What fanfic means to me: an attempt

Judi starts a series of interviews with writers this week. Today her guest was Hedgeypig, whose Lucas fic, “Love & Anger” (on DF) I’ve read something like three dozen times. I wish she would finish “Just a Kid” (!). I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

I was thinking last night, before I fell asleep, about the reasons why this incident bugged me so much. I was angry because I saw it as a repeated instance of a particular person putting up obstacles to the creativity of others. But I think the creativity issue is tied up with other stuff that is equally important. Explaining this stuff gets to the issue of why I like fanfic, and I have a hard time writing about that, mostly because it’s potentially revealing of me in all the wrong ways. If writing fanfic can be understood as a way to develop the self, discussing fanfic ends up feeling to me like jeopardizing my identity. I’ll try to get it down here in its basics, though, so I can let go of this issue, at least for the present. And maybe articulating this will let me write more about fanfic than simply saying I like it, or interviewing authors of pieces I particularly like.

Fanfic to me is such a fascinating genre because, at least ideally, nothing stands in the way of an author’s desire for the fictional universe of one’s choice except one’s own skill. You can write whatever you want. The genre doesn’t really have rules; or, to every rule we find a significant exception. Some readers hate OOC characters, some love them; some readers insist on canon fictions, while others love familiar characters in alternate universes; even the much-maligned Mary Sue attracts some fans. (I’m always charmed when a Mary Sue reminds me of someone I know.) Every time I think I’ve plumbed the margins of fanfic and found everything there is to find I run into something new and intriguing. I don’t love it all — but even the stuff I dislike makes me think that a fanciful mind stands behind it with an inventiveness that makes me optimistic, even if stories are sometimes dark or dystopic. What if men could become pregnant? If Ma and Pa Ingalls were visited by Mr. Spock and all three were taken prisoner by Nazis? If Lucas North were Guy of Gisborne’s distant descendant? What if our rules were gone and our world were different? these authors seem to ask. Not every story is executed with equal skill, and poorly executed tales often languish for attention, but it seems that many things eventually finds an audience in a world where people are looking for that story that is going to pique their interest in whichever way is most personally meaningful. Almost every story holds some spark once it finds the right reader(s).

Because of this state of affairs, fanfic really is the literature of wish fulfillment, the place in which the world is as I will it to be, at least temporarily, or for experimental purposes, whether with benevolence or malevolence. And because the rules are so flexible, we assume a relationship with identity, that people put things into fanfiction that they want to see in their worlds. So it’s an interesting site to observe the building blocks of personal creativity as they relate to identity. Like many fandoms, Armitageworld seems to be populated with rather creative people, and these little pieces — the stories Richard Armitage acts out and makes us love despite our rational impulses or our moral scruples — become ingredients in our creative mix, building blocks that we can use not just to while away the hours passively watching, but also to fantasize about interacting with these manifestations of Armitage, which in turn allows us to think actively about alternative worlds, experiences, or fantasies we might construct. Just as I’ve developed and constructed my own identity as a writer, I’ve watched fanfic authors do that. Just as I’ve noticed that my own writing here has improved with time, I’ve really enjoyed following the development of an author’s creativity along with the stories she tells. I find myself cheering for the author as the storytelling and the prose get ever more professional, just as much as I find myself cathected to the fates of the characters she is orchestrating. In writing, we develop a firmer notion of who we are, even as we contest the definitions we create. What we want in fantasy is supposed to say something about us, all of the psychologists agree. In fanfic, we get a close glimpse at that. We see the wishes of the author, and we see the author growing as an artist, and we feel connected to him or her.

But the more intimate relationship between reader and author that derives from the feeling that we see an author more transparently in a fanfic than we might in “real” literature is precisely the attraction and the danger of the genre. Attractive, because it seems to reflect sincerity. If I read your fanfic, I assume things about you in a way that I don’t when I read the novels of William Styron. (This thought process is not any different with expository prose — people who read this blog also come to conclusions about me — but then again, I’m explicitly stating my opinions here. In the case of fanfic, the emotional connection of readers to characters who are well known to them, and to the authors who write those characters, is at least potentially stronger, I suspect, based on the apparent vulnerability of the writer who displays a fantasy she created for all to read.) I didn’t know William Styron and I don’t wish I had, though I adore everything of his I’ve ever read, especially his memoir of depression. And though he had a fantastic gift for creating worlds around Nat Turner and Sophie Zawistowski, I don’t assume that these worlds reflect his own wish fulfillment in a one-to-one relationship. It’s somehow different with fanfiction because the writers are already breaking so many rules. We assume that if they would or they could, they would choose conform to the generic and formal rules of prose, and write an “original” fiction, which stands in both higher artistic and pecuniary esteem, and so if they don’t, they can’t, and so the ways in which they don’t live up to the abstract standard indicate something important about them.

