangover is going to be hospital inducing.
I’m glad I stopped and took a break when I did, because I pretty much turned into a runaway freight train and nearly collided with a wall which probably had the word “SELF-DESTRUCT” written all over it. This whole thing reminded me of when Kat reacted to Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared a few years ago and how she brought up how being too creative could make you go insane. Looking back at it, I pretty much did go insane given after Console Wars, I was about to drill myself head first into a brick wall with little time to figure things out, resulting in pressing my luck only to get a double whammy. That’s an old TV Game Show reference if no one gets it, 10 bucks to the first person who does get it.
I don’t really have any advice on how to prevent burn out and writer’s block, other than saying that it’s okay to take a break. And this isn’t just for the AAOG writers, this is for everyone who’s dealing with a gap with no bridge or an obstacle that’s hard to get over. That includes the guest writers, fan fiction writers, people writing books, comics, content creators, musicians, artists, even the people who are working on an essay project. It’s alright to take a break every once in a while when you feel that your brain can’t take it anymore and you feel the need to give up. We’re humans at the end of the day, not robots who can keep going without rest. But even robots need to rest before they start falling apart. You’d never want to overexert yourself to the point where you don’t love your passion anymore, because when it gets to that point, it’s gonna be a lot harder to recover from a burn out or even writer’s block.
Stay safe, and take care of yourselves.
Guest Post by Brian Matthews
I think romance is a very underrated form of storytelling. At its core, a well-written romance hinges on highly developed character interaction, one of the most fundamental aspects of storytelling. Most people(or at least more than I would like) pass it off as a pretty cheap uninteresting art that people do get demographics riled up and cause them to spend more on the merchandise(… or for smut depending on what the genre is). Not an entirely untrue assessment but a very short-sighted one. Part of my hope is to get people to take this art more seriously.
Now to be clear I draw a distinction between shipping and romance: shipping is based on appearances and/or potential dynamics that could happen in a story, while a romance is the active story behind an established (or establishing) romantic relationship.
Also, keep in mind that this is my personal list and while I will do my best to explain my logic you don’t have to agree with me or my opinion. All I ask is that my own opinion be respected.
Finally, as this is my list I will be taking as many liberties as I feel are necessary to convey my opinion.
I’ll preface this first one with something that will sound weird: I am not actually a ‘Bumblebee’ shipper. While I enjoyed the dynamic between the two characters in the initial phase of RWBY I didn’t really see much storytelling potential for their relationship(at least nothing that couldn’t already be done with a friendship). On top of that I just thought other options had more story potential.
Now why would I say such a controversial thing despite having this pair be on my list. Well, my opinion changed. While the Adam plotline in Vol. 6 had a lot of people divided, to me it gave me an element that I thought was lacking previously: a reason. And while I had mixed feelings about the affair as a whole it did give me a reason to care about Blake and Yang’s shared story and any potential relationship that might happen. And with the seeds planted, their chemistry in Vol. 7 sealed the deal for me and now I am flying the flag 100%. They still have room to grow in my opinion but I think CRWBY will have something good prepared.
This one is a fun one for me. While their chemistry is certainly a highlight, the thing I really like about them is the strong sense of theme they have. If you look at it in chess terms Shikamaru is the king (the most strategically important piece) and Temari is the queen (the most tactically important piece). Tactics are about the efficiency of each individual move and what can be done in each specific moment. Strategy on the other hand is about the overall picture and what can be done to win the long term. Both their fighting styles and personalities reflect this and as a consequence they make a rather effective pair. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is that the relationship itself didn’t get a whole lot of focus in its respective show.
Remember those liberties I was talking about.
I think that the Mass Effect romances are generally well written so I need at least one on my list. Liara is an honorable mention and a few of the others aren’t too far behind, but if I had to choose one this would be the pair. They compliment each other in a good cop bad cop sort of a way. Garrus is the hot head Shepherd is the one who keeps him grounded. Combine their dynamic with the quality VA work and the rather touching moments throughout the latter Mass Effect titles, you get something pretty satisfying.
This is one where the more I thought about it the more it grew on me. I always liked the way Aang’s feelings for Katara reflected his own personal growth starting with a schoolboy crush evolving into a physical attraction, an emotional attraction and finally their actual relationship.
That being said I wasn’t really all that invested in it until I started watching Avatar reactions. After that I started noticing more details and appreciating it. Unfortunately it felt a bit stunted to me by not getting a more extensive ending. Though this has more to do with the timing rather than any actual problem I have with the writing. End of the day a good watch.
A lot of the basic romance elements are present in this one but I will draw attention to the two standout scenes that really make this a favorite.
First, the emotional climax. An emotional climax is the moment where the romantic feelings begin in either one or both of the involved parties. And I am not simply referring to a simple physical attraction, I am talking about the feelings of genuine love. There are a number of ways to do it but I have found the most effective way is through a moment of vulnerability.
Case and point: Winry’s first confrontation with Scar. Now I could talk at length about that specific scene for a while but for the sake of time I will keep it topic specific. After the actual confrontation with Winry was breaking down with some hard emotions after her inability to hurt Scar. So to calm her down Edward tells her that her hands aren’t meant for taking life they were meant to give life. A moment of honest feelings to give their relationship a compelling bond.
