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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So it turns out I'm writing fanfiction...

I am no fan of fanfic. I don't have a lot of respect for it or for those who hold it as a credential. Now, I'm starting to come around to the concept because of incandragon. When someone of such talent, intellectual curiosity, and insight into the business of writing tells me I need to start paying attention, I know she's probably right. That's the only reason the first two sentences of this entry aren't the relentless screed you would have seen had I written this post six months ago.

I once quit a writer's group over fanfic. The de facto leader introduced herself to me as a published, award-winning author, and the proceeded to give me the most worthless, ignorant, and contemptable criticism I've ever received. If you don't know me, you should know that I love receiving good criticism from people I respect. The notes from Jill were just stupid. I kept her notes on a draft of my "Door Carver" story just so I could have a good laugh when I felt down about its progress. In that story, the main character has an active imagination, to the point that there is barely a separation between his play world and his real world. In her criticism, she told me that if I didn't specify "in his imagination" every single time he was making something up, nobody would understand.

"Treat your audience like they're first-graders," she told me. "That's how I'm able to come across so well in my work."

She and I seek different audiences.

I quit that group when I found out that "published" meant "posted a story to a web site", and "award-winning" meant "won a popularity contest on a Buffy fan forum". That was enough for me and I haven't been back. I've always wanted to write stories in the Twin Peaks universe, maybe even the X-Files, but it never occurred to me to cite any of that as a credential, or even tell anyone I had done it.

All that said, though, I do see how it could be a fantastic writing exercise: you're given the opportunity to work on your chops in description, plot, set pieces, etc., without all the responsibility of coming up with the background universe. It's a pretty cool idea, like a paint-by-numbers border around a centrally blank canvas.

Which brings me to the point...

My NaNo novel is a soap opera set in the French Revolution. It's going pretty well, because I get to narrate a scene from the point of view of a couple minor aristocrats caught up in the mob storming the Bastille on July 14, 1789. Eventually the guillotine will make an appearance.

But last night as I was inventing surnames, I couldn't think of one for the mysterious femme fatale, "La Marquise". I have a very clear picture of her, even down to the kind of jewelry she wears and the timbre of her voice. But as I went over the list of names, it occured to me that I didn't need it yet: my characters were running down an alleyway to escape the mob when they happened across La Marquise's driver, wearing peasant clothing and waiting near a small apartment in the wrong wrong wrong part of town. I realized that the name on the door wouldn't be her name at all: it would be the name of a lover she stays with occasionally when she feels like slumming.

My fingers started typing the name before I understood fully what I was doing. When I was finished I sat back and thought about all the implications, not of just using the name, but of inserting a small set of characters from a classic of French literature into my own. I don't know if I'm going to keep it this way if I ever do anything with the novel, but right now it's fun, it's subtle, and it allows me to play in a universe I've wanted to play in since I discovered the source material in 1988.

The name on the placard? Danceny.

Now here's the first ever Habeas Blogus "Internet Research" contest:

What story am I borrowing from?

The prize: you will receive some bragging rights, a digital pat on the back from me, and the right to be asked to help me do internet research should I ever need it. Good luck!



Blogger Jess said...

Dude, you have to give me a harder challenge than something that can be solved by typing one word into Wikipedia. :P

Ahh, fanfiction. Now, I think you could have an extensive debate about what does and does not constitute fanfic. For example, are licensed franchise novels fanfic? (I do love me some Star Wars novels.) What about spin-offs from previous works, like Wide Sargasso Sea? Sequels written after the author died, like the two Heidi sequels?

What's the distinction here, if there is one? Is it that Timothy Zahn and Jean Rhys are published, while your vampire-fic-writing nemesis is not? Is it worse to write fanfic than to rip something off without being honest about your sources?

Fanfic is just a new name for an old tradition, in my opinion.

Basically, I can't get too snooty about fanfic in general. Now, badly written fanfic, that's another story. The writing group woman's problem wasn't that she wrote fanfic, it's that she is a bad writer who holds stupid ideas. It's true that those stupid ideas (and others) get more play in fanfic circles than in general writing circles, but, be honest, how many writers have you known with both pretensions of grandeur beyond fanfiction and also some really terrible notions about writing?

Tue Nov 07, 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

I guess I should leave puzzle creation to Dan Brown...

Does DVC count as biblical fanfic?

Anyway, I think the line between what I respect and what I (lergely) don't respect is all about "endorsement". If a publishing house hires someone to write a sequel to a well-known franchise, or if an author writes something a publisher finds reason to publish (like Linda Berdoll), I accept all of those and wouldn't call them fanfic.

It's possible my definition doesn't match others'. My umbrella includes the groups of people who are all talking to each other, writing bad fiction for each other, then trying to play that out like it makes them professional writers.

Now I know that some of them eventually get published, by being invited to write for the series or other means... and they're definitely worthy of respect. But before then, I consider them to be swimming in the same morass of a slush pile nightmare as the rest of us.

(Btw, I'm also ripping off from a different story for the basic plot of this NaNo thingy, so get the charges of "big fat hypocrite" nice and ready! :) )

Tue Nov 07, 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger incandragon said...

Jasper Fforde talks about "runners" or characters who escape from one book and show up in others. Robin Hood, god knows, surprised me by showing up in Ivanhoe. Maybe it's not DL fanfic, maybe you just encountered a nest of runners?


Tue Nov 07, 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

On a tangentially related note, I just started watching the new Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, and while trawling the web last night for more goodies, I found an official site on which you can read what is essentially officially endorsed fanfic. And slash fic at that. With no more point than to encourage fans to swoon at Captain Jack Harkness (not that fans need any encouragement). I, to use a fandom term, squeed.

All this reminds me of something well known in anime circles, and it's called 'fan service'. I think what bothers me in fanfic, and it's not part of the definition of fanfic but it's awfully common there, is when the fic is obviously written as pure wish fulfillment for the readers. And yes, I will admit to having read that kind of fic (on purpose, even), and enjoyed it, but it makes me feel icky somehow, because as the Stones will tell you, you can't always get what you want, and as Joss Whedon will tell you, you shouldn't always get what you want, and as Jacob (the TWoP recapper) will tell you, the new Battlestar Galactica gives you exactly what you thought you wanted, in the worst possible way. And really, that's the only way for a story to work. That's why porn doesn't have a plot, and that's why fan service leaves you feeling dirty and unsatisfied.

Mon Nov 13, 08:43:00 AM  

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