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Ward Off – a retrospective on a sequel

May 3, 2020

Hm, this isn’t an easy post to write.

If you’re coming right off the back of Ward, might be good to take a break before tackling it.  This is a relatively deep dive, and is fairly lengthy.

I’m aware there are a lot of people who really look forward to these retrospectives after a story, where I dive into the process of writing and the lessons learned.  If the past retrospectives are any indication, the people who loved the story will get protective and even defensive if I highlight the flaws or sound too ‘down’ on the story.  Then there’re the people who didn’t walk away happy.  That last group may have a contingent that want to see me fall on my sword, or they’ll be using my post here as a framework or a Thing To Respond To when making a series of reddit posts or forum threads, or when they’re emailing me with their personal takes.

That’s not to say that any of these approaches aren’t valid (except maybe please don’t email me – I get bombarded as is) or that the negative and positive takeaways aren’t real (they are), but it does put me in an awkward position when trying to frame stuff going forward.  It’s frankly pretty draining to even think about tackling it all in a way that’s fair and doing everything it needs to do.  Every sentence has to be written with that balance in mind, and then there’s other balances to consider, like how some people are going to be reading this retrospective after following the story for 2+ years, waiting days between each chapter, and discussing the story for hundreds of hours.  Others may get here after a solo read that takes two intensive weeks, and find themselves wondering what the hubbub is all about.  I can say a hundred times over that people’s takes are valid and that my focus here is on my own fault in things, and there’s still going to be people (probably a lot of people) who cherry pick my statements and argue that they’ve been disenfranchised as fans.  And at the end of it, more than anything, I want to be frank about what’s going on, what happened, what I thought I did well and what I thought I did poorly, and what played into those things.

All together, that makes each sentence really heavy.  Like, I have to find the words, pick them up, consider them in the context of everything I just wrote above, refine them, then put them down where they’re supposed to be.  All those factors and considerations make it more of a task… and I could spend the next year formulating this post and still not please everyone.  And there’s still going to be a hundred ‘what I feel is wrong with Ward’ posts, answered by a series of ‘what I love about Ward’ posts, and people who argue I say/meant the opposite of what I put to the page here.

All of which (at a risk of giving things away and losing dramatic impact further down this post, where I try to tie the disparate ideas together) may be a good working TL;DR for my journey through writing Ward itself.

Let’s step back a bit, first.


How do I frame this?  How do I even start asking what went wrong?  Or…
Wildbow goes on his Product-Process-Context tangent again

I’ve talked about writing before in a lot of different contexts.  I think it’s actually pretty fitting -and I’ll talk about why later- if I start off the retrospective by going over the basic, broad-strokes lessons learned from the past milestones in my writing.  in one of my University classes we touched on the idea of product, process, and context.  I’ve talked about this ad-nauseum, so let me apologize to those who’re a bit sick of it, but it was the key that let me unlock my ability to write, and I find myself going back to it as a broader framework, especially when I’m struggling to frame something.

The core idea is that there are different areas of focus when creating text.  That text can be anything from a text message or a bit of graffiti to a PHD argument.  These areas of focus pretty much line up with how we’re taught to approach language.  We start off with spelling tests where we try to get the right answer and that’s it, we graduate to essays and writing essays in drafts with peer review, and then we step out into the broader world and realize we have to adapt what we already know to all these different situations, and tackle all these aspects of our lives that make it easier or harder to craft that message.

The product stage is where we’re taking something in our head and putting it on the page.  This is that spelling test in grade school, and in a culture or context that’s focused wholly on the product, that’s all there is.  Right or wrong.  For a while this was how all writing was taught in school; a lot of people think our focus on correctness and having the right answer was and is way too overemphasized in schools.  And it was overemphasized for me.  My writing in the thirteen years prior to Worm was focused on getting ideas down on the page, getting the right story idea, main character, or answer.  I started out able to write tens of thousands of words and then as I realized how wrong everything I was writing was, I struggled more and more.  I spent more than a decade stuck there on that mode of thinking.  Age 13 to 26.

