Behind the Scenes with Critics United, Part 2

Welcome back to the second half of my interview with three of the moderators of FanFiction.net’s Critics United. Once again, I’d like to introduce Spirit of Paladin, Mr.GoodyTwoShoes, and Cha’s Aegis.

For those of you who missed part one, you can find it here.

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AJ: Welcome back, guys.  Ready for more questions?

Over the years, I’ve seen quite a few “Anti-CU” forums come and go. What are your policies about dealing with these forums? Come on, tell me the truth. Aren’t you sometimes tempted to go in there and defend yourselves with “sock accounts?

SOP: The temptation is there, but most of the time it is easy to let the anti forums go because they die so quickly. Most of them are abandoned in a weekend, and a few last a month. The thing is the anti-CU groups would last longer if we fed the drama, and that is another of the reasons why we don’t get involved with those.

Goody: in the early days we followed the path of other groups and went into them and attacked their members, picked apart their posts, etc. Now we just leave them be as having “forum wars” is stupid and they have as much right to bitch and moan about us as we do about them.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted but no, I don’t do that. Like I said above, they have as much right to voice their displeasure about us as we do about anyone else. Besides, it makes it look like we’ve got something to be worried about by trying to silence them. 

Cha: In the past I’ve gone in, but it always proved pointless as the forum mods either deleted my posts or edited them to say whatever they wanted to say before blocking me. Plus, these anti-forums are a call to the stupid who are only interested in the lulz.

To be honest, in the beginning there was temptation to go in with a sock account, but it truly isn’t worth the effort.

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AJ: How do you decide which members work in which fandoms?

SOP: We don’t decide that. Every member simply goes around the site as they normally do and when they see a violation they follow the procedure I described above. Sometimes we may ask if someone could go and look around a fandom but that is something that has happened one or two times; once with the Hunger Games and the second with Young Justice, and only because of extraordinary circumstances. You see in both cases a small group of people had taken to “kidnap” the categories and flood them with interactive content instead of actual stories and we were asked to look around by regulars on those fandoms.

Goody: We don’t decide per se as its most what the person in CU likes to read. Everyone has their preference and favorite fandoms so they usually work within said areas.

Cha: Usually they stick to their favorite fandoms, which really is easier. I know Naruto quite well, so I’ll have an easier time connecting with writers in that fandom.

AJ:  CU went through a big shake-up a year or so ago, with new leadership and a big turnover among your members. Did those changes have a big impact on the way your group works?

SOP: Yes, it did have an effect on CU. The changes implemented limited the amount of drama drawn to the group and implemented a lot of measures that make it easier for us to demonstrate we’ve never being the evil force to defeat in Fanfiction.net.

I’d say being able to work without attracting a lot of drama has helped the forum being more peaceful and effective than it was.

Goody: Yes, it had quite the impact. Back to the basics of trying to help rather than purposely inciting drama with people for the lulz.

Cha: I absolutely miss DarkSacredJewel. She did a fantastic thing starting CU and trusted us with her baby. She left because her career wasn’t going to afford her the time to continue being our heart and soul.

I was one of the ones who at left around that time, thinking my time was done with CU and I should move on. However, Paladin was handed the keys and asked me to come back. A couple of members left because the backlash we got from the lies told in a tumblr blog was overwhelming. Anyone else who left after usually left because they simply didn’t have the time to contribute to CU. However, all of them did give input on what they thought CU should be.

We even took into account some of the points made by our detractors at that time. Not all of them were brats frothing at the mouth looking for a fight because of the lies spewed about us on tumblr. I know I had quite a few intelligent conversations with very reasonable people who gave us a chance, listened to us and stopped buying into those lies. Those people gave us some really good feedback and we utilized that information to improve our methods.

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AJ:  Okay, I know this is an unpleasant subject, but since Cha mentioned the infamous tumblr incident, I’ll go there. No discussion of Critics United would be complete without mentioning “The Purge.” Tell me about it.

SOP: June 2012 was a really complicated time for the group. You can say it was a combination of factors that culminated on a perfect storm which caused us far more trouble than what was needed.

As you must know, the administrators of Fanfiction.net decided to finally do something about the MA* content on a wide scale. They had implemented small purges of MA content on a few fandoms at random intervals but in late May/early June 2012 they did a massive, site wide removal of MA content.

Cha: The Purge happened around our second anniversary and we were as surprised by it as everyone else. [It] was a massive deletion of approximately 40,000 fics violating the MA rule. So, one thing led to another and we were being blamed for deleting over 40,000 fics. Even at that time, we only had about 20 members.  There was no way we could’ve reported THAT many fics even if we all worked at it 24 hours a day for months on end. Not to reiterate the fact we can’t delete fics. Period.

SOP: Funny enough, CU was not truly blamed initially. It wasn’t until a person on tumblr edited screen captures of our reviews to make them look like flames, that CU was attacked by a big number of kids who didn’t bother with doing any research about us. The person who initially edited the screen captures and put them on tumblr was an author with a couple of stories each with several thousand reviews, so they had a large following.

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Goody: Full disclosure: this was during my exile from the group as I had left a few months beforehand because I didn’t like the direction the group was going and how it was being operated.