I think this notion is essentially false, but as a reader, I draw those conclusions, too. I’ve never met Angie in real life, but her fanfic makes me think she’s generous. I’ve never met khandy, but her fic makes me think she’s serious but also occasionally irreverent. I’ve never met Hedgeypig, but her fic makes me think she’s practically minded and perhaps, at times, uncomfortably direct. I know that some readers of this blog have concluded that I’m emotionally unstable — since they’ve taken the time to write! (Servetus pauses to wave cheerily at her critics.) All of these conclusions are serious projections that may or may not bear a relationship to reality. They are based on thinking about “what it would mean about me if I did / said that,” which is an inherently faulty reasoning strategy (as the subaltern critics of liberalism and discourse theory have pointed out — we can’t base a politics on the principle that I can make some definite project of what I would do if I thought I were someone else) but one that many of us, including me, engage in regularly. It’s true that in the last years I’ve frequently been close to collapse. But a reading that I, Servetus, am dangerously emotionally unstable, is based on the assumption on the part of the reader that if s/he were so open about her feelings and then poured them out on a page for others to read, it would indicate that s/he were unstable. That reading has nothing to do with the actual circumstances of my own life. Fiction, however, and the intimacy that we feel with the authors we read, make us forget that we lack significant contextual evidence for our interpretations of others’ lives and motives.

The danger comes — and again it’s a double-sided problem, I suppose — when precisely the intimacy that one feels with a fanfic author on the basis of her apparent sincerity gives rise to a reading of her work that becomes overly literal, when we assume too much about an author based on things she says or means metaphorically, when we extrapolate too heavily from our own experiences as we seek to understand. Ann Marie has referred to this problem before in a specific form that troubles me a great deal: the possibility that readers of a fanfic will draw conclusions about one’s own sexual preferences based on the type of sex one writes into a story. If it’s true that AnnieLucas’s fiction frequently takes up religious themes, does that mean she’s religious? If it involves a lot of French kissing, does that mean that she likes to French kiss? The vulnerability of fanfiction gives us the illusion that we can answer questions like this about fanfic authors even when we would rationally concede that we lack sufficient information to make a judgment.

It’s obvious, should we think about it for a second, that just as in “real” fiction, not everything in fan fiction is to be taken literally. It’s an interesting problem, how we decide to read a fiction (or any text) literally versus metaphorically, and I sometimes wonder if we look particularly closely at AU fictions and fixate on the most improbable or striking elements of the story as the clearest expression of wish fulfillment. But readers really struggle to read a few elements of fanfic in any way but the literal. Sex is one of these and violence is another. And we never know who’s reading and whether that reader will track us down when we express our approval. What this means is that really, if an author broaches these topics at all, we should laud her courage, because some readers are going to conclude that whatever the main element of the fiction is for the reader relates to some earnest statement on the part of the writer, and that statement is often interpreted as having to be literal. This is why I don’t publish the fanfic I write anywhere; it includes elements that, if read literally, could lead to what I would consider a frightening misreading of me and my identity. For this reason, as well, I experience great difficulty in giving comments on the fic of others that reveal more than either a technical or analytic approach to a story or a general enthusiastic thumbs up. If I say I love a fic that involves a rape, but don’t take the time to mention in my comment that I don’t condone sexual assault in real life, and someone sees that later, will they assume that I literally love assault? That I want to be assaulted myself? That I want to engage in assault of others? Will they realize that there’s a difference between enjoying reading or thinking about anything and actually doing it? I have read in spellbound fascination almost everything published in the twentieth century that involves a first person account of summiting Mount Everest, for instance, but anyone who knows me in real life would be falling over in paroxysms of laughter at the thought that I had any interest in actually doing it myself. Can a reader, about whom I know nothing when I publish, accept that her fantasies might be different than mine and suspend opprobrium over that at least long enough to close the window of the objectionable text? Or am I going to be subjected to troublesome misreadings that make me regret that I published anything in the first place?

