Fanfic (OT?)

Gili Bar-Hillel abhillel at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 18 16:20:08 EDT 2001


Sally wrote:

>It's not only fan-fic type work that causes problems, but also
>what I call Grandparent-fiction. What happens is that an older writer,
>perhaps a grandparent, writes a cosy story for his/her g'children. The kids
>love it to bits, because, (a) a loved person "made" it, (b) it's associated
>with attention anhd story-time and (c) it often contains the child's own
>name, or that of a pet, or derives from something the child has done.

Absolutely, this accounts for a very large chunk of the manuscripts I see.

>The delight in this story is genuine, so the poor writer can't understand
>why publishers don't love it too... none of them ever hits
>on the actual reason which is probably just that the story is old-fashioned
>and pedestrian when shorn of its family connotations.

Also, once you've read dozens of these stories, as I have, they begin to all 
sound remarkably alike. The problem, I think, is that experiences that are 
widely exciting on a personal level are a lot less easy to make interesting 
at a universal level. A child's first words, a child's first steps, a 
child's first lost tooth or first day at school or first heartbreak are all 
*HUGE* experiences from that child's perspective, and from her/his family's 
perspective. But unless you are a particularly gifted writer, simply writing 
a description of these occasions does not make for a very interesting book. 
And you're right: it is like fan fiction, in that a story like this would 
definitely be of more interest to your immediate family - your fans - than 
to the rest of the world.

>Other children might well like it, but reviewers probably won't, and
>children's fiction has to get through adult barriers before it ever gets to
>the kids.

Children will like just about anything if it's presented lovingly.

>Now if only publishers would come out and say this, clearly and
>unmistakeably, the writers would understand. It's the "thanks but no 
>thanks"
>form letter that upsets them and leads them to continue on the same path to
>more rejection.

You may be right, but the "thanks but no thanks" letter has a lot of 
advantages. When I started out in my present position, I used to think it 
important to meet with people and explain to them exactly why I wasn't 
publishing their book. I thought I was doing a good thing by being 
compassionate and attentive and perhaps providing occasional constructive 
criticism. But I soon discovered that people mistook my attentiveness for 
interest in their writing. I was spending more and more time explaining to 
people why I won't take their books, and the more I explained, the more they 
tried to convince me that I didn't get the point of their books, and the 
more exhausted and depressed I got. The "thanks but no thanks" letter is 
gruff and possibly misleading, but it is actually less frustrating than a 
more attentive rejection, and probably less offensive than a flat out "I 
didn't like it." My standard rejection letter includes a line that says 
something like "not what I'm looking for", stressing that I rejected the 
mansucript for objective reasons, as opposed to its simply being 
subjectively bad. The books I see seldom are completely bad: at the very 
least, there is something sweet and sentimental about them. But even more 
rare is the book that reads as fresh.

>And don't think you can necessarily
>use [fan fic] as a "learning tool" for later original writing, because it's
>teaching you a totally different skill. You'll learn structure and pacing,
>and maybe plotting, but tere will be a whole series of elements missing and
>you'll have to unlearn a lot as well.

I agree and disagree. I agree that fan-fics most always lack a certain spark 
that is essential for a really good read. It's not so much originality, as 
authentic emotion, or urgency, or need, that is often missing in these 
stories. But I don't see what you would have to unlearn after writing a 
fan-fic, other than the habit of using other people's characters. Care to 
explain?
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