That out of the way, here’s what I can tell: in the summer of 2012 the owners and administrators decided to remove an extremely large number of works that were against the rules of the site, mostly MA explicit. When this happened, someone who didn’t like the group baited a few members into arguing in private messages with them and then photoshopped their replies to make it seem like Critics United was behind it.

SOP: I guess they felt like being dicks that day, or perhaps they wanted to see if they could destroy something using their “popularity” as a tool. The point is that a few days after the purge, this kid puts the photoshop-edited screen captures on Tumblr and the next logical step was to blame us for the purge. CU became a scapegoat and since we are the most visible group of our kind on Fanfiction.net, lots of people jumped on the hate bandwagon only because they wanted in on the drama.

Did we do something to this person? No, we did not. I admit I tracked the source of our troubles and kept an eye on the person responsible for a while but never cared enough to contact them. It is amusing how the tumblr account they used to attack us is now empty and last I checked they are not what you would call active anymore. On the other hand, we are still here. I’d say that in this case, that phrase was right and what didn’t kill us made us stronger.

Cha: I’d say we’d have about 20 people a day coming and bitching at us for being mean bullies. That’s not even counting the pms a lot of us were getting. I averaged about 15 or so a day. Some members had to turn off their pm features.

It was a very stressful time for all of us because we were accused of doing things we truly weren’t doing and very few were giving us a fair chance. We were convicted on lies told by a writer who didn’t like the fact they were told their story was legitimately in violation and who conveniently forgot to mention that little tidbit in their article vilifying us.

Goody: Being away from the group, I got flak as well for my former involvement as we were accused of being behind it, being cyber bullies, deleting stories etc.  Not fun times especially when I was getting blamed for things I had no part in and people within the group not being interested in ended it and just enjoying the drama.

SOP: The whole thing . . .was a massive dick move against us and it was tiring, annoying and frustrating because people refused to listen or to take the time to read the forum’s rules or the reviews our members left in stories. It died down like every “reason to rage on the internet this week” eventually does, however. As for the person responsible, well if they were hoping to gain prominence by claiming they took down Critics United, it is obvious their plan failed.

I do hope the one who caused all this at least learned that using defamation and slander against a group of people who aren’t doing anything wrong doesn’t pay off in the end. And to be honest I actually pity this person; it must be sad to be so empty inside that he/she had to resort to those kinds of lies to feel important.

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AJ:  Have you ever been disciplined by the administration of Fanfiction. Net, either as a forum, or on your individual accounts?

SOP:  No. All we’ve ever gotten was a request that we remember not to curse in our reviews and that we kept the forum’s language rated T.

So, as you can see, the site administrators know CU exists and they have never asked us to stop what we do and I think that is because we’re not doing anything against the rules of Fanfiction.net or that is wrong in their eyes.

Goody: the only time the group as a whole has ever had any issues was over a former member who liked to curse in their reviews and on the forum.  That was just a warning and when we dealt with it as far as I know the admins were fine with it and has since left us alone.

I myself have not had any interactions with any of them. Not knowingly in any case.

Cha: I did get warned on one of my stories. It had a mild sex scene involving some oral sex. At the time, even I didn’t know what constituted MA content since the site admins weren’t specific. We debated on that issue at CU for the longest time. Well, I got a warning and edited my chapter accordingly. My story never got deleted and I haven’t received any other warnings since.

It was actually a good thing because now I can definitely say what won’t fly regarding the MA rule.

AJ:  Some of your members, like Cha’s Aegis, have stories on their account on Fanfiction. Net. Others do not. Do you have stories on another account, and why? If not, how do you respond to those writers who say that you have no right to criticize if you are not writers yourselves?

SOP: I don’t have stories in any other account, so when I get that argument I remind people that one doesn’t have to do something in order to offer an honest opinion about it. And let’s not forget the rules are very clear and not subjective, so telling the author in question the point of the comment is the guidelines they usually understand what my point is.

Goody: I do and after getting attacked with anon reviews by authors who didn’t like being told by me about issues with their plot and such I decided it would be less a headache to use an account meant for reviewing than to deal with people “revenge reviewing” my writing just because they can’t handle being told of an issue with their writing.

For the second part – do they say the same about movie reviewers that haven’t made a movie themselves?  It’s just another way they try to justify to themselves that they don’t have to admit making a mistake and to cover their actions.

Cha: Even if I didn’t write, one of our former members had a great quote from either Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert that I’m going to butcher here, but is absolutely true. Basically it went you don’t have to know how to make movies in order to know if a movie is good or not. As a reader, we all know what we like and why and when something is good. It’s why certain books become classics. Even if we never have written anything beyond our names, we are capable of saying we don’t like something and explaining why.

AJ:  I see a lot of complaints about your “Worst Response” thread, where your members share some of their crazier interactions with authors on this site. I even got a comment on part one of this interview that refers to it as a “bully thread.” How do you respond to the accusations that you use that thread to mock writers or share messages that should stay private?

SOP: The thread has a very specific rule stating no names must be mentioned to keep the identity of the person who wrote the message secret. If we were, for example, saying “X sent me this, laugh at how stupid it sounds” then I’d agree it is wrong, but we don’t do that. The name of the person is never disclosed so it shouldn’t bother anyone.

