Friday, December 21, 2012

Supporting Fan-fic Even When You're Not a Fan of It

And again, Mike Duran has managed to post a blog article that has gotten a slew of comments, which have branched off into about 47 different discussions. These include, but are not limited to:

  • If you market a Christian book in the mainstream without labeling it Christian, will your readers out you?
  • Are homeschoolers weird or normal? And can they really all be above average? 
  • Is IQ important, and does it make you a jerk to flash yours like a badge? (Or, is there a direct correlation between IQ and assery?)
  • Lord of the Rings: Is it "Christian" fiction?
  • Love it or hate it: Writing books that are the "Christian answer to Secular Blockbuster"? As in, "Read my book, it's the 'Christian' Harry Potter/Game of Thrones!"

And the last addition I noticed has to do with fan-fiction, which naturally emerged via the topic directly above.

I contributed to most of the other discussions directly on Mike's blog, but this last one I felt I ought to move to my own territory. Frankly, I've said enough over there in the comment thread. No need to overstep my welcome, and, well, this blog ought to be used for something, eh?

So, here's my experience with fan-fic. I had never even heard of such a thing until I started writing several years ago and got involved in some online writers loops. I had always assumed people left well enough alone when it came to other author's works. I knew it was illegal to write stories about trademarked characters and such and try to sell them, and I never would have thought people wrote stuff like that just for fun.

But there is a whole culture of fan-fic writers out there. And they write about EVERYTHING. Big name story worlds like Harry Potter and Star Trek. Cartoons like My Little Pony. Video games, TV shows that are no longer on the air...the list goes on. There are all kinds of sites on which the stories can be posted, too.

My first reaction to learning this was:

Really? What's the point? I couldn't understand even wanting to do this. When it comes to the books and shows I love, part of my love for them is that they are, at least in my mind, set in stone. I never, ever think, "But what if Harry Potter went off and did this...?" No, it's what JK Rowling said he did, and no more. End of story.

I just can't even think about it. I don't want to be allowed to mess around in there. I'm a fan of Harry Potter and other stories because I love them as-is, flaws and all.

Seriously, if you wanted me to read fan-fic about my dearest story loves, you'd have to pry my eyes open a la A Clockwork Orange, and the effect on me would likely be the same.

Oh, wait. That doesn't mean I hate fan-fic. Some of my closest friends write fan-fic, but it's not from the stories I love. And the writers I happen to know who love fan-fic are talented and intelligent. And it's something they have shown me the value of.

  • It gives them a playground to get creative with characters/settings they are already passionate about.
  • It gives them a pre-existing audience. There are rabid fan-fic fans out there hungrily searching for fresh meat.
  • It gives immediate gratification. Those rabid fans love leaving comments and encouraging the writers.
  • It gives them material to practice their writing skills with.
  • It often serves as a springboard for inspiration for their original fiction. 
  • And the last thing it can do is actually be transformed into original fiction. Change the names, the location, and some other details, and voila! 

(BTW--yes, that last counts as original, because once those changes have been made, the author is leaving the pre-set universe, and the plot has to be original or it would just be rewording what someone else already wrote. Besides, don't we ALL use bits and pieces of fiction we've read, people we know, situations we've experienced?)

If you're still scratching your head, that's fine. It took me a while, too. But now I can appreciate the existence of fan-fic and the culture supporting it, even if I don't feel a desire to step in and join them.


Caprice Hokstad said...

I did fan-fiction backwards. MOST fan-fic writers cut their writing "teeth" on fan-fic and then "graduate" to more serious fiction. I already had two books published when I started writing fanfiction, but I can safely say that were it not for fanfiction and the benefits you outlined, especially encouragement, I would have QUIT writing commercial fiction completely.

I can't speak for authors who get signed with Big Six publishers, but being self-pubbed or with a small press, there just is NOT enough "reward" for the amount of work, stress, and monetary investment I POURED into my career. I would not have completed my fantasy trilogy and I certainly wouldn't have done the space opera without the fanfiction. It made writing fun again and it helped restore some self-confidence. It let me regain a sense that maybe I am not wasting my time and spinning my wheels in an endless cycle of futility. (Jury is still out on that one.)

I don't expect everyone to like fanfiction. I don't like a LOT of it myself, and I write it!

I do wish there was less stigma attached though. People (in general) DO think less of you if you mention you write fanfic. I bet more writers do it than we know about. They just use pen names because they don't want to stand up to the ridicule. I know of several PUBLISHED writers who hide their fanfiction with great ZEAL, not telling ANYONE their pen name or admitting it anywhere public, because they are so afraid of the damage it could have on their writing career. Like heaven forbid they now be allowed to have fun or get any accolades or back-pats or be told they are LOVED.

Jill said...

There's nothing wrong with fan fic. A writer writing fan fic is like a painter imitating his favorite painter. It can either be an exercise, or a nod of appreciation for those have been trailblazers.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Yeah, Caprice, I wonder what would happen to the stigma if all the fan-fic writers shed their pen names?

And good point, Jill! Artists are *encouraged* to copy masterpieces as practice. I know it's a little different, but still. If it's used to learn technique it's valuable.

Kessie said...

And sometimes fanfic writers write something so "out there" it's not fanfic anymore and they can publish it. Naomi Novik read the entire Master and Commander series in two weeks, then sat down and wrote the first Temeraire book, which is Master and Commander, but with dragons.

I personally can't stomach book fanfic. Books have a particular voice, and IMO if the fanfic can't nail the voice, they shouldn't bother. TV and videogames give you a lot more leeway. I always swore that if Grimm didn't get a season 2, I'd write my own season 2 for them. :-p

Kat Heckenbach said...

Agreed--voice is so very much the author. I don't think it can ever truly be duplicated.

Dmdutcher said...

You all are talking about the concept when the problems are in the culture and execution. If you know what a MxM Insane!Harry/Snape lemonfic is, you know what's wrong with fan fiction. And there are a lot of those kinds of fics. Brony guy on Mike's blog is glossing over a lot of the real creativity in MLP fanfic, and it's not in the service of something good.

Kat Heckenbach said...

No clue about the HP/Snape thing is, but I can probably guess. And I'm quite aware that there are deviants in the fan-fic culture. But there are in all fiction cultures and subcultures.

Dmdutcher said...

The deviants run the show, though. It's possible for a subculture to be dominated by obsessed fans, and I think fan fiction is.

The same thing happened with furry culture: back in the day, furry comics were just serious anthropomorphic ones. People were fans of using cartoon animals to tell serious stories, and this is when we had things like Usagi Yojimbo, Albedo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and others. But then it started attracting the kind of people who wanted to be cartoon animals, and it never recovered. They took over the culture, and now furry is an insult in the same way saying a book is fan fiction is one: both refer to the extreme fans and their works who are the public face of it.

That's why I can't completely support it. Some things are fine in concept, but the public expression and the culture behind it isn't. Too much smut, and bizarre smut at that, creates a toxic environment for people to navigate in.

R. A. Meenan said...

As someone who's been reading and writing fan fiction for years, I'm always really surprised when people tell me they've never heard of it before. It's very odd to me.

My original stories actually started as Sonic the Hedgehog fan fiction. But they've changed and evolved so much that readers are unlikely to notice the novel's origins. XD

The only thing I worry about with fan fiction now is the sexualized stuff that people will one day write about my own novels... but I had a whole blog post for that one, so I won't go into details.

Kat Heckenbach said...

That's an interesting point--I wouldn't have thought about someone into fan-fic being surprised by those who have never heard of it.

And I've definitely never thought about people writing fan-fic of *my* novels before...

Is the blog post you refer to written already, or one you're planning?