[LMB] Battles (but not the military kind)

Beatrice Otter beatrice_otter at zoho.com
Sat May 22 00:03:41 BST 2021

Beatrice said:
> We haven't had a Bujold-centered ficathon in a while that I can recall,

---- On Fri, 21 May 2021 14:35:13 -0700 Elizabeth Holden <mailto:alzurite at gmail.com> wrote ----
I didn't know they had ever existed. Cool.

Beatrice Otter:

Oh, yeah, there was a Winter Holiday exchange for a while back, like, a decade and a half ago? I think? for a few years. And then there was a prompt meme thing that moved to AO3 from DW, but AO3 is great at hosting exchanges and not as great at prompt memes, so that petered out in, like, 2016? And nobody's stepped up to do anything since.

The difference between a prompt meme/fest and an exchange is that in a prompt meme (sometimes also called a commentfic meme or a porn battle), there's no pressure and no obligation. Anybody can leave prompts; anybody can fill them. The way they worked on DW is that someone would have a post (usually in a community, but sometimes in their own journal) announcing things, then people would leave comments with prompts, and then people would respond to those comments with anything from "ooh, cool idea!" to "here, I wrote it!" There was a very social atmosphere. For a successful prompt meme, you need two things: a critical mass of participants, and a common social gathering space to encourage both prompting and writing. You don't want people to read through the prompts once and then go away and forget about them, you want them to keep coming back. Because that's how you get the most prompts and the most fic. And the majority of the fic is going to be very short and unpolished, just tossed off in response to the prompt; that's okay. It encourages engagement, because it means people can just dive in even and are much more likely to contribute. "It's only commentfic, and if I don't think it's very good I can just leave it here anonymously and nobody will ever know it was me and nobody will care" can be very encouraging. It's low pressure and simple and easy.

AO3, however, lacks several of the features that made prompt memes on LJ/DW successful. First, it's not social. It's an *archive*, you're not hanging out together while writing stuff. AO3 has a prompt meme feature, but all you have are the prompts and the fics made in response to them, not any of the surrounding community. So there's less engagement. Also, because the fills aren't comments in the way they were on LJ/DW, you either open interesting fics in a new tab or just click away from the prompt meme, meaning that you're not staying where the prompts are (and thus being tempted by ones that look interesting). And the resulting stories aren't "just commentfic," they're posted to the regular archive, so there's a disincentive to toss off short fills that will please the prompter but aren't your best work. And also, the user interface for the prompt function is not very user-friendly. Most people, even those who have been on AO3 for years and participated in prompt memes there before, have problems figuring out exactly how it works. Of every part of the archive I've used, it's the least self-explanatory.

All of which means that prompt memes on AO3 tend to be ... not very successful. You'll get a handful of people making prompts, and some of them will write a fill for a prompt, but there's not a critical mass of people. It's low pressure, but hard to do. So most people ... don't. And since fandom diffused to a lot of different sites after LJ stopped being the major fandom hub, and most places on DW never got the critical mass necessary for a successful prompt meme, and modern social media sites that fandom uses such as tumblr and twitter don't have the same community structure and comment structure that is necessary for a prompt meme, they've mostly gone the way of the dodo.

Fanfiction exchanges, however, are different. They're higher-pressure--if you sign up, you are agreeing to produce a fic to the required specifications of the exchange, and you will also get a fic in return, and there are deadlines, and if you don't fulfill your agreement you might not be allowed to participate in the future--but that means that people have to commit, and there's structure to encourage them to fulfill that commitment. Also, the user interface is comparatively easy to understand and use. The exchange itself may be complex, with a lot of stuff to figure out if you've never done an exchange before, but if you understand the specifics of the particular exchange the actual "how do I use the archive to do this stuff" is pretty simple, except for a few optional things. So those are still going strong.

Beatrice Otter

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