The Writer's Room

  1. The July New Feature Roundup

    Jason and I have been busy working on some features that have kept the feedback site hopping since we launched. I’m happy to say that you can now delete stories (as long as they’re drafts or don’t have any comments, ratings or haven’t been entered in a challenge).

    Also, we finally figured out search!! There’s still some work to do to integrate all the little pieces, but the heavy lifting is done. We now have a full-text search engine for stories. To try it out, just hop up there to the search field (it’s between browse and the search button) and search for something. I’m pretty darned happy with the results.

    With the launch of the real search engine, we need to find a way to put the tag stuff back on the site somewhere (you can still go to the tag page – but there are no links to it currently) and we need to figure out how best to combine searching for stories, users and challenges.

    Stay tuned – the new inspiration stuff and profile redo are on the way. I can’t say when – because I don’t know – but I think those are the next things on the list!

  2. Story Elements: The Villain

    From the campy fun of Dr. Evil to the scheme-concocting villainy of Ernst Blofeld upon whom he was based, everyone loves a good villain. From the insane brutality of the Joker to the suavity of Dracula, nothing haunts our dreams like the potential for evil. From the revenge-driven furor of Captain Ahab to the unending conniving of Iago (not the parrot), nothing drives along a story like a dastardly foe.

    Aside from being oh-so-convenient to the plot, villains serve a deeper purpose. Our self definition is as much what we are as what we are not. Heroes inspire us, paragons of the ‘Thou Shalt’s. Villains repulse us, murky examples of the ‘Thou Shalt Not’s.

    As put by Jung (yes, another Jung reference…my apologies to any die-hard Freudians out there), “We know that the wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention, and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them.” Here he was discussing his Shadow archetype, the elements of evil and darkness that exist within each of us.

    Perhaps it is with this Shadow that the villains of fiction resonate, that part of us to which they speak. Therein lies the greater depth of writing, when you can create a villain with a bit of yourself within them, that kernel of truth and humanity. In turn, we can all realize that a bit of the villain resides within us, an inevitable blight upon even the purest soul.

    9 comments Posted 2009-07-15 Author: THX 0477
  3. Power to the People; Power to the Writer

    According to the UN, the world’s population will top 9.1 billion by 2050. As futuristic a year as that sounds, it’s likely within the lifetime of a lot of the writers on the site. Some of us have better odds than others.


    They go on to say that much of that boom will come from the least developed countries. The theory is that as developed countries decrease in fertility rates, they will still increase in numbers by absorbing immigrants. Then again, the whole thing depends on the containment of diseases.

    Why bring this up in a writing blog? When I saw the article it reminded me of one of the great powers of writing: the ability to imagine, present, and explore society and culture. That can mean a bleak prediction of where certain policies will take us, as in Orwell’s ‘1984’. It could be a more fanciful extension of popular fantasy/sci-fi memes, as in ‘World War Z’ or ‘Vamped’. You can even go olde-school and see how Dickens viewed society in his age via ‘Bleak House’ or ‘Little Dorrit’.

    That’s when writing really hits the mark, when it goes beyond simply telling a nice story. There are lots of reasons why things will stand out and connect with us, and this is just one of them, that it speaks to who we collectively are, where we came from, and where we secretly fear we may be going. Then maybe, just maybe, the thought process sparked there can lead to something positive.

    So, are you telling stories or are you connecting on a deeper level with your fellow human beings? Is your character a swell guy or in some way a stand-in for each of us or all of us or some of us? Does the resolution of the conflict stem from convenient plot contrivances or does it speak to how life could go or should go?

    Just wondering. Just wandering. Just wishing to be awesome.

    7 comments Posted 2009-07-05 Author: THX 0477
  4. Comments and Courtesy: The Recap

    In my comment on Kevin’s post I was a little pissy. I can admit that. Hopefully he can forgive me. He darn well better, if he knows what’s good for him. I know where he lives. Aside from that nonsense, things seemed to have worked out for the best. He got the subject out there, and you glorious people cleared the air in the comments that followed. That leaves me to swoop in and tie up a few loose ends. I do love making some lovely knots out of loose ends.