Cha: Again, this goes with being transparent and it’s a way to show the entire world that we aren’t making it up when we say some writers act like spoiled little kids when they are told they did wrong. We show how they react and what our responses are. This offsets writers accusing us of being “mean” or  “bullying” them.

Goody: These people tend to ignore what is being said to us in the first place in these messages. I’m sorry but if you tell me to hang myself over a review then you deserved to be mocked for it.

Cha: I will mock stupid responses. The thing people forget is there really is no privacy on the internet. You can’t assume that some stranger is not going to share anything you say to them, especially if you are calling them names, making up pathetic excuses and outright lying. If you don’t want to be made fun of, then don’t act the fool. Behave as you would in real life if someone politely called you out for doing something wrong. Own your mistakes and learn from them, but don’t be a jackass about it or you will be called out for it.

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AJ:  Is there anything that you would like to share here, as moderators of Critics United? Anything that you would like to make known to the general public?

SOP:  All I ask is that people take the time to actually read our Rules and our FAQ threads before they come swinging a steel bat aimed at our heads. Because all those rumors about us are not true. We don’t delete stories, we don’t target, we don’t harass and we don’t bully others.

We are in fact the ones who get constantly bullied by people misled by gossip, and it makes me feel a little sad when someone’s goodwill is taken advantage of by people who lie about us.

Goody:  I guess if any member has in fact gone over the line to let us know before you go running to blog sites to start a grand crusade against us. Most times it’s a misunderstanding on both parts and usually can be sorted out before it gets out of control.

Also, try learning about us before automatically assuming that what you’ve read about us is 100% true.  People do lie and most people rushing to stir up the masses are omitting the fact that they have or may have broken a rule of the site but don’t want to admit it and try using people to cover for their own mistakes.

Cha: Everything about us and what we do is public for anyone willing to bother themselves to take the time to look. If they wish to take it further, they are welcome to engage us in conversation, publicly or privately, via pm or the forum. Who we are and what we do is transparent.

We’re not going to stop what we’re doing. We aren’t bullying people. The choice is always theirs. They can listen to our warnings or not, but they’re aware that we’ll report them if they choose not to listen. I don’t do this because I like telling people what to do. I’d rather focus on reading and writing fanfiction. However, I respect this site and what it gives us free of charge. I’m not going to stand by and let some entitled brats shit on it because they think because it’s the internet they can do whatever the hell they want. I believe in freedom of the internet, but it has to be within reason and respecting the rules of each site or we are going to loose our privileges on it.

We’ve been here for years, we’re not going away anytime soon.

AJ: On that note, I think we’re going to have to wrap things up, even though there are so many more questions I would love to ask.  Once again, I would like to thank all three of you for taking the time to talk to me and try to clear the air a little bit about Critics United and what you do.

***

And there you have it, folks.  An extremely long interview of some of the moderators of Critics United. I hope this opens a few eyes and changes a few attitudes; at the very least, I hope this starts a few good conversations. I know I’ve developed a new respect for what they are trying to accomplish.

I also think I need to go back and tone down a couple of the sex scenes in my own fanfics, just in case.

As always, I welcome any comments or opinions.  If you have any specific questions for my guests, I will do my best to see if I can get them to provide an answer for a follow-up post.

 *MA stands for a “Mature Adult” rating as opposed to “Mature.” MA refers to stories that would be on par with movies that are rated NC-17 or above.  Fanfiction.Net expressly forbids any stories that should be rated MA; in fact, they do not even make the MA rating available to their members when posting stories. 

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Behind the Scenes with Critics United

Have you ever watched a movie and wished it would have ended differently?  Or read a book and wondered what really happened behind the scenes between chapters seven and eight?  Perhaps you wish your favorite TV show would air an episode in which your favorite characters share a romantic interlude.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that there is way to have all of your wishes come true. Welcome to the wonderful world of fanfiction.

According to Dictionary.com, fanfiction (or fanfic) is described as “fiction written by fans of a TV series, movie, etc., using existing characters and situations to develop new plots.”  In other words, it’s a chance to play in someone else’s sandbox.

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Whether you enjoy writing fanfiction or just want to read some of it, the world’s largest collection of fanfiction can be found on Fanfiction.Net, which was founded in 1998 and now hosts over two million members.  That’s right, I said million.  The site has stories based on everything from the Bible to Harry Potter, and everything in between, from blockbuster movies and bestselling novels to some of the more obscure TV shows that only a handful of people have ever heard of.

As with any online community, Fanfiction.net also has its share of disagreements and outright feuds. There are good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, and sometimes the members themselves are more interesting than the stories they are discussing.

Which brings me to Critics United, arguably one of the most talked-about, hated, and possibly misunderstood groups on the site.   In recent years, I have heard so many horror stories about these guys that I have to admit to being both curious and a little bit intimidated.  I started wondering if any group could be as purely evil as they are said to be, so I spent some time “lurking” in order to find out for myself.  I was surprised to find that they are actually a rather small group of site members with a clearly stated goal and some very strict rules and regulations for themselves.