Second, the romantic climax. The romantic climax is the moment in the story when the romance is finalised by a mutual exchange of feelings. This is normally the moment in the story for the fated ‘true loves kiss’ and whatnot, though for me the kiss should always be secondary to the emotions they represent. One opinion that I hold very highly when it comes to romances is that if a kiss is absolutely necessary for the story to work then you’re probably doing it wrong.
Case and point: Edward’s proposal. Edward (the nerd god that he is) confesses his love through equivalent exchange leading to one of the most wholesome moments in the entire series. No kiss, just words. The only thing that could possibly make this more wholesome is the fact that allegedly the author didn’t do it because she couldn’t draw kissing. I rest my case.
Technically this was never (to my knowledge) outright stated so this could be assumption. But it’s also my list so I get to make the rules.
This one is simple but sweet. Actions speak louder than words(as link can attest) because this one is composed mostly of a handful of short scenes. In these scenes they convey so much through use of imagery, phrasing and body language.
Not much more to say about this one. I just find it enjoyable to watch play out.
This is one I wasn’t expecting and was happy to watch play out. When Rayla almost confessed her feelings at the end of season 2 I felt a bit taken aback and looked back into the previous episodes. Looking back I started noticing subtle moments throughout the second season that made me contextualize it a bit more. From the emotion of her consoling Callum to subtle hints of concern and relief in her body language to her speech about how healthy relationships require the full truth I began noticing a lot that I didn’t the first time around.
The same happened with Callum in Season 3 but to a lesser extent because I was expecting it. The moment they kissed it recontextualised a lot of stuff leading up to it: Callum’s drawings of Rayla, his conversation with her after the lightning strike, and his emotional support of her. I just love how well constructed it is on a storytelling level.
I give so much credit to the animators/voice actors for bringing their emotions to life and the writers for giving kids a good relationship to aspire to. They don’t get nearly enough credit for what they pull off in this series.
Wholesome is the only word I have to describe this relationship. Wholesome romance. Wholesome marriage. Wholesome parents. Not much more to say than that.
I will say one thing I liked: their relationship is a sort of reversal of traditional gender stereotypes with Kushina as the tom boy and Minato as the… well Hinata. I don’t generally care one way or the other about gender stereotypes in general but I think it can be really fun to subvert if you know how to do it properly(for instance Death from the comic Sandman).
Aside from that I just feel it is a really good pairing that represents the ideal of relationships and parenting. They bring out the best in each other and bring out the best in their son.
Anyway, just a really wholesome romance all around, ending with one of the saddest most bitter sweet love stories I have ever heard in my entire life. There honestly isn’t much I can say that their story itself hasn’t already said.
Seeing how this show was about their romance this pairing may have had an unfair advantage. On a basic level it has all the necessary components present: symmetrical character foils, grounded arguments, wholesome moments, heartfelt banter, well timed slapstick, and long building character development. To fully explain the intricacy of this relationship would necessitate me talking about the entire show front to back and I don’t have time for that. So instead I will talk about the element that, in my opinion, elevates it all the way up to my second place: The Ending.
Another one of my personal opinions on romance is that saving the relationship for the very end of the story is like getting a cake and only licking the icing off of it (tasty but lacking in substance). However, one belief that I hold in higher regard than this is that while a good ending brings closure to the story but a great ending does something that can only be done in that moment. Inuyasha’s ending (and by extension its romance)works because it can only happen when the two of them are ready to get together. The two of them cannot get together at the beginning because they are not emotionally ready for it. Kagome is a pile of insecurities who doesn’t have any sense of her purpose in life and Inuyasha leagues worse than her when it comes to personal problems. It was only after the lessons of their journey, the trials of Naraku, and the three years of self reflection that were finally able to fully come into their own as fully developed people. Only then could their stories end. And only then could their romance reach its well earned climax.
I can only think of one other romance that could possibly outrank my feelings for this one.
Most of what I have previously said goes into this one. They are perfect foils for one another, one empathic the other cerebral. They took their sweet time to build their relationship from the ground up. Their dynamic is based on an everbuilding trust and understanding. They started out as arch enemies which naturally means shipping fuel. An unintentionally clever reversal of gender stereotypes. Fueled by healthy discussion and lighthearted banter. Not to mention they make one of the strongest power couples ever conceived.
However, if I had to choose one factor to represent this pairing it would be the extra dimension added by their force abilities. In the Star Wars universe, the force allows certain individuals to develop empathic and telepathic bonds which unbelievably heighten the storytelling experience. Timothy Zahn in particular does a masterful job of portraying this in his respective novels and really brings their relationship alive in a way that is rarely done. The emotions of their bond become a near tangible thing and I have yet to see replicated as effectively in any form of media I have come across. In my opinion a true masterpiece and worthy of being my favorite romance in fiction.
Note: This article does contain spoilers for ATLA. I know some people are just starting on their Avatar journey, so don’t read this if you haven’t finished the series yet!
[Image description: Avatar: The Last Airbender. Toph sits on the left with Iroh on the right. Toph has a bag near her feet to the furthest left of the screen and both hold teacups. A small fire with a teapot sits between them, though closer to Iroh.]