    Comment Distribution or What’s the Bell Curve Again?: A few people brought up the snowball effect in comments. As pointed out by April Raines and jesteram, I think this is an artifact of the ‘Popular’ and ‘Active’ columns. Yep, it happens. That’s life, group dynamics, popularity, social psychology, etc. Institutionally there probably isn’t much to be done. Individually, I’d like to echo points already made about trying to venture off the beaten path. The ‘Random Story’ button is great for this. I, for one, rarely look at stories from ‘Active’ and ‘Popular’. I just read whatever is in ‘Most Recent’ and stuff from people I follow. Also, I try to comment on something by a person who comments on my stuff, which I think has a nice circularity to it.

    Argument Askew: One of the trends in the comments was a discussion not quite in line. One side seemed to be saying, “Don’t leave mean, pointless comments!” The other side was saying, “Don’t overreact to constructive criticism!” When you think about it, they two different things. It’s sort of like how people debating pacifism always wind up talking about Vietnam while people who don’t believe in pacifism talk about World War II. Both sides are ultimately right without convincing or being convinced. Confusing? Yes, that’s how such debates go. I think ideally all the comments will have some substance to them. Also, in an ideal world, everyone will be able to take criticism with a bit of humility and an earnest desire to be better writers.

    More Buttons Below Than Wing Formation: On the whole issue of preference and type buttons, might I suggest an alternative. This is based on nearly a decade of study, both scholarly and professional, when it comes to human behavior. People are going to do what they’re going to do. If you’re people, I recommend you keep right on doing this. In other words, keep commenting like crazy! If you perchance receive a comment that is upsetting, might I suggest 3 simple steps: 1) Is there anything of value in their comment, however crudely put? In other words, what can you do differently next time to make your own writing better? If they called it stupid, could it benefit from a wider range of vocabulary? If they called it juvenile, could you stretch and explore deeper themes? This may not be possible with the vilest of comments, and that’s why there’s step 2. 2) Realize that everyone around you has their own issues. Someone who feels compelled to mercilessly attack your random bit of writing on an internet site probably has some issues. In chat rooms they’re called ‘trolls’. At work they’re called ‘management’. In the extreme, they’re called ‘misanthropes’. This leads to the final step. 3) Let it go. Take a deep breath. It’s a stray comment from a stranger. If it’s not useful, doesn’t seem to express any kind of valid opinion, just let it go. Trust me; that last one works in more places that Ficly.

    Hopefully, this was all just a hiccup. I do still believe we have a great community of writers. Most of all, I hope this doesn’t put a damper on the back and forth for which this site was intended. Another trend I noticed in the comments was the number of writers who honestly want to hear your feedback, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I know I do. Commentators, be ye not discouraged! Writers, be ye valiant in the face of growth! Ficlyteers, be ye awesome!

    18 comments Posted 2009-06-27 Author: THX 0477
  5. A Quick Word on Community Standards

    I’ve asked THX, our regular blogger, to write a post about this, but I’m not sure it can wait. I’ve updated the Community Standards with a new bullet point, and added a bit to another. Ficly is a bustling place nowadays and there are a lot of new folks around. I’ve seen some comment threads today that bother me. Basically, it boils down to a clash of cultures. We have the folks who originally started on ficlets (RIP), a ton of new folks who found us through friends or just stumbled into us, and a bunch of new folks that came over from a forum on the Penny Arcade site. I don’t know how many or what the “balance” is. I don’t really care. All I care about is that people have fun here and that I don’t have to spend a lot of time being community cop. I have too little spare time as it is.

    Before this goes any farther, I’m going to ask everyone to do me one favor. Before you post another comment on another story, please read the Community Standards and ask yourself if you can follow them. If you can’t, then you probably shouldn’t stick around. If you can, please be a part of Ficly and enjoy yourself. Be creative. Write stories. Share constructive criticism. Use the site – that’s why we built it.

