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Strictly 4 My P.A.R.A.H.U.M.A.N.Z…

By nippoten, author of Entirely Presenting You

Jun 15, 2019: Wildbow is in a unique spot in the web fiction world. Three very long, very popular serials in his oeuvre, now over a million words into the sequel of the work that first put him on. All Eyez on Him.

But the fact remains, we are now over a million words into Ward. Is the length justified, or does it crumble under its own word count? The short answer is we are reading literary rubble.

The foundation is simply not there. Take the first sentence of Daybreak 1.1, how it clunks and tumbles, syllables crashing. Read it out loud, it falls apart and the gears drool out of your mouth, breaking teeth along the way.

This is what the rest of the serial builds upon. Try to find anything within that reads more smooth, you will be bereft. Prosework was never a strongpoint or consideration for Wildbow’s serials, understandably amateurish in early-Worm, effortless by Pact, and now we have looped back to the grind, longer and longer paragraphs that read in fits and starts, yet somehow written with an experienced hand. Ward is a mess, but only a mess a good writer can write.

There is something to be said about brevity. GZA put it aptly, ‘half short and twice strong.’ There’s a reason why Pact remains Wildbow’s most engaging read. Compare Pact’s first sentence, how it captures the theming and tone of the work in less words than Ward’s ever could.

Ward drags. It drags hard and when anything drags hard it burns and hurts. Events and arcs ooze into one another, flowing like molasses. We spend a better part of an arc playing capture the flag. We spend the length of several novellas of therapy sessions. Paint dries as the cast gathers and waits for story to take them away and have them do something. And that story does come, though in fits and starts, in lateral movements rather than anything directly straightforward and driven.

Hear them now. ‘Ward is a character piece, a character study.’ Perhaps this holds water, but it’s more akin to filling a bowl that is cracked and with holes. You have to keep pouring water – constant updates leading to wordbloat – in order to maintain anything of substance. What happens when the stream stops? What will you be left with?

What are the characters we have to study? Victoria is not interesting. Interesting things have happened to her in Worm and interesting things will happen to her in Ward, but this does not justify over a million words in a beige headspace. Her black and white view in a grey world can be interesting if it is ever at all challenged or recognized or commented toward any real or meaningful development but it is not. The Third Man, Ward is not. Compare Victoria now to the beginning of Daybreak. Certainly her character has been through and made some changes, but it certainly does not read as such. She also has shit taste in fashion.

The characters that surround her, Breakthrough, tend to be more interesting, this rule mostly applying Ashley and Kenzie, both having the best interludes the serial has to offer. Others outside of these padded walls that make up the team that aren’t from Worm have a tendency to blur and fade into the black that is the webpage Ward’s text exists on.

Dialogue was never a strength of Wildbow’s either, but the theme of therapy and healing, while a noble thing to write about, seems to go out of its way to pull out any fangs and smooth out any other edges for when Ward’s characters speak. The members of Breakthrough are the biggest sinners. They talk around issues, they coddle, they are actively aware that they avoid any and all conflict. This does not make for interesting dialogue or interesting dynamics, outside of the few bits of comedy that land or the very many bits of shipper fuel for the Worm-fanatic. The words have no bounce or rhythm, they do not have to sound like Elmore Leonard characters but at least Elmore Leonard was a person, these characters should sound like people. If robotic dialogue was a problem in Worm that solved itself by Pact, Ward brings that issue back, painfully yet purposefully.

This is what it means for Ward to be a mess, a mess only a good writer can write. Ward is the sum of enough bad ideas realized with a skilled hand. Of course the dialogue is stilted, of course the pacing is the way it is, any reader can see the design, the conviction in which Wildbow set these things up. But then it should come as no surprise that the result is the least engaging read Wildbow has put to webpage.

The only way, then, to catch the hook that Ward is hanging out carelessly in the wind is to jump at it deliberately, to want to be hooked. To be the Worm-fanatic, the Worm-obsessed, who reads not the craft of the text itself, but promise that’s written between the lines. The promise of more powers, the promise of flashy but nearly impossible to parse action, the promise of shopping trips. Ward is, more than anything else, an engine, an engine that fuels ships and pumps content into holes in wiki pages. Ward is Drake’s More Life, a playlist, where the quantity of content is greater than the quality of the overall project. Pick and choose your favorite parts and discard the rest.

Truly, the main supervillain is not Teacher, or the Fallen, or the machine army that literally waits at the horizons, threat in name only affecting nothing of the current or larger plot, the main villain is the very nature of serialization and writing to immediate audience reception. They reward wordbloat, more sprawl, because the more words, the more to craft theories with. This helped build Worm and Wildbow, but now it proves to be Ward’s undoing, authorship now locked in an endless feedback loop that prioritizes certain things and not others.

Take a shot every time Sveta moves to Victoria’s arm and ‘gives it a squeeze,’ every time Kenzie ‘smiles’ post-Interlude 7.x. The true Worm-fanatic will indulge in drunken excess. The remaining readers will grow quickly nauseous.

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