Characters. Love them, hate them, love to hate them, some are simple, some are complex, some are in between…
No matter what the medium is, the fact is that they’re the driving force of any piece of media we consume. A masterful writer can make them like full, living people and that’s what draws us to them.
Today, we’re gonna talk about one specific character type: the static character.
Despite what the name might imply, a static character isn’t a boring character with one pronounced personality trait; they are simply characters that are already comfortable in their skin and have no real need to change. They can actually be some of the most lively characters and are really just there to help effect change in other members of the cast.
Perhaps two of the best-known examples of static characters in fandom are Toph and Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender. They beautifully illustrate two major static character types.
[Image description: Iroh sitting at a tray, playing mahjong (?) on Zuko’s ship. A tea kettle sits toward the middle right of the frame. He looks content with his hands upturned.]
Iroh is sort of the stereotypical static character. He’s an old man that’s gone through life and is relatively satisfied with his place in it. He’s the wise mentor and has gone through life’s trials. His goal is to pass his knowledge to the next generation and hopefully help the world become a better place through that.
[Image description: Toph in her normal outfit in an earthbending pose]
Toph is another great type of static character. Though young, she’s extremely self-assured and knows her place in the world. She sees no reason to bend over backwards to please others and compromise her own identity. Like the element of earth, she stands strong and is relatively immovable. Once she gets something in her head, it can be difficult to change her mind.
These two really are some of the best examples of static characters I’ve seen in media. They’re some of the most beloved characters in an already fantastic series for their personality. They show how to properly do the dynamic of a static supporting character. Protagonists can be relatively static character and undergo the Flat Character Arc, but that’s not going to be addressed here.
The point of a static supporting character is to effect change in the protagonist and any other members of the cast. These dynamics can go any which way which makes them very interesting characters to use in writing.
(Also I will admit I haven’t watched the series all the way through in a few years, so my memories are a little vague.)
Iroh’s most pronounced impact is on Zuko’s arc. He’s there with his nephew from the first scene we see of them together.
[Image description: Aboard Zuko’s ship. Zuko in the foreground, about one third of the way left of the screen. He faces the watch tower on his ship which lets off a plume of smoke. Iroh sits very distinctly in the background behind Zuko.]
Though the series, we see Iroh guide him through various trials and tribulations. From the Blue Spirit incident to Zuko’s betrayal to gain the glory of killing the Avatar, Iroh never once wavers in his conviction of his nephew’s ability to become a good person.
Iroh is always there for Zuko although he may not always support his decisions. He’s not afraid to chide his nephew for making stupid, rash decisions. However, Zuko usually refuses to listen, but Iroh never gives up. Eventually, though, Zuko does listen. Of his own volition, he betrays his father in order to do the right thing.
[Image description: Very zoomed out shot in a cave. Ozai sits on the left of the screen on the ground. Zuko stands on the right side, brandishing his swords and with a lantern hanging over his head.]
Toph’s main duty was to act as Aang’s earthbending teacher and get him to stand his ground. She basically has to do it through brute force but she does manage to eventually teach him to earthbend and stick by his convictions.
[Image description: Toph covered in rocks stands in the middle of the screen. Aang pushes back from the right.]
This is the power of static characters. They are often a wrecking ball to the way a main protagonist thinks on any level: small, medium, or large. Though their personalities remain the same, they can kick off some seriously complex character arcs. I know there are many people in the ATLA fandom that find Zuko’s arc a lot more engaging than the main story. I can see why; his interactions with Iroh are some of the best fiction has to offer.
They really are the foundations on which many Positive Change Arcs happen. The Positive Change Arc is just a fancy name for the sort of typical arc we see in fiction: somebody going from a bad or perhaps okay to an absolute paragon, a hero to look up to, a role model that others can draw inspiration from. It is through remaining themselves that they force others to change. Their worldview is generally pretty set which challenges somebody that is in a period of serious personal upheaval.
That doesn’t mean static characters themselves cannot change. Toph does go through her own minor, subtle character arcs. Perhaps the most noticeable change in her is she does slowly become friendlier and more social. She is never the epitome of social graces, but she changes enough to be able to work with the team. Her core personality doesn’t change though; her perceptions of her place in the world shift just enough that she becomes more empathetic and able to understand others better.
Iroh is the example of the static character that really does not change really at all. He is an old man with his own philosophies. Through his experiences, he has learned that kindness and acceptance are usually the best solutions. Listening to others to better understand them is always the best remedy to him. He is calm and centered, almost the pinnacle of the best of humanity in the ATLA universe.
Next time you’re reading a story or watching show, try to keep a look out and see if you can spot any static characters. They might seem boring at first, but they might just end up being one of the best the narrative has to offer.
Writing stories and jumping into those worlds are so important. Especially when a pandemic is going on it’s the perfect time for you to dust off that writing laptop and notepad of yours and start world-building.
That’s why All Ages of Geek is working with ForgeFiction to introduce you to a new collaborative way of writing stories.
A platform for community-driven story writing where you will collaborate to create ideas, chapters, and ultimately books and vote for the plot twists that you love.
