Abstracting Reflection

AbstractionTo me, the simplest way to utilise abstracting is to find the “essence” of the concept or idea at hand. From there, we can expand on that essence during the creative process. I wrote in the previous entry that I wrote out my fanfic and then planned the fanmix by abstracting the essence of the fic and its individual scenes, and then proceeded to create the fanwork in two mediums. So I thought of the concept first and then abstracted with it. However, upon further reflection, and looking over my fanmix notes, I think I am slowly remembering the opposite — I may have actually planned out the actual fanmix and its scenes, and then wrote the fic! (Of which, I am entirely not sure of since it’s been years since I’ve planned and completed this work . . . )

Infinite PossibilitiesWhich then leads to another revelation about abstracting — it’s something that can be done in any order, and the end creative work results in an infinite number of possibilities. For an example, going back to my fanfic and fanmix, I came up with a scene/song called “The Strife” where it deals with Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy in class, debating over a literary work with Dark Moor’s “Winter, Movement I” as the background song. Whether I write the scene first or plan the song and scene first, I could have ended up with something different where the “strife” could have been a boxing match, or perhaps it could have been a literary discussion at a pub, or maybe even a strife that ends with sexual activity. And why limit the scene to just that song? There are thousands of other songs in our world that could fit the atmosphere and the mood of the scene, being another instrumental or a song with lyrics that adds more to the scene.

All of these possible outcomes . . . is what draws people to fanworks. Fanworks provide an opportunity for amateur creators to seek out the possibility of different options in any medium of their choice. As long as the creator understands or seeks to understand what they are creating, they can utilise abstracting along with re-imaging and patterning mixed with their own perception of the subject matter. And I did all that in my fanfic and fanmix. My knowledge of classical music, English literature, class differences (via the military ranking system on the base I work at), digital art — all combined with some of my favourite tropes (like “Deadpan Snarker“) — contributed to this fanwork. Another example to consider are those fanworks that deal with serious issues like sexuality, mental illnesses, death of loved ones . . . fans write stories focusing on these tough subject matter, and in order to tell the story, they’d have to abstract through their feelings and understandings of tough “wordless” concepts to find the right word, pictures, art to tell their story.

Abstracting, to me, is not an easy thing to do always. Some days, ideas come to me as fast as the speed of light. Other times, like with this fanmix and fanfic, I’d spend days planning and trying to figure out the essence, the main point of the work. Abstracting may not be easy, but it is an important tool to use in a creative process, a tool that can be used in the arts, maths, and sciences, and help contribute new ways of thinking in our world.

Abstracting Deconstruction

cccdcover cccdtracklist

The two images above are the front cover and the tracklist of a fanmix I made for my fanfic of the same name. Way back in 2006 or so, I had this fanfic idea where I’d invert Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy’s social standing, and in the next couple of years, I refined that basic premise into a non-magical AU (short for “alternate universe”). Ron is a famous, wealthy model, and Draco is poorer and comes from a single-parent household (his father passing away in a car accident). The two know each other as classmates at Hogwarts University, and despite their opposite social standings, I tried to keep their personalities the same as they are in the original books. Meaning, that Ron is still a hot-headed, brash, but kind and loyal young man, and Draco remains to be prickly, snobby man with a cynical (and witty) outlook on life, and when these two meet, their personalities clash in every possible way. They eventually become friends and lovers through a series of events consisting of classical music, English literature, and tango.

After the fic was written, I made the fanmix, and that was where the abstraction happened. See, I cannot draw worth a hoot — however, I can use Photoshop to manipulate photos into digital art. Ergo, what I really wanted on the fanmix cover was a drawing of Ron and Draco, but that wasn’t going to be an option for me. So I had to stop and think about the story and figure out its true “essence”. Once I figured that out, I went on Google Images to find something that portrays the differences of the two blokes, but also signifies their coming together. And the photo below is what I ended up founding and loving to death, along with an Andy Warhol quote that also fit the essence of the fic.

cccdcover-original

Then came the real fun part of the music compilation. I broke down the fic into scenes, and I picked a song based on the scene’s mood and atmosphere and “renamed” the song to capture the scene. For an example — “The Strife” is a scene where Ron and Draco are first in together, and they are arguing over a literary point of view in their English class. I chose Dark Moor’s rendition of Vivaldi’s “Winter, Movement I” because the song is moody and slowly builds up until its conflict-filled melody burst at the climax. Instead of choosing the original orchestra version, I also went for Dark Moor’s more modern sound since the electric guitar takes over the violin solo, representing the AU-factor of the story. The rest of the fanmix is listed below with my notes from when I was planning it years ago!

