Friday, July 26, 2013

The Value of Fanfic, Part 1

I read a lot of fanfic – that's fan-created fiction based on someone else's work, for the uninitiated. There are people who are relaxed by reading a novel, something new and different, but I'm not one of them. I don't mean to say that I don't like new novels, or reading something new that I've never read before. I only mean to say that often it's not relaxing. It's enjoyable, of course. But I do a lot of writing for business clients in the daytime, and by the time I get to read, it's often something I do right before bed. I'm tired, my eyes are tired, and having to remember new characters and what they look like and what they do and all their mannerisms, etc., etc., is . . . well, tiring.

So, when I'm tired, I read fanfic. It's like reading reruns. You already know the characters. You know what they would or wouldn't do or say. You understand their relationships with other characters. It's just a new story in an already-familiar universe, whether that's Scotland in the 1700s, on a space-station, or in the basement of the FBI.

There are a great many people who will say there is no value to fanfic, or to reading it, especially for writers. But I disagree. Most fanfic – I would guess about 95% – is written by people who never claim to be writers, merely people who want to imagine their favorite characters continuing on when the book or TV show ends. The other 5% (if that much), is written by writers who have the same desire to see their favorite characters have new adventures, and though they know there's no money in it, they write it anyway, for a variety of reasons aside from just love of the characters. The fanfic writers I know who write publishable-quality works do it when they are between their own work, when they need to escape, or simply because they've built a fanbase of their own, and those fans are waiting for the next installment. In fact, I've read excellent works of fanfic by writers who can and have written their own original works.

Those are the works of fan-created fiction that I enjoy the most, because they are usually like reading franchise-approved and published novels. Like the various series of novels in the Star Trek or Star Wars universes, these writers put out professional-quality work, only without getting paid. But, unlike the sanctioned novels in such franchises, they have the freedom to do things with characters that would never be allowed to happen in a Paramount- or (now) Disney-approved book. The interesting part is that the very skilled ones are able to take the characters past some invisible line that we, as readers or viewers, know must never be crossed, and bring them back unscathed. They find inventive ways to get around various taboos, and then return those characters without permanent harm, right where they should be for the next episode, or else invent an entirely new, alternate universe for them to live and work and play in, while leaving the ones in this universe safe and sound where they belong (see the J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies). The most frequent example of this is the consummation of a relationship that hasn't, and probably never will, happen in the series of books or TV shows or films. But there are many other examples.

But aside from sheer enjoyment, there is actual value to reading these labors of love. I have learned more about writing from reading fanfic than I have from reading Shakespeare.

Have you ever watched an Olympic or World Figure Skating competition? Everyone knows names like Kristi Yamaguchi or Michelle Kwan, and perhaps you even know the current Olympic and World champion, Kim Yuna. You watch them, and they make it look so easy, don't they? That's what it's like reading good, well-written fiction.

Reading well-written fanfic is like reading a lesser-known, but promising skater, like Georgian Elene Gedevanishvili, who currently is ranked at 10th place in the world. You love her style, her attack, her desire to skate her best. But she still hasn't reached her full potential. And you can't wait to see what she's capable of.

But reading the other 95+% of fanfic is a little like watching a local or regional competition. You watch as one young skater after another makes errors in basic technique that result in falls or stumbles, or simply just looking awkward, like they don't quite have their feet under them. You suddenly realize how very difficult it actually is to make it look easy. You develop instant appreciation for the Kim Yuna's, the Mao Asada's, and the Elene Gedevanishvili's of writing. Like their writing counterparts, they present a piece of work that is so smooth, so flawless, it's hard to imagine it isn't as easy to them as walking is to you.

And you realize that it takes an awful lot of practice to get to that point.

But as a writer, it also shows you other things as well. It shows you what can go wrong. Like watching a novice figure skater and seeing her drop her shoulder in mid-air while doing a jump, knowing that she'll never be able to land that jump because she's too tilted, a writer can see techniques gone wrong and devices inexpertly used. You often know what the author is trying to do, but for whatever reason, it doesn't work. But as a writer, you can take in that information and learn from it.

And I'll go into specific examples in a later article.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

An Update: July 14, 2013

Yes, it's been a long time. I often find that, as with journaling, when I have things to write about, I lack the time to write it.

I have been away from the novel for about 7 months, and it's driving me nuts, actually. Because that's what I want to be writing.

But, as it stands, I am lucky to have a little steady freelance work, which has been taking up most of my time for . . . reasons I won't go into other than to say there's a high learning curve on related things. And any time that's leftover has been mostly spent on finding more freelance work. My goal is to get a few good clients on a regular basis that I can do reliably, write well, and that will provide a consistent income to cover my bills. As it stands now I have two steady clients (as well as a number of others who need things done periodically, but not on a regular basis), and I think I'd be fine with three or four. So I've been getting into a routine where I've been writing a draft for client A on Monday, updating social networks for client B on Tuesday, and so forth.

My most recent addition has been some blog articles for here, as well as another, unrelated blog I do under another nom-de-plume, and I've been getting those into my schedule as well.

Annoyingly, my schedule is subject to change without notice, since the pain from my injuries is unpredictable and often requires me to just lie down with my feet up (it's mostly lower-back, but other things as well). For anyone interested: yes, I've done pain management. I've done bio-feedback (the specialist said it wasn't helping). I've done acupuncture (same thing, and I was very disappointed about that, as I truly believe that thousands of years of history means it works . . . just not, it seems, for me). I've had shots and blocks and all kinds of torturous therapy, and I finally just got sick of it and now just take the stupid pain pills. Honestly, if I were rich and could afford massages and pampering and not having to do cleaning and other things I really shouldn't be doing, I could aggravate those injuries less and be in pain less of the time. As things stand, I don't anticipate feeling much better, and this is it, so I just have to work around it.

But I haven't lost sight of the goal: my novel. Everything I'm trying to accomplish is in service to getting to a place where I can work on and, more importantly, finish that. In the meantime, for reasons I explained in a previous article about my issues with going back and forth between clients' work and my own when the former is unpredictable, I've decided to at least try to work in some blog time. So I will shortly be posting the first in a series of articles about why I think fan-created fiction – ″fanfic″ – is worth your time and consideration, and what all writers, especially newbies, can learn or be reminded of from it.

I had intended to write an article about how reading the third book in The Hunger Games series helped me change the way I approach the ending to my novel, but I need to either reread it, or else find a detailed enough recap for me to be reminded of the details I wanted to point to. But I hope you enjoy these, and I'll get to that eventually!

Addendum, July 20, 2013:

This post was intended to go up last Thursday or Friday, but I got disconnected from the 'net by some sort of technical issue that, apparently, was only fixed by a full reformat. Yes, I edited and updated it last Sunday, before finally taking that drastic measure when my inability to connect dragged on and I realized that, since I could stream from other devices on my Wifi, it was probably my main PC that was the problem.

For anyone who doesn't already know this, reformatting should be a roughly once-a-year project for those of us using Windows (I'm sure it can't hurt Macs, either!), and is the only SURE way to get rid of whatever ails your PC, specifically viruses and malware, but it cures a great many other ills as well. It's a great deal easier to do than it used to be (and because this is a new computer of only about 2 years old – yes, I've delayed doing it for year: guilty as charged! I never claimed I was perfect! – I had never done a reformat this easily! On the former PC (that ran XP), I had to get down to, “reformat c:/” in a command prompt, but this Windows 7 PC is a lot less terrifying, so I recommend setting aside a weekend once a year to avoid all the trouble.

Recommended reading: has a series about computer security for normal people; check it out!