Welcome to Critics United -- if you dare!
Welcome to Critics United — if you dare!

I was lucky enough to spend some time talking with three of the group’s moderators, Spirit of PaladinMrGoodyTwoShoes  and Cha’s Aegis, to find out more about how the group works and just how how much of the gossip is true.

AJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.  I can’t wait to find out more about Critics United, so let’s get started. 

Tell me a little bit about when and why Critics United was formed. What is your purpose?

SOP: Critics United was formed in August 2010 by DarkSacredJewel, also known as Jewel. She was very active in the Naruto section of fanfiction.net at a time when that category was getting flooded by rule-breaking stories. She tried to do something to fix this but found that she had little success on her own, which gave her the idea to create a forum devoted to help people understand the rules and reporting violators to assist the site administrators.

As mentioned above, CU’s primary purpose is to help people who break the rules find ways to fix their work so they don’t lose it, and report violators when there is no other option available.

Goody: We were far far more antagonistic when we started than we are today.  Now we still deal with rule breakers but we also try to help authors by offering reviews and answering questions they have about the site.

Cha: Goody brought me in about two months after CU was officially formed. I had messaged Goody a few months prior and we had a brief exchange because I had complimented him on confronting a rule violator. It was a badly written Naruto fic and I think it had chat/script. At the time I was of the mindset, “Everybody does it!” and “It’s not my problem.” However, Goody’s review on this story made me think and I complimented him on it. We exchanged a couple of pms and left it at that.

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Some more time passed before Goody contacted me and told me about CU. I didn’t quite get the concept at first and he had to reassure me it wasn’t a bully group. I knew if he was going to be a part of it, it was okay.

AJ: So let me ask you the question that I think most people are wondering: Why? Why do you feel that it is so important for fanfic writers to follow the rules of Fanfiction.Net? Why not just let it slide?

Cha: Why not? Why should the majority of writers who use this site and follow the rules have to put up with a few entitled brats who don’t? This site is free and has so few rules. We aren’t bombarded with a ton of ads and the site admins have put a lot of work into creating a pretty damn spiffy site that’s really easy to use. It’s a disrespect to the effort and time that has been spent to create this site for us. I may not like all the rules, but it’s not my playground. I don’t own it, so I respect the rules. Whatever the reasons the site admins have for the rules that are in place, we all should be respecting and following those rules.

SOP: We do what we do for many different reasons, each member may have his or her own motivation but in general, we believe writers should follow the rules of fanfiction.net not only because it is the right thing to do, but because rule-breakers can get the site sued and closed down; for example songfics* could attract the attention of record companies or MA** explicit stories draw the ire of PTA’s. A cease and desist notice could shut down the site and that would affect thousands of writers who do follow the rules.

I personally believe that in this case it isn’t fair that just because a minority can’t grasp the concept of rules, the majority could potentially lose months or years of work devoted to improve their writing or the friends they have met thanks to it. Fanfiction.net is a large community with lots and lots of nice people; they don’t deserve to be hurt just because a microscopic percentage of its users are unable to follow a simple set of rules.

Goody: In my case I had no one try to warn me that my one story was breaking the rules and I got busted for it. Not a fun feeling and I don’t think anyone needs to go through with that.

As to why not just let it go, I guess it’s just a thing with me. I don’t like seeing people who intentionally or unintentionally act like they’re better or more special than others in most cases.

Cha: As for not just letting the violations slide. If I don’t do my part to raise awareness, who will? Many writers don’t realize they violated the site rules and appreciate the heads up. The brats who get all snotty when caught don’t deserve a free pass when everyone else is perfectly okay with the site rules. The rules aren’t many and aren’t that restrictive. It’s so easy to work within them it’s not even funny. There’s no excuse for violating them.

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AJ:  There is a common perception that fanfiction is for teenagers, but I know you three are all adults with careers and possibly families. What is the appeal of fanfiction for adults? What do you get out of it?

SOP: The best answer in my case is entertainment. I don’t write it myself, but I find it fun and interesting to see new takes on characters I am familiar with and when I find a story that makes justice to a franchise and its characters I feel glad to read it and experience a little of the joy the original property made me feel when I first saw it or read it. It is on these cases where congratulations to the author are in order.

Also, fanfiction is not credited enough as the creative outlet it actually is, which is a shame.

Goody:  I enjoy reading good stories and with fanfiction many writers give a “what if” scenario to the original canon I already enjoy. Good writing is good writing no matter of the age of the author.

In most cases I have no clue as to the age of the writer so it’s something I don’t really think about.

Cha: I was into fanfiction for years before I ever heard of the term. Writing is a creative outlet for me, but I never had the imagination to make up my own characters or worlds. That aside, sometimes I didn’t like how the plot of my favorite fandoms turned out. I had my own concepts swirling around in my head and gradually put them down on paper, well, now into MS Word.

I basically get a relaxing, creative outlet that I can share with others and it’s a way for my favorite fandoms to live on long after the original stories have ended.

AJ:  Is there any truth to the rumors that you delete stories?

SOP: No, we can’t do that. Only the site administrators have the power to delete stories.

