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Fandom Meta: Why I Write Fanfic - Bloodslave for Cookies — LiveJournal
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I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Tue, May. 22nd, 2007 03:14 pm
Fandom Meta: Why I Write Fanfic

Because these sorts of topics always interest me, and because I can never fit my response into the word count allowed by a comment box, here's my response to a post by fantasyenabler off something posted to metafandom called Why Do I Write Fanfic Poll detailing why I couldn't click-it in any of the options provided, but rather felt a need to go on and on and on about why I, personally, write fanfic.

Why I Write FanFic ...

This option: It's more than just a fun way to participate in fandom or to let out pro-fic writing frustrations. Fanfic is an art form in and of itself, and I have no problem giving it the time and energy I feel it deserves. was close to accurate for me, but it had that whole "art form" thing in there so I couldn't click it.

For me, fanfic is more than a fun way to participate in fandom or to let out pro-fic writing frustrations, it's a way to evolve as a writer ... and have a blast doing so. And I say this because:

A) While it is great fun, I don't consider it just fun. I afford my fanfic the same level of attention and invest the same level of passion in it as I do my professional work. The fact that it's also fun is just a bonus. But then again, I consider pretty much any form of writing fun (even the analytical stuff), so I tend to consider Work=Fun to be the relevant equation in play without regard to whether or not money ever hits the chalkboard.

B) Don't hate me because I don't really have pro-fic frustrations to take out. Perhaps I would if I was writing media tie-ins, but I'm not writing those, in large part because why I don't have the stomach for someone giving me a two-inch patch of sand to play in when I'm looking for the whole sandbox ... and I can see the whole sandbox sitting RIGHT THERE so why can't I play in it? That would frusterate the hell out of me, which seems like a bit of a couterproductive excersize unless I'm getting paid a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY that I really need, and that only happens in fandom dreams, not in contracts that have anything to do with media tie-ins.

And (for the most part at least), I don't really have pro-fic frustrations to take out from non-fandom projecs either. Maybe I'm really lucky (or maybe I'm just spoiled as hell), but I'm not very good at compromising my writing in a way that makes me frustrated, so if that's part of the paying gig, I walk away and shop it elsewhere.

I spent a good chunk of time in earlier years financing my writing asperations with a degree in art for exactly that reason. Because, unless I'm working on a personal project or the request so offends my professional integrity that it makes me actually snort in my coffee in a more-snot-than-I-can-live-with way, as long as the client pays me appropriately, I'm pretty damned flexible about what they're looking for. I'm much more intense about non-writery-folks sticking their noses into my writing, and it is never a good idea to bet your rent check on a horse that has ethical issues (or ego ones) with running whatever race the racetrack owner decides to throw.

So frustration wise? Not so much.

C) Which leaves the whole "art form" thing. I can't go there simply because the implication seems to be that fanfic is some sort of sacred trust above the touch of the masses in terms of true creation instead of just hard work coupled with even greater passion. Without being overly pish-posh about it, I consider all writing to be a bit of an "art form" if it is done properly, and all writers a bit of an ass if they actually say as much out loud somewhere other than the privacy of their own ego room. (And yes, I heard myself say that, but I actually am in my ego room right now, and I'm typing not talking, so technically, that doesn't make me an ass ... even though I can be exactly that kind of ass when the mood strikes me.)

So all that adds up to this for me: Fanfiction is writing the same way professional fiction is writing, it's just a different form of the discipline the same way short stories are a different form than novels, or scripts. And this form, fanfiction, has both advantages and disadvantages.

One of the primary advantages I see in writing fanfic is the vast array of ramification-free expermentation labs it provides, all of them peopled with a widely diverse focus group of very smart people (and some dumb ones, too) who are very deeply educated on the subject you are writing about and will usually tell you exactly what they think about what you say, no holds barred, once you prove to them you are worthy of the expenditure of their time to do so.

