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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?
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