    If you have any questions about the standards or are unclear on what’s expected, please let me know.

  6. Follow the Stories

    This morning we rolled out a couple tiny features:

    • We’re now posting all published stories and challenges to the ficlystories twitter account. So, if you’re on twitter and would like to follow along, now you can.
    • There are two little tiny links on the home page (well, if you’re signed on). If you look at the Your Recent Activity and Your Friends’ Recent Activity sections on the home page. Now, they have little “More…” links under them that will allow you to load even more stuff to look at and go read! Isn’t that exciting?!

    That’s what I thought… Now, I’m going to bed. Good night, Ficly folk!

  7. Ficly-tiquette: Comments

    I thought I’d get this topic out in the open for some discussion…via comments, which seems a bit circular but unavoidable. Putting some thought into it I’ve come up with 10 types of comments. There may be more, but these came to mind as common patterns. I don’t bring these up to make any definitive statement about any one of them, so please don’t read into the description anything other than it being my best attempt at describing a phenomenon. What I leave for you, dear reader, is to leave your opinion on the different types. My hope is that this will encourage “good” comments and discourage “poor” comments, based primarily on what the majority of you feel about each type.

    1) The Drive-By: This one consists of 1 or 2 words, three at the most, usually to say, “I read this,” or, “Interesting.” It conveys usually a brief opinion one direction or the other, though it’s primary point seems to be just that the story was read and noted.

    2) The Technical: Here we have an earnest effort to give some grammatical or thematic critique. That’s a run-on. This is a comma splice. You forgot to carry the 2. I do that last one a lot, really mucks with the final lab results, believe me.

    3) The Rambler: Of this one, I’m particularly guilty. The reader plunges into some deep train of thought loosely inspired by the ficlet, nearly writing another ficlet in the process, only it’s down in the comments section. These tend to be somewhere uncomfortably between gushing and being pompous.

    4) The Advert: The standard goes like this, “Hey, I liked your story about X. Please come check out my stuff!” Insert appropriate emoticons here.

    5) The Debater: Another one I’ve done at times, this one is all about taking exception not to the method but the moral, point, or insinuation of the piece. It’s about discussion and thought, but can be a little challenging.

    6) The Slam: Beyond critiquing, I’ve seen a few comments that just plain spell out how bad a story is and why. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, flame wars usually follow.

    7) The Bounce: Somewhere between the Drive-By and the Rambler, this one poses an opinion or thought, usually a little more spelled out but without dwelling on the point or beating it into the ground.

    8) The Puppy Eyes: I know the title is a bit obscure for this one, but maybe this will ring a bell, “Ooh, ooh, write a sequel PLEASE!” It’s one part flattery, one part abject begging, and two parts cute puppy dog eyes to drive the point home.

    9) The Doh: Here is when you read something thematically similar to something you just wrote, having realized you either look like a plagiarist or at best a follower. It’s a little bit of ‘How could you?’ but mostly ‘Aha, great minds think alike, right? Right? I swear, I didn’t just copy you.’

    10) News of the World: This covers those comments meant not as a critique, praise, or slam but merely informative. For example, ‘I just wrote a sequel,’ or, ‘Someone wrote a sequel to the sequel,’ or, ‘My house is on fire.’

    Read More
    39 comments Posted 2009-06-18 Author: THX 0477
  8. And We Shall Call Them...

    … Stories. Yes, I know, it’s boring. You do have to agree, we are here to tell stories. If we can’t agree on that, then I doubt we’ll have much to talk about.

    There’s been a lot of talk around comment threads, facebook and the support site about what exactly we should call these things we’re writing here on Ficly. I won’t go through all the permutations, but there are some creative ones out there.

    There’s no getting around the fact that a great number of the Ficly community was a part of ficlets, so the urge to call these tiny bits of fiction we’re writing. If we want to call them “ficlets”, that’s fine. The name “ficlets” was borrowed from the fan fiction community to describe partial stories, so it’s not like the word can be trademarked, so you can definitely use it to describe your stories. We won’t be using it on the site to describe them, partly to avoid any possible risk of someone coming after us for infringing a trademark.

