An autopsy report for The Archive of Unusual Events

4 years ago | Stable (Member)

Hey Webficcers,

Having finished writing the Archive I wanted to put some time to think about it, a fiction autopsy perhaps. This is a modified/updated version of the autopsy I put on my blog, I didn't write a huge ongoing epic like many of you here, but I'd love to get any feedback from the community on this site (and maybe it'll even help somebody else, who knows!) You can see the original here for the curious:

Writing the Archive was a lot of fun, I originally started it because I wanted to create bizarre and fantastical situations, creatures and events. I was inspired by Ursula Vernon’s Hidden Almanac, which is a wacky, hilarious and gardening obsessed podcast. I wanted to try something a little closer to our own world, but with just as much potential for the imagination to run wild (and no gardening). Over 80+ posts from June 2016 I did just that and think I succeeded pretty well from that narrow perspective. In that time the Archive had 8828 views from 1137 visitors, which was more than I had ever hoped for. I think 90+% of my audience came from (in descending order) reviews on webfictionguide, topwebfiction listing and family and friends on facebook.

I realised fairly early on though that it wasn’t enough. I needed more than just fun ideas. I could make them slightly more sympathetic with the character of the Archivist and his commentary, but he was still very reserved and distant from most events. While I had a great time coming up with wacky ideas… ideas are kind of easy. If I want to grow as a writer I need to become better at plotting and characters, and having to invent new situations twice a week was taking up a lot of my writing time, just as a baby meant that I had less time than ever before. I also feel as though the academic language I was using/parodying for the Archive was a crutch. After 8 years or so of studying science writing that way is familiar and easy, but it’s also a terrible way to write a story. I constantly find myself adding modifiers and weasel-words, passive language and so on… “it is believed that…” I don’t have to do that any more, this is fiction, and I need to free myself to say whatever I want bravely and directly.

The deadlines were invaluable. They meant that I had targets (I didn’t always hit them dead on, but I didn’t let them get far away from me) and a reason to keep writing. The secondary reason for writing the story – to prove to myself that I could write and keep writing – was successful.

I think the end of the serial was pretty bad. I wanted to draw it to a close and find a good place to do so, but how to do that in a story without a real plot? I spent months thinking of that and found the best solution I could, but I doubt it was the best possible solution. At the same time I didn't want to keep writing just because I couldn't think of a good ending, that didn't seem sensible.

So where do I go from here? I have a couple of longer stories that I am already writing. Whether I’ll try to complete them as novellas or release them serially I don’t know yet. I do know that I have plenty of aspects of writing that I need to improve in, so I’ll be working on that. If I want to get these finished though I’ll need to increase my word output – many of the Archive’s posts were under 300 words, which is OKish, but below-average for an hour’s work. Completing a short 60,000 word story would take 200 writing days at that rate though, and if I want to improve at a reasonable speed I need to do more than that so I can make the mistakes, learn from them and move on. Hopefully that will be easier to do when I have situations and settings already on the go, rather than trying to invent something different each time.

Thanks for reading if you got this far! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The Archive Of Unusual Events

Read responses...


  1. Walter (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I think you've put your finger on it. You need to start putting some story arcs in, get rid of the passive language, extend the length of your entries, etc.

  2. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Something that's occurred to me now. The fun ideas and lack of major arcs could, in some sense, be seen as a strength too. It meant that, even if there was an entry someone particularly didn't like, as long as they liked the story's premise (strange things around us), they could still go on to the next instalment. Because whatever they didn't like might not be seen again, and there might be something coming up they'd still enjoy. It also allowed for unexpected reincorporation. You don't know which items are one-offs, and which ones might return; the sudden return of the Radio-Controlled Airplane Hobbyists was, in my opinion, something of a master stroke.

    That said, a few of the items with mini-arcs had more staying power. That creepy, creepy thing with the Train comes to mind... granted, not being into horror, if everything was based on that, I might not read it (see above), but it worked in context. As to the ending, I don't think it was that bad, as far as mini-arcs go. Maybe it wasn't great, but as a concept, that closure works. Perhaps avoids a cliche of the archive being forced underground? Who's to say. I will add that (for me), the passive language wasn't a barrier, and I don't think shorter entries were necessarily a problem. I was able to read multiple entries at once, whereas usually I stall out after 3-4 longer ones (attention span my end, I suspect). Quality over quantity. But I can see the "meandering" nature becoming a long term problem.

    At any rate, all the best to you with your longer stories and other goals. Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to write an entry.

    Writing a Time Travel serial:
    Writer of the personification of math serial:
  3. Stable (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Thanks guys. And you're right Mathtans - I think there was/is a small niche for the Archive and its style. If I had infinite amounts of time I might have kept it going a lot longer. (Also your entry was great, so I should be thanking you. :D )

    The Archive Of Unusual Events
  4. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    I love everything Ursula does, so if it was inspired by her, I'm going to have to go read!

    I might add, from the sounds of your format, it reminds me of an ongoing anthology ive contributed to, . id suggest taking a read. it uses the exact kind of language you mention (usually) and is individual stories from a lab report kind of bend.

  5. Stable (Member)

    Posted 4 years ago

    Sounds fun! Checking it out. Cheers!

    The Archive Of Unusual Events


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