Forensics Tips: 2017 Edition

Last year, I wrote a post entitled Debate Team: What I’ll Do Better Next Year with advice for next year’s me. Well, I guess you can say that it worked, because when ISKL’s SEA Forensics Tournament came back around this year, our debate team won bronze! 

Our entire school did really well–as a school we won 3rd place for participation overall, and most of us made it to semifinals if not the final rounds. I made Oral Interpretation finals (though I didn’t place, just like last year) and our very talented Solo and Duet actresses Lexi and Yzzy placed in their events! I’m so proud of how far we’ve all come as a team.

forensics team 2016

The 2016 Cr3w

Ah, yes. Advice.

I’d better address some of the tips I gave last year, then move onto advice for the coming one.

I can get a couple points out of the way pretty easily: bring colorful pens  and prepare for the crappiest topics first. Aight–first off, regular old pencils worked just fine for me this year. I actually didn’t use anything other than my 0.7 mechanical from Tesco, so that point’s a no-go. Also… it doesn’t really matter what order you prepare the topics in, so long as you have a good grasp on all of them by the time the competition rolls around.

Also, POIs. They were my weakest point last year, but I feel like I did a lot better this year. The only real way to get better at these is to 1) know your topics really well, and 2) practice with your team. Getting a feel for pointing out logical fallacies or defending your own points just takes time and practice.

smile squad

Alright. Onto forensics advice for next year’s competition. 😀

1. Prep, prep, prep! It was an issue last year, and while we did a much better job this year, we still weren’t entirely on top of the ball. Hindsight is 20/20, and I can definitely see where we needed to do more planning. More Christmas Break work, more weekend Starbucks meetings, actually getting on Skype *coughAndrewcough*. We still ended up doing prep on the van ride down–though none of us actually minded–but it all turned out okay. Next year, though, we need to try not to cut it so close again (so as not to have a Politicians repeat.)

2. Stats, stats, stats! Another repeat point from last year, but oh-so-important! We had way more stats this year (special thanks to Malcolm Gladwell and the CIA World Factbook!) but once again–we could have had more. Applicable examples are crazy important, and they’ve consistently been a weak spot for our team over the years. We’ve gotten so much better at this–we’re quoting MIT studies and country GDPs!–but there’s always room for improvement.

3. Be confident (without banging on the table.) My teammates know this point is pretty much only for me–but when you get up to the podium, don’t be nervous… and at the same time, don’t just try to channel your inner fury and pound on the table, even if you’re trying to highlight the force of the word “demand”. (Ahem. Sorry about that, Hong Kong.) Nervous habits suck, and I’ve been known to get pretty sick before debates out of anxiety, but remember that your teammates have your back, and your opponent is merely a dissenting voice to the truth that you speak. I came out of this year’s competition with the ability to work under pressure and a bucket-load of confidence; and that has made all the difference in how I carry myself, at the podium and away from it.

4. Memorize contentions! I still can’t believe that we didn’t fully memorize our contentions the first year of debate. We just sort of went, “eh, we’ve got the main ideas down, we’ll just wing the specifics in the prep room.” This time around, we memorized each contention and quizzed each other on them regularly. Waiting for our topic in the prep room? Quick, what’re the three prop arguments for drugs? Sitting around the lunch table? Same thing. I can still list off most of our contentions, and it’s been a week or two since the competition! We did so much better by doing this; it’s non-negotiable for next year.

5. Use prep time wisely! I remember the prep time in 2015 going by quite fast, which is funny–this year, we’d be nearly done prepping, look up, and go, “oh, we still have like 20 minutes left!” It was great. One of the keys to this success was probably grabbing the quiet study rooms in the library instead of the tables outside–those were really nice–but a big thing I remember saying before the competition was, “we need to communicate better during prep,” and we did just that. When we prepped, we didn’t just stare at our separate papers and develop points ourselves–we bounced ideas off of each other, practiced our opening lines (well, I did, anyways), and played Devil’s Advocate to help each other get ready for the opposing team.

We also had two rituals at the end of every prep session: prayer and reciting a quote from The Great Debaters. Prayer gave us all God’s peace and strength; and the quote just made us feel like we could conquer the world!

Who is the judge?

The Judge is God.

Why is he God?

Because he decides who wins or loses, not my opponent.

Who is my opponent?

He doesn’t exist.

Why doesn’t he exist?

Because he is merely a dissenting voice to the truth that I speak.

Heck yeah. Still one of my favorite quotes to this day. 🙂

da super crew

Forensics laser tag and Nando’s is pretty great.

We had a great run this year, and I couldn’t be prouder of everyone. We worked our tails off, and boy, did it pay off. This team will always hold a special place in my heart, and our trip to ISKL this year was one full of memories I’ll always treasure. We’ve come so far–here’s to hoping we’ll go even farther, whether on the debate team or off into the wilderness of Texas. 😉

And if you’re a budding debater reading this for some advice, I have seven words for you: stay organized, stay logical, and stay awesome. Debate is a game–albeit a sometimes stressful one–and the best way to play it is with a clear head and some insatiable wit. Ignore the dissenting voices and go for it!

da real db8 crew

Bronze medals!! No doubt one of my proudest moments ever. I love these guys!

