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An actual post instead of just a pitch - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
An actual post instead of just a pitch
All the talk about pairings, OTPs, Mary Sues, badfic, etc, that often seems to take up my time really boils down to one fundamental truth about the way I read fanfic: I want it to expand canon. That means that when I read it, I think of it as something that can be slipped between the lines of the book, or reasonably extrapolated into the past or the future. I don't refuse to read pairings I don't like because I don't have an open mind about them; I don't read them because they don't feel like fanfic to me. If a writer wanted to write Hermione/Draco, it's vaguely possible to write a long and extensive story about how Draco comes around, which eventually ends up with him possibly being interested in Hermione, or in her being interested in him, but making that work within the canon is flatly impossible without such an extensive work-up. It's slightly easier with Ginny, who at least has been shown in the past to have demonstrated bad judgment about a boy who seemed to like her, but even there, canon-wise, she seems to have learned her lesson.

And it's not just pairings with me. I'm obsessed with plausibility of events in a fic--whether it's straight canon, crossover, or AU, if some event depends on an out-of-character reaction from someone or on the rules of the universe being inexplicably bent, I will stop reading. If I want to read in a fandom universe, then I want to read in that universe. If I want to read something else, I'll read something else.

This is not to say that there can't be really bizarre twists and turns. Hell, I'm doing apocalypsos's new version of The Pairing List That Ate Fandom, and I'm trying to think of a good, plausible way for Snape to interact with--not kidding--Wonder Woman. And frighteningly, I think I have one--one of the Amazons has been infected by a magical beast, and she's come to Hogwarts because Snape has researched antidotes to this particular venom, and is the only one close to finding a cure. It doesn't have to be something that's likely to be plausible; you just have to take some care to figure out how to make it work without damaging the universe. (I actually have found this an interesting little jigsaw puzzle--can I write something that far off the wall without violating my own devotion to canon? It's much more fun than just tossing them in there and bending both universes beyond recognition... I mean, where's the challenge in that?) I think I can even make it so that it's not AU, as long as I make sure it doesn't happen in the canon timeframe and there's no fallout that will directly impact Snape's canon behavior.

AU is where I'm really militant about canon. You can't just change things willy-nilly. You have to make a particular change, and follow it through plausibly in terms of known canon. "I wonder what would have happened if Peter Pettigrew hadn't been in James and Sirius's little group" is one thing--you could build a real AU like that. "I hate Peter, so I'm leaving him out... it's AU, so there!" is not an AU. It's bad writing, and worse, it's bad thinking. Reading Comprehension: It's not just an S.A.T. category anymore. Make a change, follow it through. Be true to canon when you extrapolate the results.

I think the question of plausibility comes down to the question of interpretations. There are multiple ways to interpret things... but that doesn't mean that every possible interpretation is all right. That's a real frustration I have with self-esteem-based education, this notion that any idea that you happen to come up with while you read is a valid literary interpretation. I'm sorry, but it has to tie back to the text at some point. If your interpretation is bizarre but you can point to some section of the text and say, "This is where this comes from, and you can see it followed through here, here, and here," then go for it. But if it's just, "In real life, I think this is what would happen," then no. The fictional world operates on its own rules.

I'll admit that I don't even like all plausible fics. I've never liked Remus/Sirius, even though at least (unlike, say, Snape/Harry) it could be argued from a canon level. I think that's just my extreme impatience with the widespread idea that two people can't be good friends without romance coming into it, like somehow a friendship isn't enough to justify devotion and affection. That, and my Remus crush, of course. :p It's also certainly plausible that elements of the Empire would have survived the end of RotJ and gone on to reform and cause problems, but because I think that really undermines the thematic concerns of the Star Wars universe, I found myself reading most of Zahn with a permanent sneer on my face and hating the SW Expanded universe in general.

Anyway, that's my post for now.

A genfic challenge!!!

saeva does a non-romantic, non-pairing challenge. I'm very happy about this.
14 comments or Leave a comment
leeflower From: leeflower Date: April 8th, 2004 01:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
fern, I <3 your fanfic essays a lot.

This is it exactly, and I know this isn't the first time I've read an essay of yours and been like "Wow, she can articulate what I've been trying to say since I got IN on this fanfic thing!"

It's like with slash. I've got no moral objection to it, honestly, but I just can't stand it when people throw two characters together at random because they're both hot (Harry/draco? please). It just doesn't tie back into the cannon at all.

And the star wars EU. yeah. pretty much just yeah. I'll read the prequel stories, because hey, they tie in to what's supposed to be happening. Yuuzan Vong? first time I heard about them, I was just like "erm.. wtf?" I thought they were some sort of fannon thing. Bleah.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 8th, 2004 02:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Honestly, I don't get weird and uncanonical hottie/hottie slash even on just, well, the hottie level. I mean, if I want to fantasize about a hot guy, I'm going to fantasize about one who, under different circumstances, might show some interest in me, thanks! :)

Glad you like the essay.
mafdet From: mafdet Date: April 8th, 2004 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I <3 your fandom essays too. :)

And I agree with you 100% about plausibility. Just to take a pairing/shipping example, one could plausibly argue for Harry/Luna, Harry/Ginny or even Harry/Ron (though the latter falls under the "Geez, Why Can't Two People Be Just Good Friends Fercryinoutloud!" category). But Harry/Snape - student/teacher pairings aside, you're going to have to do a darn good backstory to convince me of its plausibility.

For an example of good AU's - not the "let's mess with canon willy-nilly" kind - Robin at the SQ has written a lovely series based on what might have happened if Sirius remained the Secret Keeper and died to protect the Potters, who lived. Fluff it isn't - one of the cornerstones of Robin's story is that Voldemort lived, too, and the war rages on. But it's excellent reading and an example of how to do an AU.

