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Fanfic snob, and why - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Fanfic snob, and why
Snagged from thewhiteowl
big snob
You're the epitome of snobbishness!

Are You a Fic Snob?
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I know I said I'd keep my fanfic rants in fanficrants, but in honor of my rating as a serious fic snob, I thought I'd put one here.

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I'm not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I'm not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn't a popularity contest, it's not the moral Olympics, and it's not church. But it's
writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can't or won't, it's time for you to close this book and do something else.

--Stephen King
On Writing

First and foremost, I want to stress that I know that everyone goes through a badfic writing stage. Lord, I'm glad the Internet wasn't around when I was thirteen or fourteen. The following rant isn't directed at people who are just starting out and haven't collected up enough writing experience (not just life experience, but writing experience) to recognize certain problems. It's directed more at the culture that says "It doesn't matter whether or not I spell correctly/bother crafting a coherent plot/create interesting characters/please readers because it's my self-expression! I'm not required to do anything but what comes from my heart on the first try!"

This is a unfortunately prevalent attitude in fanfic, and it infuriates me for three major reasons.

1. It destroys potentially good writers.
I can't imagine an attitude more harmful to a fledgling writer than one that tells her that everything she writes is automatically sacrosanct and wonderful, just because she herself is wonderful and it comes from her.

Praise is a powerfully pleasant thing, and as Pavlov knew, we develop habits of answering to positive stimuli. This isn't just about young writers either; it's about any writer who isn't experienced enough to evaluate her own work with any kind of objectivity. An older writer who joins a group and receives praise for sugary stories will continue to write sugary stories and they will only get more sugary as time goes on and the group culture builds. Story and writing values become lost in a sea of socialization, and a potentially good writer goes downhill without having any motivation to go back up.

The best response to a beginning writer is to take the work seriously--not mock it (mea culpa, all right), but read it with a good eye, point out what works, then sit down with the writer and explain what's not working. If the writer takes this seriously, then there's potential there.

If, on the other hand, the writer's response is, "Don't you dare suggest I move a comma, you philistine! This is my self-expression!"... well, that is, in the words of Mr. King, coming lightly to the blank page. That is the definition of not taking one's writing seriously. And if a writer doesn't take her own story seriously, I'm not sure why she would expect anyone else to do so.

Now, she may react badly at first, then slap herself on the forehead a few months later--that's typical; I know I did this when a visiting writer pointed out that I'd handed her something that was horrendously paced, though I at least kept my bad reaction to myself--and that's fine. The penitent is always welcome. It's the one who takes her own infallibility as a quasi-religious principle who makes me angry.

2. This sort of thing is not good for fan fiction.
I don't know why this is so, but fan fiction is already seen in a negative light by people outside the community. It's thought of as childish, substandard, and frankly freaky. Any time the mainstream press decides to slum in fanfic, they concentrate on the pornography and bizarre aspects.

Inside the community, we know perfectly well that there are a lot of good stories out there, a few even of professional quality (I'd say the same about the paperback rack at Borders). But when major archives are flooded with basically unedited sex fantasies, that makes it very easy for the reporter planning to do a three-headed monkey kind of story about fanfic writers to find references, to "prove" that fanfic isn't a legitimate artform, but instead some kind of group therapy for all those weirdos in fandom.

(Again, not saying that none of the NC17 fics are good or serious; some are. And yes, I've read them. I'm talking about the ones where everyone's bra size is noted, and this is noted as the character development part before they start shagging everyone but the Sorting Hat.)

Fan fiction is a legitimate form of storytelling and a perfectly normal response to the stories that saturate our culture. People have always made up stories about stories that are popular in their contemporary world. And communities always form around such stories. Look at Parson Weems' biography of George Washington, with the famous (and false) story about the cherry tree: that, my friends, is fanfic. Stories of the founders were part of the national identity, and Weems expanded one. Look at Jewish Midrashic tradition. Look at King Arthur. Robin Hood. William Tell. Pecos Bill. Ovid's Metamorphoses. More recently, Paul Bunyan, a creation of advertising who has evolved into a perfectly legitimate American tall tale. What we do is, in essence, the same thing that storytellers in every culture have done since stories began. And I'm weary to death of the patronizing smile I get when I say that I'm a fanfic writer. "Oh, right, dear." {smile, again} "So, do you plan to, er, write anything real soon? You're so talented; it's a shame you haven't written anything..." (Kind of like the fat girl compliment, said with pitying eyes, "You have such a pretty face, dear.")

