See, I suck at giving prompts. Most of the year, this is a minor thing, barely noticeable except to the people who issue "come one, come all" prompt requests when I am tired and weak of will. And even then, those people can ignore those prompts. (Or sometimes they step up to the plate nobly. My hat is off to you few, you proud, you band of - well, crazed writing women.)
At Yuletide, though, my little issue becomes more of a problem. Because - okay, let's consider one of the prompts I gave for my first year of Yuletide. (This is the one my writer, milkshake_b, actually wrote, but they were all the same. That's yet another sign of my Prompt Dysfunction, I now realize - if you can say the same thing for four extremely disparate fandoms and characters, it probably isn't a really good prompt):
Nero Wolfe (Archie Goodwin/Saul Panzer)
Details: Would prefer slash.
Yup. And I thought I was doing well. I thought to myself, "I am giving carte blanche! My writer will not be constrained! She will be unfettered and free!"
And then I got my own assignment and I realized that carte blanche (which my recipient did not give me, thank god) would kind of suck. I would really, really prefer to have some fetters. Having a prompt and not having a prompt was, for me, the difference between staring at a blank screen and having a few sentences already written; sure, I might not keep those sentences, but still. They were a start. They gave me something to build on.
So I realized - constraints (note: I did not say restraints, though I totally support those, too) can be nice. (They also help you diagnose cases of Terminal Bad Fit; for Yuletide, TBF doesn't necessarily spell disaster or require defaulting, by the way, but it is good to know about it as early as possible, because that gives you time to line up the right Yuletide Support Team to correct your deficiencies. Like, when my recipient requested hot het porn during my second year of Yuletide? I knew that I needed expert porn betas, because I suck at porn. And not the good kind of suck, either. Fortunately, I found some highly talented ones who, among many other services, kept me from losing John Smith's cock and pointed out that at some point in the proceedings Jane Smith would probably be more comfortable with her pants off. And I also got a whole team of people who united to reassure me ("Really not that bad! STEP AWAY FROM THE LIGHT! You can do this!") when I decided that the porn I had written was the antithesis of hot, the absolute zero type of porn that turns everyone who touches it frigid.)
My second year, I think I hit the right note with my details, although you'd have to ask 3pipeproblem about that. I provided her with a useful place to start (after the end of the canon, as it happens) and some suggestions about what I might like to see. I think, of all my Yuletides, that was my best year in terms of prompt-giving.
This year, I veered waaaaaay over into the other side, where the crazies live. (I knew I was doing it at the time, but I just could not shut up, even though I was embarrassing myself. We've all been there, sure, but usually it involves intoxicants, not challenge sign-up forms.) Next year, I am seriously considering enlisting a Request Beta to determine if I am writing the kinds of prompts that make writers cry or not. I have come to realize that there is no shame in having a Prompt Dysfunction and that it's okay to ask for extra help.
Better than terrifying whoever gets assigned to me.
But this year, in addition to learning I have the crazy ever lurking inside me, ready to punch up into the light at the first sign of a prompt entry, I also learned something new about how prompts are used. See, my request went to pinch hit this year - lucky #13! - and I picked up a pinch hit this year, and I learned that prompts serve a different purpose on the pinch hit list. (I also learn that if you write a prompt that SHAMES YOU because you are crazed, you should be aware that you will be shamed before the whole Yuletide community, not just one person, what with potential pinch-hitting and NYR.) When your request goes to the pinch hit list, several hundred people are scanning your details and thinking, "Could I write that?" A prompt is key in that situation, because - okay, maybe you spelled it out more in your Santa letter, maybe it would be obvious from reading your journal what you wanted, but if your request looks like this (based on one of my own requests from this year, although with my crazy prompt redacted):
RPF - Charles Baudelaire
That is all the pinch hitters will see. That's all they have to base their decision on. They have no idea who you are or what else you might want. So the only person who is going to respond to that prompt is one who is dying to write a Baudelaire story. (Or, you know, a crazy person, which fortunately 65% of pinch-hitters are. The good kind of crazy, though, I assure you. Salt-of-the-earth crazy. At least, I hope so, since I am one.)
So, these are my new notes-to-me, ones I hope will help me address my Prompt Dysfunction next year in a way that does not Ruin Yuletide. I want to remember:
- A prompt is good. And it should go in the details section; the Santa letter is for expanding on things I generally like and for thanking the Santa. It is not for attempting to explain my details. (If the details need a whole letter of explanation, the details are broken. Yes, this does apply to me, and I'm so, so sorry to the two writers who got saddled with those prompts this year. And my Yule hat is totally off to the person who saw those prompts and picked my pinch hit up anyway; you are MADE OF AWESOME, pinch-hitting Santa!)
- An out is also good. In future, I will try to remember to steal milkshake_b's strategy, which is to provide a prompt and a secondary prompt. So I will write, for example: "A crazy space adventure with lots of sex would be wonderful! Or anything with really screwed-up robots!" (I'm still undecided about exclamation points in prompts. Do they add a fun, devil-may-care tone? Or is it more of a crazed, stressed, likely-to-snap tone? Something to ponder in the year ahead.)
- Characters can go in the details section. This isn't precisely optimal, but sometimes it's unavoidable. (See here for lots of examples of how character selection can get complicated.) So I can pick characters A and B in the selection part, then say, "Gen is always great - any characters you choose from the whole canon, not just limited to the two listed here. Or, if you go the pairing route, some A/B sexin' will be most welcome."
When you're writing for a story-exchange challenge, what kind of prompt do you most like to get? (Note: please choose based on style of prompt rather than content.)
And, in story exchange challenges, what kinds of prompts do you hope not to get?
When you're participating in story exchanges, what kinds of prompts do you tend to give?
How many story exchanges have you participated in? (If more than 20, just choose 20; that's as high as it will let me go.)
What's the strangest prompt you've ever gotten?
What's the hardest prompt you've ever gottten?
What's your most favorite prompt ever?
Finally, please choose a randomly-selected chunk of text: