Discussion Cory Doctorow: "In Praise of Fanfic"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by LAJ_FETT, May 20, 2007.

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  1. Commander-DWH Shiny Costuming & Props Manager

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    Nov 3, 2003
    star 4
    Most wonderful. This makes my week almost as much as hearing my friend quote her English professor as saying, "Yeah, the creative writing major is pretty useless. All it does is conform your style to the professor's standards and prevent you from having any sort of your own voice." Add that to the fact that most published authors from my college were decidedly not creative writing majors. On that stat alone, I'm far more likely to be published than my CW major friend who bashes fanfic. Gotta love it.

    Power to the fanficcers! :)
  2. Fifilla Jedi Knight

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    Mar 9, 2006
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  3. Jedi-Ant Jedi Master

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    Jan 3, 2007
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    Wow, fantastic article! :D

    Thank you for sharing that, FETT! [:D]
  4. ophelia Cards Against Humanity Host. Ex-Mod

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    Jun 25, 2002
    star 6
    A very nice article--I appreciated the fact that Doctorow made references to the ancient art of storytelling, and pointed out the strangeness of expecting the high degree of audience passivity that has seemed "normal" since TV redefined entertainment. Audio-visual media are now our entertainment gold standard, and they give the audience less room than print does to speculate on what "really happened."

    It's ironic that expectations of low audience control should be "reverse inherited" by the print entertainment industry. Books were once praised as being so much better for the mind precisely because they force their audience to visualize things for themselves. Sadly, I almost never hear that argument anymore. The war for active audience participation seems to have been lost--or perhaps won by guerrilla means, on millions of fansites worldwide.

    In any case, the question of authorial expectations of control brings me to this: On the other hand, this business of telling writers that they've given their characters the wrong words and deeds can feel obnoxious or insulting.

    I'm not quite sure what Doctorow means by this. Taken in a broad sense, it might be an indictment of the whole lit crit tradition, from book reviews in "The New Yorker" down to the inarticulate rant of some troll on a fan site. I certainly hope he doesn't mean that "respect" means indiscriminate fawning. Then again, it may be that Doctorow isn't complaining about reviewers, and is only speaking of AU fic, which implicitly suggests that some other plotline, character development, or stretch of dialogue could have been better--or at least just as good. I find that troubling, since if fanfic has any legality at all, it's in the realm of AU's, and in any case the dividing line between "canon" and "AU" can be as thin as a viewer's interpretation of a raised eyebrow. Finally, Doctorow may simply be talking about fans who buttonhole authors at conventions or send complaint letters to them through their publishers. I don't see any way to avoid these people or their (probably useless) suggestions, and while I sympathize with anyone who gets stuck talking to such a person, I also don't see any obvious connection with fanfic. If an annoying fanchild writes an author to say, "ZOMG ZOLOFT SO WOULD NOT GET MRRIED TO THAT ***** CONCERTA VIAGRA IS TOTALLY TEH ONLY GRL FOR HIM U SHOUD NEVUR WRITE ANY MORE BOOKS AGIAN," he/she/it has not actually sent the author an AU, or any kind of fanfic whatsoever. It's just inane blather.

    I won't bore people with speculating on how "respect" toward a work's creator might be defined, but I think the line needs to be put farther out than someone's expressed dislike for something.
  5. Luton_Plunder Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jun 15, 2006
    star 3
    That's an interesting point Ophelia. I think he's just expressing that authors will feel somewhat annoyed if people decide what they've writtgn isn't in line with how the characters they created would act. I don't think he means all AU fic writers are thumbing their nose at the original creator of the work, just that original authors may feel insulted that people are asserting that their work would be better if someone else wrote it, then declared that their version of events is much better than the original.

    I know I'd feel pretty miffed if someone posted in one of my threads that my OCs weren't acting like they should, and that they are going to re-write my scene the way they think it should be done. I'm pretty sure that the policy in place at these boards (i.e., no concrit unless asked for) is in place to prevent that very feeling from popping up between fanfic writers. It's just a natural feeling that one would get in that situation. (Actually, that might be an interesting question for the OC writers. How would you all feel if someone started writing fanfics of your fanfics?)

    AU fanfic isn't disrespectful to the original author because I don't think you'll find many AU writers that are declaring 'This is so much better than the way it happened'. The alternative classification for 'AU' is 'What If' fiction, if I'm not very much mistaken. 'What If' is very different from 'Should Have Been..."
  6. ophelia Cards Against Humanity Host. Ex-Mod

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    Oh, I'm sure you're right. I just think that this is an occupational hazard for anyone who has ever written or filmed a series of anything. Every time you show another iteration of a set of characters, there's going to be somebody crying that you've "lost your touch" or "jumped the shark" or "used to be better before ________." (We all know that the past was perfect, and that everything was always better before.) ;)

    Of course criticism like this would be unpleasant, but the frontal attacks are going to come from people posting reviews (or just plain rants, if they can't be dignified with the word "review"). Fanfic in itself doesn't actually review anything, unless you count the existence of a canon fic as an unqualified compliment, and the existence of an AU as a compliment with a "but."