We will be working on an All Ages of Geek Community-Driven ForgeFiction Story together so stay tuned for more updates going forward on our YouTube Channel.
[Image description: An oval of varying shades of blue acts as the backdrop for text that reads “POKéMON RANGER.” The Pokémon is in the usual yellow text outlined with blue. RANGER is in stylized block letters that have sharp angles. A gradient of dark green fades to the lighter from top to bottom.]
Back in the mid to late 2000s, there were a lot of Pokémon spinoffs. From the weird crossover with Nobunaga’s Ambition that was Pokémon Conquest to the still-popular Mystery Dungeon series, it felt like there was at least one spinoff every Pokémon fan could appreciate.
One of those series that flew relatively under the radar was the Pokémon Ranger series. The basic principle of the games is that there are no trainers in the regions of Fiore, Almia, and Oblivia. Instead, there are police/park ranger hybrids called, well, Pokémon Rangers. They use little devices called Capture Stylers that eject top-like disks out and create lines. These lines then loop around the Pokémon and “capture” the Pokémon. Unlike with trainers, these captures are temporary and they’re used to either just calm down the Pokémon or get its help for a short task.
In less wordy terms, you literally materialize THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP to get Pokémon to help you fight bad guys and save nature.
[Image description: A Capture Styler from the first Ranger game accompanied by a Capture Disk on the left. It’s a small device with a solid red top layer followed by a solid black one. There is a small yellow antenna on the right-hand side. On either end of the black is yellow, the one toward the antenna being rounded for the Capture Disk to come out of.
A Disk is a top-like object, mostly light blue. In the center of it is a dark blue dome. There are three small, pink arrows pointing toward it.]
[Image description: A Plusle with a look fo surprise is surrounded by two and a half rings spiraling upward. The Capture Disk sits toward the upper right-hand corner of the image.]
It’s a really silly concept, but I feel like the games pull it off pretty well. Granted, they’re still pretty lighthearted since they’re Pokémon games. Gotta keep that E for Everyone rating.
However, it was that base concept that drew me in in the first place.
Now I have a bit of an unusual history with the series. Most people I’ve interacted held the games near and dear to their hearts because they grew up with them. I personally didn’t discover the series until like 2012/2013, a few years after the third game, Guardian Signs, came out.
It’s kinda funny how it happened too. I was on Tumblr and had gotten into doing text-based roleplay on there. I bounced between blogs affiliated with groups and indie ones and came across some characters. The most common was Kellyn and I was just like “new character, who dis.” I learned Kellyn was one of the potential protagonists from the game Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia.
I had never heard of this series and so I got the first game. It was kinda fun, so I also got the other two.
I ended up binging all three pretty hard, though I had to take my time with the first one. (It’s just a lot tougher than the other two due to its rougher mechanics.) I actually finished the majority of Shadows of Almia in one single sitting because I was on the way to a convention in Chicago. (A 4-8 hour drive away from where I live.) We got there a day before it started, too, so I had all the time in the world to finish it.
I never actually finished the first one, but I got pretty close to endgame.
And so I turned my attention to the Tumblr fandom and…it was not there. The Ranger tag was absolutely dead. Someone would post art once in a blue moon or something, but that was about it.
I made a blog called The Ranger Union and just sat there. Whenever someone would make something, I’d reblog it. The activity was dead for a long time but my persistence paid off. Slowly but surely, the fandom started to come together and came crawling out of the woodworks. It was an amazing experience to be able to see a fandom that was dead for all intents and purposes become extremely active with multiple posts in the tag per day. Unfortunately, I don’t really know what state it’s in now. I left the site because it gave me way too much anxiety.
Despite leaving the Tumblr fandom, I’m still a part of a server dedicated to worldbuilding and headcanon for the series. It’s not the most active thing in the world, but it’s good fun. The headcanons vary so wildly from each other. It’s really fun to see how differently people interpret the same source material.
Even if I’m not super active in the fandom anymore, it gave me something really special. I absolutely adored the last game, Guardian Signs, for trying to tell one of the most ambitious stories in the Pokémon series. As far as Pokémon goes, it has a fair few twists and turns that might keep you on your toes. Replaying it is actually rewarding because, once you have the most major plot twist, you can go back and see little moments in a completely different light. Now it’s not Shakespeare or anything; it’s Pokémon. But as far as Pokémon goes, I’d say the story is behind only Gens 5 and 7. There’s a lot of worldbuilding that really impacts the story and helps make the region feel like it has an actual history.
This gave me. So. Much. Material to work with for fanfiction.
I started working on what was supposed to be a rewrite of Guardian Signs, but it quickly grew into an entire reimagining of the series.
This became the biggest writing project I’ve worked on to date.
I’m still working on it seven years later.
This series has influenced my writing so much and effected change in my life in a few ways I couldn’t have originally predicted.
The main thing that this series gave me was the gift of organization. I’m someone that has always been generally pretty relaxed and completely disorganized. Papers everywhere, clothes were strewn about, messy floors, the works. However, I had to learn to be organized due to the sheer volume of information I had here. I have 30,000 words of worldbuilding for ancient Oblivian culture. I’m working on an entire constructed language for it. I’ve redone the Browsers (Ranger equivalent of Pokedexes). I have extensive age charts. I have like 20 pages that convert over 6000 years year by year. I have a 10-page timeline that keeps track of events related to 60+ characters.
