(Continued from Part 1)
I was in grade 11 when I took my first, much-loved, creative writing class. Except, I don’t actually believe that was my first class. I think writing fan fiction gave me a far earlier education in writing craft.
I truly do believe this, for writing fanfic offered me ready-made access to what is often the most difficult part of a story to devise from scratch.
As I mentioned in the previous post, when I was in grade 4, my older sister told me I should be creating my own characters rather than writing stories with someone else’s. While I don’t recall what I said in response to this, I do remember experiencing an unsettling sense of not knowing how to create my own characters, and that my inability to do so implied something significant to the outcome of the story I wished to tell.
Even at that young an age, I recognized that strong characters are essential in a story, if not exactly why. Now, I know better: strong characters with strong character traits are needed because the act of these character behaving in keeping with their personalities is what drives the story forward. Every character in a story wants something, and is motivated (also in a manner consistent with their personalities and traits) to go after that something.
Yet it’s those same personalities and traits that time and time again ultimately hold them back from obtaining that something, the stakes rising with each foiled attempt, and the reader’s tension right along with it. In this manner, a story’s characters is its plot, for the entire chain of events in a story arises solely from characters continually acting and reacting at every stage in a manner consistent with the way they are as people.
Therefore, if you’ve got no characters, you’ve got no story. Simple as that.
Fortunately, fan fiction can offer developing writers a chance to master other aspects of writing craft – e.g. voice, pace, description, dialogue, point of view, to name just a few – while assuring them they’ve got at least one part (the character) right. Romantically pairing up two characters who didn’t go together in the source material, whether in a same-sex (slash) or hetero pairing, is also a good way to practice creating believable character motivations.
It’s a common complaint of people who write fan fiction that their time and effort could be better spent developing original characters – indeed, that that’s what they should be doing. To quote Stephenie Meyer, bestselling author of the Twilight series,
People pour out so much energy and talent into [fan fiction]… It makes me frustrated. I’m like, go write your own story. Put them out there and get them published. That’s what you should be doing. You should be working on your own book right now. (http://flavorwire.com/281936/abusing-the-people-of-westeros-famous-authors-on-fan-fiction?all=1)
This may well be a valid advice for someone who aspires to be professionally published yet devotes the majority of their writing time to fanfic. But here is an important point that many fanfic naysayers may have never considered: not everyone who writes fanfic wants to be professionally published.
Not everyone who writes fanfic wants to be professionally published.
This was something of a revolutionary thought when it first occurred to me, if for no other reason than how divergent it is from my own experience as a writer. Ever since I wrote my last Phantom of the Opera fanfic in high school, I’ve wanted to someday be professionally published, and every single word I’ve penned since – for better or for worse – has been in support of that goal.
But this is not the personal experience of every writer in the world; as in all other aspects of life, there exists a diversity of people. For many, the act of telling a story in and of itself is the sole objective, with the thought of seeing their words bound on a shelf or converted into an ebook the furthest thing from their minds.
It’s no different than how my dressing up as Xena: Warrior Princess for Halloween doesn’t mean I want to be an actor. Or how ongoing efforts to improve my cover of the Counting Crows’ song Mr. Jones doesn’t mean that I want to be a recording artist.
It’s all just for fun, just like any other hobby.
And indeed, why is it perfectly acceptable for one to dabble in cover songs (or even be in a full-on cover band) without fear of being told s/he should write his/her own songs instead? And that anyone who can paint in the style of the masters or sing in the style of the great queens of soul is seen as gifted and dubbed “the next (fill in the blank)” rather than a copycat who needs to develop their own signature approach?
Why is it that one rarely hears complaints about fan art (artistic renditions of copyrighted characters and settings), yet fan fiction writers are often stigmatized, to the point that many, if not most, don’t tell people they know about their hobby?
My favourite quote about fanfic writers from the Time article I posted last time is as follows:
They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.
This really resonates with me. My leftish tendencies already balk at being reduced to little more than a “consumer”, but to be expected to just passively absorb my media like vitamin D from the sun at that?
I may no longer write about copyrighted works in words, but there’s still plenty of fan fictionalizing going on inside my head. The best book/TV/movie characters/settings/situations stay with me long after the final sentence or the closing credits.
They take up residence in my brain for indeterminate amounts of time where I have just as much fun with them as I do my own creations. Sometimes they inspire original characters/settings/situations, but often times they simply remain the adult equivalent of an imaginary friend or ongoing TV show broadcasting in my head. No commercials, no reruns, no interminable waits for the next season to commence.
Life can be so great as a writer sometimes.
And this fun, this enduring relationship with fictional people and places, this sense of “joyful play” (to quote author Naomi Novik from the Time article), is what I believe, in one form or another, artists actually want when they share their creative works with the world.
No, still not finished; I want this to be a balanced examination of fan fiction, and one can’t have the good without the bad. But in the meantime, I am curious: are there any other benefits to fan fiction that writers have experienced? Are there any folks out there who were anti-fan fiction before reading this whose opinion I’ve managed to sway, even just a little? Are you like me with the way I tell stories with other people’s characters/settings/situations in my head? Consider leaving a comment.