In reality, the key was something else.  Process.  In schools, when they tell you to write an essay over months, have you peer review it, write several drafts, they’re making that move from teaching product-focused approach to teaching the process focused approach.  I heard this and realized my process was wrong, and I decided to try writing a serial, to force a certain kind of process where I had to release writing twice a week, which I’m still doing almost a decade later.  Going into Worm, my focus was on the process.  Learning to write serials, learning to put one chapter after the other.  My takeaways and frustrations were and are largely around the stumbling points in that process.  The timeskip, the points where I wanted to make something happen and couldn’t, or when stuff ran on a bit too long because I was floundering over what came next.  Yadda yadda.

Pact is where mapping things to that product-process-context thing falls apart because Pact was in itself a stumbling block.  I’m maybe most fond of it in retrospect, but life got in the way of the kind of broad-strokes lessons I wanted to come away with and that was frustrating.  I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do.  It’s also, I should stress, my favorite setting to work in, and the one I’m most eager to go back to.  Just… was frustrating to know I could have made something better, if not for having tripped and fallen flat on my face.

Twig is where we return to the product-process-context thing.  Once a writer gets to the point where they can put an idea down on the page and they have a process for doing that, there’s still other stuff to pay attention to.  I approached Twig with the intention of applying the lessons I wish I’d learned & applied in the course of Pact.  Character, moments of intimacy and breathing.  A big part of what I was doing was focused on the context – rooted mainly in the IRL side of things.  People I needed to readjust my relationship with (who acted as supporters or detractors), meeting fans IRL for the first time, etc.  Context is where you look at your life as a whole and figure out how writing fits into it, if it allows room for inspiration, or even for the writing itself.  Neglect context and it doesn’t matter how good your writing is, because nobody can write effectively if they never get the chance to sit at the keyboard or if they’re being yelled at by a girlfriend, mother, sister, or reviewers every five seconds.

Then there’s Ward.  I want to be really careful not to get too down on Ward, because I think I’ve wrapped up every one of the above milestones with a lot of regrets about what I could have done, then a year or two would pass, I’d revisit it, and remember why I wrote it and what I loved about it.  But there were issues.  So… what happened?



If you’ll bear with me, I’ll go back to the period before I started Ward, and what I was expecting going in.

All those lessons from the prior serials?  My thought process was that I wanted to tackle a familiar setting with those lessons and my growth-to-date in mind.  Twig was a sharp turn into the character moments, moments to breathe, and moments of more intimacy with the main character.  It was a bit too much of a sharp turn, so… maybe I could strike more of a balance.  Apply that to all lessons, go back to the Wormverse, approach the sequel, put all of that into action, as best as I could.

I think that’s fair, right?  If I’m not going to learn from my lessons, what the heck am I doing?  Why would I even do these retrospectives?

Tied to that, I had an impression regarding sequels.  I want to be careful about the use of that word, impression, because it wasn’t an out-and-out thought process, and if I’d had the thought process I probably would have stumbled over the obvious.  As it stood, I figured the world was established, people were pre-invested in it, and I had the benefit of the doubt from the audience after seven years of writing for that audience.

Except, uh, sequels are hard, and literally the opposite of those things is true.  The world needed more work, a good chunk of the audience had spent the last almost-four-years diving into fanfiction, developing fanon, and setting up their expectations to invest in Something Entirely Different, and with a good few people I didn’t have that benefit of a doubt.  Just the opposite.

So even before starting, I think I was setting myself up for a sharp turn.  It relates a bit back to where I was when I was stuck in that product mindset, where I was asking a hell of a lot of myself while also working against a headwind.

My approach to choosing what to write, characters, and themes.  In this, I went back to Worm and asked myself what chapters and segments I liked best.  Carol’s interlude is one of my favorites as the author, as were Jessica’s.  The therapy group, the ultimate decision to have Victoria as a protagonist, the intent to tie her coping with the city’s coping, it felt and feels right.  I tried a lot of protagonists, including Rain, Capricorn, and Kenzie, and a long stint of trying to write Ashley, but bringing a bit character back from the dead to be the actual protagonist felt a bit cheap, and her internal voice was really difficult to write.

Victoria ‘clicked’ when I had a late-night thought about her power changing as a consequence of what happened in the background of Worm.  Then I had a couple months to think out what I wanted to do.

I think especially when there’s an active fanbase like Worm has, with a couple hundred thousand readers and 15% of those readers finding places on the internet to discuss it, communities form and communities set expectations.  There’s a part of me that feels that there’s nothing I could have written that would have pleased everyone.  If I’d had that thought process sooner, maybe I could have adjusted or broadcasted something.  But… I firmly broadcasted things like the fact that the protagonist from book one was done, she wasn’t coming back, and there were still people clamoring throughout or theorizing that she’d make an appearance.  I’m not sure there’s any right answer, except for me to forge ahead while communicating as well as I can.

