Fan fiction (part 2)

Thank you everyone who participated in the animated discussion on fan fiction.  A special thanks to those who brought new viewpoints and differing opinions; and to Marie, who went as far as to bring the discussion to another forum entirely.

Fascinating viewpoints emerged.  I’ll summarize the main arguments:

  • The social aspect.  (I had completely ignored that aspect of modern internet-style fan fiction in my post.  It is an important component.  Fan fiction is another social medium like Goodreads, Facebook or Twitter.  Apologies to all who use it, especially our beautiful teens.  Of course you are fully entitled to your gathering places!)
  • Different genres all called “fan fiction”.  While I’m not sure I’d agree that parody is fan fiction (I see it as the opposite, actually, making fun of rather than honouring a work, even if it is meant good-naturedly), I’m quite sure retelling of folk tales is not.  Folk tales are creative common; usually no author can be traced.  They follow a verbal tradition which is simply extended by those who retell in writing.  It would be fan fiction of whom?
  • Different qualities of fan fiction.  There are two distinct “styles” of fan fiction around today; one, whose tradition dates back to Victorian times, done with great care and attention, often by experienced or highly skilled writers; and then, that giant unedited free-for-all that resembles social media more than any genuine fiction arena.  The latter is the one I was attacking in the previous post, not realizing I was trespassing into social media territory.
  • Successful writers emerging from fan fiction.  This has been happening all along, but I believe you can pick out their style and make a fair prognosis already based on the quality of their fan fiction.  EL James, to be honest, is a phenomenon that has me gobsmacked.  Someone once said that “your book doesn’t have to be good as long as it appeals”.
  • The reader’s market… is after all the same.  Who’d want to read fanfic about a character they have not met in its original setting?  It follows that both fanfic readers and writers were indeed originally readers of published novels.  But as it turns out, Penguin is quite rich enough…
  • Competition for the emerging new author.  It is easier to build a fan-base on someone else’s fame than try to raise one’s own.  But as everywhere in evolution, this should not be a bad thing:  It simply means that with stiffer competition, authors have to stand out even more to win the reader’s attention away from those well-established characters.  The result should be better fiction.

The whole conversation has put me in the mood for starting a fan-fiction ezine.  Feel free to post your ideas in the comments!  🙂

16 thoughts on “Fan fiction (part 2)

    • Finally took your bait and read up on Kerouac. Yes, quirky, very quirky. Amazing. Still, M, you have to admit that not every writer has the talent of spinning out a first draft into something a reader would enjoy. One thing I notice with my older generation of authors is that the quality of the language, expression, grammar etc is impeccable. I think the standards of writing back then (that were enforced in school) were simply much higher than they are today. It was a different world.

      A lot of young fanfic authors in fact write in another language and use Google Translate to “help” them into English. This, I believe, is a grave mistake.

    • I think Google Translate could, in fact, become a tool for immense creativity, as it piles on faux ami after faux ami, rather like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy… You’ve given me a great idea.

      I think what I have been trying to express, in comments on this couple of posts on the subject of fan fiction, is that those of us who exist in the world of traditional writing and publishing have a set of conventions, aimed at a specific end product. These conventions serve a purpose, and serve us well. But they are just that – conventions.

      I think what we dislike most about fan fiction is that it breaks several of these cherished conventions. And what we dislike a close second is that a lot of it is inexpert. But a lot of movements forward in art were made by the breaking of conventions, and who ever said that art should be the fiefdom of the ‘expert’? I disagree with the point of view that lays down that one should learn rules before breaking them; no, one should, first of all, obey the urge to create. Some fan-fictioneers will, no doubt, become traditional writers, but we give ourselves airs if we think that is an ascent to Olympia – it is, rather, a move from one milieu to another, where conventions are not necessarily ‘better’, but different, it’s not a qualitative thing but almost a state-of-being thing. The concept of ‘better’ risks our being like the haughty, Victorian colonists, coming along to ‘civilise’ the natives of somewhere-or-other, without realising the richness of what they already had.

      Fan fiction will continue. It will develop. It will be (as it already is) a branch of the tree of literature, and a uniquely audience-participation branch at that. And hurrah for that aspect of it.

  1. When conventions are broken out of ignorance. laziness, or plain stupidity there is no sense whatsoever in applauding or even tolerating the behaviour. Unfortunately the modern social media as a whole has not contributed positively to communication skills. A lot of what passes over it may be equated with the grunts of primates.

    • But that is how conventions are broken 99 times out of a hundred – you’re writing off humanity, and, importantly, the major way in which language develops! And any descriptive sociolinguist worth his salt will tell you you’re dead wrong about social media; it has been a creative crucible of language, maybe not in a way you would favour, but it has.

    • Actually, yes, conventions are broken most often by those who are unaware of them. However, they are usually only broken in an innovative, admirable way by people who know all the rules and break them very deliberately, in a highly entertaining or thought-provoking fashion, with the intent of making a point. We send children to school and offer language courses to foreigners to help them learn the conventions so that they can use them deliberately.

      I’d like to mention 12-tone music as a less successful deliberate break of musical convention in a desperate effort to innovate.

    • You and the sociolinguists both are arguing a hopeless case. Self-evident is that the quality of language and the depth of expression therein are on a downward spiral. The crucible melts, but what emerges is only reformed with escalating imperfections. In essence, an improvement is what works better than what went before. This doesn’t.

    • Sociolinguists do not, however, ‘argue a case’. There’s is a descriptive discipline.

      When we declare something ‘an improvement’ or ‘admirable’, that is ‘arguing a case’, and it is never a culturally-neutral exercise, it always reflects our bias. In the case of language, the argument is usually made – please don’t take this personally – in ignorance of the accidents, processes, and even arguably false steps that the language took to get to the state with which we are familiar and comfortable.

    • I cannot agree, there. Sociolinguistics is a science which takes premises and associations which may or may not be valid – as with any branch of science or study – and present and argue a case for the conclusions reached. They may well look to the wrong ‘accidents and processes’ in following a particular evolution.
      At any rate, a study of the interaction between society and language does not involve, per se, an analysis of the communicative effectiveness of the new versions as opposed to the old.

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