Cha: And I’m glad we don’t because I’ll be the first to tell you it’d be far too tempting to delete a story out of spite because the writer was being a total brat. The site admins are faceless, unknown entities to us that aren’t involved in the drama we have to put up with, so if they delete a story, it’s based on the fact it violated the site rules.

Goody:  I have no clue where this stated but there is no truth to the rumor that we delete stories. If we did have that power then there would be a lot more things being removed than there has been.

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AJ:  What about the rumors that you target stories out of jealousy, or simply because you don’t like them? Have any of your members ever gone after an author’s entire body of work?

SOP:  Those rumors are so incorrect I consider them hilarious. They do get annoying because a lot of people believe them without bothering with looking at our forum and learning what we’re about, though.

So, no we don’t target anyone, and we have specific rules for our members to prevent that from happening.

Goody: I’ve heard that but I don’t know where people can get it when in our reviews we tell people what the issue is with the story in question.

In the early days we were more open to going after an author’s body of work but once we realized that could be seen as bullying or targeting we stopped that practice. Sadly not all members played by the rules and yes, we’ve had some cases of people doing it.

Cha: I may remember a writer because they were a total douche bag and am more likely to check on any new stories they post if I see it in the site updates, but I’m not going to go out of my way to monitor them unless they are a repeat offender historically. I’ve got better things to do with my time.

In the early days I may have gone after a writer’s entire body of work a couple of times because all they had were rule violations. Seriously, I remember one who had about 40 stories and every one of them was MA content. That was before we revised our group rules and just report one story in the hopes the writer would wise up and fix the rest of their stories if they didn’t want to lose them. Going after a writer’s body of work, regardless of how many are legitimately in violation, was smacking too close of bullying, which is why we adjusted our methods.

AJ:  It sounds like you have a lot of rules for your members to follow. What sort of actions do you take against any of your own members who violate your rules? Have you ever had to discipline one of your own?

SOP: The member rules have evolved over the years because we’ve found those are the best ones when it comes to showing detractors we are not the spawn of Satan many would have you believe.

We have applied week long bans to members who ignore our rules repeatedly after warning them and if they cause conflict and trouble, we would be forced to let them go. In short yes, we’ve had to discipline or ask past members to leave because their conduct was inadequate.

Goody: We’ve had a few former members go rogue and had trouble dealing with them till we added [the rules] in. It also shows people that we aren’t just a bunch of vigilantes running wild.

As for what we do it depends on what the person did. Most times it takes a quick note or a short PM (private message) and things are sorted out. We have had at least two cases where the people involved were just not getting the message and we had to kick them out of the group.

Cha: There’s typically a learning curve with new members and there have been times when a mod has had to coach a member. It’s usually a case of where they didn’t quite get the purpose of doing things a certain way, but if they’re willing to try we’ll work with them until they fully understand. However, there have been times in the past where the member has chafed under our rules and we cut them loose. Like our site rules, our group rules aren’t for decoration.

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AJ:  So, let’s say I have a story on Fanfiction.Net that breaks a few rules. It’s a sexually explicit piece of erotica that includes song lyrics. What can I expect to happen when CU becomes aware of my story? Walk me through the process.

SOP:  If a member finds a violator, the first step is to leave a review alerting the author about the problems with the story and offering suggestions on how to fix the fanfic; keep in mind we have many members so their reviewing styles vary but they all do this in their own way. After this, the member waits for a response and then the following happens:

  1. If the author replies asking for assistance, the CU member will help said author fix the story. They can ask in the forum if they have questions on how to do this. In this case the story is never reported.
  2. If the author does not reply but fixes the story on his or her own, then the story is never reported.
  3. If the author replies stating they won’t fix the story (sometimes in a rude way) or ignores the review and updates other stories then the CU member can bring the fanfic to our forum where only two more members can review the story offering further assistance. This means only three CU members review any story in violation, no more. This is to prevent accusations of harrassing. It is at this point where the story can be reported for violation.
  4. As soon as the story is fixed, CU will stop reporting the fanfic and it will be marked as compliant in the forum.

GoodyIf it’s me then I would review alerting you to that your story is over the acceptable rating for the site along with noting that using song lyrics that you don’t own isn’t allowed. I’d also offer you suggestions on how to fix it, in this case reworking your explicit content to fit with the rating or consider moving the writing to a site where it is allowed. I’d also suggest removing the lyrics entirely and that you should reference the song as opposed to using the lyrics as padding.

What happens next is on you.

If you reply “I didn’t know, I’ll fix it right away, thx” and make the adjustments then that’s as far as it goes .

If you reply with insults, bad excuses (everyone else does it, I’m a rebel, I’m young and want to have fun, etc) or just ignore me and go about your story with no changes then I would add it to the Stories in Violation thread at which point you can expect two more reviews (as we have a three review limit to try and avoid dog piling and the appearance of bullying) from Critics United member (hopefully) giving you different suggestions/ideas on how you fix your story.

In the end, it’s on you if you want to adjust or not.

Cha: Every CUer is different, so I’m going to explain how I do it. I’d write a signed review like this:

According to the site rules MA content and song lyrics aren’t allowed. These are easy fixes as you’d only have to edit out the MA content and imply the characters had sex. If you wish to still post the entire scene, you can post it over at adultfanfiction.com where MA content is allowed. I do that for my stories that have expanded, explicit scenes.