Another advantage I see is that, working within the limited structure of already created characters in an already created universe with already created character dynamics and backstories in place really forces (allows?) the writer to focus their attention on how to fine tune characterization, how to create (or match) mood and pacing, how to plot intriging stories ... and a whole buttload of other really important writery sort of things that often get overlooked just because creating characters is so time/work intensive and just so damn much more fun.

Probably the last advantage to writing fanfic that really appeals to me enough to detail it at length (other than, you know, it's FUN) is the luxury of writing into the skins of actors who have already put to flesh a characterization I find complex, fascinating and driving enough to want to write it. So in a way that most other forms of writing don't afford (unless you're scripting for an on-going, established series ... or doing media tie-ins, which I think I covered under the heading of "fuck no"), fanfiction allows a very tangible mental stage on which to set your stories, both in your own mind and in the minds of the reader. 

There's an enormous short-hand advantage of commonality of experience with both the chatacters and the universe between reader and writer in fanfiction; and this translates, to me, not as a way to cut the amount of time I invest in a story; but rather to use the same amount of time to explore deeper, more complex characterizations (or issues) than I can in other foms. Not because the characters are deeper than what I create on my own, but rather because I don't have to use my story-telling time laying a foundation to get the reader on-board with me. That foundation has already been put to visual flesh by an actor and intellectual flesh by whoever created the show in the first place, and it is one hell of a time-savings without any compensatory loss of quality or complexity if you know how to use it properly.

And, not to sound schitzo or anything, it can also be a hell of an advantage (and did I mention ... FUN?) to have Jeffrey Dean Morgan or Jensen Ackles whispering funny lines in your ear when you're writing John or Dean Winchester as compared to having those lines being whispered to you by the mental manikin of "the really tough guy who raised his kids after their mother was murdered by a demon and probably has a beard and maybe a scar near his eye and can do that thing with his face that makes you know he wants to kill you even though he's mostly smiling" or "the drop dead gorgeous guy who is fragile, snarky and devoted, can cry without looking like a punk bitch, and can kick your ass with both hands and one leg tied behind his back who was raised by the really tough guy ..."

Yeah, the whole "character visualized in the skin of a specific actor" can be a hell of an advantage, especially when it comes to creating realistic, non-scripted dialog sequences.

The disadvantages? Well duh. No money, no respect (other than peer respect, of course), no sleep (in effect, two full-time job/passions to serve equally), no peace of mind (when the fanfic muse calls in a way that demands you to put the money job on hold the same way a spouse's call can sometimes bump the boss to the back burner) ... I could go on and on, but why? Everyone knows the downside of writing fanfic. That seems to be all most of the people who don't write fanfic talk about. And many of the ones who do write fanfic, too.

So for me? Not about it being an art form. Not about it being an outlet for frustrations. Not even, for the most part, about externalizing the inner fantasy life a really good show can plant in a creative person's head.

For me, it's about evolution as a writer. Practice in a responsive (and diverse, and educated) forum. An opportunity to experiment any way I want with new ideas or new styles or just old thing done a new way ... all with a tangible yardsick of measure by which to judge my success or failure in the eyes of my audience, if not myself.

Fanfiction is, for me, a living room full of friends who asks the professional musician to "sing a song for us." If I'm on tour at the time, I probably won't have the time or energy to do it. But if I'm not on tour, am I going to devote less time or less passion to singing for my friends than I would for strangers who pay me? Am I going to worry as much (or at all) if I hit a few bad notes because I'm tired or because I wanted to try a new change-up in the refrain I hadn't ever tried before than I would if I did the same thing in front of strangers who pay me?

