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branchandroot: leafy forest path with mist (forest path with mist)
[personal profile] branchandroot
So, what do we mean when we say that Laurel K Hamilton is writing fanfic of herself? What do we mean when we say Twilight is fanfic? There are a lot of circumstances and skills encompassed by the word "fanfic", and I think it would be helpful to actually name some of them separately. Among other things, it might help us be able to say what it is we like about any piece of writing and what we don't like, more specifically and with less fire-hazard.

I started by trying to separate out the skill sets involved. Formulating the difference between writing fanfic and writing origific is always slippery, but one of the things that's come to mind recently is: fanfic relies on the skill of seeing what isn't there but could be.

This is, in some ways, a response to the hoary old fallacy of fanfic as "training wheels", which is absurd. The mechanical skills are transferable, yes, but the worldbuilding and characterization skills are not. All you have to do is read the first books of a few people who switched from fan to origi writing--they're right back to square one.

Fanfic happens when we see a character shape or story shape that isn't there but resonates anyway. Hence Leather Pants Draco, and his popularity. The readers see, accurately, the character shape that could provide a dramatic foil to Harry. That shape is not the one that Rowling used, but the way a more vivid anti-hero might interact with Harry is a deeply appealing one. Similarly, hence the safe-house trope in Gundam Wing fic. The characters never all live together, or even work together for long, in canon, but the viewers see, accurately, the plot shape that could provide more powerful and dramatic character interactions, and that shape demands a band of brothers, working together.

This is not a skill set that any author, writing from scratch, is ever going to use. Origific requires choosing a single path, a single form for characters and plot. Alternate possibilities just go on back into the idea-melt. Origific is the first swipe. It can't be the second.

We have spent so long valorizing the Solitary And Original Artist that we tend to think it's the first of those that matters, that takes the most work, that has the most value. But I have to say, I enjoyed Maya's HP fic a great deal more than Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy. I would like to see fanfic writers give themselves more credit for what they do. The things readers and viewers see, that aren't there, are very often powerful and desirable shapes. Bringing them forth is a worthy project.

So one thing I think people mean when they say that some (usually very popular) book is fanfic-ish is that it has struck, on the first go, one of those powerfully resonating shapes and run with it.

One of the skill sets that is sometimes held in common is how to write in a shared world. It's a very particular skill. One has to take account of what the other people have written, the history that has already been created, and fit one's own ideas into the mosaic. It also means not repeating all the world-introduction every time while still conveying the major points for those who may be coming in relatively cold. That last applies to an un-shared world, too, if it shows up in an extended series.

The dark side of this is that sometimes authors get lazy. They don't even bother hitting the major points, but just dive into the story, let the previous characterization or canon carry all the burden of development, and assume that any reader who isn't familiar with that has only themselves to blame. This is one of the other things people seem to mean when they call origific fanfic-ish. It is not a particular weakness or tendency of fanfic, though. It's a weakness of lazy writers everywhere. It may show up in somewhat higher absolute numbers, in fanfic, because fanfic is, by its nature, a shared world writing form. But proportionally, based on an unscientific survey of popular commercial series and popular fic, I'd say there are about as many lazy writers on either side.

So there are two things that came to mind when I thought about what we can mean by "fanfic" as an adjective. *tosses it out to her readers* Any others to throw in the pot?

Date: 2011-07-17 12:24 am (UTC)
annotated_em: a branch of a Japanese maple, with bright red leaves (Default)
From: [personal profile] annotated_em
*thoughtful* Related to the first point, the shapes that resonate, is the idfic sense of fanfic-as-adjective. I haven't read LKHamilton at all, but the descriptions I've seen of her Anita Blake stuff suggests that she's wallowing in her own id... which is something a lot of fanfic does as well. *reflects* Maybe all fiction does to lesser or greater degrees, but some writers are better at camouflaging that than others.

