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branchandroot: two hands drawing each other (drawing each other)
[personal profile] branchandroot
I think I've put my finger on what makes the kind of AU I like to read and write versus the kind I don't. To whit, I don't like the kind that keep the same events while changing the circumstances (eg, the majority of high school AUs). That's just a retread, and while the trappings of the events change, neither the events themselves nor the characters that arise from them do.

I find that boring.

I much prefer the kind of AU that changes the canon events to see how that will make the characters different. While it's possible to write the changed-setting type of AU and still do good characterization, it is not a form that encourages any such thing; far too many fan-authors wind up writing very shallow characterization when they write those AUs. An AU that changes the events, whether or not the setting changes, demands that the author put more work into defining just what they identify as a character's core traits. Not everyone does the work, and when they don't it's a hot mess, but the form encourages it a lot more. There's less leeway, in this type of AU, to let familiar plot stand in for actual characterization.

It's a basic plot-driven versus character-driven divide, I think. I will always be on the character-driven side, and I find most plot-driven writing boring and shallow. (No doubt, plot-driven writers/readers find character-driven writing far too meandering.) And, above and beyond that, I've already seen the canon plot once; I really don't need to see it again. It's more interesting to do something the canon didn't do.

Date: 2011-09-12 10:46 pm (UTC)
foxinthestars: cute drawing of a fox (Default)
From: [personal profile] foxinthestars
That sounds about right to me; I don't read much fanfic to say for sure what I do and don't like, but the few I have gotten into seem to fit that mold, and I have always thought of myself as the "character-driven" type. Meditations on situations/worldbuilding are also very cool, but that's more matter for one-shots than sustained A/Us, I think.

When I was a youngling, I had a thing for Writer's Digest Book Club "how to write stories" type books, and in one of them I picked up and still think of the "MICE Quotient," that stories can be driven by Milieu (setting), Idea, Character, or Event (plot). It's kind of embarrassing now, because it was Orson Scott Card who wrote that, and now I find out that he's a total crank (latest exhibit), but the concept still seems useful...

BTW, I hope you don't mind me going off-topic in your comments, but... Do you have trouble with people infantilizing fanfic authors/fanfic as an art form? Like even when they want to be supportive, they say things like "this is good practice for when you do real work," and generally make you want to shake them and yell at them how many years you've been doing this? I may just not be hanging out in the right places...

Date: 2011-09-13 03:26 am (UTC)
foxinthestars: cute drawing of a fox (Default)
From: [personal profile] foxinthestars
Yeah; even if someone jumps the shark, tho, it doesn't mean everything they ever did/said is worthless...

And thank you (some people in my circle did that to me lately is why I came to you...). I probably bought into that more when I was younger. I do think if I did origi-fic the fanfic would help in terms of both craft and inspiration, but casting work that matters to me as just "training wheels" implies debility on my part and means-to-an-end on the art's part, and that's a whole different kettle of fish, insinuating that my work isn't worthy of respect until/unless it's normative or salable.

Date: 2011-09-12 11:14 pm (UTC)
annotated_em: cross-section of a lemon (Default)
From: [personal profile] annotated_em
Pretty much this, yes.

I think the only thing I would maybe add is that the difference (for me) between a good AU and one that I back-button out of is whether the author knows the difference between a premise and a plot. There's plenty of AUs that would be neat (what if they were all magical girls?) if only there were some plot to go with the shiny premise (...and they had to deal with $dilemma?).

A premise can support a scene or two; a plot can support a full-bore fic.

Date: 2011-09-13 04:44 am (UTC)
edenfalling: stained-glass butterfly in a purple frame (butterfly)
From: [personal profile] edenfalling
The way I characterize the second kind of AU is "let's kick canon in the knees at a carefully chosen point (or two) and watch the changes spiral out." :-) Those stories do tend to be more interesting to me... though that is also because I find that at least half the interest of "let's drop these characters into a different setting" lies in having an interesting setting, and sadly, a lot of those stories have settings as interesting as mud and as thin as tissue paper. :-(

Also, I tend to feel that the characters should be different in a different milieu and their plot should consequently have at least some variations, but I think that's the character-driven aspect cropping up again. (Well, and also my world-building obsession, but that goes without saying. *wry*)

Date: 2011-09-13 07:11 am (UTC)
maat_seshat: Shuurei seated at a desk, studying, with Kouyuu leaning in behind her. (Shuurei studying)
From: [personal profile] maat_seshat
I absolutely adore the second type of AU and tend to default to that when I'm trying to explain why AU's can be fascinating and reveal all sorts of things about the characters.

I also really like fusion AUs, though, which frequently fall into the former category. (I think the Rurouni Kenshin side of Vathara's RK/Star Wars fusion falls into this category? Or Damkianna's AtLA/almost!Firefly fusion. Or one of the many, many BtVS fusions that I read before I started bookmarking.) If it's done right, it forces the author to look at what said author considers fundamental about the interactions, with other characters and with circumstances. Is Willow studying what ultimately becomes a dangerous source of power fundamental to what makes BtVS BtVS, or is it just the particular circumstances of Whedon's California? When the authors think about it, the results can be pretty impressive. The problem is that the plot can make an easy crutch if they don't want to.

*shrug* But then again, I don't actually consider myself character-driven. I tend to glom onto relationships (friendshippy, romantic, mentor-y, or even between person and something else, like Shuurei/Career), rather than individual characters. I might be coming from somewhere entirely different.

Date: 2011-09-14 04:31 am (UTC)
maat_seshat: Winged Maat sitting (Default)
From: [personal profile] maat_seshat
Have I mentioned, lately, that fanfic, as a genre, rocks the world?

Yes, yes it does. :-)

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