I started the story joking in some circles about how I was going to get burned at the stake for my protagonist choice, but I felt confident I had a story to tell and I had those expectations regarding the sequel and those other things.  “What’s another little added difficulty?” I thought.  I had to challenge myself, and I was hopeful I could sell Victoria as a well-rounded character.  I went in figuring I’d take the time to worldbuild… to introduce characters and lay groundwork.  It took seven arcs to really get started on the Undersiders’ story in Worm, after all.  Ten arcs before the first key character points were introduced.  I was intending to move faster than that, but then I wasn’t even done arc 2 with laying the groundwork and building the world when people started getting vocally restless.  The choice of Victoria as a protagonist wasn’t a flash in the pan backlash I had to get past, but an underlying sentiment that touched everything going forward.  And it was going to do so from the start of the work to the end.

And there were a lot of things like that.  Sticking points that were sticky from start to finish.  I know some people have taken issue with ‘the city’.  There’s a segment of the fanbase that’s rooted in military sci-fi and hard sci-fi, and they’re intrigued by the idea of what it takes to get a post-apocalyptic society going.  I could have and should have telegraphed it better, but I think anyone that’s read my past serials knows that logistics and especially numbers are not my strength.  It was unfortunately never going to be the story I wanted to tell.  I personally felt and feel that having powers like The Number Man, Accord, and prep-work done over years and decades by forces like Tattletale and Cauldron explained it enough.  That the city sat on an unstable foundation and lacked identity in places was intentional, and was tied to the fact it went without a name, but I don’t think this was sufficiently telegraphed and I know some were frustrated with it when Worm had more ‘realism’.

So I was left with a choice.  To carry on and trust that I was on course, or adapt to the feedback?

Here’s where I want to stop, revisit my thesis, and try to give at least one short quote that maybe people can go back to or re-quote if people start saying I’m blaming the fans: This is on me.  Criticisms and disappointments and things people feel were lacking are 100% valid.  I made creative decisions and choices and saying you disagree or you think I did it wrong is 100% allowed and right.  This is on me.  There are no bad takes (maybe bad ways of ~handling~ the takes, but maybe I’ll touch on that in a second).  It’s on me that I shouldn’t have been overconfident going in and I shouldn’t have focused as much as I did on the product (protagonist choice, key themes) and should’ve paid more attention to the context again, and to the broader picture.  I do think I bit off a bit more than I could chew in trying to do a sequel and an epic together and stuff fell by the wayside, or slipped past me.

Some of that stuff that fell by the wayside was like the therapy.  Facing the pressure from multiple corners to move the story along, and a sharp shift in the discourse from “Worm sequel when?  Worm sequel when?  Can’t wait.  When is Twig over, I want the Worm sequel” to “This is too slow” and “by this # of words we were here in Worm vs. here in Ward”, I read the tempo of the community as a whole and dropped some stuff to move stuff forward, telling myself I’d answer it later.  The therapy.  Some of the worldbuilding.  But until I get to ‘later’ it’s a story where the city feels shaky in a way that is thematic but jarring to some readers, and where therapy has sorta failed and that sends a bad message, which ties into the next point.

That next point is the other stuff was stuff that slipped past me.  I wanted to include more LGBT representation and included more characters in that spectrum, but then it’s like… okay, let’s have a character go through a critically bad patch.  Draw a card from the deck of characters and it’s Tristan.  Let’s have a character related to them flip out.  Kenzie.  Let’s have a couple break up.  Parian and Foil.  Then I’ve got a number of characters who are LGBT all suffering in a short span of the story and that’s the kind of thing I should catch.  I don’t know if it’s prejudice that I’m not aware of informing the choices (I really hope not) or bad draws coupled with the fact there’s more LGBT characters in the mix, but… it happened and it’s on me that it happened.  It’s on me, in a similar fashion, that I had a lot of lesbian relationships with power imbalances, sometimes predatory or abusive.  In this case it’s less that I’m drawing characters from a deck and more that I tend to find the power imbalances in relationships to be one of the more inherently interesting parts of relationships, and as such most relationships I write play into that, whether it’s Carol and Mark, Defiant and Dragon, Assault and Battery, Sy and his partners, or Parian and Foil.  But by making it most of my characters’ lesbian relationships when it’s a Thing in media is playing into a bad meta-narrative, regardless of the non-lesbian context.