As for the song lyrics, just remove them. You can have a short author’s note at the top of the chapter directing readers to your profile where you can post a link to a YouTube video of the song readers can listen to while reading. Honestly, your story doesn’t need the lyrics anyway. It disrupts the flow of your narrative and I find it distracting since it takes me out of the story.

These are easy fixes you can do in a few minutes that will keep your story compliant and not risk being removed by the site admins if reported.

Now if a you react badly to me,  I do my best not to feed into your anger because usually it’s simply a knee jerk reaction. If I avoid the sarcasm and make reasonable points to pick apart your reply, chances are good you will calm down and make the changes. If you asked me to, I’ll even do the editing for you because sometimes a writer doesn’t know how to imply a sex scene. If the violation is fixed, I go on my way.

For some reason, if a writer reacts badly reacts badly to one CUer, they’ll be nice and listen to someone else. Maybe they say it better than me. Doesn’t matter. You might listen to them and still fix your story. So everyone else at CU will stop reporting your story for its violation when it’s clear you fixed it.

We don’t keep reporting stories even after the violation is fixed.

pony

AJ: Do you allow authors you have reviewed to have a say if they come into your forum, or is it true that you block anyone who voices an opinion you don’t agree with?

Goody: We have a chat thread, a Q&A thread and even a complaint thread for people to use. If you have a valid thing to say then we’ll read it but be ready to be challenged if you make wild statements.

I get the feeling that most people come in and expect us to just sit there and take them cursing up a storm, telling lies and just plain insulting us and are shocked when we ban them because they can’t follow our rules or even be civil to our members who are trying to discuss things with them.

SOP: We are actually very lenient, and as long as the author follows the rules of the forum and the complaint thread (which can be summed up with this sentence: “don’t be a rude asshole if you don’t want to get banned”), then the person won’t be blocked/banned from posting at CU.

Cha: A writer has every right to confront us, so we let them have their say. Sometimes we let them ramble on and on. Usually once they have their say they move on.

I don’t feel we have to extend that courtesy to anyone else, especially when they’re coming in misinformed and not bothering to take the time to look around our forum. We’re very transparent about what we do. So if they are just coming in to vilify us without even giving us the slightest chance to explain who we are and what we do, then, absolutely, we’ll block them. Everyone has a right to their opinions and we have the right not to have to sit there and listen to ignorant condemnations.

***

This seems like a pretty good place to take a break since this is turning out to be a lot more informative than I expected.  Please come back next week to read part two of my interview of the moderators of Fanfiction.Net’s Critics United, when we talk about “The Purge” and CU’s “Worst Response” thread, and more.  In the meantime, please check out Fanfiction.Net to see if you find anything you like. You just might be surprised. 

As always, I welcome any comments or opinions.  If you have any specific questions for my guests, I will do my best to see if I can get them to provide an answer.

* A songfic is a story that has song lyrics woven into it. On Fanfiction.net, they are only against the rules if the lyrics are copyrighted.  Songfics containing original lyrics or lyrics from songs in Public Domain are acceptable.

 **MA stands for a “Mature Adult” rating as opposed to “Mature.” MA refers to stories that would be on par with movies that are rated NC-17 or above.  Fanfiction.Net expressly forbids any stories that should be rated MA; in fact, they do not even make the MA rating available to their members when posting stories. 

Wrong Direction

My first celebrity crush was Peter Tork of the Monkees.  I should clarify here that I am not quite old enough to have watched the show when it was a prime-time phenomenon (although pretty darn close), so my sisters and I watched it together in reruns on Saturday mornings with some of the neighbor girls.

Davy was cute, Mickey was funny, Mike was smart.  Peter was just sweet .   Sweet and stupid.

Not an auspicious beginning for me.

Although my tastes these days run more toward the Eric Allan Cramer/Ed Harris/Michael Chiklis type, I had my share of celebrity crushes on the Peter-type.  Sweet, somewhat helpless, always the underdog.  Never the popular choice.    When everyone else crushed on Johnny, I adored Roy; girls everywhere swooned over Ponch, but my heart belonged to Jon.    My friends daydreamed about Michael Stipe while I had all kinds of naughty thoughts about Mike Mills.

Okay, maybe I was the one on the right track with that one.

The point is that I knew the difference between a celebrity crush and the real thing.  I knew my fantasies were just that:  fantasies.  No matter how many imaginary romantic scenes I thought up about my current celebrity crush, I knew the difference between fantasy and reality.  I knew what could and couldn’t happen in the real world.

I bring this up because of a disturbing trend that I have been seeing on the fiction sites where I post my work for feedback.  It’s called RPF, for Real Person Fiction, and it creeps me right the hell out.

These aren’t all kids writing this stuff.  Some of these writers are my age, and older.   They write and post graphic sexual fantasies about everyone from Justin Bieber to One Direction to The Beatles.  And they don’t just write self-insert tales where they themselves are part of the risqué little romps.   No, that kind of story, while still creepy, is at least somewhat understandable.  Somewhat.

