Wednesday, July 18, 2018
CONSIDERING FANFICTION: THE AWAKENING OF MY, VERY SLIGHT, SEMI-INTEREST (Sorta) IN NON-CANONICAL WRITINGS
So, eh, um-, hmm... Fan fiction. (Shrugs) It's a thing? I guess.
So, something that some of you readers may have picked up but might not realize entirely is that, while I am working in a creative medium, I have a film degree, I work as a writer here and outside of this, and I certainly have inventive and creative friends and not to toot my own horn, but I do think I have some original, different and creative approaches to my work, but I came into the idea of devoting my life to writing and creating, essentially, very late. Like, by the time I entered film school, I was already, like two and a half years into college, and frankly was planning to go into other things, and while I was usually looked upon by others as creative, or "different" as some would say, my focus, wasn't really on any medium that involved storytelling. It's not that I avoided it specifically, I kinda avoided everything. My lone, real afterschool activity growing up was Varsity Quiz, which was basically "Jeopardy!" between schools. I was the smart kid with loads of useless information; I still am in fact, but there wasn't a film program at my school, and believe it or not, I'm not a natural reader. There was a theater program at my high school, but it never dawned on me to join something like that, even though the few times I watched the stage show in class, I rather enjoyed it and had great respect for those who did-.... Anyway, it wasn't so surreal that I would go into a creative medium, not as strange as one would think at least, but as one of my former classmates from film school, one whose main goal was to be an agent or manager or some point, would say to me, "Dude, why aren't you in law school?" (Shrugs)
I mean, it's not like he's wrong, but for one reason or another, I took a road less traveled, but here's the thing, a lot of things that others in my profession, probably grew up with and was totally natural to them, not only did I miss those things, growing up, but in some cases I had a complete blind spot to the fact that they existed at all. Some of you might remember that one earliest pieces on this blog was about the fact that I didn't know comic books were actually a real thing until like my Senior year of high school, and never saw a comic book store-, or come to think of it a comic book, until college when I'm acting in a friend's short film cast as an employee of a comic book store. (That article got republished by Age of the Nerd if you're interested, it's at the link below)
Well, kinda in that same vein, I-, I totally, totally did not realize that fanfiction was a thing. I know, being a writer/critic that studies story and art, you'd think that this was something that I'd be aware of, but I'd listen to my favorite critics and Youtubers and whatnot, many of them around my age and they'd casually mention meeting some of their lifelong friends, coworkers or confidants on fanfiction websites and I would just think, (Huh, that's odd; I guess they grew out of that.) or I'd even hear about critics who'd review fanfiction of certain kinds, and I'd think "Oh-kay, that's- that's really-, well, I don't like fans anyway, so who cares what they write...", or I'd hear about how "Fifty Shades of Grey" started as "Twilight" fanfiction, which,- I read "Fifty Shades..." I didn't read "Twilight", so I wouldn't have known or noticed anything fan-ficky about that,- I mean I heard all the words and they made sense in my head, but I never really got what that meant.
I mean, as a writer, I get being influenced by, and I get being inspired by things, and there's only so many stories, so sure, maybe E.L. James saw or-, (Mutters under breath, "saw"), read "Twilight", so she maybe took the idea of a popular romance and maybe borrowed the story arc and graphed out the plot points, but then created this, poorly-written but entertaining-to-read-in-a-fun-way Harlequin-like romance with an S&M center way, revolving around supposedly taboo sexuality...- and you know, that's okay, right? But then, I saw Dan Olson's Youtube video about the original manuscript, actually being "Twilight" fanfiction, and then, it was sorta like, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-kay, that's-eh,- so-eh, this isn't quite that, is it?
(Olson's video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzk9N7dJBec)
So-eh, yeah, a bit of eye-opener for me. And I'll be blunt, a lot of this post, is just, me, trying to grasp this idea of fanfiction. Part of it is that I never grew up with this idea, part of it is, I wasn't aware of how big this is, part of it is that it's an admittedly very gray area of legality in many instances and I'm not exactly sure which side I'm on in that regards (Well, probably the original's authors honestly) but mostly it's just me trying to figure out if this is even a good thing, in general. I mean, since my craft is in screenwriting, I'm very astute to the idea that, unless you're paid to adapt something, or you bought the rights to something, you just, don't adapt a story or use a character or whatever, ever, unless you count spec scripts for a TV show, which I don't.... (Although, you know, I keep meaning to write one but I suck at those. Like I have ideas for a "Family Guy" one occasionally and like, I know I should be able to do it, but there is something that holds me back with that, blah, blah, blah, that doesn't matter.)