    I'm just puzzled as to why Doctorow addressed this particular authorial headache in an essay defending fanfic. If all the fanfic in the world were deleted tomorrow, we would still be stuck with "bashers" who are dying to Monday-morning-quarterback their "favorite" writers. I hope Doctorow wasn't responding to a real complaint among profic authors that fanfic is somehow "telling them what to do." (I just don't get that one.)

    On a semi-related topic, I spent the past few months visiting the official "24" forums--which have a fanfic section, believe it or not. A downside of that particular site is that you end up listening to every idiot from New York to Bangkok who thinks he can write the show better than the actual writers. None of the "geniuses" ever have any writing experience, incidentally. People who have actually done a significant amount of writing are a lot slower to judge.
  7. Luton_Plunder Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jun 15, 2006
    star 3
    Ahh I see - and I agree.



    A frontal attack is far more likely to take the form of a rant, or at best a hostile review. I hadn't thought about it like this and you're right - fanfic in itself isn't nearly as disrespectful as baseless bashing. To have an AU fanfic is, like Doctorow said, proactive interpretation of the story. That's gotta be a thousand times better and more respectful than bashing authors for no quantifiable reason.
  8. LLL Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 16, 2000
    star 4
    Actually in many cases an AU works BECAUSE the original work is the way it is. An AU can be set up for comparison purposes and in this case neither one works as well without the reader's full knowledge of the other one. Sort of a not just "What if?" but, "Because of this you can really see what I mean by this."
  9. Luna_Nightshade Manager Emeritus

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    Unlocked per user request.
  10. LLL Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 16, 2000
    star 4
    Amusing addendum:

    Lenore Hart now has *two* books out which smack of fan fiction. The first was her Becky book based on Tom Sawyer, and now her new one, "The Raven's Bride," based on the life of Edgar Allen Poe and his young bride who died of TB at 24.

    My husband knows Lenore, and we went to her reading at the Library of Virginia in support of the book. At the Q&A session afterwards my husband raised his hand and asked her if her books were fan fiction.

    She had to think about that, but then agreed they were--just dignified by the fact that the material is no longer under copyright.

    I just had to post this. LOL!
  11. Iverna Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 20, 2008
    star 4
    Thanks for bumping this, since I probably would never have come across this otherwise. That's a cool article. I kinda wish I'd known about it for my thesis last year. Meh, well. It's still cool! *g*
  12. iceaffinity Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 23, 2010
    star 1
    Thanks for sharing the article! Cory Doctorow is awesome, and he raises some great points about fanfic writing and reading.

    Though after reading the article, I feel the need to share a little too...there are some great media studies books I've read recently that expand on fanfiction and its' role in fandom.

    Textual Poachers, by Henry Jenkins. It's a bit old now, written in 1992, but it's classic and has so much information on the pre-internet spread and development of fanfic. It also has the geekiest fanart cover I've ever seen in my life. [face_laugh]

    Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, also by Jenkins. Updated version of Textual Poachers, written post-internet invention. Jenkins is really an expert in the field....

    Fanfiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet is also a good read, with essays from several different authors, from many different fandoms, all compiled.



  13. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Mar 4, 2011
    star 7
    Thanks for unlocking this. It could not be more timely right now.

    I'm finishing my masters degree in library science, and we have actually discussed a lot of the issues that Doctorow brings up. We even discussed fan fiction in my collection development course; apparently some libraries collect it, although I'm not sure where those libraries are. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one in my class who had ever actually written fan fiction, and it made for interesting discussions.

    We've also spent a lot of time on how the Internet and digitization has affected the publishing industry. My first time hearing about that particular conflict between publishers and the 'Net was in the fan fiction universe. I was not writing fan fiction before the Internet (my fiction in the 80s was crappy original work that I cringe to think about now, as opposed to my early attempts at fan fiction almost a decade ago, which I also cringe to think about now), but I did learn that people compiled fan fiction stories into 'zines and then sold the 'zines. The Internet vs. publisher conflict is much, much broader than that (think the music industry and Napster), but I found it interesting to learn about it in class and be reminded immediately, not of Google Books or Kindles, but of fan fiction.

    As far as it not being "real" writing: I actually find fan fiction harder than original fiction. With original fiction, or writing OCs in fan fiction, the characters are mine and my job is to keep them acting consistently like themselves through the story. Whereas the challenge when writing, say, Han Solo or Lando Calrissian, is greater than that. I have to keep them acting consistently throughout the story, but I have to make sure they act consistently like Han and Lando in the movies. I also find myself doing a lot of Wookieepedia research on character origins, planetary origins, even Galactic Senate procedures. Not something I would necessarily have to do for an original story, although depending on the subject I can see the need for research there as well, particularly with historical fiction.