Fanfic writing is real writing. I want people to look at it seriously AS WRITING, not as sociology of a subculture held in something (usually) just short of contempt by a researcher.

3. It's writing, damn it.
Aside from the issue of what people on the outside think, there's the question of the approach to writing itself, and I think this is where my most personal response to it comes.

I'm thirty-three years old, and I've been working on my writing for a solid twenty-one of those years. I love words--I love the way they feel in my mouth and on my fingertips. I love the concept of language. I've found myself immersed in reading dictionary entries for as long as I've known what dictionaries were. I loved the vocabulary section on my S.A.T.s not because I knew the words or would ever use them, but because I got to see new ones and nut out what they meant. I love the rhythm of Poe's "The Raven." (Is there anyone else who would really love to hear a hip hop "Raven"? The beat is perfect.) I loved the paranoia of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and the eerieness of "The Masque of the Red Death." One of the things I love best about Stephen King is his pitch perfect American voice--you can hear the man, right through the page. You can feel a sense that he loves what he does, and that he loves these worlds in his mind. The same is true of J.K. Rowling--the first thing I noticed about the Harry Potter books was a kind of wild joy in the world, a love for it, that just leaped off the page.

Writing is so much a part of my life that I couldn't separate myself from it if I tried. If I'm not writing, I'm spinning stories in my mind. Some will be written, some won't be, but they're always there.

The point of that self-indulgence is to explain that writing is something that's almost sacred to me. Scratch "almost." Writing fiction--or poetry, though very little of what I write in that is worthy of public posting--is a connection to the divine. So is art, so is music, so is dancing, or playing a sport beautifully, or practicing any gift that was given to us to share with our fellow human beings.

Treating writing shabbily, as the least important possible aspect of self-expression ("We don't need no stinking grammar"), is as contemptuous to the craft as saying, "Fiction is worthless. Go learn accounting."

After all that, I suppose I probably shouldn't promote one of my fics, since this is kind of self-righteous and annoying--and probably pasting a great big "Wangster" sign on my forehead--but I'm going to do it anyway.

Today's fic is a Harry Potter fic, written a couple of months before Order of the Phoenix came out. Feedback is appreciated; I'm going do some serious tweaking on this one to make it fit with OotP better, and I'm always happy to hear about other things that could be improved.

In the fall of 1981, Snape saves the Weasley twins, leaves the Death Eaters, and returns James Potter's Invisibility Cloak to Dumbledore.

Tags: ,
I feel a bit...: artistic artistic

28 comments or Leave a comment
From: sunshyndaisies Date: January 10th, 2004 11:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Bravo!! You worded everything so perfectly that I guess all I can do is say, "ditto" :).
katinka31 From: katinka31 Date: January 11th, 2004 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Agreed! A wonderful rant. I'm always amazed at how you express yourself. It would take me three hours to come up with your posts. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 11th, 2004 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. I was a little edgy about putting this one up.
atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: January 11th, 2004 03:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Amen to that! (Although could I just point out that it is possible to learn both how to write and how to be an accountant in the same lifetime - at least I hope so).

From the perspective of someone who is new to writing fiction I was glad to see you differentiating between those who want to learn how to improve their work and those who don't. But even those who want to learn can have an initial bad reaction to poorly-worded feedback, or sometimes just feedback in itself. You've given your own example of this type of behaviour. I've done it more times than I care to mention too. And once you've had that reaction it can be difficult to go back to the feedback and try to extract anything useful from it.

What I'm trying to say is that if readers and editors take care in the wording of their feedback, perhaps we could move more people into the 'want to learn' box. I'm not saying there shouldn't be places to vent (Lord knows, sometimes I need to get my sporks out) but I think the other side of the 'respect' coin is to treat writers as people who will be interested to learn from your views, unless and until you get evidence to the contrary.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 11th, 2004 10:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree, actually. I vent at the Sues sites, but I wouldn't leave that sort of thing as a review. It's not useful to a writer as a learning tool, and if pottersues and deleterius didn't strongly discourage bringing the venting to the author, I wouldn't participate. I think the Sues sites are largely there to vent frustration. I had someone scribble nasty comments in the margins of a manuscript I left lying around once, and I don't think they were helpful... except in one way. They shook my confidence. They made me nervous. I have been nervous about writing ever since--every time I put up a story, I'm sure that this will be the one that makes everyone go, "What a fake you are!" And that's improved my writing a LOT.