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that what I write says nothing about me, only that the relationship is often much more complicated than a literal reading would suggest, and that insisting on the literal reading misses important aspects of what goes on as I write myself and my identity here. I’m not insisting that I am the only one who knows me or who can understand or define who I am. I’m also not saying that the literal reading of anything is always wrong or that everything is “only” metaphor — only that fictions are often much more complicated than they appear to be upon a first reading, and that whether we choose to read literally or metaphorically or both or neither is largely a contextual affair, while the Internet is a radically context-free place — which is precisely its charm, because I can construct myself as anything as long as I’m anonymous and keep the rules of my identity fairly inchoate. Imposing the context of one genre upon a text that’s clearly in another also involves a frightening misreading. This is the reason, incidentally, that many people don’t especially like to read didactic or propaganda novels: because all of the metaphorical levels of reading end up compressed when written or viewed through a frighteningly intentionalist literal lens. When fiction tells us how we are supposed to feel about or react to something, as readers, we naturally resist. “Show, don’t tell,” is a fundamental maxim of writing instruction. (It’s also a good strategy in academic lectures, incidentally.)

So I worry, if I tell you what I love about a particular fiction — which to me often comes down to something I call “the iconic moment,” a gripping image or narrative element that speaks to me on a deep personal level — I’ll destroy the entire experience of developing myself and writing here. First, because I make myself vulnerable to misreading of my intentions in discussing my love of something that you might find problematic. And second, because the reading that may be most important to me may conflict directly with the intentions of an author and cause strife for that reason. Here, for instance, are some fanfic moments that I find iconic, and that make me read again, and again, and again, sometimes for single paragraphs or sentences or even individual words. This is a non-inclusive list, so don’t be offended if your fic isn’t on here. These are just some that pop into mind immediately that involve either non-sexual or heterosexual themes with only two partners and no significant violence in the narrative itself, i.e., some examples that are relatively harmless for me to admit to liking:

Now, first, what’s important to me about those specific moments occasionally contradicts the interpretive structure of the stories. My love of fanfic sex is not ever only about sex as a mechanism for arousal; some pwp fanfics arouse me, but others leave me completely cold. Often it’s a detail that gets me and stays in my brain; in khandy’s story, for instance, it’s the chiming of the grandfather clock in the parsonage where Lucas’ parents are living that I hear echoing throughout the remainder of the chapter. Often the detail that fascinates me (in KiplingKat’s story about Porter, for instance) is not something I interpret the way the author does; when Porter installs the bookshelves in her story, she writes of grace and power, whereas I find myself thinking about protection, care, and practicality when I imagine the scene she’s created.

If you consider this problem, you can see why I (and perhaps you?) would be reluctant to comment or intervene in some settings. The reader / writer relationship is a drastically fraught one, with numerous inherent pitfalls. It’s arguable, I think, that we need to keep in mind that all of these stories are fantasies built upon fantasies built upon fantasies. John Porter, for instance, is clearly a sort of Chris Ryan / Mary Sue variant, picked up and rewritten by a team of script writers, sold to Richard Armitage as a role, which he in turn remade into something a fair bit more sophisticated through his own contemplative interiority, and which we in our own turn view and then rewrite through the prisms of our own reception of that role in a variety of contexts that Chris Ryan and Richard Armitage certainly never envisioned. No single one of these version is definitive. There is no definitive John Porter, neither for the writer nor for the reader; there are only manifestations of him, Porters who are more or like different Porters who’ve been envisioned by different people in the process. John Porter, in other words, is a fantasy of a fantasy of a fantasy, with so many potentially metaphorical layers that it seems like a failure to interpret anything in any story involving him in a literal fashion. I’m not saying that nothing in Porter fiction should be read literally, but rather that if we are choosing to read literally something that is quite blatantly not literal and wasn’t, even from the beginning, we need to ask ourselves why those literal elements are so important to us and be a bit self-critical about insisting on the “reality” of an element in a story that is wholly fantasy and, dare I say, itself began as a sort of wet dream of an ex-Special Forces man in the first place. To say a reaction that John Porter has in a fanfic is unrealistic in real life is in my opinion ridiculous, since there’s no real life around any of this stuff. It is all fantasy. It all involves metaphor. It’s just a question of whether and to what extent authors and readers are willing to concede that. And when the metaphor relates to identity development, bullying and destructive criticism do much more harm than simply to our willingness to like a story or appreciate it as more or less realistic.