And that’s literally not even the half of it.
I have a 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) binder packed to capacity with all of the information. It weighs over 2 pounds (about 1 kilo) with all the paper I have crammed into it.
If I hadn’t gotten organized, I’d be dying under the weight of this project.
[Image description: two images.
First: A photo of a binder from the of it. Almost the entire binder is filled up.
Second: A picture of an open binder on a document of many, many boxes. There are four columns with 12 rows representing one character. Below that is a row of dashes to mark a new row starts. There are three sets visible on this particular page, marking a total of twelve characters. Many tabs also run along the right side of the image, mostly orange, but also some pink. There is a noticeable gap with one tab missing in the bottom third of the binder.]
That’s a quick picture of my Ranger binder and she is thicc. All of those tabs are a section of information. Some can be as small as one sheet, others can be dozens long. You can see the sheer volume of information in it. Heck, you can even see how much information I have in the second picture.
That page is what I call my “minifiles.” Basically, they are everything I need to know about a character’s psychology, crammed into twelve rows. It covers the name, age, height, weight, family, MBTI and accompanying number preferences, Multiple Intelligences (how people learn best), Empathy Quotient (how well they relate to others), and a bunch of other stuff. When I lay out all of the information in full, it can be upwards of nine pages.
These sections are not even in this binder either. This is literally my worldbuilding binder, not character analysis.
So you can see how this let me get organized initially and it’s just continued. I have a very effective time management system with skills I learned from my dojo.
The other thing this fandom gave me was my major.
Ever since I learned about the idea of constructed language or ‘conlang’ in high school, I’ve wanted to do it. I had Holly Lisle’s Create a Language Clinic, which is honestly not the best thing ever. It doesn’t explain what things like ‘case’ are while mentioning them. I just couldn’t get a handle on it because her philosophy is ‘just toss stuff at the wall and see what sticks.’ That works fine and well for her but it just didn’t jive with my detail-obsessed brain.
So I picked up some other books on conlang such as Mark Rosenfelder’s The Language Construction Kit and David Peterson’s The Art of Constructed Language. I first looked at The Language Construction Kit and my brain utterly exploded.
This was my first exposure to linguistics, the science of how language works.
It was excessively hard material for me to understand at the time, but honestly? I had so much fun with it. I was learning and being challenged in a way I hadn’t even known existed. I’d get a legitimate headache from how hard I was concentrating, but it was so much fun.
So when I transferred from community college to an actual university, I took my first linguistics class and fell in love.
My major is now linguistics and I do not regret it. It’s just so utterly fascinating to see the deep structure of languages, how they express the same ideas in vastly different ways, and just oh it’s so much fun to learn.
Although if you want something funny, I actually did just end up following Holly Lisle’s method for conlang with ancient Oblivian. I took some concepts from my linguistics classes went ‘oh okay I’ll use that’ then just kinda slapped it down. I’m not following linguistic properties really. But it’s my first conlang so I figured it only being ‘semi-functional’ works. Especially since it’s just for fanfiction. It doesn’t need to be what’s called a “natlang” or “natural language” which means a fully functioning language that works so well it feels like it could actually exist.
So what are the “cycles” in the title?
As I said, Ranger is my home fandom. You’ll see I write a lot of RWBY stuff on this site and that’s been my fandom for the past two-ish years. It’s a series I currently love and will always hold a special place in my heart.
But I return to Ranger time and time and time again.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve completed Shadows of Almia and Guardian Signs. I know I’ve put over a hundred cumulative hours into my various replays of them.
I took a break for about a year and a half from my Ranger stuff because of a depressive episode I entered in 2018. I also stopped because I’m at the point of just needing to finish the conlang and do all my character development—tedious things that are repetitive and boring.
But I’m back now and I have even more organizational tools at my disposal. I can manage my time more effectively which means I can work on huge projects without feeling lost and like I’m drowning. So now I’m working on the prewriting for a massive RWBY rewrite and working on my Ranger stuff again.
I just love this series so much and it’s changed my life in tangible ways.
It really is amazing how just one little incident can spark the fire of passion that guides your life.
This article is a bit of a combination of my previous article on RWBY’s music and Jasper’s about goal setting and the Binding of Isaac. You don’t necessarily have to have read my previous article but I’d really recommend reading Jasper’s. I touch on some of the same concepts here, but I’ll be more focused on a few concrete tools that people may find helpful.
I can sum the part of mine that I want to focus on here: I fractured my wrist in 2018 and fell off writing fanfic for nearly two years. The song Indomitable from the RWBY V6 soundtrack saved me from myself and inspired me to get back into writing.
Jasper’s article honestly inspired me to go a bit more in-depth with that part and to go into the how of overcoming my own anxiety and perfectionism.
Honestly, it was this part of the song:
“Don’t be afraid!
Get up, get going, a step everyday
I’ll meet you there
When we strive, we transcend”
It was really that one little verse that helped me the most when it came to getting back into doing anything related to fanfiction writing. It reminded me that, above all, you are often your own greatest enemy. Your fears and insecurities are often your greatest chains.
