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02 October 2007 @ 02:33 pm
[Meta]: The Yuletide Prompt Poll Results  
So. Last year, during the yuletide run up, I ran a prompt poll. (Not, you know, a very timely poll - a poll about prompts.) And, in addition to the things I already knew about prompts (I suck at them! They are harder than they sound! There's a science to writing prompts, and it can be mastered. Or, okay, that last one is just what I choose to believe.), I learned some stuff. And since Yuletide is approaching this year (yay!), I thought I'd kind of write up the results, post them, see if I couldn't figure this whole prompt mystery out.

But, first, let's talk about what the poll confirmed: I suck at prompts, and last Yuletide was no exception. I wrote the kind of prompt that no one hopes to get, that more than half of writers fear, and that almost no one gives. In other words, I wrote really detailed prompts. Um. Oops? (Look. I knew I was doing wrong, but I couldn't stop myself. This is obviously a sickness, and I am more to be pitied than censured.)

On the other hand, I got an awesome story last year anyway. (Thank you, astolat!) No matter how much my prompts have sucked over the years (and I think they especially sucked the Yuletide I went with "Would prefer slash" as my only prompt for all four requests - yes, my shame is real), I've gotten good stories. Clearly, the Yuletide gods look after the pathetic. Or maybe Yuletide writers just try harder than any reasonable human could ever expect. (I mean, yes, I try hard to write to my recipient's prompts, but then I've been lucky - three years of entirely sane recipients. Well. Sane as far as prompt-writing goes. I can't speak for the rest of it. They may dress potatoes in lacy undergarments in their spare time, but their prompts were entirely sane and potato-free.)

My point is: bad prompts don't mean bad stories.

However, bad prompts may lead to crazed writers (and mods, if the bad prompt drives some poor writer over the edge). So I am determined to beat this thing. (It will be a Triumph of the Human Spirit! Perhaps, when I am formally declared to be Awesomest Prompt Writer Ever, I can sell my uplifting tale to Reader's Digest.) Thanks to the poll, I now have strategies. I have Lessons Learned! And, of course, I'm going to share them, because what would fandom be without a lot of random blither? Not the fandom I know and love, that's for sure. (Also, quiet.)
  • Learn from the best. I had a resource available to me this whole time, and I didn't even know it. norah writes fabulous prompts, and I have vowed in the future to follow her example. I will also get her to beta my prompts, for the good of the community and as a service to all writerkind. Behold the wonder of the MMWD-style prompt!

  • Everyone enjoys a deluxe assortment. Specifically, your assigned writer is most likely to be happy if you provide a few story ideas. ("A gen piece about A's time in the Solar Defense Militia. Or anything A/C, post-canon. Or maybe you could bring D back from the dead.") This allows your writer to go with whichever idea makes her happiest. It also staves off the impression that you're married to one specific story idea, and that your Yuletide will be ruined if you do not get that A/C crossover AU in which A is a rabbit and C is a zombie. This is important, because -

  • Almost everyone takes prompts really seriously. Try to remember this when you're writing prompts. Whether you take four seconds to dash off a few suggestions - "Possibly some light, frothy, funny BDSM incest with a dash of serial killing!" - or four days to detail a complete list of everything you like and hope to see - "...And I want a pony, and also peace on earth, and, Santa, if you could get the story recorded as a podfic read by Alan Rickman, then that's what I hope for most, and also did I mention the pony?" - your writer will certainly spend the next six weeks or so pondering every single word of it. She will likely also IM her betas and friends. ("And I'm wondering, when she said pony, did she mean a Mustang? Did she mean pony play? Does she want a shot glass? OMG I hope she didn't mean a Mustang, because I do not have time to research cars.") My point is: your words are going to be considered very, very carefully, so weigh them with equal care.

  • Your prompt may be the only thing your writer knows about you. You can do things to change this - write a good Santa letter (more about this later!), leave LJ entries unlocked, provide an exhaustive catalog of your loves and hates, zip the complete contents of your hard drive and upload it, etc. But what you can't do, at least in Yuletide, is assume your writer is coming into it knowing anything at all about you.

    Last Yuletide, I wrote two stories. One was for someone I knew. The other was for someone I didn't know at all. I worked just as hard on both stories, and judging from the comments, the stories were equally good (or bad) and equally enjoyed by their recipients. But I worried more about the one for the person I didn't know. Or, let me put it this way:

    When I got the prompt from the stranger, I read her Santa letter. I went to her LJ. I read her fan fiction. And I still didn't really know if she would like my idea or the story I wrote for her. I didn't know if we had similar senses of humor, if my take on the canon matched hers, if we used the same definitions of the words in her prompt - and these are things it's tough to learn about a stranger. So I, for example, deleted several jokes from my rough draft, on the grounds that she might find them offensive. I mean, she might have been a Scientologist. There was no way I could know! I played it safe where I could, because, well, I was already taking a somewhat risky approach to her fandom and pairing, and I didn't want to add to the risk.