And yes, there are accountants who can write. And librarians who can. Lots of skill sets can go with it. Even car washing and putting on eyeliner. Just had to pick something...
ivylore From: ivylore Date: January 11th, 2004 12:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Every time I put up a story, I'm sure that this will be the one that makes everyone go, "What a fake you are!" And that's improved my writing a LOT.

I can relate to that sentiment more I care to admit.

In the fanfic world, good criticism and feedback is so hard to come by (of course, that may be just as true when writing original fiction. I haven't put out enough of it to know). I'm forever reluctant to give constructive feedback. It naturally follows that I assume that this is true of others. As a result, I tend to be maniacal about editing and re-writing, again and again and again.

Personally, I feel that such intense self-criticism and is a very good thing. Otherwise, we'd be seeking to arrive at an invisible line, where our writing was accomplished enough that we could cease striving to be better writers. At that point, (IMO) our passion for writing may as well be dead or nonexistent. I mean, if our initial aspirations when beginning a story are not for this piece to be better than the one before, what are we doing? Where is the passion and love for the craft as a whole?

[end ramble]

Nice post, Fern.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: January 11th, 2004 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Personally, I feel that such intense self-criticism and is a very good thing. Otherwise, we'd be seeking to arrive at an invisible line, where our writing was accomplished enough that we could cease striving to be better writers. At that point, (IMO) our passion for writing may as well be dead or nonexistent. I mean, if our initial aspirations when beginning a story are not for this piece to be better than the one before, what are we doing? Where is the passion and love for the craft as a whole?

I don't know. By your standards, perhaps nowhere. Mine is somewhere in the vicinity of "Oooh, idea!" -- in other words, I want to tell the story; I do want to do a good job of it, but that's because there is something I want to convey. I'm not sure I've ever sat down to write with the thought explicitly in mind that I was going to do better than last time, though I do think I'm improving with practice. (Sometimes. Other times I wonder if I've forgotten how to compose a sentence without rendering the topic deadly dull.)

Possibly this means I shouldn't bother writing, but I'm not really planning to stop.
ivylore From: ivylore Date: January 11th, 2004 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh! My personal views on my own writing certainly weren't meant to suggest that someone shouldn't be writing. They're my standards for me; not due to a conscious decision, but simply the way I feel (and heaven knows what my views on writing will be in another ten years). Of course, the idea and the need to convey a story come first and foremost. What I suppose I was saying (in a nutshell) is that to me, the process that comes after inspiration is just as integral as the inspiration is to begin with.

persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: January 11th, 2004 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I shouldn't have made it sound as if I thought you were trying to discourage other people; on occasion I've encountered people for whom that DID seem to be the goal, but I didn't think it was yours.

And I can see the argument that stagnating (or being complacent, more to the point) is essentially the same as slipping backward -- it seems to apply in a lot of areas, really. :)
atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: January 11th, 2004 01:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree,actually.

I thought you probably would, having seen some of your posts on SQ. About the only thing that getting really poor quality, frankly nasty feedback has ever taught me is to be a lot more careful about how I word things when giving my views to other people. And to put some effort into making those comments specific and detailed where possible.

