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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Why Fan Fiction?

Why Fan Fiction?

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 Different people like to use their Flist in different ways.  

stmargarets  likes holding writing challenges; moonette1  likes having virtual parties.  And I get a lot of pleasure from hosting debates and discussions of issues related to writing, art, etc.

So here's my latest provocation:


A number of my RL friends, when they hear that I write fan fiction, are enthusiastic and congratulatory, but also want to know whether I'm planning to write anything "original" soon.  Indeed, I've had reviews that ask the same thing, and even people on my Flist have nudged me about it.  I find all of these inquiries very flattering.  Many of my RL friends ask, "Why is it you're writing fan fiction instead of original fiction?"

Typically I have three answers:

1.      It’s easier because the characters and settings already exist. Creating OCs is hard, and it’s also harder to, well, believe that you’ve done it right. When I write Hermione, Albus or Severus, I can hear their voices in my head very clearly from what I’ve read about them already, and so it’s easy to imagine what they’d say or do in a particular situation. But when you create an OC, you’re starting with nothing. (I had no idea at all who Linda Norfolk-Howard really was until I got to the Epilogue of On the Headmaster’s Wall; the same was true of Ned Mason.) On the other hand, writing OCs is really fun when it does go right. So my first answer is, “laziness and fear.”
2.      There’s a built-in audience for the writing. People already want to read HP fan fiction, so they’ll want to read mine, and some of them will like it. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have people read what I wrote and tell me they enjoyed it; it’s addictive and intensely pleasurable. (Okay, it’s not up there with chocolate or sex, but it’s pretty high in the second tier…) If I were writing completely original fiction, then I’d have to find an audience. So my second answer is, “hunger for immediate love.”
3.      I love the HP universe, and when I write FF I get to play there. It’s possible that I’d eventually love a new universe entirely of my own creation, but it takes a lot of time for such things to develop. (And anyway, universes I’d tend to dream up myself would likely be pretty depressing.)
But when my friends egg me on about writing original fiction, of course it inspires all sorts of fantasies and ambitions:  "Maybe I could get paid for this!"  "Maybe I could be famous!"  "Maybe I could be less embarrassed talking about it in front of people in RL."  These ambitions and fantasies do give me an incentive to try to write OF, but they also get in the way of the writing because now I'm no longer doing it for the pure pleasure of the act itself.

Every attempt of mine to write original fiction, from the end of college until 2006, was fraught with fantasy and ambition, and I never finished any of those attempts.  When I discovered fan fiction, it was different.

I started reading FF, as I know I've said before, about a month after HBP came out, because of the strange emotional conversion I had when Harry got together with Ginny.  Before HBP my attitude was, "I don't care who Harry ends up with, so long as he ends up with someone, because the poor guy deserves to be happy."  When Harry & Ginny finally found each other I experienced a rush of relief, and when they appeared to "break up" (or whatever it was) I became distressed.  I spent August fretting (about fictional characters!  I was worried about my mental health).  So I was restlessly doing various Google searches on the names "Harry" and "Ginny" and came across the first chapter of antosha_c's  Monster on SIYE.  Emotionally it was just what I needed.  Then a year later, also SIYE (which was, at the time, the only HP FF site I knew about), I ran across Intromit's Fate's Debt and Viridian's Nightmares of Futures Past, and found them (especially the latter) very moving.  Then I started writing reviews, and debating with the authors, and somewhere along the line (don't ask me how) the idea for The 312th Edition popped into my head, fully formed.

But when I started writing that story, it was just for a lark.  And the same thing was true of the next one, and the next one.  Indeed, for me the most troubling thing about multi-chapter WIPs like A Slow Boat to Shippers' Hell is that once I write the first chapter or two, there's an audience that's actually expecting / hoping for something more from me (the next chapter) -- and it changes the context of what I'm doing.  It's somehow not as fun.  (This is what now scares me about writing Returing Were As Tedious; I'm afraid I'll start to resent the story about halfway through.)  So maybe there's a fourth reason I write fan fiction:  The stakes are low, and I don't have to worry about whether it's any good (although I do worry about that, and I do pretty intensive second and third drafts).