    To keep this short, you are all welcome to continue calling them ficlets. It’s a perfectly good word. But, on the site and in all of our official Ficly duties, we’ll be calling them stories.

    I hope that helps clear up any confusion. Now, go write some stories!

  9. Data Integrity

    Warning: Geeky Content Ahead

    I learned a lot when ficlets got shut down. It was just the latest in a series of web products that I loved that died untimely deaths. Thankfully, in ficlets’ case, we had some warning and we were able to save the stories. Even though Jason and I built ficlets, we didn’t have time to add a real data retrieval API into it or any way for users to back up their own stories – we had to crawl the site and hope we could get decent data out of it. So, when we started talking about building Ficly, I wanted to make sure that no matter what happened to the site or the hardware it runs on, the stories would be safe.

    Here’s what Ficly has so far:

    • The database that holds everything is backed up and uploaded to Amazon’s Simple Storage Service every 12 hours. Your avatars are also uploaded there.
    • Every feed has built-in pagination support (At least, I think they all do – I know the important ones do). If you want to back up their stories, all you need to do is grab and save your feed changing to the next number until no more stories show up (change kevin-lawver to your URL name).
    • All the code behind Ficly is stored in version control using Beanstalk, down to the configuration files for all the major processes we run. Jason and I also have local copies, of course.

    Here’s what we plan on doing as we find time:

    • Generate a nightly backup of all the published stories on the site and make it available to whoever wants it as an XML or JSON file. This will eventually include the data to accurately rebuild chains of sequels and prequels (something you can’t yet do with the story feeds).
    • Generate a nightly backup of every author’s stories so you could download them periodically for a personal backup.

    I can’t think of anything else right now, but I don’t like repeating mistakes, and I want to make sure that Ficly’s data, better yet, your stories are safe, no matter what happens. Ficly’s young, and we’re running very lean (on a single server that hosts everything). If something happens to that server, I want to make sure that everything is recoverable so we can bring everything back up where it belongs.

    What else can we do? I’m open to ideas. I can’t say we’ll implement all of them or when, but we’ll consider everything.

  10. Story Elements: Enter The Hero

    [Cue strident music]

    Hero. Just saying the word sends a happy little chill down my spine. Partially that’s a little neurological excitability problem I have, but that’s beside the point. Stories need heroes like teenage girls need drama. (That one’s going to get me in trouble.)

    So, what’s the big deal? Why do we all get so keyed up about a hero swinging in to save the day, defeat evil, and get the girl (or the guy, supposing she’s a heroine…or the heroine could get the girl, cause I don’t want to discriminate)? Jung says we all have an inborn hero archetype, by which he means we all want to be the hero. No, we don’t all get to disarm the nuclear bomb planted somewhere in Los Angeles. Instead, it is in appreciating the heroism of every day life that we find meaning and fulfillment.

    Yeah, I’m rambling. What are you going to do about it? (If you’re Kevin, you may fire me from this sweet blogging gig.) Trust me, I’m going somewhere with all of this.

    [Music rises to bombastic levels]

    Give me heroism! Write the hero you could have been, should have been, would have been…will be some day? Show me what it means to be heroic, whatever that may be. Save the day…from boredom at the very least.

    18 comments Posted 2009-06-04 Author: THX 0477
  11. Google Login Issues

    Wow, one line in your web server’s configuration file can cause a lot of trouble. Here’s the problem. If you created an account on Saturday 5/30 or early Sunday morning using Google and you can no longer get into that account (of course, using the same login method), it’s probably because you created that account on instead of Google has a very nice privacy feature in their OpenID stuff that gives a different OpenID URL to each unique domain. It’s very nice. But, in all the excitement to launch yesterday I messed up the configuration and instead of redirecting to, it just worked (and Google treated it as a totally different domain). When I fixed the problem this morning… well, that’s when all the users got locked out.