In my other article, I mentioned the fact that I started focusing on research for a huge AU I’m working on first. And, recently, I started writing again. It was really two simple tools as well as a mindset that helped me get on the path again.
I have to touch on the fact that I study martial arts (namely bujinkan ninjutsu, headed by Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi). We have a leadership program that I’ve been in for four years and it teaches us practical tools for life and being a good leader. We also focus on making sure people understand the philosophy behind what we do and why. It was there that I learned all of these things.
The first of the tools was SMART goals. It’s an acronym for setting the best types of goals possible. It stands for
Of course, there are other variations, but they all essentially boil down to this: setting goals that are extremely specific and on a deadline.
Here’s a neat little infographic to help outline what each means:
[Image description: A 5-column chart, purple, red, light blue, goldenrod, and dark green. Text across top reads “SMART” in capital letters.
First column: Specific. Do: set real numbers with real deadlines. Don’t: Say, “I want more visitors.”
Second column: Measurable. Do: Make sure your goal is trackable. Don’t: Hide behind buzzwords like, “brand engagement” or “social influence.”
Third: Attainable. Do: Work towards a goal that is challenging but possible. Don’t: Try to take over the world in one night.
Fourth: Realistic. Do: Be honest with yourself—you know what you and your team are capable of. Don’t: Forget any hurdles you may have to overcome.
Fifth: Time-bound. Do: Give yourself a deadline. Don’t: Keep pushing towards a goal you might hit “someday.”]
The reason a lot of people fail at their goals is that they’re too vague. “I want to be more social!” “I want to lose weight!” “I want to write a book!” These are the types of things people strive for but never meet because they lose focus and direction.
Let’s go back to my goal of finishing my research. It might not sound like a lot, but let me show you what I’m up against:
[Image descriptions: Two images, both are badly lit.
First image: Four columns of yellow, light blue, and purple sticky notes against a dark beige wall.
Second image: The same dark beige wall with three distinct columns, marked by blue painter’s tape. Columns and columns of yellow and light blue sticky notes are in the designated areas, in their own columns.]
This is my research scrum board. A scrum board is another tool I learned at my dojo. Basically it’s just a board that helps you keep track of where you are in a specific project. I made one for my research so I know what I’ve done and where I am with each section.
The first photo is everything of what I haven’t even touched in terms of reading.
The left section of the first photo is what I’ve simply read. The middle section is what I’ve outlined and annotated. The right section is everything I’ve taken notes on—meaning done to completion.
That’s 280 sticky notes exactly which means 280 sections of research.
My initial goal was a bad one: “I want to finish my research.” When you look at it laid out like this and think of it that way, it seems impossible to accomplish.
However, I decided to start using SMART goals in two ways.
Back in December of last year, I decided I really wanted to start getting this done. So I set the goal that I wanted to finish maybe about 10-15 sections of the research by time the semester started. So that was one SMART goal in and of itself, but I still felt like I was drowning. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.
Then I had a huge breakthrough.
I was reminded that the book I was working in had double-columned text. So I thought “What if I timed how long it takes me to do one column?”
And, from there, everything about my approach changed.
What felt like a slog had suddenly turned into a pretty easy, breezy process. I now had a time estimate of how long everything took me which made it feel so, so much more manageable. I could give myself a rough estimate of how long it’d take me to complete any one section.
The crazy thing is that’s the actual psychology behind goal setting. It’s a bit much to go into in full here, so I’d suggest looking at the article on Positive Psychology about it, listed at the bottom. It’s a long read but a good one if you’re interested in the mechanics in full. But to sum at least some of it up: the more achievable goals we set, the more fulfilled we feel, and the more positive an outlook we can obtain. It becomes a self-rewarding system that makes us push and nudge ourselves into making our invisible dreams into tangible rewards.
To bring this back to my research, my goal is still “to finish it.” I admittedly have no set date for when I want it done. So it’s not a good goal and I acknowledge that. However, my scrum board allows me to determine what I’m going to tackle next. Each sticky note is a tinier sub goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Realistic. My scheduling is when I get to the Time-sensitive part of the goal.
[Image description: A schedule showing Monday to Sunday at the top. Down the left side are times listed in half-hour increments, ranging from 8:00 AM to 11:30 PM. Various blocks are colored in times, each labelled.]
The other major tool I’ve been using are 50-minute work blocks. The idea here is to work for about 50 minutes, take a 10-minute break, then start working again. I think I remember them saying that the main point is that for the first and last ten minutes of the session, you tend to be a little unfocused, so you get a solid 30 minutes of focused work.
Obviously, this isn’t something I adhere to 100%. There are some things I’ll set aside about 15-30 minutes for rather than a full 50.
I’m also not advocating anybody keep as rigid a schedule as I do; this is just what I do that helps me.
And, honestly, that’s an important thing to mention: SMART goals, scrum boards, the 50-minute work blocks are simply tools. They’re pretty flexible things that you can make and adapt to your own needs. I’ve figured out how to make them work for me and they’ve put my life in a very positive direction.