So okay, there's my rambling meditation on the pros and cons of writing fan fiction.

Care to jump in?  From any perspective at all?

  • Oh cack. I'll jump in.

    It sounds as though we share reasons for writing fan fic. I've been writing in the Potterverse, one way and another, since GoF was published. The first fic I started was Harry's fifth year (Ambitious much? ;-) :lol:) which was abandoned. I write HP because the world JK created swirled together many things I enjoy reading (mythology, legends, magic) with a story I enjoyed. I think the phrase is 'hook, line and sinker'.

    I wrote before I discovered fan fic although I've been in other fandoms and read their 'stories based on the characters'.

    If you were to ask me why I write, I couldn't tell you. I simply do. Have done for years.

    Of those in RL who know I write fan fic, the majority opinion is a toss-up between, a: scuff your chair away from the weirdo quickly and b: I should quit wasting my time and effort writing something I can't make money out of, and write something I can make money out of.

    To which I say, 'show me how it's done then, if you think it's so easy'. Critics tend to hem and haw at that point. ;-)

    To the reasons you gave for strugglng with OF, I add 'lack of imagination'. I agree it's so much harder to build up an original world in which to play. Everything seems to have been done before. I have tried but have given up and gone off to play in fandom again. Guess that makes me 'lazy' and 'lacking commitment'.

    You mentioned 'writing for the pure pleasure of the act'. I identify with that very strongly (as with much of your post). Some days I feel like an Inuit carving a bone 'to see what's inside'; I write to see where the story will go. Some days it stalls and some days it goes places I didn't envisage. Other days I have to rip it apart and start afresh.

    I have no idea if any of this ramble was what you were looking for, but... it's a perspective.
    • Hi, Hazel. I rambled, so if you're rambling that's probably just maintaining the theme.

      What's interesting about the observation that "everything's been done before" is that in FF we don't care whether it's been done before, because we know we're re-using old stuff (characters, settings, backstory) anyway. Whatever "originality" we get out of the story is "gravy." I wonder whether we'd all write better OF if we stopped caring about how original it was and just wrote it.

      And man, do I ever sympathize with that "stalling" vs. "going someplace unexpected" line. The chapter I posted on Sunday stubbornly refused to be written for two weeks; then it all came out in two days, including things (wandmaking; spell pronunciation problems; the foreshadowed definition of "dark arts"; Eileen's intervention) that I'd never imagined would be there.
  • I've always written fanfic. When I finish a book I care about, the characters always live on in my head for days or weeks or months afterwards and inevitably they start living their own lives and occasionally I find the need to write them down. None of these feeble attempts were ever intended for anyone else to read, they're just a way of extending my own enjoyment of a book.

    I started reading HP fic one day when I was bored and surfing the internet to find something to read. I had a few false starts and then I found the Quill and St Margarets (the first review I ever left was for Roger and Lisa). Lurking around the forums for a while, I started to think a bit more seriously about writing. I left a few drabbles on the Fluff thread, but the real breakthrough was when dogstar pointed me to an LJ community for Antonia Forest, for which I happened to have a long fic already written. I began posting and the rest is history!

    HP for me is a way of finding fellow-writers to learn from. I so appreciate people like you, Ken, and Mary and Annette and others who think my stories are worth reading and worth taking the time to point out what I'm doing wrong. I've just bought my first creative writing book and I'm trying to decide whether I really want to take my writing seriously and try to do it better (I don't ever think publication is on the cards!) or whether to just paddle around in the shallow end of mindless fluff. The stakes are lower with fanfic but I've found it a great place to learn and I'm very grateful for that.