    First off, I’m sorry. This was a stupid mistake on my part and it’s inconvenienced a lot of you. That doesn’t make me happy. Second, fixing it isn’t really the easiest thing in the world to do… If you’re one of the people affected by this problem, here’s what you need to do (if you don’t just want to create a new account and start over, which is an option):

    • create a new account, but don’t do anything with it other than set your username!
    • e-mail with your old profile URL and your new one.
    • I’ll fix it (if you do it today, I can probably do it within a few minutes, if it’s tomorrow, you’ll have to wait until I get home from work) and then e-mail you back telling you to log out and back in.
    • That should do it.

    Again, I’m really sorry for the inconvenience. I usually know what I’m doing, I swear.

  12. The Mantle of the Old Guard

    “The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” ~H.L. Mencken

    If you’re reading this, welcome. And by that I don’t mean welcome you not to the site. That’s been done. No, I welcome you at this point to the status that will be inevitable as you continue in your ficly ways. You are here at the beginning. Yours are the stories that will build the foundation of what is to come. Yours will be the pennames routinely on the ‘Most Active’ and ‘Most Popular’ lists. You are the Old Guard.

    As human beings, social creatures, we seek out hierarchies and measures of status. In this setting, those measures will be the things I just mentioned. The momentum inherent with having been here longer, having more contacts, having published more stories, all will imbue you with an aura of importance. To newcomers, please be aware that for all your foibles and shortcomings, you will appear to be the wise elders of our new society of storytellers.

    That is your mantle. Take it up with full knowledge of what it is and what it means. The neophytes will look to you. If you peevishly create your own monoliths, they will do the same. If you leave constructive, meaningful comments, they will strive to do the same. If you bluster about in an attitude of megalomania-driven self promotion, they will do that in spades. If you work together to create complex, cooperative tales of wonder and imagination, they will want to play too.

    You are the Old Guard. My you wear the mantle well.

    14 comments Posted 2009-05-29 Author: THX 0477
  13. Bugs, Bugs, Bugs

    So we’re about a week into this first beta and I thought I’d check in and let you know where we are with known issues and where we are with fixes.

    First, though, I want to thank you all for being a part of this first phase of ficlyness. Your feedback has been great so far and has helped uncover a bunch of bugs (which is good and bad – good that you found them, bad that we made them).

    On the bug side, I’m getting bugs from all over the place – twitter, e-mail, etc. If you could all use the Feedback tab there on the right, that would make things a lot easier, and allow Jason and I to see both of them and then toss a coin to see who fixes them.

    I just did an update that should fix the character count bug and it no longer stops you at 1,024 characters. The character count now should be just as wrong as it was on ficlets (not the same code, anyone from AOL who’s watching – ficly is 100% new).

    The note reply bug should also be fixed.

    Thanks for being a part of ficly!! We really appreciate it!

  14. A Return to the Fireside

    “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” – Ursula K. LeGuin

    From the earliest days of human civilization, our ancestors crouched around campfires or huddled in huts and told stories. The stories passed the time, but more than that they communicated cultural norms, taught lessons, carried forward a sense of history, and engendered a sense of commonality. Storytelling bound the tribe together, creating, reinforcing, and perpetuating a culture and a society.

    In modern times we have drifted from our campfires and eschewed the communal hut. Infinitely connected through technological means we still manage to navigate life generally isolated from our fellow human beings. We seal ourselves up in automobiles. Even while walking most people in the modern urban environment either have a Bluetooth headset in or iPod earbuds. Our homes are impenetrable fortresses. Really, does anyone sit out on their porch anymore?

    In our small but Ficly way let us now come back together, seek a spiritual rapprochement if you will. Come, sit by our digital campfire. Make yourself at home in the communal longhouse of the internet. Tell us your story. Remind us what it means to be a part of the larger human family once again. Let us create, let us be, let us nurture a society. A society of storytellers.

    4 comments Posted 2009-05-16 Author: THX 0477