The ‘suicide’ reading of the last meta-arc of the story was another thing that got past me.  I’ve gone into it in some detail in other discussions and the long and short if it is I expected it to take very little time in-story, where readers were left holding the impression it was sacrifice or genocide just to give the decision some weight… and then it took about 4x the anticipated amount of time and conveyed the wrong messages.  Readers were left with the impression it was a prolonged bout of intentional, author-induced confusion, playing with a really fucking heavy subject, when what I really wanted to do was touch on the notion of heroic sacrifice and what it really means to ask that of heroes, with their journeys and stories sometimes unfinished.  I thought the Natalie chapter-ending would be the capstone to a downer chapter where people went “Oh, it’s not suicide” and that whiffed.  It didn’t work the way I wanted it to, and so it was just three more days of wait for a resolution to that plot, followed by pure downer, followed by another four days of wait.  Fuck.

All I can say is “Fuck me,” feel miserable that I let stuff slip by, and try to watch out in the future.

It’s tough.  There are a lot of things I could divert some of the blame to, and those things have come up in my prior discussions in chats and reddit threads.  At the end of the day, though, it’s my story and my responsibility to watch out for that stuff.  But considering everything makes it heavier and harder to put the words down and that requires effort and consideration that then isn’t going to other things.  It’s very possible I can’t please everyone and very possible that because I’m an awkward guy who barely socialized for a third of his life, I’m always going to miss something.  In saying that I by no means want to excuse fucking up or contributing to a prejudiced meta-narrative.  I really, really don’t.  But I worry I can’t cover and consider every base.  I worry that there’s always going to be people who are 100% valid in being vocally frustrated about my having missed stuff.  And it’s always going to be disheartening when I drop the ball on something people hold close to their hearts, to their identities, or when I walk away from a story with a sentiment (mine or others’) that something could have been better or more fleshed out.

It gets tougher still when I’m not writing one story, but two.  I’m trying to engage the people who are reading along, giving them food for thought and stuff to talk about in the days between chapters, and I’m trying to write for the people who binge.

I’m approaching every sentence asking myself what the catch is.  What’s the point where people get confused?  Every single romance scene I write, I get people saying it’s creepy.  Most combat scenes I write, I get people who are lost about X, Y, or Z.  So I approach each new one with a mindset that I want to be better.  But that requires effort and it requires consideration.  If I write A, B, or C, is it going to be misinterpreted?  If I create a character and they’re M, N, or O, is that offensive?  Am I retreading old ground?  Am I essentially writing a character I’ve written before?  That someone else has written before?    How can X, Z, M, O, A, and B tie into themes or the work as a whole?  Is this interesting?  Does it make sense from a setting or character perspective?  What’s the overall audience mood like, going in, coming out?

Even the little letters I put for interludes get hundreds of lines of discussion and complaining, each.  A single letter.  The chapter’s not even written as anything except some broad notes on a lined post-it note and already there’s ten different things to think about, as I have ‘Daystar 21._’ written and I’m left to figure out what _ should be.

Every sentence gets heavier.  There’s a reason chapters take me 20-30 hours to write when they used to take me 8-15.

Which I guess is where I’m supposed to go back to my thesis here.  What’s the big takeaway, what’s the lesson or what are the lessons I need to learn?



At the end of the day, I think I made a mistake when I thought of the Context lens of creating as an IRL thing.  The audience itself is a key aspect of it, and it’s one I think I neglected.  That is not to say I’m going to go into the more fang-y parts of the fandom and let the more negative voices have at me, and it doesn’t mean I have any intentions regarding trying to change the audience.  And saying this is really tricky and is where again, I have to stress this is about my own decisions and thought processes.

No, I think it’s ultimately about the choices I make, the responsibility I take, and the lens through which I approach and view fandom.  On the author-audience side of things, the only thing I can and should try to change is the author, myself.

I’ve had a lot of conversations in recent weeks where people will say I should stop listening to fans.  I also have people -leaders of sub-communities where my work is a dominant topic of conversation- saying or implying I should be more mindful of fans, of the idea that I’m disenfranchising them or giving fuel to the more negative voices.

