Alright, so if you haven't looked at S&T lately, check out the new announcement about a system Greg is starting -- the Bionicle Story Squad. I am a member, and look forward to working with the fans. :)
A big reason this is being done is because lately there have been a lot of (many valid) criticisms of the tendency to officialize fan ideas lately. This team will primarily poll ideas before anything is decided, to hopefully address this criticism. There have been a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around about it too, so I wanted to do a blog entry real quick to clear some things up.
Firstly, sadly I have witnessed some events that have strayed dangerously close to flame wars lately, with "sides" developing and such. Without going into details, some have appeared to push for canonization of just about anything anytime, and some have been strongly against it, and strong opinions about the ways to go about it have been formed. Feelings have been hurt, and yeah. But, hopefully now we can begin to come together and agree to a system of balance, that has the best interests of all fans given a fair shake.
First myth. It has recently come to my attention that some people have been using me as the supposed poster child for any and all canonizations at a whim, or something close.
This is a total misconception.
This happened mainly because of the EM masks thing. But what many of you haven't realized is, I have admitted I made mistakes with that whole debacle. The issues were since resolved, but I was simply ignorant. I did not realize issues with other canonization attempts had already come up and that strong emotions had developed about it. As far as I knew, I was doing something about a neglected loose end, and also killing two birds with one stone by using some appearances for EM mask powers that fit the powers perfectly (and actually inspired some of them, especially Undeath). I expected reactions to be similar to the reactions of other canonization successes before.
Also, let's keep in mind Swert and I were on a very tight schedule to get the (already very late) EM guide up. We had an option at one point to change the whole length and cut out the ones Greg wouldn't approve (if he hadn't, but he did; and keep in mind we also had no idea if he'd even be open to it; the idea of an intermediate poll stage hadn't been proposed yet that I knew of, so I thought I was just using the universally accepted method), or to just delay the publication (a bad idea, but in retrospect, we should have waited to run polls on it).
I made a mistake (and I accept full responsibility for it).
Now, after it happened, criticisms came in, as regular followers of my blog know, and changes were made. After the changes are taken into account (and thanks to Greg for being patient with that whole debacle), I stand by the masks as they are now.
I do NOT stand by my choice of how to go about it.
So those of you using me as poster child for that method should think twice. :P So anyways, correcting chaotic mistakes like that is a big part of what the new system is meant to solve. :)
Another myth has been that Greg approves what people like me (in positions of authority) suggest and turns down normal member suggestions. Greg has turned down several suggestions of mine. I simply haven't bothered to paste them into the OGD because I figure it would be a waste of bandwidth. He also accepted suggestions from many normal BZPers and all kinds of people in between. The criteria he uses is if it makes sense (but more about that in a bit).
If any of you have seen the issues related to who is on the team, etc. let me just say the issues are being dealt, and once again I made some mistakes while I was rushed (taxes due this week, but it's no excuse :P) with and nothing further about that will be said in this blog entry (and please don't comment on it).
Now what's my philosophy about canonization?
In my opinion, IF Greg had wanted to do it, then there are three perfectly valid ways for something to be canonized. Please understand that the following is PURELY what I would personally do if as an author my own stories got a sizeable fanbase and ran into similar circumstances -- this is NOT what I think Greg SHOULD do; read on...
1) Greg comes up with it himself (or previously, with help from the official Story Team). Many of the critics of fan-canonization have used the argument that the secrecy is a problem -- and that's valid, but let's not forget that the vast majority of stuff is officialized secretly and announced without any fan input whatsoever anyways.
2) Greg approving fan ideas sent privately to him on the spot. For the above reason.
3) Public member input being considered first. (Various versions of this with contests, polls, etc. This is now what is the system for fan input.)
Ideally. I have no issues with all three.
But the concerns do not stop there. Those who are in favor of a lot of canonization need to keep in mind that Bionicle is a complex universe, and as someone said to me today, even though it's ultimately just entertainment, it SHOULD be taken seriously. We should, IMO, be able to have a positive experience in every time when we're involved. That doesn't mean no considerations of if it makes sense, though.
The most obvious example of this is story contradiction. The story is really complex by now (arguably a major reason it's a good thing Bionicle's main story has ended, at least in the comics, etc. lest it become unmanagageable.
Greg doesn't always have time to instantly say yea or nay to every suggestion, knowing perfectly whether it will contradict something else already stated.
That's another thing we will help with. We will be researching ideas to make sure they are consistent with story already established.
Therefore, option #2 is no longer (at least usually; it's all ultimately up to Greg, of course) being done.
Such a big workload on his shoulders alone, especially now that Bionicle is mainly over in other ways (for example, he's no longer being paid to do new comics or books; I don't know for sure, but I would guess that he'll have to do other work for financial support, which takes time), is a bit much to ask. If anyone out there wishes this wasn't so because they want to be able to just PM him canon suggestions and bam have it done, I ask you to please keep this in mind. Real-world practicality is more important than our personal wishes. And it would certainly help to keep in mind the desires of some to make sure fan input represents the online membership as a whole, not just one or two fans.
Finally, another criticism I've been made aware of about canonizing things is that while some ideas have clear inspiration from something else in the story, other ideas seem random. (Seem so to the critic, that is.)