    When I got the prompt from the friend (as a pinch hit), I read her Santa letter. But the thing was, since I know her, I knew immediately that she'd probably like my first idea for the fandom. (Like, I only realized after I'd posted her story that I never for a moment considered that she might want gen.) And, since I know her, I was able to recruit betas who knew her, too. It's amazingly reassuring to have your betas send you feedback that starts, "OMG, she'll LOVE this!"

    But there were 900 participants in Yuletide last year. (With luck, we'll break that this year. Wouldn't that be cool?) I didn't know most of them. Most of them didn't know me. The likelier scenario, in other words, for both you and your assigned writer, is that you'll be strangers until the reveal. Which means it's best to plan and act as though that's what's going to happen.

  • You and your writer may not be from the same parts of fandom. Especially in Yuletide, people come from all over fandom, and are assigned to each other based on knowledge of and love for a rare fandom. You may both be very interested in a sitcom that aired on British television for two years in the early 1970s, but that doesn't mean you're both into slash, gen, or het. It doesn't mean you're both media fans or anime fans or whatever. It doesn't mean you share a gender, a political affiliation, a religion, or a cultural background. In other words, what looks like an easy prompt to you may be impossible for your writer to imagine. This is why a prompt assortment works well. It's also something you should keep in mind as you read your story.

  • Make sure the words mean what you think they mean. The kind of prompt that showed up most frequently in the text answers to "hardest" and "strangest" was a slash pairing request accompanied by the words "no slash." If you ask for "gen McShep," your writer is going to be confused. Also distressed. So don't use fannish terms unless you know what they mean - and if you're new to this, it might be a good idea to have someone else read your prompts, just to be sure. Also, if you use terms that seem mutually contradictory ("Angsty death schmoop!"), it might be helpful to go into a bit more detail in your Santa letter.

  • This is not a menu. Do not order a #2 with an extra enchilada and no sauce. Your assigned writer is not your slave for six weeks. She's not here to fulfill your every whim, although she is going to try damn hard to fulfill one of your wishes. So, in general, avoid prompts that look like you're giving orders for a tailored suit. Detailed story outlines ("After A leaves B at the end of the canon, he goes on a journey to Tibet to find himself, and meets C along the way. Red-hot A/C lovin' follows, and then they meet the Old Man of the Mountain. It all ends well, although B is dead!") will probably leave your writer wondering why, if you know exactly what you want, you don't just write it yourself.
But here are the two most important things, hands down:
  1. Say what you don't want. If you are squicked by all mention of snails, share that. If you really, really do not want deathfic, say so. If any mention of any bodily fluid leaves you needing to lie down with a cold cloth on your eyes, mention this. If your "no" list is fairly short ("No animal harm of any kind, please") or contains fairly common things ("No slash, please.") put it in your request itself. Otherwise, put it in your Santa letter. But say it somewhere.

    In either case, try to remember - again! - that you don't necessarily have anything in common with your writer. She may love snails. She may have dedicated her life to the study and protection of snails. You can't know. So try to phrase your "no" list politely. "ABSOLUTELY NO SNAILFIC. I *mean* it. Snails = gross!" may, in fact, come off as an insult to your writer. The wise requester will avoid this whenever possible. Remember: the thoughtful, considerate writer, which 99.9% of writers are, will hear you the first time. And the rest of the writers won't hear you no matter how many times you repeat it. So why waste the space?

  2. Write some kind of prompt. Yes, a few writers would rather not have one, but in Yuletide, they can ignore your request. (And those who don't want a prompt probably won't sign up for exchanges where they can't.) And almost everyone dreaded getting no guidance. It's hard to figure out where to start. It's hard to figure out where not to start. And, if you end up being a pinch hit, it will be very hard for someone to take your request and hit the ground running (which is what pinch hitters have to do) if there are no details to use as a springboard. (Um. Mixed metaphor, but you take my point, yes?)
And then there's the Santa letter. It's a good idea to write one. And if you want to write a good one, well, here's what I will be remembering, or trying to remember, when I write my Santa letter in just a few weeks (eee!):
  • Do not use your Santa letter to fix problems with your request. (In other words, don't be me.) If there's a problem with your request, fix it there. Resubmit the sucker. It's worth your time. Otherwise, you run the risk of, for example, getting a pinch hitter who picked up your request based on the prompt you overrode in your Santa letter. She'll probably write the story she had in mind anyway, because she may not have time to do anything else.