They may also not work for everybody either and that’s okay. I’ve found they work for me and they might work for others to varying degrees of success.
To bring this back to the Indomitable lyrics, all of that above stuff was mainly the “Get up, get going, a step every day” part. By laying out all of these tools, I help myself take steps toward my goal each day.
The other major components of this is “Don’t be afraid” even though I was. I was so afraid. I didn’t want to prove to myself that I had fallen from grace and was now a bad writer. Whenever I sat down, my heart would race and I’d feel an aversion to putting stylus to tablet.
I decided earlier this year to try to get into writing. I had no excuses to not be writing since I was managing to fit so much into my schedule even with writing for AAOG and school. I got like one chapter up and it was horrible!
I stopped writing.
I didn’t post again for like two months.
That was when I decided to really recommit myself.
And so I set aside 45 minutes per day to write…and it still didn’t go well.
Oh, I could write but for maybe about 10-15 minutes before the anxiety got too much.
I decided to work with it.
Instead of setting aside 45 minutes in one time block, I set aside 15 minutes of prose then wrote for another 15 for the purpose of character development.
My writing was still horrible but that actually did the trick. Through those shorter sessions, I’ve learned to just enjoy the act of creation again. I’ve had to let go of the worries, doubt, and desire for perfection in my writing. And I’ve been able to write longer and longer because of it. I also crave just sitting down and putting a pencil to paper.
I literally needed to give myself permission to suck again, to literally be a beginner.
Yes, I’m a skilled writer of 20 years. I understand character development, plotting, worldbuilding, and all of these other things that make me hold myself to this high standard. But, sometimes, you just have to let all of that go and be a beginner again.
Which brings me to shoshin.
[Image description: Two purple kanji. Sorry to TTS users; I don’t know how to describe these.]
Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism which means “beginner’s mind.” It’s the ability to allow yourself to look at things through the eyes of a beginner even if you’re studying something at a high level. This is exactly what I’m having to do right now. I have to just let go of my desires for myself, my thoughts of how ‘good’ I am at writing, and just write. I simply have to enjoy the act of creation again and my prose will return in time.
Admittedly, I am no scholar or expert on Zen Buddhism so my limited knowledge comes from what the head instructor at my dojo has told me. But, even so, this has been such a powerful lesson before.
In my first article, I mentioned I had a breakdown about being so bad with the actual prose and it was because I forgot about this. I just wanted (and frankly still do) to be back where I was. But I was starting from scratch more or less. You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.
Going back to square one is sometimes not a bad thing. Who knows what I’ll discover as I begin my journey as a writer anew.
Right now, all I know is that I shouldn’t be afraid and just need to take a step each day. The power to keep moving onward is mine and mine alone even if I’m not there yet.
A Look at the Psychology of Goal Setting (Incl. 3 Research Findings). (2019, May 2). PositivePsychology.Com. https://positivepsychology.com/goal-setting-psychology
Quick note: This article does delve into writing fanfiction and text-based roleplay. As such, characterizations touched on veer way into non-canon interpretations.
You know, the way I stumbled on All Ages of Geek the first time was kind of funny. It was in either spring or summer of last year when a tweet came across my timeline. It was somebody named Katya Stec talking about how you need to respect your characters and treat them as if they were real people, how you need to build a relationship with them. We had a little bit of a back and forth where Kat was being, well, Kat, and it was a conversation I really enjoyed. I thought it’d be a one-off thing, but then I discovered she did RWBY reactions some months later.
And, well, look where we are now.
The reason I bring this up is because this might seem a bit of an odd article to write for AAOG, but I think this might not be a bad read for writers. Granted, this isn’t something that’ll apply to all writers. We’re each unique in our approaches. Whether we be pantsers, plotters, meticulous worldbuilders, thriller specialists, or historical fiction enthusiasts, we can all learn from each other in some way.
Characters are the driving force in most stories. There’s an old adage that, “Strong characters can carry a weak plot but a strong plot cannot carry weak characters.” This is definitely true to a large degree in my own experience. I’m not really here to debate the latter part and more the former. (But I digress.)
There’s another stereotype of writers that we sit and talk to the people in our heads. For some of us (like me)…that’s an objectively true thing we do. We have our characters (or “muses”) living in our heads and it’s both a blessing and a curse depending on how we interact with them. Some of us have close, loving relationships with them, others of us don’t, and others are in between.
For those of us that live like this, perhaps the most important thing is for us to gain the muse’s trust. How we go about it for each and every one is different as they’re all unique people with their own life stories and experiences that shaped them into who they are. We need to learn to learn to trust these characters to commandeer and steer things in the right direction when they’re going wrong.
I know characters doing what they want is one of the singular, most frustrating things that can happen. Even if you think you know the character well, they might have other ideas.
The best example I can think of this in my own writing is Leo from Fire Emblem: Fates.
He’s pretty sick and weakly and Garon quite literally tortured him which resulted in a very timid, submissive boy.
I had worked with him long and deeply enough that I thought I knew him well enough. I had his trust, so I thought I was good in the Leo/Takumi slashfic I was writing. I had this short arc of about 4-6 chapters plotted out where there’d be a misunderstanding between the two. Leo was just going to take the abuse that Takumi gave him with things ultimately resolved by getting advice from Ryoma, Takumi’s older brother.