    You're quite right that fanfic is easier, less frightening, less risky. I was terrified when I linked to my LJ from my RL blog but pleasantly surprised by the responses - a number of friends have read and enjoyed some of my stories and no one's made any snide remarks! Last week I was talking to a friend who was telling me that her daughters have been reading some of my fics and one has been inspired to write her own LOTR fic. She was grateful and I was amazed to have been that kind of inspiration!

    On the pressures of the multi-chapter fic - well, you could just not publish until it's all done, like grandma_kate. Or you could just not care about your readers, like me. ;)
    • Hi Ros. I echo and amplify your comment about finding fellow writers to talk to and to learn from -- except that I would also add that I've also run across some extremely thoughtful readers,</b> who don't care to write themselves, from whom I also learn a great deal. There are several on this Flist. But yes, from others who write I can learn how they got out of the difficulties in which I find myself, or at least just have the sympathy of "I've been there too."

      Yes, I've thought about doing what Kate does (or what Mary seems to be attempting with her Ron story). But the flip-side of the "pressure" I feel from posting part of a WIP is that I also get the encouragement and positive feedback that inspires me to want to do more.
  • Hey! That's not fair. I like to have round robins which are heavy on the flangst and talk about manly scars, too! (sheesh - the way you talk, people would think I'm shallow or something.)

    Anyway - we're off to the beach so I only have a minute, but I'll quickly post a few thoughts.

    I don't agree with your number 1 for myself. My multichaptered stories feature OCs and spend most of the time away from Hogwarts in places of my own creation. I find writing OCs terribly fun and not so very difficult. I feel extremely confined with canon now and it's simply not enjoyable to me anymore. The more freedom to create my own stuff, the better.

    Number 3 was valid when I started out, but again, I'm tired of borrowing from someone else's universe, as wonderful as the HP universe is.

    The one I do agree with is number 2. It is completely wonderful to have a built in audience who is ready to jump on your next story. Unfortunately that's not the norm in OF, which is why staying in fan fiction is tempting.

    Your last point about the audience's expectations possibly changing the context of your work comes from the fact that you post as you go along. I did this with my first long story, but I held out with AIR and posted with only one or two chapters left, to simulate the OF writing world. It kept the integrity of my idea but it was HARD! Which harkens back to number 2, LOL! I suspect all roads lead back to number 2, unfortunately.

    Oops, gotta run - I have several parties lined up today and I wouldn't want to miss a minute of my partying. I'll check back later and see if I can add something actually intelligent to the conversation! (If I'm not too tired from all of the parties.

    • Okay, okay, don't get your knickers in a twist. (What a marvelous expression that is -- I can't think of any American metaphor that is nearly as, er, evocative.) After all your piercingly perceptive commentaries on my writing, your detailed explanations of medical issues related to my stories, and the analyses you add to these debates, I imagined that you didn't need reassurance that you're a deep thinker and party girl.

      I really envy and want to emulate where you are when it comes to OCs and original settings -- that's where I want to be. But so far, practically every new idea I come up with has an HP name attached to it. It isn't just events X, Y and Z, it's X, Y and Z happening to Hermione. (Notably the idea never seems to come attached to any of the other series with which I am intimately familiar, such as LoTR, Star Trek, Bablylon 5, Narnia, etc.) Why?

      As I was saying to Ros, above, posting as you go vs. posting at the end seems to be an evenly-balanced choice. I'll try it one way this time, and maybe another way the next time.
  • It's too bad I didn't know you when HBP came out because I was just as depressed as you were. I felt so bad for Ginny since this was clearly a mistake on Harry's part and she was so brave . . . And they were both hurting. Sigh. *loves her H/G*

    Anyway - fan fic. I never would have written a word without it, I'm sure. It's an easy way to start writing since there are all of these characters just waiting to be shipped written and there's a built-in audience that will talk back to you. Wow - writing with feedback from all kinds of people - not just the few who are competing with you in a creative writing class. Where else are you going to get that kind of audience?

