The other day, a writer sent me a link to her fan fiction website. I looked at the stuff, then thought, “Why is this writer spinning her wheels and wasting her talent doing this?” It was mostly erotica, frankly, and really wasn’t true to the vibe of the original characters. I have no idea why anyone would want to write or read this kind of stuff, but then I never did get “into” the alt.sex newsgroups (even though I did read some of the stuff my friend George “Hossie” Willard wrote for one group . . . he sent an excerpt to me along with some other work when I requested it all, and his was actually kind of engaging, although gross in a way). I realize there are new “category romance” lines starting up that are billed as “humorous erotica,” and I suppose there must be an audience for this or Kensington wouldn’t be buying the stuff, but really . . . don’t adult book stores serve the need for this? Perhaps there’s such a demand because . . . nope, I have no idea.
But back to fan fiction in general. Someone *else* sent me a link to Robin Hobb’s self-titled “rant” against fan fiction, telling me that Robin was “unreasonable.” However, I thought Robin was RIGHT ON. Did y’all READ this??? It makes SENSE!
HOBB HITS IT ON (and IN) THE HEAD, FOLKS!!
(If she’s a he, just flip the polarity of all my pronouns referencing her. I don’t know this author, although I’ve read two of her/his books and enjoyed them.)
She writes, in part, that “all the characters in my stories are a product of my experience combined with my imagination.”
TRUE!! And no one else has the identical experiences (even if they were standing right NEXT to you during the same experiences–my cousin had a completely different idea of what happened one night years ago when I got a birthday “surprise”), let alone the same mind/imagination as you have. So ultimately it is false to try to put yourself into the “skin” of those characters. It’s tough enough for an actor/actress to put himself or herself into the skin of a person whose bio-pic he/she is starring in. It’s worse to be the writer who takes over from another writer. It *can* be possible when we’re talking about an experienced author, but when the newbies try it . . . usually it’s a failure.
You *can* take the basic concept of a character, change the name, change the circumstances, and get a start for your own character. Let’s say that you love the old Mary Tyler Moore sitcom. Well, okay, start with Mary, Rhoda, Phyllis, and Sue Ann, but don’t CALL them by those names. Then change the setting to Florida, put them at HOME instead of at WORK, and you have . . . “The Golden Girls.” (Note that here, Betty White changed from being Sue Ann to being the scatterbrain, more like Georgette, and Rue McClanahan took on the Sue Ann role. Many other changes occurred.) But *how* did the characters change so much? They changed because YOU are not the person who created the MTM program. Your experiences were different. You’re bringing a whole different potato salad to the picnic. And that’s OKAY. That’s what’s supposed to happen!
Hobb continues: “Anyone who read fan fiction about Harry Potter, for instance, would have an entirely different idea of what those stories are about than if he had simply read J.K. Rowling’s books.”
I’ve got to agree. Even if you’re not reading the “slash” fiction, which is heavily sexually oriented material, you get the feeling that the character is just wearing a banner reading “Harry,” rather than the character actually being the same Harry. They usually don’t sound anything like the original in dialogue, for one thing. I dunno . . . perhaps what I’ve been sent is the worst of the crop. What I don’t “get” is why they don’t change the names, change the settings, and then just write a story about “Herbie” and his experiences at the magic academy learning to play “Gemsnatch.” It’d be a lot more fun that way. (There wouldn’t be a built-in audience . . . aha!)
But here’s what Hobb says that’s REALLY important for fanfic writers to read. She echoes MY take on it, almost word for word:
[The claim being made is:] “Fan fiction is a good way for people to learn to be writers.”
No. It isn’t. If this is true, then karaoke is the path to become a singer, coloring books produce great artists, and all great chefs have a shelf of cake mixes. Fan fiction is a good way to avoid learning how to be a writer. Fan fiction allows the writer to pretend to be creating a story, while using someone else’s world, characters, and plot.
She’s right on!
Even when I was in elementary school and I really WANTED to write more Narnia stories or more Bobbsey Twins stories, I never could DO that. Not successfully, and not even half-heartedly. I used to try, as a child, because adults said (and I agreed) that I couldn’t create meaningful characters and a world, and so forth. So I tried to write an incident in Narnia with Lucy and Edmund.
But I could NOT make the characters act the way that the author intended. They were all wrong. I couldn’t even do the Bobbsey Twins, which is saying a lot, because they certainly weren’t the complex characters that Lewis’s are.
No, I couldn’t just “grab the characters and carry on.” I had to advance psychologically far enough to where I could capture my own characters and “create” them; some would/might say I was accessing the archetypes from the collective subconscious, or that I was assimilating what I’d observed over the years as a people-watcher. What it took was years. I found that the process worked MUCH better for me after being a stage actress through junior high and high school, creating a character with a few guidelines from the playwright (and conjectures from the dialogue) and notes from the director and suggestions from other actors . . . I finally came to understand how to create a character.
I couldn’t figure out how to use others’ characters, seeing as how they came from the depths of OTHERS’ souls, and since the purpose of my writing was not solely to entertain but to speak mind-to-mind, I didn’t think I could take on the guise of another’s soul. It didn’t work for me . . . others may be lazier or think of themselves more boldly. Maybe they can “plug in” more easily. I’ve never been a follower. I’ve never been able to “conform,” even if I could figure out what everyone else was so fired up about.
If you want to learn to write fiction, you might as well learn it all at once. You will learn to do the setting, the dialogue, the transitions, all of it, at the same time that you’re learning to make up the characters and the action. If you really feel that you need to practice by using someone else’s work as a pattern, do this: open your favorite novel and start typing it into a file. You will get a few pages done before you realize that there are certain cadences this author uses and particular ways that he or she gets information across. It may be very eye-opening. Now delete that text and start your own book.
The kernel of it all is here, when Hobb sums up her case.
The first step to becoming a writer is to have your own idea. Not to take someone else’s idea, put a dent in it, and claim it as your own. You will learn more from writing one story of your own, no matter how bad it is, than the most polished Inuyasha fan fiction that you write. Taking that first wavering step out into the unknown territory of your own imagination is what it is all about.
Fan fiction is to writing what a cake mix is to gourmet cooking. Fan fiction is an Elvis impersonator who thinks he is original. Fan fiction is Paint-By-Number art.
What is wrong with telling your own stories?
*applause* Give her a standing ovation.
“Years from now, when you talk about this . . . and you will . . . be kind.”
–“Tea and Sympathy,” Deborah Kerr’s character summing up the play