Also visual reference for Takumi and Ryoma for anyone needing them:
This was a case of me getting frustrated and ending up dead in the water. I really didn’t know what to do next in the fic so it just kinda…died. This does go to show the fatal flaw in allowing characters to do what they want. Sometimes, they can veer off the charted path so hard it can basically kill the story.
But I also have one very good example just how long and difficult the process of gaining a character’s trust can be. This is on the extreme end of difficulty, though, but it’s one of the best examples I have.
Blake Belladonna from RWBY.
My journey with her has been…a very, very long one.
Adam abused her in horrifying ways I can’t go into here. It’s such a huge, trigger-filled minefield that moving one inch will make you trip something.
My first attempts at communicating with Blake were through doing a character questionnaire I cobbled together from a much longer one. It’s about 40 questions and I’ve found it the most effective way to understand my characters in a short span of time.
However, I noticed that she…was not responding well at all to it. I could feel her resisting and it causing further damage to her already tattered psyche.
And so I stopped.
I realised then that I needed to write her in order to understand her. One of my biggest, traditional standbys would not work due to just how utterly shattered her mind and soul were.
In 2019, I put out an ad on r/Roleplay for someone to do a character study RP with because this was the only way I’d learn about her. Thankfully, I found somebody wonderful that agreed to do it with me. It ended up being slowburn, slice of life to the utmost extreme. After over a year…we’re into the second month of Beacon’s first year.
We started on January 13th and it seriously took me until April 19th to understand what was going on in her head. And we would literally write rapidfire responses for over 6 consecutive hours every day (at least where possible).
TRIGGER WARNING SECTION
Short section that delves into the effect Adam’s abuse had on Blake and gets into tactics abusers use. Just go to the SECTION OVER bit if you don’t want to read this. It’s kind of important but not necessary to read.
I’ll try to keep this brief and not technical, but I have to get into one term.
A lot of people have heard the term ‘gaslighting’ but may not understand what it means. At its most basic level, it’s basically a series of tactics to make the target doubt their own perception of reality and see the world the way the abuser wants them to.
Basically what was going on with her was that Adam had gaslit her so badly that he made her believe her old personality didn’t exist anymore. In her own words, “I [am/was] his bitch.” (Tense varies on amount of character development.)
The worst part was that she was acting completely as her authentic self once she could calm down and not be so focused on the trauma.
For those that might want more technical terms: he gaslit her so completely that her personality was compartmentalized into her authentic self and what he wanted her to be.
There is still so much more to her psychology and the situation, but that works for the sake of this article.
Because of the way she suffered, her trust in others ie extremely fragile and that includes me. It is so difficult to gain her trust, but so easy to damage. It took probably around 3-4 in-universe weeks for her to admit she saw Team RWBY as her friends. That might not sound like a long time, but we’re talking probably 6+ months in the real world.
I remember the one time I did hurt her trust. I think I pushed her a little too far during a smut scene so she was kind of wary of opening back up to me for a while. Thank God she did come to trust me fully again just through continuing to RP. (This was last year so I can’t remember what it was over especially with as deep into that RP we are now.)
Even writing this article, I’m having to be careful what I share about her. If I give away too much, then I’ll lose trust with her that I’ll have to regain.
Perhaps the biggest example of just allowing Blake to be herself is the fact that she’s managed to pull Team RWBY together. My Ruby really struggles with people, so her being in charge is…difficult. Blake, however, comes from a position of leadership. Kali, Ghira, and Sienna all taught her invaluable leadership skills that allowed her to step in where Ruby was unable to.
When Weiss’ anxiety overwhelms her, Blake almost always knows what to do because she did the research to try to make sense of what Adam did to her. Jacques did almost the exact same things to Weiss as Adam did to her psychologically. When combined with her training in the esoteric side of aura (headcanon that would take way too long to explain), it allows her to basically just know what’s going on inside Weiss’ head.
She’s also helping Ruby see where she can step in. Ruby’s best with logistics while Blake just understands people. Blake handles the team’s emotional needs while Ruby’s starting to get how to push the team toward working together as a cohesive combat unit.
In the end, Team RWBY came together quickly on a deep level with an environment that fosters communication and rewards honesty in a positive-feedback cycle.
So what is the point of this long-winded article?
I’ll try to wrap it up quickly.
As I’ve learned especially through this entirely free-form RPing, trusting your characters is beyond important. Sometimes, you end up with situations like me and Leo where things go off the rails and can leave you in a corner. Other times, you end up with situations like Blake.
Either way, you have to put your faith in your characters they’ll do the right thing that’s true to them. Forcing them to do things that they don’t want to do is a recipe for disaster. By doing so, you compromise the integrity of their own thoughts, feeling, beliefs, and experiences.
And, if you do that, you can compromise your entire story.
It is just like if you tried to force a friend to do something they may not want to. Sometimes, with enough negotiation, you can figure out a way for it to work even if they aren’t thrilled about it. Other times, you’ll end up just completely sabotaging your relationship with them.
So, get to know your characters. It might seem odd and crazy, but it might just show you a new route you might have never considered.