Date: 2011-07-17 04:12 am (UTC)
edenfalling: stylized black-and-white line art of a sunset over water (Default)
From: [personal profile] edenfalling
I hadn't thought of Hamilton as writing fanfic, really -- just bad fiction -- but what you say about finding a story shape implied by an original work and bringing it to the fore may explain some of why I find her particularly annoying. In her earlier books, she was writing urban fantasy. It had a lot of interesting world-building, a bunch of intriguing secondary and tertiary characters, and two heavy... subthemes, perhaps? Those being Anita's fear that her magic and her increasing contact with the preternatural will turn her into a monster, and Anita's sexual attraction to Jean-Claude and Richard (and, by extension, mildly kinky sex and D/s in general). The thing is, I think Hamilton got so interested in the shape of those two themes that she let the rest of the story go and only concentrated on them -- which is when urban fantasy slides into outright erotica and Anita starts getting new superpowers with every book. So in a way, the later books in the series are like PWP and power-fantasy fanfic for the early ones.

I think this is why so many people (me included) got disillusioned with Hamilton. She stopped writing what she'd implicitly promised would be the series premise, without admitting she was breaking that promise -- because hey, it's still the same characters in the same world, right? And it is... but it's not the same story.

Or maybe that's just me. I freely admit that Hamilton's kinks are not my kinks, and I find her more recent work deeply frustrating and/or skeevy on any number of levels. I was reading her, when I read her regularly, mostly for her urban fantasy world-building, which is clearly not the facet of her work she was most interested in.

Date: 2011-07-17 09:10 pm (UTC)
wombat1138: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wombat1138
At some point when I was reading reviews of the "Temeraire" series, I saw several complaints from Patrick O'Brian fans who'd been pointed toward the books as "Patrick O'Brian... with dragons!" but didn't think that it was O'Briany enough. They were simultaneously complaining that it felt too much like fanfic because Novik's characters spent too much time thinking about their feeeeeeelings.

On the one hand, I can see their point in that (iirc) O'Brian's narrative style struck me as unusually sparse and exteriorized, and Novik sometimes makes weird bloopers about How Ships Work in fairly obvious ways.

OTOH, I couldn't help thinking that most of these complainers seemed to be men, and that the real gist of their complaint was that they wanted manly-man action untainted by any interior monologue about misgivings or conflicted motives, because that type of self-doubt is only for Gurls. (Also, no comments from them about O'Brian's publishers starting his series by asking him to revive the Horatio Hornblower naval adventure genre.)

I dunno. This Salon article may have some passages of interest, at least wrt the mainstream/outsiders' view of fanfic: "Some Tolkien fans have dismissed "The Last Ringbearer" as nothing more than fan fiction, although it certainly doesn't conform to the stereotype of fan fiction as fantasies of unlikely romantic pairings among "canonical" characters as imagined by teenage girls. [....] If it is fan fiction (and I'm not sure I'm in a position to pronounce on that), then it may be the most persuasive example yet of the artistic potential of the form."

So in other words, "fanfic" is being used here as a stylistic brushoff instead of a fundamental question of derived origins, rather like the people who think of "anime" as a genre instead of as a medium.

Date: 2011-07-18 04:28 pm (UTC)
wombat1138: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wombat1138
There are probably a number of "lazy author" tics which may be more obvious in fanfic than profic. The thing is, though, that almost by definition fanfic has bypassed the type of editorial filtering that's traditional for conventional profic-- the real question would be comparing fanfic to unfiltered original fic (publisher submission slushpiles or self-published works).

Or at least a real question. Another might be reducing down some of the stereotypical "fanfic" flaws to things that are most obvious in bad fanfic: instead of hewing straight down to resonant archetypal "shapes", skimming along the surface by reducing characters to shallow one-note caricatures and reducing the plot to constantly bouncing those caricatures off each other without any growth, change, or interesting events.

Date: 2011-07-20 03:09 am (UTC)
zombiecookie: (Zombies Ate My Neighbors)
From: [personal profile] zombiecookie
At first I was going to say I didn't really think it was fair to call LKH a fanfic author, but the more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that it she in someways really is, if not for the reasons she normally gets called out on. Anita being a Mary Sue, most of the other characters not having the personality of shoe box, the sloppy grammar, inability to separate characters from the 'inspiration' and a loose definition of plot make her bad author but don't really make her work fanfic.

It's fanfic because at this point the only people who are reading it (in a serious way) are those who are already fans. LKH is not trying to make her writing enjoyable for anybody who doesn't already enjoy it anymore. Also from looking at her website/blog it's been pretty obvious that she's placed herself in the position of being one of the biggest fans of her own work. So, if you look at fanfic as being something being written by a fan for other fans? Definitely fits the bill.

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