Which particular ‘F’ word?
Spurred on by a post that m’colleague Jonathan Green made earlier today – although it might be yesterday by the time I finish writing this post – (see here), I just wanted to put a few of my mad, fleeting thoughts on this matter down. Capture those little bits of thought and cram them all together on a page. Much better than being left to breed inside the confines of my incubator-like mind.
Jon posted in response to an article in the Guardian by Mathilda Gregory (see here) in which she points out that not all fanfiction is about OMG LOVE AND SEXYTIMES for people’s favourite fandoms. It’s not all about the Mary Sue or Gary Stu. It’s not all about the badly written, poorly spelled monstrosities that have earned fanfiction the bad name it has earned. Jon’s point – and indeed, question – was simply ‘what is the difference between fanfiction and tie-in fiction’. If you have thoughts on that particular debate, please post them on his blog. It’s a topic which I think is worthy of having conversation about. But I feel particularly strongly about the subject of snobbery when it comes to fanfiction and so I’m going to rant a bit about it.
Let me elaborate.
I don’t dispute that there is a lot of godawful dross out there in fanfiction land. But there are also a lot of excellent tales. Some short, some long. And to dismiss fanfiction is to do it something of a disservice, I think. It appears that I am in direct opposition to the viewpoint of the illustrious Mr. George R. R. Martin, who states in a post here:-
“I also think that doing fan fiction is bad training for any aspiring writer. With the world and the background all provided, the writer does not learn to create these things for himself. Fan fiction is to fiction as paint-by-numbers kits are to painting.”
(‘Doing’ fan fiction?)
I think, with the greatest respect, that Mr. Martin is way out of touch here. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will ever have to write about people or places they have enjoyed reading about. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will have of securing themselves an audience of people who share their enthusiasm. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will have of finding an avenue of creativity. How can ‘doing fanfiction’, which gives a lot of pleasure to writer and reader alike be something wrong?
And as for it being a poor training ground… I totally agree with the ‘doesn’t teach an aspiring writer about how to develop their own world’ bit, but it can teach an aspiring writer how to write. It can teach them how to plot, how to develop a story, how to employ characterisation, how to maintain a ‘feel’ to a piece.
I make no secret of the fact that I am a big supporter of fanfiction and in particular, fanfiction communities that help and nurture people’s burgeoning talents. The Black Library Bolthole was originally created with this sense of community very much in mind. Many of the people who write W40K and WHF fiction over there are extremely good at what they do. They are also extremely good at supporting each other – and at the end of the day, all writers want to hear is ‘hey, I enjoyed your story. It was really good.’
The Sugarquill (a Harry Potter community) was also exceptionally good at this in its day. The team used to set challenges and themes which could extract the best out of people.
And when it comes down to it, just because we (as individuals) can look at a piece of fanfiction and sneer condescendingly at its poor grammar, its appalling spelling, its flimsy story line and its almost painfully Mary Sue-esque Sparklypoo house main character, who is a half-elf, orphaned Muggle born with eyes that vary in colour or shade depending on their mood and who will be able to turn the hardest of hearts… someone somewhere was exceptionally proud of themselves for writing a story that they made up.
The state of literacy in this country is frequently touted as being dreadful. If a child is engaged by a world and can concentrate long enough to write a story about the characters who live within its boundaries, shouldn’t this be considered a good thing? The grammar/spelling etc… they are things that can come with time. But surely we should be encouraging people of the world to express their creativity in whichever way they see fit? This should carry through to adulthood, when without lessons, people stop writing creatively.
OK, there are the horrors of slashfic, which I really don’t understand at all… but that’s again my personal choice. I don’t go looking for such things.
Parodies, the other side of fanfiction… well, these can be hit and miss. Sometimes, someone hits the nail right on the head and a good parody is sometimes even more true to form and affectionate than a beautifully written vignette by someone else.