When I see interpretation based on what I see as misplaced literalism happening to someone else, as it did in the incident I described, I extrapolate back to myself, which may be wrong, but as I’ve outlined above, is a frequent interpretive strategy, and I see how the possibility that the sort of damage that’s being done to someone else’s identity and development would potentially affect me. I write here at least in part because I can say things, include things in my identity that don’t fit in my real life. I can’t tell my students I love fanfic and am obsessed with an actor; I can’t admit to my parents that I love to read explicit fiction about sex; I can’t talk to most of my colleagues about my religious preoccupations; I can’t talk to my Jewish friends about my lingering feelings about Christianity; and my parents literally walk out of the room if I try to discuss Judaism with them. I don’t think I have any friend or family member in real life who sees all of me. That’s a fundamental condition of modernity and it doesn’t make me worse off than anyone else, but that feeling can be lonely. Writing anonymously into the Internet allows me the fantasy that I can be all the things I am in one place, that I don’t have to disguise or hide pieces of myself. But experiences of interpretation on the Internet teach me that that the demands of some readers for consistency according to their own preoccupations will damage that writing of identity just as surely as hiding pieces of myself from the various people in my life sometimes does.

In the end, I suppose, I long desperately for a wholeness of identity that is probably impossible to achieve in the world as we know it. I see fanfic as a venue where authors get to practice or express their demands for a wholeness that reflects their needs for a universe that accounts for all of their desires. Those desires don’t all have to be interpreted literally. When I see the insistence that that the creative wholeness that authors are seeking be destroyed or dinged or rewritten at the behest of people who can’t see beyond the literal, I get angry. The Internet may not be a perfect atmosphere for integrating the self; in fact it may be no different than the real world in its insistence on consistency, standards, and morals, which are important in practice but which de-integrate conceptions of the self in punishing ways that we all experience all the time. Even so, if it has a chance to be a place where we can develop ourselves more fully, I for one seek to support that even if I don’t necessarily know if I will like all the outcomes of the process. What if our rules were gone and the world were different? is a question I want every fic writer to keep on asking. It may not just be personal creativity and identity at stake, but also the possibility for different understandings of the world that challenge our convictions about what we think we know or must be in meaningful and constructive ways.

What if we could be whole? Even if we can’t, I don’t want to lose the fantasy that we might, and that fictions take us an important step in that direction.

Thanks for your attention.

~ by Servetus on November 3, 2011.

37 Responses to “What fanfic means to me: an attempt”

  1. Oh gosh, I’m the first to comment? That never happens!

    Well, here goes: I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to all those fanfic writers out there. I love reading in general, so reading about characters who I love (and I pretty much love all of RA’s characters, except for the Miss Marple one and the guy who has the big estate, has an affair and gets shot at the end. I don’t even care enough about him to remember his name) is a real treat for me. After experiencing the deaths of Guy, Lucas, and JP, and the unclear future of John Standring, it’s nice to be given some alternate scenarios, where all these great guys aren’t dead or unhappy. I even enjoy stories about his less than admirable characters (John Mulligan and Paul Andrews for example) who are given a chance to redeem themselves and find a happy ending. I’m such a sucker for a happy ending.

    Reading your post, Serv, made me realize the great leap of faith these writers take by publishing their works. To me, they are just enjoyable stories. I’ve never really developed any impressions of the authors except that they are wonderfully talented (Angie, Khandy and Hedgeypig are three of my favorites, but I’ve read all the stories you named above and liked them all). But I can see how others may get certain impressions based on the content of the stories, and perhaps those impressions may not be ones with which the author would be comfortable. Because of this, my gratitude to them is greater than ever.

    Serv, I completely understand why you choose to keep your fanfic writing private, but I must admit I am disappointed. Your posts are always so thought provoking, or informative, or just plain fun, that I have to believe that any work of fiction you produce would be a joy to read.

    To all the fic authors out there, keep up the good work. We appreciate you, even if we don’t always comment. And on a personal note, it would sure be nice to see more Sparkhouse fic. Anyone??

  2. LOL, I speak as the author of the ONLY story in the history of the RH folder on FF.Net to go without a single comment, not even, “OMG, ths is AWSUM, eleventy!!!”…please leave feedback. Good or bad. Just be nice.

  3. Hi Serv,

    Thanks for another incisive and insightful essay. You always make me think about different pathways and perspectives.

    I particularly like the sections in this essay where you sum up your thoughts about fan fic in a nutshell:

    “Writing anonymously into the Internet allows me the fantasy that I can be all the things I am in one place, that I don’t have to disguise or hide pieces of myself. … [new paragraph] In the end, I suppose, I long desperately for a wholeness of identity that is probably impossible to achieve in the world as we know it. I see fanfic as a venue where authors get to practice or express their demands for a wholeness that reflects their needs for a universe that accounts for all of their desires.”