    I wish I could say I had some sort of plan to push me out of amateur status, but trying to figure out how to write well and trying to figure out the publishing business is too steep of a learning curve for me right now.

    I'm wondering how DH will affect me in terms of fan fiction. I might want to start a new universe or I might want to write something original. Or maybe both. :)

    But I will never think of this time in fan fiction as a waste of time or just a silly diversion - it's been very good for me.
    • Oh my goodness - fan fiction has been the most wonderful experience for me, too! I hope I didn't come off sounding ungrateful. I was making a quick post before heading out with the girls.

      It's how I ventured back into writing from a hiatus of over twenty years! And the people I've met have become such an important part of my life. NO WAY was it a waste of time! I just feel like pushing the envelope now. I think you and I write with the same excitement about our own characters and our own places - I mean the woman who created William Wood should have absolutely NO lack of confidence in creating their own characters! You've shown us wonderful OCs again and again and your own fantastic settings again and again.

      And now that I've ventured into my own story, I certainly do miss posting fan fic and receiving feedback. Enough to tempt me into another one shot. (I've a good, dark Greyback idea that's been nudging me.)
    • (no subject) - rhetoretician - Expand
  • Wow Ken - I referenced one of your stories (On the Headmaster's Wall) in a seminar the other day (inspired by our email conversation about angst!) and now this. Will you please just provide all the data for my PhD kthnx?

    I'm feeling very tired today, so my thoughts will be even more muddled and laboured than usual.

    1.I find I love writing canon characters and OCs equally, for different reasons. With, say, Neville and his gran, what I'm doing is constructing my own critical interpretation of the source text, and enjoying the interplay between my best guess as to what was in the Single Author's head when she created those characters and what I know emerges out of my own life experience. With a character like Hannah, I have more freedom, although I also enjoy the process of piecing together the few clues we have from Harry about her behaviour and constructing an 'argument' as to why she and Neville are a good match. With an *entirely* OC character, I found it interesting to assess what things I think I did well, and where I lapsed into thinness or cliché because I hadn't thought around all the dimensions of constructing an entirely new character. So, for me, it's about all the different pieces of the learning process and putting them together along the journey.

    2. Hunger for immediate love is certainly a very big part of it for me and on the pleasure scale I'd put it way higher than chocolate at least! Perhaps even higher than a really good steak, but maybe not. I also find the dialogue with other writers and reading other people's good stories incredibly stimulating and challenging and so the people I've met while doing this are of great importance. I think that atmosphere of support and goodwill is probably impossible to achieve in the activity of original fiction because it would be much harder to find, establish and maintain a community of practice centred around a shared 'affinity space,' (as Gee calls it). I'm not sure I agree with his conceptualisation of affinity spaces, as I haven't yet read and digested his ideas in detail, but I like the term. We have the HP universe, and those of us who want such things might even have ficverses that intersect and overlap at different 'quilting points' which may add up to something quite powerful compared to, say, a group of original writers talking about their own characters, plots, etc.

    3. I enjoy playing in the HP universe for the moment. I can't say I always will but for now, I have to write the stories I am given. I'm slightly envious of writers who are confident to write original fic as well as fanfic, and produce the goods but I don't feel ready to join them yet, even though I get very tired of the negative reception to feedback I get from most of my real life friends and quite often have to deal with the "Why aren't you writing your own stuff?" question. My stock answer (in my head, not out loud) is "Well, why don't you try bloody reading one of my fanfics before being so quick to dismiss the entire activity as worthless?" I'm also put off by the sheer quantity of dreck that *does* end up published, and if I ever do publish a book, it won't be with any expectation of making money from it. It will be because a world, a story, a set of characters come to me, and I can't not write them - as I feel now about the characters of JKR's that I plan to use next. I am a little worried that the stories in my mind won't be 'fresh' by the time I get to begin them, and I plan to at least write and not publish until most of them are 'cooked' so that will be very hard I'm sure, as I'm a review junkie. But I feel I need to do it so that I don't get blown off course or make mistakes of the kind I made in AfR. Learning to stand firm and keep writing without constant feedback from readers is the next staging post on my learning journey. All it probably means is that I'll end up spamming a select few of my trusted writing buddies even more than I do already!
  • Reading fanfiction does fill the gap between the books. It's another form of speculation about what will or could happen, I suppose. It's interesting reading about why you writers do write fanfiction. I can understand why people ask why you don't write original fiction. If I hadn't got myself drawn into reading fanfiction these last few years I would propably say the same thing. Since Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer with March it should surely have become respectable by now.