    As someone who primarily writes AUs (because, dammit, someone in the Star Wars universe has to be allowed to be happy sometime), I appreciate what Doctorow said he did, going home from the movie and writing it the way he wanted it to end. I'm not sure how any author would consider that disrespectful as long as he didn't try to sell it on the market as a "better" product than the original story. There's a reason people sue over that sort of thing, but writing it for no profit, giving credit to the originator of the work, and putting it online to share is still a homage, even if he changes the story a bit.

    I'm taking an Art of Storytelling class right now and we've talked a lot about storytelling traditions and the way stories get passed down from generation to generation. And the assignment I'm working on tonight and tomorrow is, oddly enough, fan ficcing an old fairy tale. We're allowed to pick any fairy tale we want but we can't tell it as it was originally done, we have to change the story up a bit. (And yes, this is one of the coolest classes I've ever taken in graduate school or prior to that.)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the link and unlocking the thread. Very interesting and informative.
  14. iceaffinity Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 23, 2010
    star 1
    For serious? I'd like to know where these libraries are too, and also how it's stored. Fic isn't usually printed and bound, at least not outside of print zines, and I'm doubting any ebook companies/net libraries are providing that sort of thing. That said, though...wow! =D= What kind of standards would be used to judge what to add to the collection? There's such a proliferation of fanfic out there, in so many different fandoms and genres, it'd be hard to sort through, I'd imagine.

    I'm also curious about the reaction you got in your class, if you told them you write fic. I generally stay 'in the closet' about it to those outside my circle of (equally geeky) friends who 'get' fanfic and fandom in general. Outside of fandom circles, I don't know how widespread knowledge and acceptance of fanfic is. Doctorow mentioned doujinshi in Japan - that's a very widespread and well recognized format of fan writing there, and some doujin circles' publications can be purchased at anime/manga stores easily. Some major pro-writers got their start in doujinshi before moving to professional manga (CLAMP comes to mind). Though that happens here as well, with fic writers moving into pro writing, I wonder how well known their fic writing was before they went professional.

    Also, I am MUCH jealous of your collection development course. Mine was boring as all get out. And your Art of Storytelling class. Sounds fun....[face_love]



  15. Iverna Force Ghost

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    Feb 20, 2008
    star 4
    I used to keep it a secret, but since writing my thesis, I've been pretty open about it. I don't see what there is to be ashamed of, I'm quite proud of what I've written, so the hell with it. :p

    Henry Jenkins' books are brilliant. I used them quite a lot for my MA last year, he's got some great points and explanations. Actually, if anyone's interested in this stuff, there's a few more books listed in the bibliography section of my thesis, which is still uploaded over at deviantART (here).

    That storytelling class sounds like so much fun. I had a paper about storytelling published recently, which was awesome to research, because I got to attend an actual storytelling event. It's so different and cool to hear stories being "performed", as opposed to reading them... it was a really cool experience.

    My college library had an "exhibition" of fanzines a few months ago, where they displayed a ton of zines with fic written by local fanfic authors. I thought that was such a cool idea. I didn't get to go though, because I wasn't there at the time. But yeah, it sounded awesome, and it was great to see fanfic get that kind of recognition, and from one of the country's bigger universities, no less.
  16. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Mar 4, 2011
    star 7
    The subject of fan fiction collection wasn't elaborated on much; I'm guessing that it is as Iverna said, they collect fanzines written by community members. The professor (who is wicked cool, I was afraid the class was going to be boring but he made it interesting) was a public library director before going into professor-ship, and I think some public libraries might do the same as the academic library Iverna described. I wouldn't know for sure, my concentration is in K-12 school librarianship and we definitely don't collect it. [face_laugh] But, when I was a classroom teacher, I did help a student get her LOTR fan fic started.

    I didn't get much of a reaction but most people who know me, know that I'm a geek anyway. :p

    The storytelling class is an elective and it is loads of fun. Can range from a little intimidating to a little silly (I just bought a pair of rabbit ears to tell a story to a class of kindergartners--need I say more?), but it's fun.
  17. iceaffinity Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 23, 2010
    star 1
    [face_blush] I don't know if I'd say I'm "ashamed" of it (I wouldn't post if I was ashamed!) but from non-geeks I've talked to, mostly family members, they either don't understand the interest at all and are bewildered, or try to be encouraging and "cool" about it, while telling me I'd do better to write original fiction. It feels...awkward, explaining what and why I write, much less all the varieties and genres of fic out there to someone not already in the know in terms of fandom.

    Jenkins' books are brilliant. The fanzine exhibition at the academic library also sounds like a great idea. I don't usually see a lot of print zines around much anymore, these days though...everything always seemed to be online, though that may just be because that's where I tend to look. Though I have to say I wonder how the university librarians put together the program and found the zines and local authors. Sounds like a fantastic outreach opportunity. (I'm studying to be an academic librarian, myself.)

  18. LLL Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 16, 2000
    star 4
    Fan fiction for college credit. The world truly is a different place.

    I mean, who knew?

    =D=
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