And yes, there are accountants who can write

Sorry for any offence - I realise it was only illustrative, and I didn't mean to imply that you were on a crusade to slag off the writing skills of accountants world wide. It's just quite close to home for me, that's all!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 12th, 2004 08:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, my point was more along the lines of people thinking fiction was worthless than that accounting was, hence the "instead"--the sort of, "Get a real job" attitude that says doing any art is a waste of time and people should engage themselves in practical pursuits and stay away from this fey nonsense. I have nothing against any profession, only against the attitude that the arts don't count. I have to go with Mr. Keating from Dead Poet's Society:

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: January 12th, 2004 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I see what you mean now. And I agree with you (and Mr Keating) 100%. It's one of the things that I find most depressing about current developments in the UK education system - the idea that everything learnt must have a direct practical purpose, or go towards an end goal with economic value. So you read great books only because you need an English GCSE in order to get a job, not because they also speak to something inside of you. What a depressing thought.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: January 13th, 2004 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Science is worth staying alive for too. But then, I've come across the very same attitude to physics, so, meh...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 13th, 2004 06:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yeah. Pure science, in my opinion, is as beautiful as art.
From: threeoranges Date: January 22nd, 2004 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
"I may not know much about science, but I know what I like" :-D
mafdet From: mafdet Date: January 11th, 2004 06:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, word-issimo. And I've got to get Stephen King's book "On Writing" not least because I am an admirer of his work.

I want to chime in with you here on bad writing being bad for fanfiction. "Fan-fiction" is nothing new. Homer wrote it, Chaucer wrote it, Shakespeare wrote it. I can't make a profit out of writing fiction starring Joanne Rowling's characters, but it sure helps me hone my craft, and it's fun. (Or has been; I've stated my reasons for backing off on writing the stuff for a while.) But so many times, mainstream media coverage of fanfic focuses on what you called "three-headed monkey" stories. "Sally is an accountant by day but by night, she writes NC-17 stories with an incest theme featuring J.K. Rowling's Weasley family."

Bad fanfic means that all fanfic writers get painted with the "pathetic dweeb who needs to get a life" brush. It's really not the twelve-year-olds who churn out earnest, unbeta'd MarySue stories starring Legolas + Author = Twoo Wub that really bother me. These tend to be a budding author's baby steps in writing. I wrote Mary Sues back in the day, and I bet you did too. :D No writer starts out brilliant; writing is a craft as well as an art and takes practice and life-experience. I am willing to bet many of these authors who have badly spelled stories with Mary Sues and cliche'd plots could be fine authors down the road with time and practice.

Writing is a craft, not just an art. I am currently at work on an original fiction project - a historical novel. I have re-started it after a hiatus and think "ye gawds, does it ever need a rewrite." And I have some of the best betas ever to help me this time! But part of my trying to craft a good story, whether original or fanfic, is to keep my spelling and grammar ducks in a row. The dictionary, the thesaurus, and (dull as it is) Strunk & White's Manual of Style are my dear, close friends.

Sometimes, what is good or bad is up to individual taste - just look at the debates surrounding original characters in fanfic and what makes a Mary Sue. But other things ought to go without saying. Such as basic attention to the rules of spelling and grammar. J.K. Rowling didn't become a best-selling author by spewing out a mess of incoherent, badly spelled, ill-characterized prose.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 12th, 2004 08:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, definitely, get On Writing. It's a gem. SK must have been a heck of an English teacher in his day. One of my favorite parts is where it looks like he's about to go on a several page rant about grammar, and instead says, essentially, "Oh, forget it. If you can manage to operate a computer, you can manage to learn the simple rules of grammar. Do it."
leeflower From: leeflower Date: January 11th, 2004 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've read parts of "On Writing." Smashing stuff, really.

I agree with you 100%. When people-- newbie or seasoned writer, doesn't matter-- starts thinking that their writing is perfect and can't possibly be improved, they officially have a problem. I agree with the sentiment above- writing IS about improving. If I can't go back at something I wrote four months ago and find at least five things per page that I can fix, then I've wasted four months, because my writing hasn't improved enough.

I'm a 'fic snob, too. I think the internet is simultainiously the most wonderful and horrible thing to happen to writing. It allows us to communicate, network, and improve, but it also allows us to self-publish without any standard of accountability or basic intellect. Not necessarily a bad thing, when you're publishing in hopes of getting feedback and exposure that will improve your work, but just vanity publishing? it's like talking to hear yourself talk: annoying to the nth degree.
gehayi From: gehayi Date: January 12th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Brava. Bravissima, even. You said it all and you said it brilliantly.

I've maintained for years that the self-esteem movement (which forbids any criticism of a child's or a teenager's work, and which praises excessively, even when praise is undeserved) is deeply damaging to our young people and to their abilities. I can't imagine anything more damaging to writing (or to a personality) than the illusion of perfection. If you think that everything you do is perfect, why would you strive to improve/ Where can you go from up?

