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branchandroot: empty veranda at dawn (veranda)
[personal profile] branchandroot
Yesterday I had occasion to discuss with someone unfamiliar with fanfic why fanfic is not "easier" than origific because "half the work is already done". This is, of course, a hoary old chestnut often put forward by people who have never tried to write both forms, and much verbiage has already been expended on it, but this time something new occurred to me.

I think I have finally found a use for Plato's damn Cave.

In brief, the Allegory of the Cave suggests that the reality we see around us is merely a shadow of some higher reality of Forms (platonic ideals), as people confined facing a cave wall with a fire behind them would only be able to see the shadows on the wall of actual objects in the cave with them.

Now, I think the Allegory of the Cave is a useless bit of self-congratulatory twaddle, when it comes to models of human perception in general, but it does seem to have some particular applicability to written fiction.

A good writer does a whole lot of world-building that never makes it directly onto the page. Just think about all the memes that go "name a character/fandom and I'll tell you X many things from my personal head-canon/mynon/etc about them". The words on the page are, if you will, the shadow of what the author built up in their mind, in their storytelling space. That building always has to be done; the author has to know all those little details. Without that, the shadow won't look convincing or have weight. But a shadow is still all that makes it onto the actual page. An author going to write fanfic has no direct access to the vast majority of the last round of world-building.

This means that, when writing fanfic, all that world-building must be done again from the ground up and it must be done in such a way that the text/shadow it makes on the page overlaps smoothly with the first text/shadow. This must be done without having ever seen the "object" that cast the first shadow, because that "object" only exists inside the first author's head. All the next author has to work with is the shadow.

When an author doesn't do the world-building, then they write a shoddy story. Fanfic or origific, lack of world-building detail results in an incoherent, inconsistent, or flat story. On top of this, when a fan author doesn't manage to make their shadow overlap sufficiently with the source shadow, then the story fails as fanfic. Fanfic does not have any of the work done already; what it has is an extra requirement in the building process. (This is, of course, modified by the fact that fan readers will forgive a whole lot of not-overlapping if the fan author still manages to give them sufficient id-candy tagged with appropriate names and outfits, just like origific readers will forgive a whole lot of shoddy world-building if the author gives them sufficient id-candy, period.)

So there we go: Plato's Cave of Condescension finally serves a useful purpose. Remix, reuse, recycle.

Date: 2012-03-19 01:33 am (UTC)
tessercat: (brilliant)
From: [personal profile] tessercat
Huh, cool idea. That makes a lot of sense to me. :)

Date: 2012-03-19 01:45 am (UTC)
tessercat: notebook with pen and ink (writer)
From: [personal profile] tessercat
Yes, exactly, and as I write both, it's always helpful to have a new line of explanation as to *why* I write both.

Date: 2012-03-19 02:19 am (UTC)
edenfalling: stylized black-and-white line art of a sunset over water (Default)
From: [personal profile] edenfalling
Interesting! I am not completely sure that fanfic doesn't have some of the work done already -- what I have noticed as the primary difference between my fanfic and my original fiction is the different way in which I introduce characters. In fanfiction, I can basically say something to the effect of "and then Person A walked into the room" and know that readers will fill in Person A's personality and story role for themselves without me having to make all the details obvious. In original fiction, I don't have that shared pool of knowledge/assumptions to rely on, so I have to do more of the work upfront. It's like, instead of people seeing the story shadow and saying, "Oh hey, I remember this pattern," I am showing a completely new shadow. Or something, I don't know, I think this analogy got away from me somewhere.

But yes, in both cases you HAVE to know the shape of the world and the characters in order to cast a realistic shadow. And you have to play by the rules. That's another way fanfiction might be trickier than original fiction, because in original work, you get to make up the rules and therefore ensure that they're congenial to your own worldview and stuff. In fanfiction, you may be forced to play by rules you utterly disagree with... and working within those constraints, and figuring out how to express disagreement while still casting a story shadow that recognizably overlaps the canon story, is not a negligible challenge!

(Sorry if this makes no sense. I am ill and currently dosed on NyQuil and Benadryl at the same time, which I have been told produces a fairly convincing facsimile of being stoned.)

Date: 2012-03-19 02:26 am (UTC)
adalger: Earthrise as seen from the moon, captured on camera by the crew of Apollo 16 (Default)
From: [personal profile] adalger
I respectfully disagree that you don't have that shared pool of knowledge/assumptions to rely on. It's just that in fanfic, all your tropes already have names and costumes. However, I think David Eddings thoroughly proved that you can write a very good story made up entirely of characters and storylines everybody already knows and stop just about one millimeter short of actually being fanfic.

Date: 2012-03-19 02:30 am (UTC)
edenfalling: stylized black-and-white line art of a sunset over water (Default)
From: [personal profile] edenfalling
There is a flaw in your argument: David Eddings did not write "very good stories." He just wrote stories that were so familiar they went down like fruity alcoholic drinks, the kind you can get utterly smashed on without realizing how bad they are for you.