    I'll add my reason for having a live journal, despite not doing anything useful or interesting with it: St Margarets bullied me into getting one! If I'd known what else she would make me do, I might have resisted.
    • Hi Bel! We can probably go back even further than Brooks to find respectable "fan fiction." The first one that leaps immediately to mind is Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which is what we FF types would call a "missing moments" piece (the same way you might call a Bach fugue a "nice tune"). I think, though, that once the author has been dead long enough and the canon source has achieved a sufficient level of cultural canonicity (is that even a word?), people don't call it "fan fiction" anymore. People call Wicked a "reworking" or a "reinterpretation" of the Baum books -- I haven't heard anyone call it "fan fiction." But it's a weird, fuzzy line, isn't it?
  • Yay. My second favorite thing to write after fanfiction is writing about fanfiction!!

    First, I want to rec an interesting essay that is posted on OWL called Towards a Tentative Theory on Fanfiction by Tasha19:
    Her summary: "On Harry Potter fanfiction, narrative therapy, archive fever, postmodernism, repetition with a difference and a whole bunch of other things."
    There is a lot of good stuff to chew on here, including Jacques Derrida, Peter Brooks and how the Talmud is an ancient form of reinventing an existing text; the CANON of CANONs, as it were.

    I was impressed by the idea that we come back to the same source material over and over and over again - not only as writers, but as fanfic readers, because its a way of working out something that resonants within us, or as she notes, a form a Narrative Therapy. With each reiteration we resurrect the idea/impulse/question anew. Or, if your a cynic, we do it to indulge in our obsessive-compulsive tendencies! ;)

    I *fell* into fanfic around the same time as you, Ken. These ideas after HBP kept taking more and more of my brain space. I posted on forums, but it wasn't satisfying. Then, by accident, I wandered into a fanfic forum, and thought it would be a good way to *dump* the moving pictures that seemed to be on a non-stop loop in my head. Then, I thought naively, I could go about my normal pursuit of happiness.

    Little did I know the addictive power of THE COMMENT. I had no idea.

    More importantly, I discovered -- or rather -- rediscovered a love of writing, and an important part of myself that I'd long forgotten was there.

    In the last several months I've 'come out of the fanfic closet' to my friends. The reaction I get most often is one of glassy-eyed confusion. So, I just say that it's a new, fun hobby. That seems to suffice. In the end, I do it for me, because it's a creative challenge, it's fun and it feeds that previously-mentioned obsessive-compulsive nature!

    I, too, have been asked about writing OF. I figure if I ever have a JKR-on-the-train without-a-pen inspiration, I'll go for it. For now, the comfortable universe she has created is a more-than-satisfactory sandbox for me to play in: its big enough for the wildest ideas, but it has nice, high sides so won't fall out and hurt myself. Oh, and plenty of sand to make really cool castles or to throw at the rest of you if I feel like it!

    Oh, and I LOVE AND ADORE my original characters. The closest to OF as I'm likely to get, but very satisfying to write.
  • Interesting reading. From the stand point of a just a reader, I have selfish reasons. I want to read OC fiction from you. You're one up on other very good/aspiring fan fiction writers. You've been published...and in some cases better. So it could still be a hobby, nothing serious. Despite what you say, you have a very good range as a writer. As for multi chapter stories, it never bothered Charles Dickens or Arthur Conan Doyle in writing their monthly chapters in the newspaper. :)
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