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FFF Interview - Dragons, Sieges and Volcanoes, by ARG

Fruipit February 15, 2014 User blog:Fruipit
Sokka as therapist This blog is an official interview of the Fanon Fact Finders. We hope you enjoy it!

Dragons, Sieges, and Volcanoes…

Fruipit here, back with another long-awaited interview! For the past month or so, I've been chatting with AvatarRokusGhost about his new epic, Dragons, Sieges and Volcanoes. And, quite honestly, it is just that.


For those unfamiliar with ARG's writing, the beginning can seem a little slow, however all that world-building is put to at some stage or another; I myself am particularly impressed with the characterisation of Iroh and Lu Ten, our two, uhh... anti-protagonists. Ermm.... oh, and Ratana, our cross-dressing heroine.

Now, I think I've delayed ARG enough, don't you?

From an interviewer to an author...

How are you?
I'm doing very good, thanks. Been pretty busy lately.
The beginning of the new year, and all that?
The beginning of the new year, more work, a dose of personal drama, an issue with my car. Basically, life at its finest. But hey, it goes on.

Keep on truckin' eh? So, I take it you haven't had a huge chance to write lately?
Unfortunately I haven't these last couple weeks. I haven't had much time to revise anything either. I actually have the next three and a half chapters written out, which I completed a while ago. Since I do my own initial lookover of all my drafts first, I've only sent Chapter 27 to Kuir and Henry so far.

So, you always make sure to have someone read over your stuff before you publish? Why?
Well, it's not merely that they spot editing errors that I overlooked on my own. A couple times, Kuir has pointed out something about the characters and the plot of a chapter that could be improved upon or made more believable. It's easier to know if a chapter is ready after showing it to a couple trusted users before it "goes public."

Why did you choose those authors to help you?
Kuir I chose because he's an enthusiastic writer himself, with some fanons of his own that he's worked hard on, and that I'll have to dig into myself one of these days. As for Henry, I know from his editing on here that he pays close attention to detail, which makes him a good editor for DSV.

So two editors with different strengths? How important are they? Could you release chapters if you wanted without their input, or is it too invaluable?
I suppose I could if I had to, but the chapters wouldn't come out as good, and I don't think the readers would enjoy it as much. DSV would be in a pretty rough spot without their help.

Well, how do you write the chapters? Do you write, and then go back over and edit, or edit as you go? Has this changed the further you've gotten into the story?
Actually some of the earlier chapters I did do some editing on as I went along. Not too long ago I usually wrote and then went back later, but I would sometimes revise something I had just typed so that it would be "right" when I built off of it in whatever came next. It was only very recently, after I did NaNoWriMo, that I became a more strict adherent to the "write now, edit later" school of thought. Also, I let at least a day (usually two or three) go by before I edit what I write. I feel that I'm not in an objective mindset if I edit something I /just/ wrote. From writing, to editing, to publishing, the organization of my process is pretty straightforward (which is a relief to me, as I'm a very disorganized person in a lot of ways.)

What is your favorite part of this process?
Heh, that's actually a good question as far as I go, since all parts of the process are thrilling to me in terms of creating and expressing imagination through prose. If I had to choose, I'd say reading and changing for the final draft, since it offers a chance to see how the "good parts" work together and to rewrite and perfect the final draft to something that you know that you made and that looks beautiful to you.

Do you ever reread your stuff, and realise that you've made a mistake in the writing or continuity?
With the writing, I've done that quite a few times. Not only have I gone back and had to fix some things in DSV, but I actually had to do the same while randomly reading an old Energy Saga chapter, like last month. Same goes for other writing pieces I've done. As far as continuity goes, I rarely have an issue there. I strive to be thorough by taking lots of notes and going back and checking something in an earlier chapter before I publish if I'm unsure of it.

How thorough are you in other aspects of the story? More specific areas, such as the characters' names and such?
I keep tabs on future events in my outline to foreshadow in earlier chapters and even have scattered future scenes played out in my head. Sometimes it's painful to think of such scenes in Books 2 and 3, since I know I won't get to them for a while. Since the story centers around Ratana, I consider her development first and foremost, but for other major characters I also try to plot out their character development as though it were a separate "story" in and of itself, as I'm of the opinion that that enriches a story as a whole. As far as names for original characters go, I take into consideration both how the name sounds when pronounced and what it may mean in Chinese or in some cases, another Asian language. For example, "Shui" means water in the name Han Shui, the ex-leader of the Southern Raiders. With a few names such as Tooru and Lizen, I went solely on the pronunciation and what I thought sounded like a proper name for the Avatarverse.