And I say this as someone who read all ten of the Belgarion books plus all six Sparhawk books plus the first of whatever series he started after that. The thing with the rift or gods or... oh, I don't know.

(No. Wait. Twelve Belgarion books, counting the backstory about Belgarath and Polgara.)

Date: 2012-03-19 05:40 am (UTC)
adalger: Tennyson: English is my fandom (english)
From: [personal profile] adalger
There is something to your counter here. It all depends on whether you're the kind of person who likes to get smashed and has a taste for the fruity. I suspect there's a significant segment of fandom who'd be quite content to pound mai-tais until they couldn't lift the glass any more, and for them, any bartender willing to serve 'em up in gallon jugs is "very good." On the other hand, if your taste runs more toward a delicately balanced salad and a solid but just as subtle Eastern European dark beer, of course you'll get tired of waking up hung over and feeling unsatisfied; I'm sure that's just as large a portion of the fannish culture.

How would you feel about the statement if I struck "good" and substituted "successful"?

Date: 2012-03-19 04:46 pm (UTC)
edenfalling: stylized black-and-white line art of a sunset over water (Default)
From: [personal profile] edenfalling
Better, yeah. There is no arguing that Eddings certainly sells a lot of books and has a lot of readers! And there is definitely a place for that kind of story -- there are days when I just want simple brain candy instead of something more complicated and/or deeper. :-)

Date: 2012-03-19 03:00 am (UTC)
helens78: A man in a leather jacket, seated on the ground, looks up hopefully. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helens78
♥ This is awesome. +1 to everything!

Date: 2012-03-19 07:48 am (UTC)
ldybastet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ldybastet
I like this explanation (and the comments to the post) a lot!!! Will go into memories to take a look at when I need it. :) (Sorry for morning incoherence...)

Date: 2012-03-19 10:26 am (UTC)
maat_seshat: Hakkai with green ball of magic, looking sneaky (Hakkai)
From: [personal profile] maat_seshat
Plato's Cave of Condescension. *giggles* *snickers* You just made a day of straddling the line between sick and healthy a lot better.

(And, you know, I like the rest of the argument, too. It's just that Plato's Cave of Condescension is so amusing after having it inflicted upon one by teachers and classmates alike. Repeatedly. Over time.)

Date: 2012-03-19 06:13 pm (UTC)
seagull2eagle: (mine! - Hiei and Kurama)
From: [personal profile] seagull2eagle
Nicely stated. ^^

I do agree with edenfalling that in fanfiction I don't have to introduce any characters or describe them in great detail. I don't even have to describe the common locations that the characters will be found in. Since I hate describing things like that anyhow (I tend to skip over reading them in real books ;p), that's an added bonus for me in fanfiction.

The actual writing, however, is pretty much the same. World-building, plot, ideas, continuity, and keeping all the threads of your story in hand and weaving them together to make a coherent whole. Everything that puts together the shadow that people see. :)

Date: 2012-03-19 06:37 pm (UTC)
seagull2eagle: (Resting - Hiei in a Tree)
From: [personal profile] seagull2eagle

Yeah, for descriptions, it does make us lazy... but on the flip side, we have the added challenge, as you said in the shadows, of *matching* our shadows to their expectations. There's certain notes that we have to hit absolutely perfectly, or people won't accept it as part of their world.

I used to get a fair amount of flack for my Hiei and Kurama being OOC, despite my putting in great excessive detail at the top of stories that the characters were based on the first 25 episodes of the series and not the rest of it. Basically, I started writing when all we had were the first fansubs. And then when I saw the rest of it... well, the series itself had changed - after episode 25, Hiei and Kurama were *not* the same characters we were originally introduced to, particularly Hiei. So, well, yeah, my characters weren't set to most people who had seen the whole series expectations. And I got comments on that. Believe me, I got comments. o.O

For other differences, I think there's also the idea of getting published, and that's a different kettle of fish. Even if the writing of original fiction is done mostly identical to fanfiction, there's a whole lot of extra work and effort and heart-break going into trying to get said original fiction published. Good numbers of people who write original fiction want to try and get published someday. Whereas people who write fanfiction just want to toss it up on the internet and not worry about publishing. Fanfiction already has an in-built audience, where as original fiction has to go out and hunt their audience down. But that's not the actual writing process.

Date: 2012-03-20 01:10 am (UTC)
foxinthestars: cute drawing of a fox (Default)
From: [personal profile] foxinthestars
I would say that for me fanfiction is "easier," but it isn't that any of the work is done, it's that the "shadows" are just so fascinating they draw me into doing the said work. Of course, "easier" in that sense isn't a matter of lesserness or laziness, just a matter of what inspires a given writer. It is a brilliant analogy!

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