At the end of the day, though, I think the point an author stops listening and trying to grow is a sad day.  As part of the discourse around this, I’ve heard that some individual readers may feel they can’t criticize without adding to the negative buzz surrounding the broader audience.  I don’t think this is a problem, though.  I think isn’t should that broader audience be navigated-around, but how.  That there was negative noise around the early arcs wasn’t the fault of the audience.  Rather, I’ve got to figure out ways to do that navigating and figure out how to take that sentiment and work with it without dropping parts of the story or getting too mired in it all.

Because the reality is… that noise will always be a thing.  You can’t create online and ignore it.  Trying just screws up the ‘online’ part of it… or even worse, it screws up the ‘create’ part of it.

An initial takeaway here is that doing that navigating while carrying an epic story and carrying a sequel is hard, if not impossible.  At least, at my current skill level, in the current dynamic.  Solution: I’m going to be doing a series of shorter works for a bit, I think.  Less totality to consider, less investment required from both me and the audience, more room to experiment and explore, and hopefully it’s a bit of a break.

I need to consider the author-audience-text triangle, where each of the three things interacts with the other two.  What am I doing with a work, how can I broadcast what that work is?  Sometimes I just have to be more explicit.

That applies to the story points too.  There were too many points where I approached writing the story with a different audience than the one I had.  I’d write something intended as an invitation for the audience to react, respond, and draw what I felt was a singular conclusion.  “Rain pointed at her.”  And the de-facto response from sub-communities was confusion and frustration at a cliffhanger, and theories all over the place.  Natalie at the end of the story, getting the fob.  I thought it’d land one way and didn’t consider it would be dismissed.  In an ideal world, I should have learned the lesson from the first instance: by and large, that’s not the audience I have and expecting them to sit down and draw the correct conclusions isn’t fair.  Gotta be more explicit.  In the next story, I’m hoping to draw on other material to help make things more explicit.

There are also some gut feelings I had along the way, when dealing with the problematic parts of the author-audience stuff.  I felt bad, dropping the therapy from the story and letting it become something problematic and toxic, when that went against why I brought it in in the first place.  I told myself I’d fix it later, it was the easiest thing to cut when I wanted to move things forward more aggressively, I thought I’d explain it at various points, but ‘therapists are human too’ wasn’t the message I wanted to send, going in.  I should have listened to that niggling feeling.  If I had, I think I’d feel happier about aspects of the story.

I also need to tighten things up.  I think part of what I do when I’m feeling the weight of things is I branch out, or I include more fluff, background, or side characters.  Because that’s easy and fun.  But fluff can look like a thread to pull to the audience, or it can be something they find adorable and then I’m sorta obligated to do something with it, or it’s a background element or a note of something thematic, and readers may think it’s more important than it was originally meant to be.  Withdrawal’s molluscoid trigger background, for example.

To expand on that, a serial is always going to be a serial.  I like sprawl and I like there being a rich background of diverse characters who could each have a story told about them.  I’d hate to write something where the wordcounts and threads are so trimmed down that a gun that gets a passing mention has to be used, where everything is relevant or discarded.  But there’s a middle ground and I created more headaches and ‘noise’ for the audience than I needed to, which may have contributed to the fatigue and the dynamic where people weren’t really engaging with cliffhangers or trying to look deeper when I’d thought I’d invited them to.  Two years of material and a lot of fluff and it’s a lot to sift past if one wants to figure something out.

Which might be a good conclusion for this section.  A serial is going to be a serial.  I can’t get too down on myself when I’m creating what is essentially a shitton of sprawling material on a quick schedule, most of it first draft.


Thoughts, Verdicts

I… don’t hate Ward?  Big question mark there, maybe.

In the end, as much as this ended up being a fairly deep dive into what I think went wrong and why, and ways in which I can address that moving forward, I don’t want to dwell purely on the negative, here.

I’m happy with where I went with the characters.  I’m pretty attached to this cast of characters and side characters.  I’m really happy with some of their interludes.  I didn’t want to tell a story where everyone started and ended their character journeys in a super neat and tidy way, and I like where the characters stand as of the story’s conclusion.  Some have more work to do, and I think that’s entirely okay.