    I would have to admit to the above statement as well for myself. Life is a journey of self discovery and self revelation.

    Cheers! Grati ;->

  4. Firstly sorry for being absent. Between work being stupidly busy and needing an operation which meant a month of being unwell and getting in the Bleak Mid Winter ready to send to an agent I’ve had little time to post.

    I love this post and your thoughts. Obviously I like fanfiction there’s a surprise. I’m very big on having alternative characters which can be tricky and it is difficult not to stray into Mary Sue land with them.

    Interesting about the cannon as well servetus. I recently was informed that I’m a good writer but that fanfiction is not my best genre. I was surprised to learn that for one reader I alter the original characters too much. It was odd as I have been told before that I get the charcters right. The two characters that I found the most difficult to writewere John and Margaret and that is because most fans love them as they are.

    There thoughts lead me on to how as a writer I respond to criticism of my stories. Well in fanfiction land you don’t get much criticism and so when you do it is easy to be defensive. I know on especially about TGP howeber as I grow as a writer I value the kindof criticism which is designed to help me. A lot depends on how that criticism is given. I respond well if the person remembers that ultimately this is my story and not there’s and badly if I sense they want me to write their story.

    • Khandy, In the Bleak Midwinter is one of my favorite fanfics ever, and I wish you all the best on getting it published.

    • sorry about the sickness and hope you are feeling better. I can’t wait to read any version of Bleak Midwinter — you have to tell us where we can buy it when it comes out.

      re: responding to criticism — I wrote a post on this a few weeks ago — I think what stuns me about it is that I’m used to academic criticism, which can be very thoroughgoing (when I write a blind refereed review of a journal article it can extend to ten pages of single spaced notes), but is never personal. It doesn’t usually (as in all things there are exceptions) seek to question or suppress people’s right to speak.

  5. Servetus, thank you for articulating such a difficult subject. This sentence sums it up:

    ” It may not just be personal creativity and identity at stake, but also the possibility for different understandings of the world that challenge our convictions about what we think we know or must be in meaningful and constructive ways.”

    Many people today don’t understand the difference between disagreement – “I don’t like this for X, Y, and Z reasons but you have a right to it, and seeking to foist their disagreements on others – “I don’t like this, it doesn’t fit my worldview; therefore I will take steps ensuring you don’t write, say, engage in this.” This type of policing is prevalent in religion, politics, what have you. Fandom and fanfic is a microcosm of this. Appealing to a sense of creativity and diversity is lovely, but sadly it’s like preaching to the choir these days. Those who should stop and consider are too certain of their self-righteousness. And so we have fandom policing.

    I find I enjoy fanfic much more today than when I was younger. Sad to say, my mind was narrower in my 20’s, so confident I was in my morals and limited view of the world. (I think we tend to be more judgmental in our youth.) But as I interacted over the years with different people, cultures and ways of thinking, I realized all I knew was what I’d been taught to believe with all its baggage and my judgments were merely my opinions. So instead of thinking “Oh my, this is disgusting,” in a fanfic, I learned to accept a story for what it was and to go elsewhere if it truly wasn’t to my taste. Now I find myself actively seeking out the the gritty and the shocking because I love getting at the underpinnings of a story. It’s given me a taste for the unusual and offbeat.

    Writing fanfic is definitely a way to explore one’s fantasies and psyche. That’s probably a big factor in my writer’s block; do I want to expose myself any more than I already have? I salute the writers who have bravely put themselves forward and weathered the process. Excellent essay, Servetus.

    • I do think we learn about things we’d never considered in fanfic — esp in fandoms that are broader than ours. I’ve been really shocked by some of the stuff I’ve discovered in HP fanfic, I have to admit, and i like to think of myself as open minded.

      I understand the problem of writers block intimately, being a long time sufferer, at least from my perspective, and I sympathize. I’ve found that writing fanfic is very productive, actually, not because of publishing, which I haven’t done, but because basically anything goes. I can try out lots of things that seem unbelievably crazy and I don’t have to apply any rules ot them. They don’t have to make sense. The stories become richer because I’m not always applying the rules of rationality to them. But I admit that I’ve found blogging most productive for my writing because it’s closest to the kind of writing I’m supposed to be doing.

  6. Thank you, Servetus, for stating the urgently necessary freedom of fantasy so eloquently. Today was an especially hard day for me and I very much needed your post to bring back some normality. The escape fan-fiction and especially fandom offer is invaluable to me.