“Proem”
Artie Shaw – Begin the Beguine (Opening where Ron strolls through the Campus, waving at people and enjoying the morning sun and the new day. He knows he’s happy, but he feels something is missing from his life and he wasn’t sure what.)

“The Strife”
Antonio Vivaldi – Dark Moor – Winter, Movement I (Ron ends up strolling around too late, walks into his English class late and has to sit next to Draco, the only seat left. The class is having a discussion some literary thing, and the two of them head butt against each other in their theories on Hemingway (whether Hemingway was gay or not?))

“Consonance and Dissonance”
Franz Liszt – La Campanella (Ron hears this in the music hallway, walks towards the source of the sounds, and sees it’s Draco performing it.)

“Whimsicality”
Yiruma – Dream a Little Dream of Me (Ron thinks about ways to get Draco to notice him and realises he likes him. At that moment he is with Pansy having dinner or something.)

“Hopelessly Zany”
Tales of Symphonia – Off-key (Ron tries to gain Draco’s attention and it rather fails.)

“Conniving Strategy”
Chrono Trigger – Delightful Spekkio (Ron goes and talk to Pansy, who’s being difficult, and eventually gives him advices.)

“Deliberation”
Carlos Gardel – Por Una Cabeza (For a tango scene. Pansy reveals that Draco likes Tangoing — while Pansy is a fan of jazz music and swing dancing, which is what influenced Ron into liking jazz.)

“Ruminative”
Kanno Yoko – Memory of Fanelia (Draco invites Ron to his place for dinner, and Ron takes in the poverty that surrounds Draco, but realises that it’s a part of him and embraces Draco’s home and Narcissa’s loving (albeit very snarky and teasing) nature.)

“Lamentation”
Junjou Romantica – Junsui Koigokoro (Have Arthur almost dies and Draco comes to comfort Ron because he lost his father years ago and can sympathise?)

“Tranquil Affair”
Suikoden V – The Night Before the Decisive Battle ~Theme of a Moonlit Night~ (Ron and Draco are walking in the park like the romantics writers did and under the moonlight share their first kiss and yadada.)

“Culmination”
October Sky – Main Theme (The pseudo-ending song for the fic. :) When they realise they do care for each other and blahblahblah.)

“Finis”
Duke Ellington – Take the “A” Train (The real ending theme for the fic . . . it’s more upbeat than the opening theme because now Ron has everything he could ask for.)

This fanfic and fanmix holds a special place in my heart. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write and tell for a long time, so when I finally had the opportunity and the self-motivation to create it, I did. Doing this required a lot of planning and thinking on my part, and for me, abstracting is very handy when one wants to create something.

Patterning Reflection

PatterningIn my previous post, I thought about patterning as a cognitive tool. Patterning exists in both science and the arts, and it is everywhere as we humans naturally try to make sense of our world, and try and find familiar and new patterns around us. In the world of fanworks, patterning can be seen through the tropes, which are familiar elements of seen in storytelling.

TV TropesTV Tropes is one place that tries to document all the known tropes that exist in our media. From literature to films to video games to online webcomic, tropes like “Luke, I am Your Father“, “Star-Crossed Lovers“, and “Action Girl” have their own pages that define the tropes and list examples from multiple mediums. Having a source like TV Tropes allows individuals to recognise and identify tropes, and once recognised, they can use these tropes when they create their own works that are completely original or are based off of an existing fandom.

That is why, if I were to use fanfics as a learning tool, I’d make sure my students are aware of the familiar tropes they’ve encountered at least once in their lives, and “re-pattern” them to create something “new”. As I mentioned in my previous entry, I focused on the alternate scenarios fanworks can take (like supposing Harry Potter had befriended Draco Malfoy instead of Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger). So we have an alternate scenario going on, and the creator has to figure out how to put it all together in a way that makes sense. The creator has to make other changes, too, such as Draco Malfoy’s character. By befriending Harry, will Draco still be a stuck-up snob? Or will he and Harry get closer and their friendship influence Draco to become a more positive person? What about Draco’s parents? Will they support that friendship? These are just some of the things the creators will need to figure out as they go the alternate route.

Not only that, but by going the alternate route, they can also subvert a lot of the more common tropes. TV Tropes put “Blond Guys Are Evil” for Draco, and while he does prove to be not very evil later on in the series, he’s still seen as “evil” in the earlier series. To subvert that trope, many fanfic writers portray Draco as someone who is blond, but who is misunderstood to be evil. Many fanfic writers in the Harry Potter fandom do just that, and they create in-depth stories where Draco gets redeemed by getting romantically involved with characters like Hermione or Harry or Ginny.