So, I think at one point during my schooling, I remember this, it was middle school, I want to say either 7th or 8th grade and we were supposed to write a "Hero in a Hat" story. Basically, the teacher had some hats filled with heroes, villains, locations and I believe objectives, what the hero was doing it for, and you had to pick one from each hat and you had to create a story with those things. I remember I got Bugs Bunny for the hero, Siberia for the place, $10,000 or some dollar amount for the objective and I originally drew Lex Luthor for the villain, but I legitimately didn't know who he was, despite watching "Lois & Clark, the New Adventures of Superman" all the time, because I forgot he was even in it since he never was a memorable villain, (Fine, perhaps that was my comic book blindspot, I still stand by that though, Lex Luthor sucks!) so I redrew and got The Abominable Snowman, which I felt I could at least work with. I realize now, that this assignment was meant for us to create our own fanfiction, basically to reconceptualize and rethink about characters that we know already and put them in a different, more whimsically and more free-spirited narrative.
Ummmm-, so I didn't get that memo, however, and I was mostly just pissed that I couldn't figure out why all these characters would be in the same place, and be after money, of all things? So because I was different and weird at that time, I did remember that there was that whole season of "Dallas" that was a dream, and to me, that was the only thing that sorta made sense, but instead of making it a dream, (which, may have been against the rules anyway, I don't remember now) I made it a video game.
Basically, the story opened with Bugs being informed of his goal of collecting money as he was out to destroy the Abominable Snowman, and he had to pick a weapon (Oh yeah, I think there was a weapon hat too, I think it was a sword or something) and then went off to defeat the Snowman. I remember my teacher, Mr. Allister on my paper, wrote a note that said, "Why is he just choosing a weapon?" which he clearly wrote before he finished reading the whole story, because at the end of this long journey as Bugs is about to succeed in getting the money and defeating the Snowman, everything goes black for a few seconds, and then everything comes back up, and we're back at the beginning of the story and we pull back to see a kid really pissed off that the electricity just flickered and all his game was lost. (This was back before games that saved were as common or easy as they are now.) So, yeah, in a video game, you do often pick a weapon, so it makes sense...- Anyway, I got an A, but I know I completely screwed up his intentions for the assignment. In fact, I'm not sure he ever gave that assignment again after that. Basically, we were supposed to come with a fantastical world where all these characters came in and this was the battle, go nuts with your imagination and instead, I decided to simply find a route where all these disparate fantastical parts, would make sense in the real world. I mean, I wasn't intending to create a big middle finger to this assignment, but even with getting an A on the assignment, it did kinda end up that way. Well, at least I think I got an A on it; I forget now; I never paid attention to my grades, but I was proud of it at least.
(Also, P.S.; if you've ever wondered why I tend to not like any film that has what I call a "Video game plot", "Sucker Punch", "The Raid" movies, "Scott Pilgrim...," why I genuinely think they all suck, well, part of it is that it's a bad narrative for films, sure, but another part of it is that, "I came up with that idea in like, 1998, motherfuckers this is not impressive or unique to me.)
And I'll be honest, I can think of other creative writing assignments that I had over the years, where I was also very reluctant to write something fictional when it didn't make sense to me, some were good, most weren't, but this isn't entirely an isolated incident, my reaction to writing fanfiction. Admittedly, this was a trend in my early writing attempts in general, this- rejection or subversion of the expectations and rules I was given, however, there's obviously a natural instinct I have against, even some really basic concepts of fanfiction, apparently. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure why I have that visceral of a reaction to it, 'cause logically I can understand why people would write fanfiction, it's basically practice writing, in very much the same way that say painters would practice their craft by trying to recreate paintings from the old masters. I mean, you're not forging or recreating someone's work, or even trying to, but you do practice the craft and skills and tools that created the original work, and if you're going to learn how to do your own way, you have to know how it was done and how it was successful in the past; that makes sense. I'm a bit skeptical about how long people should be doing that, but, still, it makes some sense.