  7. Servetus,

    I confess to being doped up on Percocet and muscle relaxers at present since I feel like John Porter after an unhappy experience with some terrorists. NEVER jump deep ditches or go off-roading on a Crown Vic, ladies. So bear with me if I prattle too much.

    First of all, thank you, Dr. S, for your support for my writing and mentioning Truce as offering some of those iconic moments for you. I know your generosity in providing exposure to the various fanfic writers has brought me and others more readers and made us new friends in the fandom, and it is greatly appreciated, I am sure, by all of us.

    Secondly, I had been writing professionally as a print journalist for about eight years before I ventured into fanfic three years ago. Even though I had regularly earned a paycheck from my writing, it was still slightly terrifying to put that first fic story out there, not knowing how it would be received by the fans.

    It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, because it has been such a liberating experience for me. No longer bound by the constrictions of nonfiction, I can indulge my flights of fancy and yes, create my own little alternate universes. Thanks to a suggestion made here, I can even bring these characters into my home for adventures in Sloth Fiction, which has also proved cathartic in the wake of what the scriptwriters have done to some of these chaRActers.

    Knowing that I entertain readers, make them laugh, cry or get a little hot and bothered is so satisfying and rewarding. So now I am writing what I hope will be my first novel, featuring Guy as a reinvented 18th century highwayman and lots of characters that are totally my own.

    Is it escapism? Sure, escapism, for me as the writer and for my readers. Real Life can be pretty hard on us all at times; I won’t apologize for being a hopeful romantic who likes happy endings. I am not trying to write great lit-turrrr-ahture, just a good, engaging yarn.

    Writers must have the freedom to write their stories as they see fit, be they upbeat and light of spirit, or dark and serious, chaste or explicit, peaceful or violent.
    And readers must have the freedom to read what they choose. There is room for many different types of stories, something to interest and intrigue a variety of tastes.

    Oh, and I do hope that I am generous. I try to be. Mama taught me it was nice to share. :D

    • Every now and then you remind me of one of my best friends from school, and this is one of those moments :)

      I just think that we need to keep in mind that what’s most important for us in a fanfic is not necessarily the issue that’s most important for the author or for other readers. To insist on one reading and then detail the reasons why that particular reading is not fulfilled is to misunderstand the genre. We need more fantasy, not less!

  8. Servetus, thankyou for another interesting and thought-provoking post. I have only been reading fanfiction for the past year or so, and must admit to reading it sparingly, mostly because of time restraints. That’s why I appreciate your recommendations because they usually prove to be enjoyable for me as well.

    I consider myself quite open-minded, and enjoy a well written story that makes me “a little hot and bothered” to quote angie. However, the fanfic that I have inadvertently come across which is written about real life people in sexual scenarios makes me very uncomfortable. There are so many wonderful characters out there with endless stories waiting to be told that I personally don’t think it’s necessary or respectful to write about the actors themselves, but I’m not going to sit here and demand that no one should write or read that kind of fanfic. I simply choose not to read it.

    When I was at school I used to enjoy writing fiction, much more than analytical essays, but over the years what skill I had has deserted me through lack of practice. Commenting here has given me the opportunity to try to improve those writing skills once more. I doubt whether I’ll reach the point of trying my hand at fanfic (even privately) so I admire all those who have taken that step and put their work out there for public perusal.

    BTW How do I go about accessing the fanfiction on the DF site?

    • On rereading my second paragraph, it comes across as being censorious of those who write a particular kind of fanfic, and this goes against the grain of this post. Comes from having a tired befuddled brain, I should be in bed after a full day of travelling back home. :( I apologize for any offence to those here who write about real people, I am not advocating censorship of this type of fan fiction, or any other.

      • you never know — a few more months and you’ll be surprised what you’re doing :) or fanvids may be in your future.

        On the question of RL fictions, I have mixed feelings. In the end I tend to want to defend them as a genre even if I am uncomfortable reading them just because they are also completely a fantasy. The usual argument against them is that they harm the RL subject, but I think the evidence for that is weak.

  9. Let me add another layer of confusion to this for you and remind you that many well respected authors have written continuations of other peoples characters.

    At the moment everyone is talking about PD James’s pride and prejudice sequel but she is far from the only one.

    Another example is James Bond books, which continued long after Ian Fleming’s death. Authors of subsequent Bond books have included Kingsley Amis and Sebastian Faulk.