The stories that make me want to take a three-day shower with a heavy dose of brain-bleach are the ones that pair real people up with other real people, regardless of gender or orientation in real life.   Stories that portray members of One Direction performing oral sex on each other back stage, or give graphic descriptions of John Lennon giving blow jobs to Paul McCartney.

I don’t get it.

Then there are the stories that go even farther into “yuck” category.  Stories of incest between Canadian siblings Tegan and Sara, or among the members of those squeaky-clean Disney kidlets known as R5.  The writers create these tales of sibling love as though it is a good thing.  A thing to be envied.  And if a baby is born from these incestuous get-togethers, why, the “characters” rejoice.

Why, why, WHY?

I don’t understand how anyone could even think up a story like that, much less portray it as a thing of beauty.   I get that there are all kinds of sexual fetishes and different proclivities that are beyond the scope of my admittedly white-bread existence, and I am usually more than happy to step back and agree ”to each his own”.   I try really hard not to judge.

All you toe-suckers and role-players, live it up.  Whatever floats your boat.  Or humps it, if that’s your thing.

But I have to draw the line when it comes to writing real people into these twisted tales.  It scares me that there are people out there who would write stories about real people, moving them about like toys in their stories.  It makes me worry about their mental condition, especially when they say things like, “but I’ve heard they read these stories and they like them!”

It makes me want to shake them and ask, “Really?  You honestly think Ross Lynch enjoys stories about getting his sister pregnant or having sex with his brothers?” or “Where did you see Tegan Quin announce that she likes stories about screwing her twin sister?”

Is it too much of a leap to wonder just how tenuous is their grip on reality?

I’ve had my share of fantasies about Randolph Mantooth, okay?  (So sue me.  He’s aged better than Kevin Tighe.)  Eric Allan Cramer has occasionally been a bit naughty in my dreams.  That’s normal.  After all, I’m fairly certain my husband has had some impure thoughts about Faith Hill, pin-up girl Hilda, and the adorable blonde mom from down the street.   Actually, even a straight gal like me can be attracted to those last two.  Totally acceptable to fantasize in that way, as long as neither one of us ever does anything to make those fantasies a reality.

But I don’t write stories about Randy Mantooth and Kevin Tighe doing each other.  Call me a prude, I guess.  What kind of total nutburger thinks it’s okay to publish tales like this about real people?

I have to wonder how Emma Watson feels when she hears about stories that portray her as a backstage tramp screwing everyone from Rupert Grint to Alan Rickman.  Who in their right mind would ever believe that she would be flattered by that?  I question how Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato feel about “femslash” tales that have them performing sexual acts on each other that defy logic and gravity.  How do Ross Lynch’s parents feel about stories that have their underage kids having sex with each other?

There are arguments flying around on Fanfiction.net about the legality of RPF stories, and the possibility of lawsuits brought against the site because of them. Excellent.   I hope it happens, and soon.

But for me, the problem goes beyond a legal issue.  For me, it’s a problem of “How can you think this is okay?”  Some fans get so obsessed with the fictional tales that they begin to confuse reality with RPF fanfiction.   They come up with “ship” names for their favorite pairings.  Andley.  Raura.  Larry Stylinson.

That last one is a fan name for the pairing of Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson of One  Direction.  Fans of this “ship” are at times so vehement about it that they claim they boys have to pretend to be straight just to appease their manager.  The form support groups and sign petitions to help the boys “come out”. These folks have been known to get a wee bit testy – possessive even – if either of the two singers is ever seen in public with a woman.  The hatred and pure vitriol that floods the internet in the wake of such a sighting is truly frightening.

It’s almost as if they forget that the RP in RPF means real people.    Not fictional characters.  These fans don’t seem to grasp that they do not own creative control of Harry or Louis or Ross or Emma –real live, breathing people, who function in the real world.  They are not fictional characters created into a fictional universe, and fans have no say in what these real people say or do in the real world.

Whenever I encounter RPF and its fans, I can’t help myself.  I get a chill down my spine and I wonder just how long it will be before someone makes the jump from RPF fan to Robert John Bardo or Mark David Chapman.

I don’t think it’s an “if”.  It’s a “when”.

And that scares me.

Whumpage!

I learned a new word recently.  Ready for it?

Whumpage.

Isn’t that great?  Say it out loud:  Whumpage.   I dare you to try to say it without grinning immediately afterward.

It’s a term used by fanfiction writers to describe stories in which physical or emotional pain is heaped on a favorite character, over and over and over again.  These stories are usually categorized in the Hurt/Comfort genre and have summaries that promise “Lots of whumpage!  Tissue alert!”

And they are hilarious.

It starts with the smallest, youngest, or prettiest male character from any fandom (book, TV show, etc.).  In some cases, one character fits all three criteria, and then the authors have a field day.  This character is built up to be as vulnerable as possible, often bordering on childlike or effeminate.  Some of the more ambitious writers portray him as so vulnerable and childlike that he almost seems to be mentally incompetent.

Then this creative little author will proceed to beat the living crap out of the poor guy.

I need to go off on a quick tangent here about the nature of injuries in fanfiction.  The tiniest bump on the noggin results in a concussion, which quickly degenerates into a skull fracture – with or without a coma.  While the loved ones suffer through all kinds of angst, the pitiful patient almost always develops pneumonia with a fever that soon soars up into the seizure zone.