I can only think of one instance of when I wrote fanfiction, back when I was, eight years old-, was it second grade? Yeah, I was in second grade when "Cheers" ended. I didn't realize I was writing fanfiction at the time, but "Cheers" ended and it was a big deal, so when asked to write something in 2nd Grade, I wrote a sequel series called "Cheers II". I wrote about, I don't know seven or eight of what we'll very generously call, "episodes". they took place after the first series ended and basically, Sam loses the bar for some reason I don't think I ever gave, Diane still has this money from that novel and screenplay she won the Cable Ace Award for and she purchases and owns the bar now and everything else continues on as before. Actually, when I write it out here, now, it actually sounds somewhat decent as a premise, but that's about the best thing I can say about any of these works of mine. They were all, maybe half a scene, poorly-written about half a page long each, maybe some were a little longer.... Maybe 10% of the original ideas in that mix were somewhat inspired, like Robin coming back after Rebecca's happily married, well, supposedly happily, and the rest of it was me stealing bad jokes from like "All That" or "The Simpsons" or,- I think I devoted a whole episode as a crossover to some now-obscure 7-11 ads that had some of the bigger stand-ups of the day in them. Yeah, I wasn't even smart enough to steal good material back then unless I was telling an old Gabe Kaplan joke for personal use; it was all just horribly bad, half-assed ideas, that are basically the kind of half-ass ideas eight-year-olds have, and the next Fall "Frasier" went on the air, and that's when I gave up and said, "Oh, fuck this; that show's gonna win the Emmy for like the next decade; I'm not topping that."
And that's about it; I swore I'd never try that again, and you know, maybe, maybe, in my head, I wrote a Mary Sue self-insert episode of "Gilmore Girls" or two where I'm an odd, troubled stranger kid who comes into town and becomes Rory's best friend,but, only in my head; I never wrote anything like that down again. I think that's why I'm confused by this fanfiction trend; like I have trouble seeing it as anything more than, not even a positive step for a young writer, but, like a stepping stone for when you're really young and still learning to have ideas and write them out. Not something that I would ever voluntarily share on giant message and hope that this would be something that would be interesting to others-, it flat-out would not occur to me to even do that-, and hell, in '93, that wouldn't have even been a scenario. The internet didn't really hit, 'til like the next few years and even then I think this took a little while before the fanfiction boom, started in the late '90s, (as I'm informed by wikipedia) hit.
And I have to stress "young" writers. Like, this is for kids, to me. This isn't something that I understand in older kids and especially not adults, at all. Maybe when you're first beginning and you started late, but I know that when I was in high school that if somebody was old enough to drive and they told me they were still writing fanfiction, I would be a little bit concerned for them, no matter what it was. Yet, I know there are grown-ups who participate in this thing too, and hell, this form of writing has picked up enough steam that people are actually looking into it to publish fanfiction, and it becomes hits and for long-running series, especially in comics, people seek out fanfiction writers to join their staff all the time. I mean, I do kinda get that with the latter because we do have those aforementioned spec scripts for TV shows that we send out when submitting material, although again, I have always struggled with that practice (Sigh) and generally, those aren't written with the intention of ever being produced as a television episode; they're usually only created in order for the producers or head writers to show that you can write for the series. I mean, I guess that's technically fanfiction, but- the way I always had it described to me was, "If the sitcom's about the sexual tension between the two characters, don't write the episode where they end up together for your spec script." In other words, write an average episode of the show you're writing for. They just want to see if you can do it, not if you've come up with this brilliant, new, different idea for the show.
So, here's what kinda made me really think about this and why I'm kinda interested in discussing it. So, I've been watching some old "Adam Ruins Everything" clips on Youtube lately. I never watched him much until now; I for some reason never thought to get around to him until recently, but I don't know, I watched one or two of them and I got in a mood, and I happen to catch his thing on how the Public Domain.
