Now this is a follow-up of sorts to a previous post I made on August 15th, so if you haven’t seen it, feel free to check it out here if you wish! (*ﾟ▽ﾟ*)
But with that out the way…
When it comes to discussing culture in countries around East and Southeast Asia, I feel like it’s a bit difficult for me to put into scale how influential Confucius’s teachings have been.
Bit-more-recent articles like this break it down much better for us—but all across Mainland China, a lot of quotes from Confucius’s and Mencius’s works live on as proverbs, and with how highly-regarded moral values, discipline, and wisdom are in families around here, there’s a good lot of us who grew up learning some versions of some of these!
Here’s a simple one that was among the earlier ones I picked up from textbooks: 温故而知新 (wēngù ‘ér zhī xīn), which directly translates to “Learn from the past,” but in context usually has a longer meaning of “Learn from the past to make sense of the present.”
And I think that’s quite a fitting preface to my takeaway from this journey!
It was late-2019, I just finished my first ever book draft without much experience, and… welp the problem is: that book only went through the first two seasons of the series-!
So my idea was to just continue things—after all, there were eight seasons total, and if I could write two each per book, then maybe I could pump out a best-selling series, yeah-?
I think I took about one day off before continuing the second book, but no—I didn’t really spend any of that time trying to reflect on my mistakes, or trying to learn more- I’d say I was carried away, but at that time and place, it was still a bit unusual for people like me to chase these kinds of dreams outside our loved ones’ demands…
So perhaps a part of it was me just wanting to be different—some way for me to put myself above the collectivist values I was raised with.
Maybe it was the process of growing up artistically, or maybe some natural energy intervening to prevent a second war crime, but in the end—I never actually finished book 2 of this series *\(^o^)/*
~The beginning of learning~
It was January of 2020 that I began to realise I was way, way out of my depth in this regard—and I think there were several factors that played into that revelation for me.
The first was my growing interest in what’s been called the Booktuber community—a subculture of authors and readers and even agents and editors on YouTube who spend a lot of time reviewing classics, dissecting troops, scanning new releases, so on like that!
But there was one kind of video that I grew addicted to: reviews of terrible books.
There were two of the first I came across, and I highly recommend not just these videos, but also both channels-! Both KrimsonRogue and Strange Æons balance comedy, entertainment, and criticism well, and I credit a lot of my early writing knowledge to them both!
But whether it’s really-bland romances or self-published epics of delusion… something about watching these bad examples get completely torn apart was really entertaining for me!
If I had to explain it, I guess there’s merit in learning what not to do as well, yeah?
I really enjoyed reviews of one person’s books in particular—Onision, someone so vile and demented that I’d rather not describe the stuff this guy has been accused of…
Now sometimes terrible people become good writers- I won’t name anyone in particular but the number of authors with really-inflammatory beliefs is staggering sometimes (_ _).｡o○
Luckily for us, Onision was both a terrible person and an atrocious writer—and I learned so much from watching his three books get shredded!
Basic stuff like plotting and structure were like alien concepts to me at the time—others like character development I had a marginal grasp of, and things a bit more advanced like descriptive prose… was in a completely different dimension.
Not to really inflate myself here but-
A question I got asked a lot back then, and still do sometimes, was how exactly I became proficient in English in a country that has a pretty-ineffective way of teaching it.
It’s hard for me to give an exact answer to something like that, but I usually reply with this: from around the age of 4 / 5, I was already an avid reader of online and offline encyclopaedias in not just my native languages, but also in English!
That’s still something I do a lot nowadays, but at the time, I didn’t realise that the English used in these formal texts was a different register than what’s used by authors in books…
And that is the first mistake I found out I made with this project.
Mistake 1: Register / Tone confusion
Now quick disclaimer I’m not saying this to like belittle our English teachers or anything—they did the best job they could given our curriculum and I honestly learned some good stuff from them-!
But for a while, I was taught that English was only ever in five registers: frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate—We weren’t taught the equivalents for writing, but given my native language also had a complex system of honourifics, plus its own registers, these five categories made a lot of sense to me!
So I kind of want to ask you this here: do you think language is best taught through rules or through experience?