Likewise, I take fan fiction seriously--even the humorous stories--and the poorly written sex fantasies or overly purple prose annoy me, because there is so much of it that a casual observer would think that is all there is.

Fanfic writing is real writing. I want people to look at it seriously AS WRITING, not as sociology of a subculture held in something (usually) just short of contempt by a researcher.

That's exactly how I feel.

As for writing...well, I've always regarded writing as magical. With a few words, you can speak to large numbers of people all over the world, create different planets and dimensions, bring to life real and imaginary creatures, explore history (actual or imaginary), teach people about medicine, law, politics, say serious things in the guise of humor, explore the entire universe--and all without leaving your own home.

Tell me the ability to do that isn't magic. That it doesn't contain a spark of divinity.

And this is why I become infuriated when I hear parents advising their offspring to copy a poem from a book instead of writing one: "The teacher won't know, and what difference does it make?" That's why it drives me mad when I hear local parents saying of their spoiled spawn, "Oh, well, so he's ten and doesn't want to bother learning to read. It's only READING." As if reading and writing were vile and contemptible pieces of garbage that only a teacher would value. Certainly nothing of worth in the real world.

Yes, I am a snob. I don't think that reading or writing should be treated with contempt or loathing.

After all, both are magic. Magic touched with the divine.

And you don't treat that lightly.

silvormoon From: silvormoon Date: January 12th, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Fun with words!

Tell me the ability to do that isn't magic.

Magic -> Mage -> Image -> Imagination

People who use their imaginations are mages, ne? :-)
darksylvia From: darksylvia Date: January 12th, 2004 11:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with all of this, but the thing that really leapt out at me, as something that I've noticed myself, is the part about joy in writing.

You can tell the person is a good story teller if you can feel their joy through their words, if you can practically feel the ideas exploding through it.

That's the sort of feeling I became a writer for. If you're not experiencing that joy, you probably shouldn't be a writer. I even told that to someone in a review once, because she was complaining about bad reviews and saying she didn't want to write anymore.

I judge the professional books and the fan fics I read by the same standard. The only difference is, I can overlook some misspellings and questionable grammar if I can see that the person knew instinctively how to tell their story. Not to say that they shouldn't improve--and I tell them that--but they've got something in the rough.

Though it does seriously annoy me when their attitude says they don't need to improve. BAH.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 12th, 2004 11:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that when there's joy in the writing, then getting better at it doesn't feel like work. It feels like the thing you want to be doing above all other things. Yes, there's fun in the idea, but I think that for writing, there is also this great joy in going along in a manuscript and saying, "Yes, that's right!" or "How can I make this image in my head come through for readers?" For me, that's almost more fun than the initial rush of getting a story in my head. Can I make the picture come to life? Will it breathe? Can I get a feeling across so that the audience feels it as well? All of that is accomplished through technique, and wanting to get these things across, wanting to make the story as wonderful for readers as it is in your mind, is how technique is improved, because you're constantly asking, "How do I make this work?"

No one does this right on the first try. Ever. But I think the difference between a serious writer and a person who comes to the page lightly is that the writer is asking these questions, not because someone has told her to do so, but because she can't imagine going to the page without asking them, and because finding the answers is a big part of the bliss-out factor.
singeaddams From: singeaddams Date: January 12th, 2004 12:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Stephen King's 'On writing' is my Bible but another great writing tool is Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird.' She's hilarious and very practical in her suggestions for writing and in living the writer's lifestyle. She also touches on libel which King does not. Very interesting stuff!

(Deleted comment)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 12th, 2004 11:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Stephen King

I believe you are referring to "The Elements of Style", by Strunk and White. ^____^ It's a Little Book that's damn close to being a Bible for writing in general, if you ask me.
(Deleted comment)
From: winkinblinkin Date: January 12th, 2004 06:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I adore the fact that you quoted Stephen King's 'On Writing'. That book had such a wonderful influence on me. I think its a must read for every writer.
ladyelaine From: ladyelaine Date: January 14th, 2004 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Amen! Hallelujah!

(And I hope you don't mind if I friend you.) :)
28 comments or Leave a comment