My take on that, as a writer, is that the dirty little secret is, just about everything in every story is essentially "random." Or rather, the reasons for the inspiration may be there, but they might lurk only in the subconscious realm.
Even for the writer!
An example I gave to someone today is writer's block. A lot of people just get stuck writing, no idea where to go next. It creates headaches, and for fans of course it produces nothing. Well, IMO writer's block is caused by the writer not being willing to accept his intuition about where to go, even with things that (consciously) seem random.
As soon as I freed myself up to trust my inspiration instead of being deathly afraid of possible criticisms, I found that writer's block no longer plagued me. In fact, with me it's more like Writer's Dam Bursting -- I have too much inspiration and can't possibly have enough time to get it all down. :D
I think fans of entertainment venues like Bionicle should keep that in mind. There is no magical touch of the author (Greg, or story team, or any other writers) that makes what they use golden and inspiration from fans... bronze or worse. :P You will have a chance of liking or disliking something regardless of the inspiration source anyways, whether from Greg's own head (but nothing truly comes only from a writer's head -- inspiration comes from all around us!).
The only difference is that in this case, you found out what the inspiration was -- a fan suggestion instead of a mystery inside a skull. :P But the truth is, all of those mysteries have equally mundane inspirations, similar to a magician's secrets. Some of my Paracosmos's fans favorite aspects of my writing came from randomly seeing a shape in carpet. Seriously. No, I won't tell you which ones. :P
So in short, you will NOT always be able to see the reasons behind an inspiration. Maybe nobody will, but IMO that should not be used as an argument against it. Because someone else out there might sense the reasons, and gain benefit from the thing being in story -- you simply can't know. In fact, arguably, it's better if you CAN'T see the reasons, as long as it doesn't contradict anything.
A good question to ask yourself when wondering if an idea has enough inspiration from previous story is, do we even have official groundwork to build off of in this case, and if not, maybe that groundwork itself should be established?
For example -- not to argue for or against them, there have been debates over a particular Toa tool (this is just the example the person brought up to me when talking about this issue). It basically seems like a random choice for that Toa. But then, the Toa was also someone whose personality was not established either -- so it would be IMO unfair to judge it as not making sense. The fact that a Toa (hypothetically) chooses a particular type of Toa tool could speak to their personality, so perhaps by the very act of canonizing it, you are also filling in that groundwork, which is in itself grounded in the obvious fact that different Toa have different personalities. :) (Of course, sometimes Toa don't have a choice which tool to use.)
Another issue is personal taste. IMO, usually when someone doesn't like an idea, it has a lot more to do with personal taste than whether it makes story sense or not. I'm sure the members of the team and fans in general will have our differeing personal tastes in the future. In my observation, a lot of times when someone say something in entertainment doesn't make sense, it really means that they don't like it, so they haven't tried to think of ways it does make sense.
Which is a great value of publicly discussing ideas. Hypothetically, even we could miss stuff; think something makes sense but there's a problem we hadn't considered. Maybe it will not actually be a problem once we step into objective shoes and realize it does make sense... but maybe it will. We'll see, yanno?
Yet another issue is contests vs. other suggestions. We do not plan to have any kind of a "contest-only" requirement, but we will do polls so in a sense it will be contest-oid. :P I'm frankly not sure I fairly understand this particular complaint, so I don't feel qualified to comment further at this time.
And only one other thing before I conclude. Some are seemingly against fan input at all. I would basically say, Bionicle is much more about fan input than some other stories out there, so if you're glued to that position, you might wanna keep that in mind; it's part of the franchise. :) Sort of like the EM -- the whole concept of that is heavily grounded in fan input, so for those who don't like that, it's something you need to consider when you form opinions of it. A statue of a dolphin might not be a statue of a penguin, but maybe that's because the sculptor intended to sculpt a dolphin, yanno? :P
Secondly, the act of criticizing fan input is in and of itself fan input, so seems contradictory and confusing.
In general, the sentiment has its value; it's better for a writer to invent things themselves. But fan suggestions come about precisely because corners of a story have been neglected, or even beyond the ability of a writer to fill out. If a writer wants to have a certain level of gaps filled in, and honestly does not feel he or she is qualified to deal with that particular gap, then by all means, have fan input!
For a personal example, I have asked my Paracosmos fans some things before. And often I have found that I ended up having to do what I wanted anyways because they weren't sure about it, and I do find that more fulfilling. But it would be oversimplification to try to stuff every situation into that mold. There are other times when their ideas were clearly better than mine.
Aaaand, in conclusion, lemme just challenge everybody, on both sides (or all three sides, or all twenty sides, etc. :P) of this issue to challenge themselves with these two things:
1) Whenever an idea comes up, play Devil's Advocate. Before you decide if you like it or not, first pretend you do, and try to imagine all the ways it DOES make sense. Use your imagination, in other words -- this is LEGO! ^_^
2) But by the same token, try to avoid just being obsessively for any and all canonization and play Devil's Advocate for those who would be against it too. Consider both sides fairly, objectively, and chances are you'll both be able to form a sensible opinion about it, AND be happier as a side effect, no matter what happens. ^_^
Above all, let's remember a major moral of the story we are fans of is Unity. :)