Personally… I’d answer experience for quite a few reasons—if you’ve seen this post of mine, I gave a few examples of English’s phonosyntactic rules and how both aware and unaware we are of them—and I think that captures our minds’ capabilities well.
We don’t really have to be told of a rule to be able to follow it, yeah?
So because of that, I wrote almost entirely in what I thought was a “formal” style.
In reality… my writing comes off more as what I’d call an informative style—the same ones used in the encyclopaedias I always read-!
It honestly took me a while before I noticed that I was kind of just… emulating the style of stuff like Wikipedia articles and not actually what authors used.
For me, looking back, that’s mainly why my writing came off as so soulless—because I was employing a style meant not for creativity, but for education.
Now maybe it’s just because I know this difference now, but doesn’t confusing something like that feel a bit too basic of a thing to mess up?
I was already pretty internet-savvy—so if I just looked that up, I think that would’ve clarified things, right?
If you have the same conclusion as that, then correct actually! But…
Mistake 2: Doing absolutely no research~
Maybe it was my eagerness, maybe it was my ignorance, maybe both—but whatever the answer is, I really should’ve done some research into basic writing first-!
I was listening to these reviews and they’d bring up a lot of concepts like the Hero’s Journey or the Three-Act Structure—but believe it or not I didn’t know about these at the time-!
I had basic ideas, yeah, like I’d seen some games divided into acts, I’d read other books divided into acts—but actually writing these concepts?
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
And as it turns out… well, stuff like this is what happened.
If you do read this… What do you think about it?
Personally, I think it perfectly captures that juvenile bloodlust I had at the time… as well as all the pratfalls of investing everything into ideas and about nothing into the actual execution-!
I wanna know though—were the number of names in these two pages a bit confusing-?
Personally, I like to think I’m good with remembering names, but… I think there’s a limit that I didn’t violate, but rather murdered then cremated…
Mistake 3: ~Character Soup~
…I’m not actually sure where I heard that term used, sorry-!
But I love it too much not to throw it in here~
I didn’t think about it at the time, but I had a really bad case of naming every single character who ever appeared—and to try and give a picture on how bad it got…
Every time I write a story, I create these spreadsheets of sorts that tracks each individual character by various things~
Here’s a small part of the one I created for this book!
Now I remember all of these characters clearly even now—but I spent months just creating them, moving them about, and… well, killing them! ٩(๑❛ᴗ❛๑)۶
But what about a first-time reader-?
My complete lack of any description only makes it worse—like if I asked you to try and visualise Fredrick, for example, what would you imagine?
It’s so bland that I actually forgot what he looked like… so… （＾Ｏ＾☆♪
If me, as the author, can’t even describe my characters’ basic traits well enough, what can I really expect from an average reader who basically has to do all the work?
(almost) Three Years on…
If you ask me, then I think the three mistakes above were the worst things that I messed up—being completely fair, I feel like there were quite a few characters and arcs that weren’t all that bad, just executed so, so sloppily…
So I wanna use this moment to thank all the YouTube book reviewers!
Just seeing bad examples, and then hearing an explanation of why these were bad, really made me aware of how… well, how much worse I wrote compared to even these people-
And it made me feel really embarrassed at the time.
I felt like, by writing these atrocities, I was wasting the time of the few people around me who were really just trying to offer help…
That I looked like too much of an idiot by trying to be different and by swatting these people away from me.
On the night of January 11th, 2020, I wrote the very last sentence I ever would in this book, and then I closed it.
Writing this for you now means I went back to look at these books… and what I feel is a mix of that shame I mentioned, but also of some light pride—that I can look back in the past, show us both why it failed, and then pull up something much better thanks to all the lessons I learned!
It’s like a forest fire…
On that night I decided to cremate this series and stuff it into an unmarked urn, I was on my laptop again when a new inspiration hit me…
And if there was anything I really knew at the time, it was that a fresh start was better than anything else~!
If time allows, I wanna continue this retelling with the history of the book that followed this series—the one I personally consider to be my first real attempt at a novel-!
If you’re interested in that, then feel free to check back by that time, or leave any comment or question—I wanna welcome anything at this point, at least while I’m still a bit free from obligations (๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)
Till then, have some fun, and all the love to you~!