That is what I did with the Severus vignette in my last entry — we never got to read much about Severus’ childhood, so I imagined up one for him. I imagined his home life, an abusive environment filled with fights between his parents, where Severus’ own needs were neglected. Severus gets a reprieve when he visits Lily, though, where her mother will offer Severus food and warmth. And Lily also gave him the warmth he craved through their friendship. All of these came to me as I plotted and outlined the vignette, and I used tropes to bring the story together.

Understanding the tropes and storytelling elements allow future writers to understand “patterning” in poetry and prose. By understanding these elements, they can better their craft. Fanworks can be used as a great tool to help trigger creativity in young people. Encouraging young people to come up with their own stories and worlds are important. Fanworks may not seem to be entirely “new” — since they are based on existing works — but they still can be a great way to exercise creativity to come up with something new of their own.

Rose of VersaillesOne last thing to consider — let’s consider Rose of Versailles. This anime/manga came out in the 1970s, and it’s a historical fiction based on the events and characters leading up to the French Revolution. In a way, this work could be considered a “fanwork” since it is based on an existing “work” (the history is the work). Yet this series is now considered to be a classic in the anime/manga realm. The creator of this series brought in elements of romance, drama, and tragedy, used many tropes in the work, but at the same time still created something full of literary patterning and is still considered to be a “new work”. So yes, fanworks can promote creativity and encourage young people to find “patterns” in literary arts.

Patterning in a Literary Way

TypewriterBoyd (2008) wrote that “art is a form of cognitive play with pattern,” and this also apply to literary arts like poetry and prose. In poetry, “patterns” can be seen when there is a rhyming scheme and/or metrical scheme in use. Sonnets are an example where both rhyming and rhythmic patterning can be seen since certain lines have to rhyme and the sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.

In prose, patterning may not be as clearly defined or seen, but they do exist. Boyd states the following:

Stories fall into patterns of patterns, which storytellers can play with to arouse, satisfy, defeat, or surprise expectations — and no wonder that expectation and surprise drive so much of our interest in story . . .

The most powerful patterns in fiction tend to be those associated with plot: with goals, obstacles, and outcomes, with expectations and surprises . . .

Patterns in fiction, as in life, may proliferate and obscure other patterns. They can yield rich but sometimes far-from-evident implications. They may be open-ended: they and their implications often do not come preannounced and predigested. Sometimes they feed into efficient, evolved pattern-detection systems, but often they have to be discovered through attention and curiosity, and sometimes in ways that neither audiences nor authors fully anticipate.

In other words, when it comes to prose, it follows a similar format of having characters, plot, and setting. The plot will then usually consist of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. All of these then lead to tropes. Tropes are devices in a story that are familiar to us. Examples include the wise mentor (ie: Gandalf and Dumbledore), the Bildungsroman genre (stories where characters come of age like Harry Potter and The Outsiders), and rebelling against a corrupted government (ie: Star Wars and Animal Farm).

Harry PotterAll these tropes exist in storytelling, and with those who write fanfics, they are given a chance to write stories of their own with existing characters and settings. Writing their own fanfics allow individuals to deconstruct the story and recognise tropes themselves, and then they can put a spin of their own to make a “new” story. An example of this is to re-tell Harry Potter’s own story — suppose Harry’s father was killed as in the original story, but Harry’s mother survived and raised him by herself with the support of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin? Or what if Harry had befriended Draco Malfoy in his first year at Hogwarts instead of with Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger? These alternate scenarios present a lot of path a writer can take. Adding in their own perceptions, their new stories take on even more different existing tropes.

The BeatlesAs a fanfic writer, that is what I do. I wrote a fanfic once based on Severus Snape and Lily Potter friendship from their childhood days. I wrote about how a ten-year-old Lily was a fan of the Beatles; Severus was bewildered by Lily fangirling over them, but he tolerated her obsession because she’s his friend. When the Beatles officially split up, Lily was devastated, and Severus stayed by her side and comforted her. Prior to writing this, I had to plot out the whole thing, and I thought about how I’d portray them as ten-year-olds, along with what Beatles song to feature in the fic. Some of the tropes I figured into this story are like “Severus’ dismay over at Lily acting like a girl” to “Lily acting like a pre-teen fan who’s in love with a boy band” and so forth so on. In order to make this story work in a way that follows the plot diagram, I had it be a flashback fic where an older Severus is reminiscing his childhood memory, the memory came back “alive”, and the story ended by going back to present-day Severus and his thoughts on the future.

Along with the tropes, I gathered all my storytelling elements (plot, characters, setting, etcetera), my storytelling “patterns” to write a little vignette. That is how I write fanworks.

Reference: Boyd, B. (2008). The Art of literature and the science of literature. The American Scholar, Spring 2008. Retrieved from http://theamericanscholar.org/the-art-of-literature-and-the-science-of-literature/