  • Do tell your writer about yourself. If you have an "all about me" post, link to that. Or just tell a little about yourself - likes, dislikes, whatever. Trust me, your Santa will appreciate it.

  • Do tell your writer about the canons and characters you requested. This is vastly helpful to your writer - someone who loves the canon because "it's funny, and totally like what real life would be if you were dead" is going to love a different story than someone who loves the same canon because "it's got a concealed edge in its humor - like, you're laughing, but you're gutted at the same time." Someone who loves character A because "he's such a dork OMG" is going to love a different story than someone who loves him because "he has these moments of incredible insight, and he does important things even though they're hard for him."

    You can also use the space to link to resources your writer might find helpful. I mean, if you're obsessed with the canon, you probably know a few things about it, and, hey, why not be helpful? Perhaps your author is indeed searching for the full-text version of your canon, or for a place that really knows boats, or a complete dictionary of obsolete medical terms. The time she doesn't have to spend on research is just that much more time for writing.
And now is the portion of the post where we summarize what we've learned. Here's what I've learned: I just wrote more than 2,000 words on prompts. I got two pages of comments on prompts. And people had long, long memories for the prompts that hurt or helped them most. In other words, prompt-writing is hard, and writing to prompts is also hard. So, if you can, be charitable and generous when you're writing them and when you're writing to them. And if you are, for example, me, and thus you write really sucky prompts, well, there's always next year. Someday, you will be Prompt Queen. Keep trying.

And, no matter what kind of prompt you write, no matter what kind of story you get, remember to thank the writer who makes Yuletide happen for you.


liviapenn has also posted thinky thoughts on prompts. And her thoughts come with the details of the mythical but fascinating canon Ghost Soup! You don't want to miss this.
Tags: [meta], [poll]
Red for Pleasure Live: red: umbrellashusu on October 2nd, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
I found a Prompt Beta!

I am still so nervous.
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
I totally get the nervousness. I sympathize. But you have a prompt beta! Someone who will check to make sure Yuletide Madness hasn't taken you! (And, wow, it took me early last year; I didn't realize just how severe a case I had until a few weeks ago, when I looked at last year's sign up email and saw precisely how badly I'd screwed that up. This probably also explains why my prompts were so crazy: Yuletide Madness is a killer.) So don't fear. (And as you submit your prompts, you can think smugly to yourself, "These are definitely better than whatever TFV is writing right now.")

Happy Yuletide!
trascendenza: Humor - Picard - Squee Indeedtrascendenza on October 2nd, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC)
I can't believe people are thinking about prompts already. I haven't even narrowed down my four fandoms yet. The pressure, she kills me!

(I remember browsing the unfulfilled requests last year and blinking when I came across one of yours. Hands down the longest one on the page. *g* But it was also fascinating and if I'd known the fandom, I probably would have jumped on it, so you'll get no mocking from my corner. ;)

Methinks prompt performance anxiety time is upon us. *bites nails*
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)
I haven't even narrowed down my four fandoms yet.

I totally have, and I've got a rough list of the fandoms I'll offer. I'm, um, a little over-prepared for Yuletide this year. (But I had to be! I am totally not crazy! Because, see, last year TWO of my long-standing wishes were fulfilled, and as a result I had a significant gap in my usual request roster. So I've been planning what I'll request and offer to write all year. ...Okay. Maybe I'm a little crazy.)

Hands down the longest one on the page.

OMG I KNOW. *blushes fiercely* And the thing is, I scared my first assigned writer completely out of the game; astolat picked me up as a pinch-hit. And I am really glad and grateful that she did, but I also still want to find my original assigned writer from last year and apologize and convince her that I am REALLY TOTALLY SANE. Except, having seen my prompts, I doubt she'd believe me.

Methinks prompt performance anxiety time is upon us.

Yes, yes, yes. And it will be followed by Assignment Anxiety, which is followed by Writing Anxiety, which is followed by Comment Anxiety. And for some reason we will all remember this as the most fun we had this winter. Yuletide is a great and abiding mystery, and I love it dearly.
(no subject) - trascendenza on October 2nd, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - franzeska on October 3rd, 2007 11:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - trascendenza on October 3rd, 2007 05:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)
OMG I have, like, three almost-complete NYR stories on my harddrive and I really, really should get craqcking and finish them before Yuletide, shouldn't I?