No. What I'm going to do is smile politely and thank Mom when she says "you are the best singer EVER, sweetie!" because, you know, she's my mom. But I'm not going to take her opinion too seriously because, you know, she's my mom. But my bud from down the street who is an awesome musician in his own right but works in an office for a living because he's got three kids and a mortgage? I'm really going to listen to him when he says, "Dude, that refain SO did not work" or "huh ... that was great, but what a sucky song" or "man, I love listening to you do that." And I'm going to probably take his opinion more seriously than I would the opinion of some pundit critic who is looking to sell papers or commercial space by saying something popular rather than something intelligent, accurate or even right. Because when push comes to shove? That guy from down the street is one of me. He's saying what he says because he loves the same sort of things I do, which brings him to my living room to hear me jam for love rather than riff for money. And he's there with me on a level much of my paying audience might be, too; but I KNOW him. I trust him. I like him. I am him ... only getting paid when I do what I love onstage instead of in my living room.

Which doesn't mean I'm not going to keep doing it in my living room, with my friends, no matter HOW big the stage might get. Or even if, God forbid, the stage disappears entirely. Because it's not about that. It's about doing what you love and sharing it with those who dig it, too.

Which is fanfiction for me. And why I write it, and why I read it, and why I turn to the audience for it and listen to what they have to say in a totally different way than I would listen to similar (or dissimilar) opinions from anyone else on the freakin planet.

Tags: ,
Current Mood: contemplative contemplative


Tue, May. 22nd, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)

What a nice way to put it all into the right perspective. I, obviously, agree on what you say. The art form, the fun, the setting ready there that allows for a tuning of your abilities to experiment and grow and challenge your writing skills, to focus on characterization. And of course I agree with all of this:
to have Jeffrey Dean Morgan or Jensen Ackles whispering funny lines in your ear when you're writing John or Dean Winchester

Because having them fleshed out by actors we can see and observe, having the visual of the way an eyebrow bends, a mouth grin, the eyes narrow, makes it all very tactile, if it makes sense.

That guy from down the street is one of me. He's saying what he says because he loves the same sort of things I do

Yes that probably is the summit of the experience. It doesn't matter thow different the motivations, the interpretation, we do it for love, each one of us, and it is a fantastic feeling, you know, that someone will tell you that because they love the same thing that move us.

The lack of sleep, that man hurt, though :)

I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Fri, May. 25th, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)

The actor thing is invaluable. It breaths life into the characters for people who are visually-oriented (as I am) in a way that then takes off on its own and totally redefines something that wouldn't exist if the characters weren't living people in your head.

In a non-crazy way, of course.

ReplyThread Parent
Random Musings of a Junior Zoalord
Sat, May. 26th, 2007 07:57 am (UTC)

I agree with everything in this; and bonus, you've inspired me to make a new userpic. Thanks! I feel I must eHug you.

I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Wed, May. 30th, 2007 05:44 am (UTC)

eHugs back! Always glad to inspire new icons. I'm a firm believe that everyone should have more user pics than they can every use in one lifetime. :D

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Sep. 12th, 2007 04:13 am (UTC)

Found this whilst trawling for more fics, and I just want to say:


:-) Too late in the day to get thinkier than that, so I'll just say I love what you've expressed here, and certainly more eloquently than I ever have. Hope you don't mind that I'm saving this to mems as a meta-post, because this may be something I'll want to reread, next time someone asks why I waste time with something like fan fiction when I should be concentrating on writing my own stories. Thanks for this! :-)
Cheers ~


I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Wed, Sep. 19th, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)

Thanks. :D There are a lot of people who write mainstream who catch flak for playing in fanfic, so don't feel like the lone ranger on being frustrated with that repetative question/criticism from others. Writing is a discipline, and practice is the thing. HOW you practice is essential. On what subject? Pffft. Polishing your writing skills with fanfic can be just as effective as any other way of polishing them. And it is invariably a HELL of a lot more fun. ;)

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Sep. 19th, 2007 04:48 pm (UTC)

Polishing your writing skills with fanfic can be just as effective as any other way of polishing them.

There. That right there. If we're actively endevoring to perfect our writing craft, why the *bleep* should it be more "honorable" to write pointless exersizes in some creative writing class, than to enjoy ourselves writing actual stories people will enjoy along with us? :-)

And it is invariably a HELL of a lot more fun.

Cut and print. *G*

~ Erin

ReplyThread Parent