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This epidemic starts off slow.

By Wildbow, author of Ward

Feb 10, 2013: Bad Influences takes the form of a ‘blogfic’. To summarize, it’s a fictional blog detailing fictional events from the perspective of the character(s). B.I. is divided into four linked blogs, with the story of an ongoing flu epidemic being told through their respective posts and comment sections with ficitonal characters. Readers can participate and post in the comment sections, provided they are willing to play along.

I already had a discussion with the author Emma Pooka about the issues I had with the story, after reading the blog posts. She suggested I missed details by skipping the comments section. I’ve read them and I now feel better equipped to review it.

Kurt Vonnegut once outlined eight rules of writing fiction. I noted a few of these when discussing the work with the author, and I’m going to use them here to note what I see as the work’s strengths and weaknesses.

8: "Give your readers as much information as possible, as soon as possible. To heck with suspense . . . " – This is the rule I agree with least, personally, but it applies here. To date, there have been 17 posts released (spread across four characters; Ash has two, Mei has seven). Of these, only a few of Mei’s offer any real information about what’s going on in the world at large. The rest is largely filler, at this point.

7: "Write to please just one person." – I can’t speak for the author on this one, as far as her objectives. That said, I have to say that there’s countless stories out there with an ‘epidemic’ theme (falling closely in line with/overlapping the zombie outbreak genre). I haven’t yet seen any indication that there’s anything unique about this story’s take on the genre. I think this relates to rule #1 because it seems to indicate a broader appeal over something specific. Bad Influences feels ‘safe’, in large part.

As an aside, I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to -stay- safe; I’m left to wonder just how bad the setting can get when the story is told through blog posts. In a pre/peri-apocalyptic setting, can a story told via. the internet really get to that bad a point? I mean, there is no story if it devolves to the point where the internet goes down, but if the internet remains, then is it really that bad of a disaster?

6: "Be a sadist." Kurt Vonnegut suggests that authors be brutal and vicious to their characters. I love this rule, and it disappoints me that Bad Influences hasn’t achieved anything of this sort. In seventeen posts, nothing bad’s happened to any of the characters (beyond the broader sense of Mei being in the general area of a flu epidemic). Worse, nothing particularly -good- has happened to the characters either. Thus far, they’ve just been existing, which ties into the next point.

5: "Start as close to the end as possible." Rule five suggests that one cut through the lead-in and the introduction of a story and get right to the action. In today’s world of publishing and self publication, it’s being pushed even more (to the frustration of some writers and readers alike). This is a hard balance to strike with an outbreak or zombie story, especially if the author wants to involve the lead-in or the opening stages of the outbreak (Most will avoid the problem by skipping it outright; watch 10 zombie/outbreak movies and you’ll see that most will start well beyond this point). Start too soon, and the audience is left bored or uninterested. B.I. starts too soon. Seventeen chapters in, and B.I. is still in the very preliminary stages in China, with infection in Ash, Jack or Elaine’s places of residence being a good ways off. Nothing’s happening to them.

4: "Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or move the story forward." – This is my second favorite rule, and I tend to expand on it some, adding setting development to the list. I personally feel that a serial needs to ensure that every chapter released has something substantial to it, and I think there needs to be a balance of the various elements (action, character, setting). B.I. is lopsided, with far too much emphasis on character: the vast majority of chapters (maybe 13 of the 17) are focused on character development, despite the fact that the epidemic is a setting-focused event. Mei’s chapters are the only ones that really offer anything about what’s going on in the setting (and even then, only a small handful of them do so), and this isn’t enough to paint a full picture. This imbalance is a peril that blogfics face, where it’s almost impossible to maintain more ‘show’ than ‘tell’. Moving the story forward is hard when everything threatens to be exposition.

3: "Every character should want something." I’ll take this opportunity to discuss the characters. I’ve noted that the story has a preponderence of focus on character, but it has very little character development. With the slow start thus far, the characters largely exist in a vacuum. As such, they come across as very static and two dimensional, with three of the four feeling like props. They don’t seem to have strong motivations or desires, nor any interaction with the world at large.

2: "Give the reader a character they can root for." Not all of my feedback is criticism. Mei’s character is the strongest by far, in part because she’s the one character who exists in the space beyond the blog posts and she’s the one who’s actually in danger, facing tension.

1: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted." This is where I wrap up my review. I can’t say whether B.I. is a waste of time because it’s a very subjective matter, for each individual reader to decide for themselves. What I can say is that B.I. has it’s issues, but the existence of one interesting thread to it and the possibility of the others following suit doesn’t leave it devoid of promise. The genre of the blogfic, as well, is interesting, with an ARG-like potential for audience immersion, but this is something that takes skill and effort to pull off, and B.I. has a significant hurdle to overcome with a rather slow beginning.

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