    Alastaire Maclean’s stories have also been continued by many other authors, though to the best of my knowledge, none as lauded as some of the writers who have penned Bond sequels.

    Some view these as no better than fan fiction (believe me, I’ve had this discussion many times) though often their arguments aren’t at all reasoned and seem to simply stem from a desire to bash all fanfic.

    I on the other hand, find it hard to equate men who have been awarded CBE’s for their contributions to literature with fan fiction.

    So where is the line?

    And what about people such as Lee Goldman, who makes his living penning Monk novelizations. Many would call that fanfiction but Lee hates fanfiction.

    Most popular television series, from Star Trek to Smallville to Eureka have original novels, licensed and sold by the copyright holders. In my limited experience though, I find that many of these books are actually worse than some fanfiction since fanfic writers know their source material while the writers of these spin off’s make many simple mistakes. It sometimes feels like they have not even seen a single episode of the show which they are writing about but simply read a bio for each character.

    I remember one book set in season 3 of a show where a character is described as having dreadlocks which he no longer wore by season 3. Things like that throw me straight out of a story as I ask, “WTF? If time travel involved here? Did i miss something? Oh no, the author just hasn’t actually watched the show he’s writing about.” Then i try and get back into the story only for something equally silly to interrupt my enjoyment of the native once more.

    Those I would happily lump in with fanfiction (though clearly the writes are not fans) because of their quality, or lack there of. So is quality the yardstick which we should use to distinguish between “real” writers and “fanfic” writers?

    I don’t have the answer, just muddying the waters for you! ;)

    As for how much of the author is present in fanfic, personally not much. back in the beginning, I’m certain that wasn’t the case but these days, the challenge for me is in inhabiting someone else’s mind and taking a drive there. Even my original characters are nothing like me, and that’s intentional. My hope with my own work is not that I am writing about myself as a character, but that i am getting to live inside a characters head for a while. I hope that it is still his or her thoughts and feelings driving the story, rather than mine projected onto the character.

    Maybe i don’t always succeed (I really don’t feel that an author is impartial enough to judge their own work) but that’s my aim.

    Interesting subject, thanks. :D

    • Thanks for the comment, Cat.

      yeah, I don’t want to set up quality as the line between fanfic and “real” fic, and I apologize if I created that impression inadvertently. My point about SB as a wet dream is that it’s of unbelievably poor quality and I can’t believe crap like that actually gets published. Most of the JP fanfics I’ve read are actually better than Chris Ryan’s stuff. The line for me is more easily associated with things like generic conventions, e.g., fanfics often write narratives from multiple viewpoints at once whereas “real” fic tends to write a narrative chapter from the viewpoint of one character. Fanfics often have relatively inconsistent universe rules, whereas science fiction authors have usually thought out the rules of their universes in a great deal of detail. So there’s a great of variance and always exceptions to the rules.

      The reason I wanted to talk about fanfic as genre was that to me, applying the criticism style usually applied to literature misses the point with fanfic. Fanfic has different generic conventions.

      On the author / character resemblance, I wanted to discuss this because of the prevalence of Mary Sues in fan fic.

      • You didn’t imply that quality of the difference between “real” and “fanfic” I was just adding another element to the discussion.

        And honestly, I think fanfiction is something you could discuss for a whole year and still come up with very few hard and fast rules for what fanfic is.

        Personally I started writing it before I knew what it was, that was 20 years ago when the internet was still just a wee baby. I didn’t know it was a “thing” I was just taking characters I loved and creating new stories with them.

        It was another 6 years until i had regular access to the internet and finally plucked up the courage to start posting stories. Back then the new was a nicer place and while I’m sure my stories were awful, no one was ever mean to me that i can remember. Slowly my work improved, I began to see it as more than just a fic, it became a work, something that I wanted to do well. Remembering this, if I don’t like a fic, i click the back button and i never criticize authors. When (if) they want to improve, they know where to find help and besides, who died and made me king?

        I sometimes wonder if someone;s hobby was oil painting instead of a fanfic, and they had spent hours or even days working on and completing their painting, if we would be so quick to criticize as some seem to be in the fanfic world? Those critics argue that fanfic needs to be improved are kidding themselves. It;s a hobby for the writers. By it’s very definition it’s a hobby that the writer cannot make money from, thus he or she is free to chose how good they want to become at that hobby.