I’m generally happy with where I went thematically.  I am aware there’s the shadow of the ‘suicide’ interpretation hanging over the last leg of the story, but early responses from binge readers who’ve caught up seem to be more positive over it, and it may be something that just read really badly when reading the story on a twice-a-week schedule but comes across better in a shorter timeframe.  I’m kind of interested in where reader perception will stand a year from now.

I made some cool powers, I wrote some really fun side characters, and I think I’d like to do something smaller with some of those side characters in the future.  Will have to see what form that takes.

Ward overall feels like the story I’d most want to go back to and edit.  There were a lot of subtle points where I missed the mark with hints and cliffhangers meant to invite thought and discussion that didn’t achieve their goals.  The ramifications of those individual things was pretty massive, and I’d be interested to see the reception to the story if and when they were tuned to do what they were supposed to in the first place.  Some parts to be trimmed down, some minor bits of fluff trimmed out, some foreshadowing and thematic beats hit…

But I digress.

As much as I want to see where audience perception will stand a year from now, I don’t want to come to a firm verdict on the story just yet.  I have a tendency to be pretty hard on my stories when they’ve just finished and I’m exhausted from 1-3 years spent writing them, and I don’t know that I want to do that here.  Maybe I’ll do another post a year out, when I’ve thought on this some more.

My next project is codenamed Project P, and has launched as of Tuesday, May 5th!

From → Posts

  1. I heard an author once say, and I don’t remember whether they were a small author or a great author but it’s stuck with me, that if you include 6 obvious clues to something then you should expect your audience to pick up on one of them. I just thought I’d mention this regarding when you mentioned writing for the audience that you actually have rather than the audience you have in your head and how that played with surprises or reveals.

  2. Dillon permalink

    I hope time helps you look more kindly towards Ward and yourself as an author. You’re one of the few authors who directly addresses struggles we all live with, and you address those struggles with the care and mindfulness needed. Thank you for your work, Wildbow. It’s helped me through some tough times.

  3. JustAGuyNamedJoe permalink

    Though you have mixed feelings on the work, I truly loved it. I can’t wait to continue reading your work.

  4. I read the subreddit but don’t (often) comment. I think I’m a reader who liked the story you wanted to tell, and I’m glad that you wrote a story for me, and I’m commenting now because it sounds like a very vocal part of your fanbase might have wanted a different story from what I wanted, and I wanted to let you know that I’m grateful for the story that you wanted to write.

    * I loved Jessica’s and Carol’s interludes in Worm too. (Jessica’s were my absolute favorites)
    * When we found out who the protagonist of Ward was in the final sentence of 1.1, I shouted “YES” out loud and felt chills.
    * I loved all the therapy parts and reading the characters’ interpersonal (and personal) developments and conflicts.
    * I *liked* your choice to not focus as much on world-building (re: the city) and to look more deeply at the characters and their struggles

    Again: thank you for wanting to tell that story and I’m glad I got to read it. I’ve read Worm, Pact, Twig, and Ward, and loved them all for different reasons. What I loved about Ward was the characters and their struggles and triumphs and sadnesses and happinesses.

  5. grinvader permalink

    Next Tuesday ? I see you’re keeping to your crazy update rhythm as usual, you madman. But we’ve been over this already.
    Looking forward to project P, lots of great bits to expand upon in there…

  6. I think it´s literally impossible to please everyone. The more readers you have, the more impossible it becomes. That doesn´t mean that you should ignore reader feedback, but I think that´s something to keep in mind. If you change something to appease someone´s criticism, you probably make it worse for someone else. That is just the imperfect nature of language and people. I believe one can only hope to make it better for more people than you make it worse for.
    Another thing I wanted to mention is that what people want is often not what they say they want. I realized that about myself. Maybe I´m just a bad critic or don´t know myself well enough, but when I try to give feedback about a story, I often realize later on that I have been wrong about my own feelings/desires. That´s a great thing about good stories, that they don´t fulfill everyone of our expectations, but go somewhere we didn´t expect them to. So, take what people write with a grain of salt and don´t always take it literally.
    I loved Ward, imperfect as it may be.

  7. SpacesuitSpiff permalink

    I just wanna say great work. imo the stuff you focused most on came out great, and nobody could do everything perfectly on that kind of schedule. There’s a bit of stuff I hope to see in a published version someday, offscreen bits at the end of the Teacher raid primarily, but no deal-breakers.

