Friday, July 16, 2010

Favorable Fan Fiction

In a response to Wednesday's post, my sister wrote this: “...fanfiction is a great way to get a person writing, and excited about writing. Eventually they should move on to original stories, and from what I've seen, most of them do.

I mean heck, Naomi Novik of the Temeraire books started out writing Sherlock Holmes fanfiction, and that way she got all the bad kinks out of her writing before she tried something original.

I avoid book fanfiction on principle, though. Videogames ... hey, you're writing a story based on a bunch of moving pictures. There's no writing style to rip off. But fanfiction of books ... there's a writing style to emulate, and nobody can do it well.”

I thought she made an excellent point, so I've decided to write something about the upside of writing this kind of stuff.

If you've read my post on Said and Adverbs then you've heard about my very first experiments with writing, which involved Command and Conquer. I've never really thought of it as fan fiction, but it is. It was good for me for several reasons; as my sister said above, it helps you get all of your bad writing, and hopefully bad habits out of the way. Because I was so young, there were many more terrible things that I had to write before I would even begin to figure out what I was doing (and I'm still learning).

If you were to travel back in time to meet me when I was writing these terrible C&C stories (give or take a few years), you'd also discover that I was writing another series of stories based on something altogether weirder, and that is Legos. Not just any legos, mind you, but the legos from the Lego Adventures playsets. Essentially the whole series was a thinly veiled copy of Indiana Jones, but since Lego didn't get the distribution rights from Paramount until 2008, us kids were stuck with Johnny Thunder. This was fine with me, because I didn't like Indiana Jones as much. I was about 10 at the time. I still remember trying to write the doctor (see: Sean Connery) character with a Scottish accent. I still remember all of the character names, mostly because I had the mini figures and (probably) all of the playsets.

If Lego's goal is to stimulate kids' imagination, they succeeded with me.

My adventures were never as sweeping and grand as I'd like, and usually wound up being unintentional rip-offs of scenes from Indiana Jones (instead of a pit of snakes, I had scorpions).

I don't know where I got the idea to write things in the first place; I wasn't a very good reader at the time, with a slow speed and low comprehension, but I still took it upon myself to enrich the world of literature. The stories were only a dozen pages long, hand-written in the sort of tiny notebook that people keep next to their telephone. But what else was I going to do for the days-long car rides to Oklahoma? (I'll explain more of that in another blog.)

What I learned from this writing was:

Writing takes a long time, and usually what you write seems much shorter than it did when you were writing it

If your character dialogue sounds bad even when you're ten years old, it's probably bad

There's nothing to do in Oklahoma except write stories about your favorite toys, and then reading said stories and longing for said toys

I didn't really get into writing until I read the first few Harry Potters, at which point I decided I rather liked this “reading” thing. That was when I started seriously trying it out.

How is this related to fan fiction?

Instead of making up my own stories, almost everything I wrote was based on whatever I was playing on the computer or on the Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn or Dreamcast.

My older sister wrote tons of stories based on some old Sega Games, which you might remember as Sonic the Hedgehog. I was always fascinated with how she was able to put so much depth into characters who had been created to sell cartridges. She put more thought and love into her characters than Sega ever had, and even more still than those brain-deads who created those awful Sonic cartoons.

I didn't want to write Sonic stories, though. I did the next best thing; Pac-Man.

That's as much information you're getting on the matter.

I also tried to write stories based on a series of children's detective books that I had. They weren't mystery novels; they were novelty “How To Be A Detective” booklets targeted at kids of my age demographic. I don't know why I loved them so much, but I wrote many a story involving the handful of example detectives.

Anyway, my sister built a sort of community with other people who loved Sonic the Hedgehog and wrote stories of their own. One of her writer friends whose name I don't remember sent her a story that she said was Very Good. She sent it to me and I read it. Sure enough, it was Very Good.

Aside from my sister's stories, I didn't know that anyone could write something about something so (seemingly) shallow and bring so much depth to it. His characters were textured, his Sonic was just right and his minor characters struck a balance between being hilarious and tragic. What impressed me was the way he had invented his worlds. Things that not even the Sonic videogames themselves dared attempt: Arachnid cities filled with talking bureaucratic tarantulas, an entire city based around drugging its inhabitants, a city in the sand that didn't seem remotely like Egyptian mythology.

For the record, I dislike reading things on a computer screen, especially in the dark. But I read that whole gosh-darn thing on my flickering CRT monitor, and I loved it.

The point of this entry is this: Fanfiction isn't a bad thing. I know in Wednesday's post I made it sound like it was the Devil's Own but there can be some really great stuff generated by a writer with a deep affection for an existing series. Highlights of good fanfiction are this:

• It takes an established franchise and expands on it without feeling forced or unnatural

With the change of a few character and location names, the story could stand on its own free of copyright claims

• It brings something out of the original work that you wouldn't normally thought about

Thanks Kess!


  1. Very interesting! I'm glad you put in the pros of fanfiction, as well as the cons. :-)

    Hmm ... you could write a column on editing. :-)

  2. I like that William and of course, it is good we did take those long trips to Oklahoma. You learned how to write. It still makes me laugh at all the things I thought you wrote were out of your brain, when it was because of what you were playing. I think though, still, that you are a genius.