Everyone’s Guide to Fanfiction [Fanfic Friday]

This is a repost from my DeviantART account, but I’m proud enough of it to put it up here on the blog (along with a few minor edits for readability.) Enjoy!


 

As someone who’s in too many fandoms to count, I’ve had a lot of dealings with fanfiction over the years; and as someone who loves to read and write it (and have been doing so since grade 1/year 2, when I wrote myself into the Kim Possible world… because, ya know, my name’s Kimberly) I feel qualified to help others in their quest to write fluff, adventure, and all sorts of other things using pre-built worlds and well-loved characters.

Contrary to the belief of some, writing fanfiction is a perfectly acceptable form of writing—no, you might never be able to publish it, but it is good practice all the same. Think of it like a warmup jog. You’ll never make it to the Olympics as an expert jogger, but by jogging you’re building muscles and endurance so that you end up getting better and faster at running and sprinting. And really, you’ll never find an Olympic runner who doesn’t warm up with little jogs and sprints. So don’t feel ashamed that you write fanfiction! After copious amounts of writing the stuff, I’m proud to say I’ve won NaNoWriMo thrice, entered contests with short stories, and been bumped to higher-level English classes because of my love for writing. (That’s not to say fanfiction alone got me there… it’s just helped fuel my passion for the written word.)

So without further ado, I present to you my tips for writing good fanfiction of any genre!

1. Keep them in character, but not too in character… ya feel me? What I mean is, keeping the canon characters in character is important. Obviously Bombur isn’t going to suddenly give up food, nor would Sherlock fall in love in a week, nor would Edward (Elric, not vampire) let one little “short” comment slide. You get the picture. But at the same time, Bombur’s not constantly eating, and Sherlock doesn’t overuse the word ‘obviously’ to the point where it loses its meaning. The point is, I’ve seen a lot of OOC-ness, but there’s also a fair amount of character exaggeration. Steer clear of both.

(Side note: yeah, sometimes Anime characters can do this even in canon. My personal recommendation, though, is to avoid this if you want to make the characters seem realistic—I’m looking at you, Hetalia fandom. Yeah, America loves video games and cheeseburgers… but he wouldn’t be quite that obnoxious about it if he were a real high school-aged guy. Same applies to most every exaggerated character in anime or manga.)

2. Author’s notes are a no-go. How many times has this happened to you? You’re reading through a fanfiction and everything is going smashingly—suddenly, a wild author’s note appears! Author’s note uses Break the Fourth Wall! It’s super effective! Fanfic reader fainted!

… Basically, any author’s note that isn’t explaining the meaning of a term or clarifying something that would have been really hard to guess otherwise is really, really unnecessary. For instance, telling everyone you “laughed out loud while writing that bit” after something funny or “by the way, this character is really short” after they have to use a stool to reach the counter isn’t helpful or needed. Most people just find it annoying and distracting from the story. Think really hard before including an author’s note. (a/n: LOL now I’m using an author’s note to be IR0N1C LULZ !!1!!!1 jk jk, now back to the article lol)