    My 2 cents on the Dreaming Death part is that it could have played out differently with the non-lethal possibility being alluded to more explicitly in Defiant’s interlude. Though I appear to be in the minority based on discussions at the time, it seemed obvious that there would be some secret win condition even outside of the hints. Laying out the stakes and then showing the anti-parahuman contingent supposedly taking control, and then doing the chapter where people get dosed, seems like a route that could keep readers abandoning immersion for meta reasoning.

  8. The pressure of writing a sequel to a megahit first work and managing those expectations (both yours and the audience’s) are frankly terrifying: put together, I have no idea how you managed to stay sane. Ward might’ve came out too early due to the constant prodding, but it was always going to be a superhuman endeavor, ensured by the sheer wake of Worm. I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself about the product of Ward. You’re an author who inspires hope for the future of fantasy (and especially web serialization), but even multi-billion enterprises struggle to conjure up lightning in a bottle twice (and almost always fail). Hopefully Ward was an enlightening peek into the pain in the ass of sequels and keeping fingers on an arrhythmic audience’s pulse. That just means Parahumans 3 will be even better!

  9. Lot to digest there. Just one thing that leapt out at me: I think it’s going to be very difficult to simultaneously focus on power imbalances in relationships and also write romance scenes that no one finds creepy.

    Thanks for another great story, and I look forward to Project P.

  10. I think it’s great that you’re so reflective on your process and keen to develop and learn. People criticise because the quality of your works is high, and so the standards are high too.

    It sounds like it’s really hard, but I for one am really glad you’re trying. I hope the idea of shorter pieces works out well, and I look forward to reading them.

  11. I’ve been following your artistic works since the time the Gold Morning chapters were released. Your thoughtful and amazingly complex works are a constant source of joy in my life, and have been for over 6 years.. Or is it 7 now? Trying to say I’m a sympathetic and loyal fan, first and foremost.

    This post really reflects the growth of a decade of writing, and am appreciated insight into the business craft of being a writer. The journey has obviously had quite a steep path at times, but the emotional introspection and thoughtfulness you give to your characters.. well it shows your own depths.

    Someone recently offered some advice to me that really clicked, far as self care goes: offer yourself the same empathy you would for others in their situations. For instance, that amazing work ethic that regularly and constantly produces art that inspires us fans to spend so much time with others on the internet.. This community. You regularly touch the lives of your readership, by offering us all something to relate to, to empathize with.. And even to argue about. I can only hope, one day, to inspire others as you have.

    It’s easy to be critical of our work, our art.. I hope some day you find peace with your inner editor, so they don’t stress you out so much. ❤

    And hey, to end on a lighter note.. I continue to find delight in your story choices and twists, unlike some directors of stories with long names who fell into a clichéd trope hole. 😀

  12. Evan permalink

    Since I found Worm around the time I finished, I have always looked forward to reading your work. I prefer to download chapters to read on an e-reader, so often end up batching them up every week or two, and occasionally get distracted for a few months, and end up re-reading the whole thing in order to remember all the context. This happened with Ward; I think around the prison break, I stopped reading, and only managed to pick it back up such that I caught up as the last arc was starting, and could read it approximately as posted.

    However, one effect of that is that I’m reading this as a standalone story, without comments or community. I didn’t pick on most of the things people have apparently been complaining about – but I do love the sprawling story, and the hints of other stories that make it feel like a real world that we’re just seeing one piece of. I tend to gravitate towards extremes: short stories that provide a brief and focused slice of story, and epics that provide hints of a massive world.

    Part of why I look forward to your writing is that it feels like real people trying their best in a complex place unlike any I’ve seen. Seeing how they react to and discover more about the universe they live in is amazing. It’s great when things go well and they manage to find impressive solutions, but also fascinating and reflective when they don’t. Your characters have to deal with massive forces of nature and human structures beyond their ability to control, yet they can often find a shred of control or hope in that from the Endbringers in Ward to the Nobles and bureaucratic system in Twig. At the same time, they often do stupid things based on petty biases, and that realism make it that much more uplifting when they do get things right.

    I understand that what you’ve managed to create may pale in comparison to what was in your head or what you feel you should have been able to produce. But, imperfect as it may be, it’s still some of my favorite writing. There’s a reason you’re tied for my highest monthly donation on Patreon: I truly value your work that highly.