        Strangely, since I’ve started writing professionally, i have to say that I do not put the same time and effort into my fanfic. To me that is now my escape. Which is not to say that i’ll post anything, and 9/10 i have completed and re-read a story probably 3 times before i begin posting it. I do care that it’s good but i also like that it doesn’t need the same attention to detail that my novels have. Fanfic is now my sandbox where I can have a play, novels are my canvas where i (try to) create a masterpiece ;)

        As for Mary Sue’s they even appear in professional writers work. John Porter is clearly an idealised author insert. Russell T Davis has often said that as a child he wanted to be Dr Who’s assistant and it seems clear that the character of Rose Tyler in in fact wish fulfilment for him. While many call her a Mary Sue (and indeed I believe that later on she did become one) initially she was a very well written and well rounded character.

        Kate from Robin Hood is another classic example of a Mary Sue, even though it is unlikely that she is an author insert.

        Once again we could discuss this subject for a year and still people would be vehemently opposed to which characters are and aren’t Mary Sue’s.

        Sometimes i will even seek out a Mary Sue fic because for a few hours, i want to be in her shoes. Some stories that I find I don’t like but some are readable and some are very good.

        And do you know what? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to read a Mary Sue fic, just like there’s nothing wrong with watching soap operas, listening to trashy pop music or eating fast food. I wouldn’t recommend anyone do those things all the time but as a part of a balanced lifestyle, I see no harm in any of them.

        • I kind of did when I said that real fic was held in higher esteem not least because of perceptions of quality and marketability.

          agree re Mary Sues. (e.g., Stingo in Sophie’s Choice may be a Styron self insertion). It seems to me to be unavoidable because inevitably if you are the one imagining a fiction there’s going to be something of you in it, somehow, even if it’s not the character. But it’s also the opening to thinking of the story as reflecting something essential about the author because the Mary Sues in fanfic are often so blatant and undisguised.

          All of the fanfic I write involves me as a Mary Sue. It wouldn’t be worth it to me otherwise, I don’t think. It becomes a way for me to explore things (usually) that are troubling me — and seeing what happens if a story goes in a particular direction is a way for me to explore potential outcomes in my own world.

          Great discussion.

  10. I’m probably going to be completely off topic here but can I say that having something from the first thing I’ve ever written stick enough in your mind (whether for good or bad) to mention it THRILLS me. With all the fanfic out there that means a great to me. So thank you, whatever the reason.

    There is alot of fanfic out there that I don’t like. What kills it for me is when I can’t get immersed into the story or suspend my reality to be in the character’s world. BUT, would I comment to the author negatively..no. Encourage them to write, improvement usually occurs and if they write it might just be for their own enjoyment and amusement. That’s why I write and for me, fanfic writing unblocks the rest of my creativity.

    I get very upset when I hear authors saying that their fans what x or y…..that is bullying as well.

    Enough from me…chores be done because now I’m in the mood to write some Guy and Marian tonight…. :)

    aka Annie Lucas

    • good luck with the writing!

      I definitely don’t think we’re obliged to love everything we read. I have my own lists of “don’t likes” and when I encounter them in fic I often stop reading. Not always, though. Maybe it’s a decade and a half of reading student writing but I usually find something redeemable.

      And I agree — bullying is not always just conducted by disgruntled fans (or a fan).

  11. [...] commonality between all of them is to write for yourself, what you like, and write, write, write.  Servetus offered a thought provoking essay on what writing fanfic could really mean and the internal cause [...]

  12. [...] deep, unconscious attractions of Richard Armitage’s work for many of us. I discuss two “iconic moments” in her writing the interview below, but there are many more. She diverges into the fanciful, [...]

  13. [...] single fanfics unless they appear as books on their own, usually for reasons that have to do with my anxieties about loving fanfic. The last almost two years of blogging notwithstanding, I have as great a fear of looking silly as [...]

  14. [...] acknowledged difficulties with that genre. Some readers don’t like it or find it unethical. Readers often have a hard time understanding sex as metaphor and may make false assumptions about me based on this writing or decide that they dislike someone [...]

  15. [...] why I feel this way, you can read what I said about fanfic and its meaning to me about a year ago here, a post that feels more pertinent to me than [...]

  16. [...] Because it seemed like writing the blog could make her whole. [...]

  17. […] fanfic, frankly. It wasn’t for the romance. I’ve talked before about what I call the “iconic moment” as the reason that I read fanfic — that phrase or picture that echoes in my ears and mind and stays with me when I’m […]

  18. […] s/he knows or believes about Armitage based on his or her own confrontation with that evidence. What I once called “the iconic moment” in fanfic, that moment when the fanfic author captures something about the character this is so sympathetic […]

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