Ahh, the names! Now, you gave quite a number of your character last names – Chinese names. It's actually confused me a little, because I've no idea whether the first name is actually being put first, or if you're writing them last name first. Which one is it, and why did you choose that way?
The first name is always first in this series, because this is the Avatar World and Beifong is the last name of Toph Beifong (with other similar examples.) So, naturally I assumed that names were always set up like that in the Avatar World, with the last name following the first. In the case of most names like Lu Ten, Quan Jing or Han Shui that appear in DSV, they're actually double first names, like Anne-Marie. With the last name included, it would be Han Shui Smith, or something of that nature.

That makes a lot of sense. How do you think up their names? Is there a process?
There's not really much of uniform process for it. It's different for each character, really. For some of them, a name comes to me right away, but if I get stuck, looking up the sound of appropriate Chinese words is my safety net.

So, it's inspiration-based much of the time? Sticking with the names, how do you come up with chapter names?
Exactly. As far as chapter names go, I try to make it either refer to a person, place or thing in the chapter or as a simple theme, such as "Leaving Home", "Struggles" or "Finding Shelter." None of the chapter titles are that long, since there are so many chapters and that would stretch the template out if they were. My goal in naming each chapter is to encompass the basics of what it's about without giving away too much to the reader before they read it.

Is it sometimes difficult thinking up the names?
Oftentimes it is at first, but I always settle on something fitting in the end.

What about the unnamed places? Like, the colony in chapter two?
The colony in chapter 2 I don't really show later. Theoretically, it could've been almost any small or medium-sized Fire Nation colony in the Earth Kingdom. Later on there are some places that I do give names to that are featured more prominently in the series.

So, it was more a means to an end than to be an actual 'place'? Something else I noticed in chapter 2; you stated that the members of the Terra Team worked in pairs, however you also specified there were only five of them. Did one die, or does the 'couple' thing only apply to Ratana?
Pretty much. And all the members of the Terra Team have partners. Ratana and Tooru are a pair, as are Taigang and Zan Xun. But not every member of the Terra Team there was mentioned by name. Shun Ping has a partner as well, but he wasn't referred to specifically.

Ahh, that's where I got confused. Also, in chapter two, I noticed; do you realise you paraphrase from the series sometimes?
Oh yeah, I borrow lines from the canon show all the time. That's a habit of mine when it comes to my fanfics. I use lines from the show all the time here and there, and also occasionally I take it a step farther. For instance, the intro in the first chapter of DSV is obviously based off the ATLA intro, and I modeled an entire scene in ES off a similar situation from ATLA.

To make the stories more connected to the universe that it's part of, and as something the readers are familiar.

How important to you, personally, is the World of Avatar in your stories? How much do you rely on the lore and history provided to us, and do you prefer to keep the canon information canon, or do you not mind mixing and changing it a lot to suit your needs?
I start by going off of what's canon, and if there are missing pieces I fill those in with my own fanon information. Often when new canon revelations come out, I incorporate them into the story if possible. When I first wrote ES, that was my approach, though some of what I wrote has been contradicted by now. In general, I try to keep it as close to canon as possible, but at the end of the day, it's fanon, so by definition it's going to be different at times. I simply move onto other parts of the story and try not to dwell on it.

Does that mean that someone will fly a dragon into battle, burn down an entire village and then go jump in a volcano? Or will that be creative license for the author of Jinora's book, with yours being the 'accurate' historical account?
By the end of the story, everything from Jinora's description from The Spirit of Competition will have come to pass, and Ratana is the heroine of the tale who will be carrying out the performance. I don't want to delve much farther into that at this time, since that would involve spoilers, and there's quite a lot stated there already.

Completely understandable. So, what's your favorite chapter so far? Both to read and write?
I really enjoy writing chapters that make the reader get to know the characters better, and as a writer it's fun to get to know the characters of the story better myself as I'm writing them. I'm sure that I'm not the only writer on this site who feels this way about writing chapters like that. I also enjoy taking the plot in a rapid new direction at times. So far in the series, which is still in its early stages, I would say my favorite to write has been Ch. 21: Struggles. I also enjoyed writing Ch. 6: The Dragon Chambers and Ch. 17: Leaving Home. Whenever I go do back and look at what I've written, those are also some of my personal favorites to read again.