Yup! Otherwise the requests will disappear and be replaced by next year's unfilled requests. And you only have until assignments go out to post them. (Although you can always post them to your own LJ, let me point out.)

Thanks so much for making my October 174 times more crazed than it already is.

It's the Magic of Yuletide! It causes autumnal insanity and winter joy!

Would you be up for betaing an Arcadia fic, by any chance?\

Indeed I would. (Holy shit; I am so impressed. I have never dared to write Stoppard FF. You are a brave, brave woman, and I cannot wait to see what you've done.)
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: Fraserthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:14 pm (UTC)


No, really, I'm laughing with you. Truly.

(I forgot what prompts I gave last year. Until I saw them come through on the pinch hit list, and I was like, "Holy shit, I LOST MY MIND when I did the Yuletide sign up.") But this way your Secret Santa story will be a real surprise. And it's not like your tastes will change much in the intervening months, so you'll probably like whatever you requested.

But a nice post you've got here.

Thank you! I obsess about all things Yuletide. (Actually, you could just put the period after the first two words of that last sentence, and it would still be totally true.)
PROBE UNIVERSE: atlantis: rodney oh NOESliviapenn on October 2nd, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)

Oh, lovely post. Much better organized and comprehensive than mine! :D I have linked to it.
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
OMG, I just went and read your post, and if I had checked my friends list before I posted this, I would not have had to post it, because you already covered everything. (Also, I am now sadly curious about Ghost Soup, which is, you know, problematic, what with it not actually existing. Don't toy with me, woman!)

May I link to yours?
(no subject) - liviapenn on October 2nd, 2007 10:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
blowjobs for jesus: nonfandom bookkristiinthedark on October 2nd, 2007 10:03 pm (UTC)
As someone who will be signing up for Yuletide for the first time, I appreciate this post like you wouldn't even believe. Thank you! :)
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC)
Yay! You're signing up for Yuletide! It will be fun. I mean, okay, angst-inducing, but mostly fun. Truly.

And I'd offer to beta your prompts for you, but, sadly, I write the worst prompts the world has ever known (see above, and also the poll, for the tragic, tragic details), so I would be a very bad prompt beta. Unless you wanted to add some crazy to them, and that's, you know, not really encouraged.

Enjoy your first Yuletide! And if you need any help, I am totally here for you.
(no subject) - kristiinthedark on October 2nd, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - undersea on October 11th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
post-apocalypse shenanigans: Tangobrynwulf on October 2nd, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
Is dressing little potaotes up in lace underwear wrong?

tried to eat the safe banana: Yum in whitethefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)
Of course not. I honor and respect your potato preferences no matter what they may be. (Seriously. Speaking as someone who has a dog with an unnatural fixation on raw potatoes of all kinds, I cannot afford to be judgmental about these things.) It's just, you know, a little bit unusual. But unusual is perfectly okay! Really!

(P.S. Please post photos of your potatoes.)
sheldrakesheldrake on October 2nd, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC)
Oh but... I wasn't going to sign up this year! Now you've made me want to, lame prompts and all... Oh dear. And not only that - now I want snailfic, too!
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:50 pm (UTC)
This is a good thing. You want to sign up, really you do!

*waves shiny object in front of your eyes* You want to sign up for Yuletide. You long to sign up for Yuletide. You WILL sign up for Yuletide. And when I count backwards from three and snap my fingers, you will remember none of this - you will only remember your burning desire to sign up for Yuletide.

(I would totally read any snailfic you wrote.)
(no subject) - sheldrake on October 7th, 2007 10:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on October 7th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
threerings: yuletideyet?threerings on October 2nd, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant and incredably helpful. I suck at prompts. I will be pimping this post to anyone signing up for yuletide.
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

And maybe we should form a support group for the prompt challenged:

"Hi, my name is TFV, and I'm prompt challenged. I - I have the ability to write prompts that suck all the creativity out of a person like some sort of magic evil vacuum. In fact, I have a hard time writing anything other kind of prompt. WOE."
melpemone: TG: Richard/James - Odiousmelpemone on October 2nd, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
One day, some day, I shall brave the (to me) insanely complex sign-up system, devote actual mental space to the rules, and play in Yuletide. Because I want to. I do. I've been in fandom a long time and I've never played and it's like I'm missing a rite of passage. But it's so confusing. Or I'm just stupid. :)
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 2nd, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC)
I sort of had a panic attack when faced with the sign-up sheet one time, too. But it is actually possible to navigate it, and once you've done it once, it's very easy the next time. And, really, it IS fun. So, you know, if you have questions, I am totally here for you. Yuletide: it can be for you, too!
(no subject) - therck on October 3rd, 2007 04:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melpemone on October 9th, 2007 08:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - delurker on October 3rd, 2007 11:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
Lilith: reading - researchreflectedeve on October 3rd, 2007 12:51 am (UTC)
That? Was an extremely helpful read. Thanks for taking the time to write it up!