3. So are timeskip notifications. Just skip an extra line and start writing. The reader should be able to infer that time has passed or read something like, “A few hours later, Sam and Dean went to…” No published book I’ve ever read announces when time has passed between scenes. It’s unprofessional and distracting—writing the transitions takes a little practice, yes, but once you get it down it comes easily and flows naturally.

~~~ TIME SKIP BROUGHT TO YOU BY ELEVEN’S BOW TIE LALALALA ~~~ does not look natural.

4. Give original characters strengths and weaknesses. Despite what a lot of fanfiction guides will tell you, original characters are not at all a bad thing. In fact, they can make the world seem a little bigger than just 221B, Mycroft’s warehouse, and perhaps a visit to the police department. New characters can open different doors, send the story in a new direction, and make your story more believable.

It’s when these characters become unrealistic that the problems start.

Mary Sues, Gary Stus, self-inserts… whatever you’d like to call them, these are characters that tend to fulfill the wishes of an author, tend to always know what to do, and they tend to meddle with canon.

A disclaimer: self-inserts are not always bad. Writing yourself into a fictional world is not a bad thing. It’s only when “your” character is very obviously fulfilling a wish or behaving in an unnatural way that isn’t realistic for the story. Reader inserts are also self-inserts–follow the same sorts of rules, although canon relationships are much less frowned upon in these situations.

An easy way to fix this is to give your characters strengths and weaknesses and make the weaknesses actually hinder the character at some point in the story. Sally might be really bad at math, but unless not being able to do math actually has hindered her (she didn’t graduate high school, therefore she’s working in fast food, she now doesn’t have a lot of money) it doesn’t really count as a valid ‘balancing’ weakness. Additionally, it’s not about checks and balances, either. Don’t add a weakness for every strength. There’s no magic formula. Just make sure your character is like a real person. They’ve got their problems and need to deal with them over the course of the story.

For more tips on making people actually like your character (and not flame you with comments accusing you of writing a Mary Sue), please read MissLunaRose’s guide on making your character likeable: Nobody Loves My Character! It’s a great guide, and I don’t think my little point here can do it justice.

5. For the love of Loki’s hair grease… pay attention in English class. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are just as important as plot and characters. If I click on your fic and find a huge block of text, no entries between new people speaking, or (God forbid) improper capitalization (shudders), I’m going to skim and then click away; or perhaps, if it’s salvageable and I’m feeling patient, comment something about how it was good but your grammar needs work.

6. Under no circumstances should you re-write an existing canon scene to include a new character or romantic interest. “How it should have ended” sorts of things are fine because they don’t introduce any new characters, but sticking an OC or even a reader in a reader insert into a situation that already happened in the movie, show, or book is unoriginal and screams “Sue self-insert” like the Nazgul screeching from the rooftops. What happens nearly every time without fail is that this new character ends up saving the day, becoming an integral part of the plot and changing the canon story completely, or just generally adding a whole level of OOcness to the canon characters that cannot be matched by anything. It’s a mistake that beginners make often—the problem with writing a new character in is that it becomes breeding grounds for OOC canon characters and Mary Sues.

What I’m talking about, if you want more specifics, is literally taking the same dialogue and action sequences and then tweaking them to include your character. This does not make me think, “Oh, what a great idea! If only Kassy Mae had been there with a rocket launcher in canon!” I mostly think that whoever wrote the fic probably had a little too much time on their hands if they had time to go re-read or re-watch something just to type the actual words and actions used.

(A side note: this tip mostly applies to things that have a universe where this is plausible. Let me explain—most reader insert fanfictions I’ve read of The Hobbit take place with the company on their journey, and the reader helps out in canon situations like riding barrels and such. That’s become acceptable in the fandom-verse because it’s really hard to write in the reader on the journey without having actual canon events taking place. In Sherlock, on the other hand, it’s pretty easy to write the reader into the universe without borrowing other plot lines. A lot of it is dependent on the fandom culture in this case, but it was the best example I could think of. If you’re writing in one of these situations, it’s still best to avoid actual dialogue from the canon work. Paraphrasing is your friend.)

7. Buildup, buildup, buildup. How many times has this happened to you? You’re doing some boring, mundane task, and a cute guy shoots a look at you for no reason. You blush, and the guy comes over. Suddenly, you’re making out and nobody in the public space minds at all!

… Sorry for using that whole infomercial opening again, but I think it’s funny it demonstrates my point. That’s never happened in the history of the universe. So why should it happen in a fanfic? Sure, things like reader inserts sort of represent what you wish would happen… but there’s a concept called “suspension of disbelief” that all authors need to be aware of. Basically, the reader trusts you to give them a story that could actually happen—they’re going into the story with an open mind. By doing something totally not plausible, you’re breaking that trust and their suspension of disbelief.

This happens especially in romantic fanfics, where all sorts of seductive glances are thrown around willy-nilly until the sexual tension builds beyond belief and suddenly—random make outs! There’s another idea for a guide from me: proper romantic buildup. Alas, I must concentrate it into one point. If you’re going to try and build romantic tension, try your very best to do so naturally. Would he really get nervous around this random woman at the car wash? Would she actually give him a kiss after the first date? If they made eye contact, would both of them really get this flustered? Try reading some well-written romance novels or “good” fanfiction (I’ll mention some notable examples here at the end) to get accustomed to what natural romance is like.


 

That just about wraps it up for this general guide to fanfiction. 🙂

One of the most important things you can do is read good-quality fanfiction or literature with the content you want to produce. For romance, Christian fiction is actually the way to go—it sounds weird, but even if you’re not religious there’s some pretty great romance (and take heart—the novels aren’t meant to convert, so they hardly ever get too preachy). Many authors go to Christian fiction when they want to find examples of well-written buildup and such. A great author to read is Dee Henderson—she does an excellent job of tying an interesting plot (usually murder and other crime mysteries) with romance. As for good examples of fanfiction, I’d recommend reading one of the 50k word ++ Dramione fics on Fanfiction.net. All of those are fantastic and amazing; some of my favorites are Broken, Knowing You, Isolation, and The Cure for Crupulus. (Warning: all of these are NC-17 except for Crupulus.)

The other most important thing for writing good fics is to keep writing. No matter how much you feel like your stuff sucks, it can only get better. By continuing to practice, getting feedback from others, and reading others’ fics, you’ll grow and get so much better at writing. I believe in you (and so does the tiny potato)!

Keep making awesome fan content, and don’t give up!