Well, if you love writing chapters on the characters, you must also have a favorite one of those, yeah?
Right now, my favorite character of DSV is definitely Ratana. She's the heroine of the story and her journey is the soul of it. Whenever I write or outline anything, I try to keep her development on track and believable, and I try to make her traits stand out as much as possible. As for canon character, I also enjoy shaping Iroh's journey and writing for him. He has always been one of the most fascinating characters from the show for me. There was also a character I've been looking forward to doing, but they don't appear until the second book, and I still have a good twenty chapters to go in the first book.

Speaking of Iroh, we first meet him in chapter 5, but we're formally introduced to him as 'hey, this is going to be a main character' in chapter 7. Why did you introduce him in the setting that you did; a meeting with other 'Dragons'?
Because he's another character central to the story, and one of the pivotal points of his development from the heir to the warmongering Fire Nation to the man we all know and love in the show was his encounter with Ran and Shaw. It seemed a good way to introduce his history, as the last surviving dragons turn into a focal point where the paths of Ratana and Lu Ten cross with his.

It's sounding like there are three main characters, with a number having large roles and numerous supporting. How do you keep track of all these people? And how do you give them each unique personalities?
No, it's a fair question. I take a lot of notes on the ones that appear frequently. Sometimes, I even have to resort to charts of the characters and their development. Fortunately, each chapter focuses on some characters more than others, so I can narrow my perspective in the short run and come back to the other parts later when I need to. With personalities, I tend to start with their backstories and how that affects them and go from there.

So you already have the backstories of the important characters worked out?
For the most part, yes. At least I have most of the ones for Book 1 worked out, though not as much with two of them, I'll admit. I still have a lot of the backstory for Books 2 and 3 to develop. I'm concentrating more on Book 1 for now, so for the later ones I've so far only got some ideas of the "destination points" of the series, plus a few chapters played out in my head.

What about the characters that are less significant? Do you put much thought into their backstories, or do you find that it just isn't needed?
If they appear often enough, I always create backstory for them, but if they're not as present in the series, I don't bother to go into detail. With some characters like Taigang, I didn't have as much backstory planned when they first appeared, but started making up some as I went along and foresaw them becoming more prominent.

So the story has definitely changed in some ways that you didn't predict, such as characters being more important than you first thought?
I would say so. From the very beginning, I knew that Lu Ten and Ratana would be the major players, but it didn't take long for Iroh to evolve to a third one from a major supporting character. Then, with the main character's development, I realized it had to be brought about somehow, so characters like Heidze, the Sun Shaman and Roshune grew to larger roles than they were initially.

We can expect more flashbacks of Ratana's life?
Oh, definitely, I love flashbacks! I can't fully explain why, but I always feel like stories can become enrichened by them. That's partially why I enjoy episodes of ATLA like The Storm, Zuko Alone and The Avatar and the Fire Lord so much. I'm planning on writing more flashbacks with Ratana, and some with other characters as well.

With the other characters? Awesome! I definitely agree with you there. Perhaps there's something in the way a character tends to reflect on the event? It seems as though the subject of one of Ratana's flashbacks, which I won't reveal because, you know, spoilers, has a bit of mystery behind it. Is that the case, or is her life up to the story accurate?
The way a character looks back at their life is always a strong point. Also, it lets the reader find out more about their depth and how they became who they are. And yes. The flashbacks thus far with Ratana have shown shards of her life, and where she comes from, including her heritage. That's as much a part of her as any other part of her, whether or not she wishes it to be the case.

So, she grew up in the city of Munn. Where is it located? And how did you come up with the name?
I wanted the name of the city to be something short, but also something unique that seemed like it belonged in the world of Avatar. There's no particular meaning attached to it. Munn is in the very northeastern section of the Earth Kingdom, between Ba Sing Se and the ocean that separates them from the Northern Water Tribe. It's a large city that many centuries ago was a rival of the current Earth Kingdom capital before Ba Sing Se became the dominant force on the continent.

Ah, so it's not just the characters that you develop backstories for? Anything else of interest to do with the locations?
Not so much with the ones that I've shown so far, but there will be for locations I bring in later in the series. Khomin Square in Gangkouz though, is a reference to Fire Lord Khomin, a piece of background I referred to back when writing Energy Saga.