Every year, I fret. Should I give my writer tons of details about my fandom opinions and preferences? (I can talk forever about things I like, after all!) Will that be too intimidating (even if I stress that it's all, you know, background . . . not required)? Shall I be as sparse and open as possible? Would that sound chill? Would a long santa letter sound gauche? Should I make plot suggestions at all? Oh, the pain.

I usually err on the side of more optional detail, because I know that's what I'd like, but I always feel as though I'm making a stab in the dark. I read the yuletide friendslist and edit my letter based on some of what I see there. It's kind of sad and frantic.
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 3rd, 2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
That? Was an extremely helpful read.

Yay! I'm glad. Because I did wonder if I was the only person who was prompt challenged. Now, probably no one is as prompt challenged as I am. But apparently there are lots of people who view the details box with the same tharn expression I get.

I usually err on the side of more optional detail, because I know that's what I'd like, but I always feel as though I'm making a stab in the dark.

I've managed to err on all sides at this point, which I think is impressive. I've been too vague! Too detailed! Too random! Too specific! It's a gift that I have.

I read the yuletide friendslist and edit my letter based on some of what I see there. It's kind of sad and frantic.

I try not to edit my letter, because I've found that I only introduce more crazy when I do that. But I totally get the sadness and franticness of letter time. I tend to be torn between oversharing and trying to convince my Santa that I'm really not THAT crazy.

(no subject) - reflectedeve on October 3rd, 2007 04:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on October 3rd, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
out_there on October 3rd, 2007 01:03 am (UTC)
Everybody's getting all excited about Yuletide and I'm... well, I'm almost maybe nearly considering participating.

It's just the whole... coming up with a prompt thing. I think I'd be happiest to pinch hit.
plus one skeletondelurker on October 3rd, 2007 11:08 am (UTC)
It's just the whole... coming up with a prompt thing.
Maybe go through the list of nominated fandoms and see if inspiration strikes? And pinch hitting's always awesome.
(no subject) - out_there on October 3rd, 2007 11:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - delurker on October 4th, 2007 04:50 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - out_there on October 10th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - delurker on October 10th, 2007 01:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on October 3rd, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - out_there on October 3rd, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - out_there on October 10th, 2007 12:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on October 11th, 2007 01:24 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: Yay!thefourthvine on October 3rd, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
Yay! New people in Yuletide is always a very good thing. And obviously you should participate, if you've been admiring from afar. Much better to be in the mix.

Have you already joined the ranks of the obsessive list makers? I'm anxiously waiting for someone to post the spreadsheet of all the requests, so that I can more effectively be obsessive about my list making.
Still Waiting For My Jetpack: typewriterazewewish on October 3rd, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
Awesome advice, babe & one that everyone who's thinking about Yuletide this year should read. I love it & participate every year, but, man, sometimes it's HARD to know what the other person means in their prompts.

All I want for Christmas is some clarity! *g*
tried to eat the safe banana: Yuletide Angstthefourthvine on October 3rd, 2007 03:45 pm (UTC)
I love it & participate every year, but, man, sometimes it's HARD to know what the other person means in their prompts.

I've been really lucky in the prompts I've gotten - they've all been, you know, clear and stuff. But the prompts I've given, oh my god. I think at this point everyone should be really hoping not to be assigned to me.

All I want for Christmas is some clarity!

Oh, god. I totally get that. Some of the hardest and strangest prompts that people shared in last year's poll - I went back and looked at them before I posted this write up, and I still cannot imagine how people wrote to some of them. There are some truly confusing prompts out there.
Milkshake Butterfly: harley ivy smatmilkshake_b on October 3rd, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)
and I think they especially sucked the Yuletide I went with "Would prefer slash" as my only prompt for all four requests - yes, my shame is real

And some of us have a record of it. *cheerful smile*
Karen: Free Choiceodditycollector on October 3rd, 2007 05:43 am (UTC)
Alas, you'll never get that blackmail money now..
(no subject) - milkshake_b on October 4th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on October 3rd, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - milkshake_b on October 4th, 2007 01:48 am (UTC) (Expand)