Back to pairings, I think that a prime reason so many "let's hook up the hotties" such as Harry/Draco or "let's use Hermione as my self-insert" such as Hermione/Draco or Hermione/Snape don't work is that the author isn't even trying to explore canon. All too often the author either wants to see some Hawwwttt Boy-on-Boy Action or wants to use Hermione as a self-insert vehicle to boink the hottie of her choice. And that's no foundation on which to build a story. "Let's Boink Draco" isn't a plotline.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 8th, 2004 04:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Let's Boink Draco" isn't a plotline.

I do believe that's an icon waiting to be made.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: April 8th, 2004 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
We wants it, my precious...

I'm with you all the way on the extending the canon thing, though I can take a spin-off fanfic universe as its own canon and enjoy it on that level (thegraybook's Draco trilogy, for example).
I actually would consider reading a well-written Draco/Hermione since I read ajhalluk's Wimsey-esque Draco. :-D
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 8th, 2004 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
How's this?

narnian_dreamer From: narnian_dreamer Date: April 8th, 2004 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you could have seen the look on my face when McGonagal's picture showed up...

This is one of the few icons that actually made me laugh. Brilliant. (And adding Neville's toad was a true stroke of genius.)

mafdet From: mafdet Date: April 8th, 2004 10:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm so flattered that something I said is icon-worthy. Love the icon. I think I'll snag it.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: April 9th, 2004 12:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Draco and Neville, heh heh heh.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: April 8th, 2004 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
one fundamental truth about the way I read fanfic: I want it to expand canon.

That is it, I've been looking for the words for a goodly while. Like usual, you have hit the nail on the head.
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fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 8th, 2004 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Post-ROTJ

There are two points. The first is that it's a new conflict, and a new problem to solve... in the case of SW, a more interesting approach would have been the vacuum of chaos that would happen after a strong central government fell, especially with the memory of a corrupt Republic as the alternative being offered. It also would have produced a less limited book series--problems could crop up all over, the various heroes could be sent around. Financially, it would be a boon. Story-wise... well, it would generate stories of competing goods, which is a lot of the interesting material of life after a cataclysmic change. What happens to a shaken galaxy the first time a really strong hand is needed? Will a former rebel be able to exercise power when necessary? What about the members of the Empire who want to atone? What about the interpersonal conflicts that would occur? What about a rebel faction who can't comprehend that the war is over going berserk in an Imperial town?

The second, and more important, is that SW is neither realism nor science fiction. It's a fantasy story.

Anakin's act wasn't just the act of a soldier in a war. It was a prophesied act of redemption for the entire galaxy (which both reflected him and was reflected in him--as he fell, so fell the Republic, as he was redeemed, so was the galaxy). We didn't know about the prophecy itself, of course, so I'll forgive EU writers for that lapse (though now that we do, I think they should scrap what they have and start over), but it was obvious from the tone of RotJ that this wasn't just a tactical move, but a magical one, hence the follow-up with the total celebration across the galaxy (or even just on Endor, going by the original editions) when we know that in reality, the aftermath of a battle like that would be one reprisal after another, unless the Rebels had massacred every Imperial on the planet. Given what we know of the characters, that was unlikely. A writer may like or dislike this--it's fair if he dislikes it--but if he doesn't deal with this deeper level of the story, he has no business writing SW.

The power of the Empire was contained in the person of the Emperor, and it was destroyed just as Sauron's power was destroyed when the Ring was. Note that this didn't stop the problems in Middle Earth--the hobbits immediately went to war in the Shire against Sharkey's people, and there was a lot of clean-up to do. But having the Empire continue to thrive--or even survive--after Palpatine is destroyed is like having some new commander take over Sauron's legions so that the war would just keep going, despite the fact that the magic which bound the entire thing together has been completely destroyed. Not only totally ignoring the theme, but honestly... boring. We've already heard that part of the story.
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From: (Anonymous) Date: April 9th, 2004 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Plausibility and cosmology

Thank you for your rant; I like the way you think. (You think pretty much the way I think, natch). :) Fond of the New Critical style of analysis with all of its close readings?

An aspect of this I'd love to hear your thoughts about/think about/I should write about is how fanfic/analysis (I'm really more of an analysis person, myself) relates to 'cosmology'--the overly pretentious but very useful term one might use for 'how the world works'--the background rules governing every created world. I say this because your essay was more on characterization, which is great, but I think this aspect is important to.

For example; we haven't been given very specific overt examples, but I suspect that in JKR's world, 'The Dark Arts' actually do detrimental things to their users, and thus have a *reason* to be called that which is reasonably objective. That means that writing fic (as I've seen 18 million times) where 'Oh, the Dark Arts are just what the goody-two-shoes who are too scared to use them/don't understand them call them--power is power and is inherently neutral' just doesn't fit into the defined universe. It's like a square peg and a round hole. In fact, this also feeds into characterization in some fundamental ways.

If you don't like aspects of an author's universe that are pretty set, I honestly think the best thing to do is to leave it alone. Hence why I avoid C.S. Lewis like the plague--I don't like his cosmology. But I understand it, and I can argue within it. Critiquing it is one thing, and can be done from the outside, but not so much from the inside.

That's the more subtle moral point, but of course there's also (sticking with JKR, natch) the 'Can that HAPPEN?' question. Telepathy, super-seekrit-super-powerful-uber-female witches *cough*, Tolkien elves, etc.--none of this fits. Adding uses of magic is a tricky thing that often authors don't think through too well. And, to relate it to above, sometimes they do it out of a misreading of the more subtle things--like giving purebloods special pureblood powers. Just doesn't fit.

*ends a long rant, and hopes, nay, delights! in the prospect of a response*

-eternally anonymous coward who's lurked here before
14 comments or Leave a comment