I'll be honest; I never really thought about it the way he explained it before, that we have all these created, historically and culturally important literary characters, partly because of the old Public Domain laws that Disney, in an effort to protect Mickey Mouse, fought and lobbied Congress to extend the Public Domain waiting to 95 years. Which,- well, I remember when that ruling went down and how disappointed we were that we couldn't use Mickey Mouse without paying for him yet, but I honestly never thought about how Public Domain has led to all those characters becoming so ingrained in our culture. And I guess, that's essentially fanfiction as well, everything between "Sherlock" and "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein", so, in that sense, I guess I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss fanfiction. Also, the Public Domain timeline is coming up, barring some new development, many works are going to enter the Public Domain in less than six months, for the first time in decades. It's actually kinda exciting, we're getting some major films, some novels, a lot of big art. Not Mickey Mouse, he's a few years away but still....
That said, the idea of the Public Domain is almost trivial because of the world of the internet and there now existing thousands and thousands of all these...- I don't even know. (I mean, some authors do fight it, and I don't disagree with them actually.) Like, I understand satire and re-imagining, but I just don't understand fanfiction, especially as an adult it seems so foreign to me that I'm mostly just befuddled by it.
I think it's because I do have a power of the artist belief. I know, especially film and television are always collaborative efforts, but my general rule is to never get in the way of artists work. If they want something to be that way, you can criticize and critique their decisions and choices, but you can't alter them. Now, sure that's bullshit, obviously, people alter them all the time, and I'm not even talking fanfiction here, that's in real life, but it does feel really strange to take someone else's work and then add-on and create from there. I mean, if you're creative enough to take someone else's work and construct elaborate fantasies and alternative universes of how things could've gone in their world, then why not create an entire world of your own? It can be inspired by this other world, a different take, an homage, or in some cases, sure retell the story in a way that's completely different than how it originated, but it is really different for me to say that you just took someone's work and tried to just carve out this own idea into the side of it that's entirely yours. This is basically the same reason why I still take Roger Ebert's side on whether video games aren't a higher art than movies, people claim that the freedom of the player to make choices in the world and create their own ideas inside someone else's world is what makes video games more encompassing as a creative art-form, but that's not creative, that's literal derivativeness. You've taken from somebody else's work and now you're trying to say it's your own creative spark to it? If the option wasn't built into the game, then you wouldn't be able to create this unique world of your own in the game, and that's the same for hacks of games too, that's literally changing someone else's work. The option of choice by the audience makes it inherently less valuable as a piece of art. That's not to say it isn't art or can't be fun, but like fanfiction, it's just, taking from someone else's work.
Others don't see it that way, others are more "Death of the author" than I am,... (Shrugs). I guess it all boils down to why something's created and with fanfiction, I see, mainly a lot of twiddling one's thumbs, or twiddling one's, nether-regions. (Based on the fanfiction I'm finding, literally both of those [God, every piece of fanfiction I find on "The West Wing" is about Josh & Donna.]) Art is full of taking inspiration from something to create something different, so who the hell knows what constitutes fanfiction; I heard somebody recently calls "Dante's Inferno" Biblical fanfiction the other day, and you know-, what can you say; it technically kinda is. It was also a unique and original work at the time though. Maybe it's all promotion; maybe it's just that the selling point is that people seek out and create material that's fanfiction and they don't try to hide it or anything and they sell it to others as fanfiction. I mean, not sell, but promote, I guess? Maybe it just seems like too small of an audience for me to say the things that I would want to say, the things I say when I create stories anyway. I mean, I understand that I have a niche, but even still you don't just want to create for that niche, you want to hope that what you create will help effect as many people as possible, while I think mostly fanfiction is created for a niche of a niche and I guess the only objective in aiming for stuff that specific is to hopefully express your love and admiration for something and find other fans who can appreciate it. (Sigh)
And you know how I have no affection or respect for fans, but I guess,- I guess fan-fiction isn't the worst thing about them, and hell, it actually can lead to creativity and if artwork can inspire...- well, I guess that's not a horrible thing. Just don't expect to see me participating or reading any of it; I think I'm done with that. Although if something perhaps better than "Fifty Shades..." get made that originated from fanfiction and gets published and captures the Public's imagination; (Shrugs) at least for me anyway, I and several others would probably not recognize it as fanfiction unless you tell me it is, and even then, it'd still probably have to be a fanfic of something that I just never read before. to fully get it, so... be good and creative enough to be able to fool people into thinking it isn't. You know, just like, how regular writers do.
Posted by David Baruffi at 11:35 PM