Fan Fiction 01/19/21

Rios tells me about all the wacky stuff happening on Twitter. Today, it seems, there was a woman who said some disparaging things about writing fan fiction. I won’t recite the tweet or link to it (see the post from yesterday for my feelings about canceling), but I will use it as an opportunity to talk a bit about the good things fan fiction can do.

First, let’s steel-man the “fan fiction is bad” argument. Writing fan fiction is bad because it is derivative wish-fulfillment completely unbeholden to our current understanding of what makes fiction good.

It’s hard to steel-man, honestly.

Here’s why I would argue that writing fan fiction is good, actually:

  1. Fan-fiction writers have a tendency to finish their projects, and quickly. The advantage to playing in a pre-built sandbox is that you don’t have to spend extra time coming up with new characters, the world they live in, or the rules that world is governed by. All of that comes pre-packaged in the box, so to speak. Therefore, writers can focus on completing novels all the way through. Look at the output of some of the most popular FF writers: it’s massive. Puts literary types to shame (with the exception of maybe William Vollmann).
  2. “Good writing” when placed in opposition to FF writing typically means “CIA Iowa-approved MFA bullshit.” This is perhaps a post for another time, but you can learn to write by aping television, or you can learn to write by aping Raymond Carver. Both of these are valid ways to learn, and they both come with a host of problems. Really, both sides could learn a thing or two from the other.
  3. Fan fiction is free. MFAs are not. Fan fiction asks for time, and gives you a finished project. MFAs ask for time, and give you a lifetime of agonizing over one stupid sentence.

I think that the “literary” disdain for FF has a lot to do with the apparent gaucheness of not being the sole inventor of an entire world. It is, in effect if not intent, an inherently egotistical and classist position. You mean to tell me that you used the Harry Potter universe to tell a story about bisexual vampires? The horror!

But…take a look at that link again. Then check out its Goodreads page. That book has 1,000 more reviews than my best-reviewed novel. It’s short (76 pages), full of typos, in many cases labeled as “the worst fan fiction in history”…and it’s still popular. I don’t think that “irony” begins to cover it. Irony gets you in the door, but something kept these people reading long enough to quote it.

There’s a certain “something to it.”

What is that “something?” For another time!

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