Do you refer a lot to Energy Saga?
Fairly often, yes. I feel like it works well to bridge the continuity together, and it helps make sense of things at times. However, I also know that not all DSV readers have read ES, so I keep that in mind.

While you were writing ES, did you ever expect to write another fanon? What about now? Will you continue writing, even when you finish this story?
I do plan on continuing to write stories indefinitely, but I actually wasn't planning on writing another fanon after I finished ES. That was until the first season of Korra came out and I watched "The Spirit of Competition." A romantic-themed story set around the Siege of Ba Sing Se involving Lu Ten and a female earthbender was one of my first Avatar fanon ideas, and when Jinora said her quote I was immediately struck by inspiration. At first I thought it would be a short series, but before too long, it exploded, and now I think it'll almost certainly be even longer than Energy Saga.

For fans who haven't read Energy Saga, how long is that one? And, how long will this one be?
Energy Saga was 292,218 words. At about halfway through the first book, DSV is now 61,627 words, so my rough estimate would be around 350,000-400,000 words.

Oh woah. How can you write that much and not get bored or disillusioned with your writing?
To put it simply, I don't. When I get disillusioned, I find a way to pick myself back up. When I get bored, it's never permanent, since I'm interested in my story and decided to commit to it long-term. When I'm bored in the short-term, I find something else to do until I come back to it later.

What about writer's block? How and when does that affect you? Does it affect you? How do you pick yourself back up?
I have a couple different strategies for it. Sometimes I confront it directly and try to write through it, even if I don't like what I'm writing, until I start feeling the flow of inspiration again. Other times I read back over chapters I just wrote or listen to music to get my mind in the right place again. Generally I try to get back on the horse as soon as I can so as not to let too much time go to waste.

Is there anything that inspires this story? Other people's fanons, other people? A song, a word?
Well, obviously there's Jinora's quote from The Legend of Korra, and pretty much Avatar in general. I'm a fan of fantasy universes like Tolkien's Middle Earth and also the Star Wars Expanded Universe. As far as fanon authors on here go, I've been inspired here and there by several. One who has inspired me a lot is Manzai, the way he uses his prose to craft great, interesting characters and also make the setting around them so complete as well.

Do you have any advice for budding authors? (Or even experienced ones)
I would say try to write something that you would be an avid fan or reader of. If you're not that enthused by what you're writing, you can't expect others to be, and you should probably be working on something else if that's the case. Apart from that, remember that it's something you must be in for the long haul and don't expect perfect prose to arise overnight. Every author has a lot to learn, even those who have been doing it for a while.

What about your readers and fans? Anything you want to say to them?
Thanks for sticking with the story so far. I hope you're enjoying it. There's a lot of tension and action in the chapters ahead, so stay tuned! And please comment if you have the chance. Every writer likes feedback.

When can we expect the next chapter?
Really soon. Probably over the weekend or not long after.

Awesome Well, thank you for your time!
Oh you're welcome, and thank you as well, it's been a pleasure

Ahh, you're very welcome. DSV was an absolute pleasure to read.

From an author to a reader...

What did you think was best about it, may I ask?
Probably the way you characterised Lu Ten, actually. Characterisation has always been difficult for me, so I really appreciate reading it in other stories. You gave him the attitude I would expect as the son of Iroh, but he's also got his own kindness. He isn't a copy of Iroh. Actually, to me, you've made it seem as though the Iroh we love is based off your Lu Ten; the loss of his son changed him, but changed him for the better. It's really beautiful

Oh wow, glad to hear you saw it that way. That means a lot. I was unsure of which direction to go before I started writing him, but I really wanted him to connect with his dad and stand out on his own at the same time. I'm definitely going to try to give him some good moments (it's not exactly secret where his journey ends up.
No, but that's really his destination. He's going to die. I feel a Gandalf quote coming on... But yeah, honestly, I think you've done a wonderful job. He and Ratana not saying goodbye killed me a little, to be honest, just because he genuinely liked her. Maybe he gave Iroh his wisdom on the four nations? Who knows?


I once again have to ask ARG to forgive my tardiness. In all honesty, this interview should have been completed a number of weeks ago (oh look. over a month ago *ahem* ). But, this story was very much worth it, and I look forward to reading the newer chapters. It's not often one reads a story that they know how it will end, but with DSV, ARG doesn't allow you to dwell on it. He lets you enjoy the journey while you can.

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