Any broken bone in fanfiction automatically becomes a compound fracture with full complications.  Everyone, it seems, ends up with broken ribs that puncture and collapse a lung.  Which, of course, always becomes pneumonia.

Injured or sick characters in fanfiction also develop every complication known to man.  There is almost always a setback of some sort just as things start looking up, sometimes dozens of times in the same story.  On occasion the setback is due to incompetent or cruel medical professionals whose poor treatment brings about a relapse or the aforementioned pneumonia; more often it comes in the form of some evildoer bent on the destruction and suffering of the poor fellow.

At some point, breathing stops.  Then the heart stops.  After much angst, gnashing of teeth, and tearing of hair, our pretty little hero miraculously comes back – either through CPR, defibrillator, or the life-saving teardrops of that one special friend/lover/pal.

Many of the best (translation: worst) whumpage stories are teeming with guy-on-guy rape scenes.

I’ve never been able to understand the appeal of this aspect of these stories.  Seriously, if I’m having some heavy-duty fantasies about, say, Johnny Gage, the absolute last thing I want to read is a story in which he is violently gang-raped by some macho bad guy with questionable motivation.

Can anybody explain this to me?

Another fairly creepy trademark of these whumpage stories is the “comfort” part of Hurt/Comfort.  The other male characters suddenly become, for no apparent reason, Mommies.  They comfort the poor whumped-upon fellow by rubbing his back while he vomits, or by spooning broth into his mouth.  They carry their injured friend around like a toddler and exchange soft, gentle words of love while tucking him in and wondering when –or if—help will arrive.  And arrive it does, always at the last possible second, just when all hope seems lost.

Honestly, I am a Mommy, and I’m not even that nice to my own kids when they are sick.  I’m the kind of Mommy who says, “If you’re gonna hurl, hurl that way” before handing them the Barf Bucket.

One popular variation of the Hurt/Comfort story is the hero who bravely hides his own injuries while taking care of his friends.  With superhuman strength and determination, he might drag an unconscious victim out of a burning building despite his own broken pelvis or collapsed lung; he will grit his teeth against the pain of a broken leg or spine while marching up and down a hill to build a shelter for his buddy after an airplane crash.  He’ll ignore the throbbing pain of a concussion long enough to get his BFF to safety before passing out.

This then gives all kinds of opportunity for more angst, as the other characters berate themselves for not noticing his injuries.

The funniest part of a whumpage story is the recovery of our poor, frail little whipping boy.  After multiple compound fractures, collapsed lungs and dozens of concussions, these fellas always recover fully and bounce right back into their lives with no lingering pain or memory issues.  Nobody ever has to file a disability claim.

I want to include links to a few examples of extreme Hurt/Comfort/Whumpage on Fanfiction.net, but I also want to make sure to give a few warnings first.  Some of these stories are very explicit and have already been reported for exceeding FFNet’s standards, so please don’t read if you are easily offended.

These fanfic writers have put a lot of effort into their work, and some of them are really quite talented.  They aren’t bad writers; they are simply following an established (and unfortunate) trend on the site.  Besides, the more a writer beats up on a character, the more reviews he or she will get.  It’s addictive.  All of those accolades make it really tempting to kick the guy while he’s down. . . for just one more chapter.

In short, please be nice to the writers of the stories I am listing here.

“Missing in Motion” actually started out as a decent story with some promise.  The boys of Big Time Rush are involved in a tour bus accident and then kidnapped by a group of really well-written criminals.  So far, so good.  Then we get the first major surgery on the Pitiful Character, followed by a second car accident, and a random stoner rapes one of the boys while a misguided Army medic rapes another; later, two of the boys are forced to sexually assault each other at gunpoint and the crazed medic goes after his patient again. Later still, two of the boys are sold into sexual slavery in Canada, where one of them is molested by his former hockey coach.  Meanwhile, one boy nearly dies from a knife wound while the other has a complete mental breakdown and psychotic break after having a bomb strapped to his chest.

And it keeps going.  On and on and on, with no end in sight.  The author is trying to write a heartbreaking tale of pain and suffering, but it is so over the top that it actually seems like a parody of Hurt/Comfort/Whumpage stories.

“Death Warmed Over” is one that opens with the life-threatening injury of the prettiest man on the show White Collar.  The poor boy suffers chapter after chapter of near-recovery followed by a string of horrific relapses—also with no end in sight.

Then there’s “Faithfully Condemned”, a Criminal Minds story in which Reid is horribly tortured for no reason other than to make him seem increasingly frail and pathetic.  I’ll admit I stopped reading this one early on because it was just too . . . icky. The writer really put a lot of thought and planning into this one.  Maybe a bit too much, if you get my meaning.

So I’m a bit cruel to laugh at stories of pain and suffering on Fanfiction.Net, but I also understand the fun of writing them.  As a matter of fact, I used to have a bunch of Hurt/Comfort stories on my account over there that I have since deleted because they were so awful.

No matter how bad the whumpage stories are, can we all agree that they are still better than “Fifty Shades of Grey”?