  13. Kagedviper permalink

    Reader since arc1 worm. I’ve noticed that toward the end of a work your writing gets extremely dark. For your first three works one scene is particularly dark and I stop reading for months and come back, for Ward the writing gets darker and darker to the point I just stopped at arc 19 and am finishing it now. I agree that your stories read differently when binge reading, the darkness is easier to handle.

  14. ohJohN permalink

    I really appreciate these retrospectives, and I respect the thoughtfulness and introspection required to write them!

    It sounds like you’re handling fan criticism about as well as anyone can: it’ll be there no matter what you do, there is no story that will please absolutely everyone (especially in this format and at your pace), and while negative feedback can be useful it’s not healthy to dwell too much on it. I hope the negative hasn’t drowned out the positive!

    If you’re worried about that gap between the audience in your head and the audience in reality, maybe try to get broader audience feedback? It sounds like you’re primarily getting it from people with strong enough opinions to join communities and post online about it, and favoring specific channels (e.g. reddit), which might skew your perception of how people are responding to the story. You’ll never totally eliminate this sort of sampling bias, and time spent on getting better data is time not spent on the million other things you have to do and consider, but these retrospectives might be a good opportunity: along with the post-mortem, you could create a poll/survey/etc. asking for feedback, specific and general, and broadcast it anywhere and everywhere. They’re infrequent enough that it’s not a huge time commitment, and you might get some useful insights that you can apply to your next work.

    Kind of related and honestly pretty minor: I don’t actively use reddit/discord/whatever, and so I don’t really see any activity or engagement from you except the appearance of the chapters themselves (I only found this post because I googled what you’re up to post-Ward 😂). I really enjoyed seeing your replies and interactions in the comment threads on Worm, and I’ll occasionally stumble upon a reddit thread you’re active in that enhances my understanding of the world. I definitely understand wanting to do fan engagement somewhere other than WordPress comments (ugh), but I miss that direct connection between the chapter itself and seeing the author’s comments/clarifications/responses, and it might help other readers engage with you and the work. I’m not really sure how best to bridge that gap, but I’ve seen some web serial authors will post a link to the reddit discussion for that chapter as the first comment; even just having links on the current serial’s website, to the best places to get updates from or interact with you, might help (or, if I totally missed it on Ward’s, maybe make it more prominent/have occasional reminders).

    I’m really excited for Pale! Pactverse was my favorite setting by far, the way magic works in it is so intuitive and layered and surprisingly consistent, I’m so glad we’re getting more. That’s actually my only reservation about your next works being shorter — I hope it helps relieve some of the pressures on you, and a tighter, less sprawling story sounds like a good change of pace, but damn do I want to spend a few more years reading about that world. It does open up the possibility for multiple shorter, self-contained stories within that same universe, though… 😁

  15. Ted permalink

    Been a regular reader and Patreon contributor since Worm, not really a member of the “community”. Not my habit to offer unsolicited advice and feedback, but if you ask me I think you should pay less attention to unsolicited advice and feedback. You don’t owe these people your attention, and most of them don’t merit it. I’ve enjoyed your work for a long time, you have a unique voice and you should feel unalloyed pride at what you’ve accomplished. Just finished another read-through of Pact to prep for the new serial, looking forward to it.

  16. Daniel Keys permalink

    Don’t beat yourself up about issues like the ending. You aren’t technically wrong that the uncertainty/misapprehension went on too long – I don’t know how I would have felt had I read it episodically. However, I think Worm should have won you a touch of goodwill and benefit of the doubt when it comes to difficult issues. People who disagree stopped reading long ago.

    (I don’t know how much I divined from Natalie’s fob, but I definitely knew at once it would change matters.)

    As far as worldbuilding and fan expectations: I may be slightly disappointed that Vista never tore apart the Sun, in an uninhabited version of the Solar System, for fuel and building material. However, I don’t know how exactly it would be possible to write a story wherein we learn Contessa shot & hid Taylor specifically to make the Simurgh think she was dead. While the worldbuilding could indeed use a better introduction, I can’t point to anything that’s clearly wrong. Even the Wardens’ incompetence can be attributed to the Simurgh going “La, la, la la la la,” on Gold Morning and shaping the formation of the organization.

    Remember that Francis Bacon himself probably couldn’t write a better story than Ward.

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