this is gonna be weird

deborah.dwj at deborah.dwj at
Mon Nov 22 00:20:53 EST 2004

Okay, I am going to make a valiant effort to bring this back on topic.
If I don't succeed, credit me with trying.  :)

[Note: I eventually succeeded.  If you want to skip my rambling and go
to my summary, skip to the end.  -dk]

On Sun, 21 Nov 2004 minnow at wrote:
|Has he really disparaged professional fanfiction, or has he disparaged
|fanfiction?  Isn't "professional fanfiction" a bit strange as a term?  I'd
|say that the two are mutually exclusive.  If it is published and paid for
|it isn't fanfiction, if it isn't published and paid for it's not


On Mon, 22 Nov 2004, Paul Andinach wrote:
|On Wed, 17 Nov 2004 deborah.dwj at wrote:
|> it's a tie-in novel, which is just the way of saying "professional
|> and sanctioned fanfiction".
|Only if you distend the definition of "fanfiction" beyond the point of

The point that I was trying to make is to distinguish between the simple
fact of having sold a story, which in itself does not assign any
artistic merit, and the genre.  I'll yield, as some others have
excellently pointed out, the difference between an author's vision
(_Grendel_, as Charlie suggested, or _R&G are Dead_) and commisioned
story (more tie-in novels, I assume).  But while having sold a story
does mean that the audience is spared the worst of the slushpile, *not*
having sold a story doesn't mean that the story has lesser or worse
merit.  The author might not be interested in trying to get a story
published, and might not have tried.

Also, having been published is also no guarantor of quality.  I have
been reviewing some *utter rubbish* lately, that some publisher or
another thought was worth killing trees for.  None of it is of the lack
of quality of the story, but some of it is close.

When I say "professional fanfiction", I'm trying to encourage people to
distinguish between the genre and the medium.  If you like _Grendel_,
which was published, but hate the story, does that mean that all
Internet-published works are bad?  Alternately, if you hate, oh, the
book _Raven's point_ by Melinda Metz (trust me.  don't read it.
please), but love _The Onion_, does that mean all traditional print
books are bad?

When people say "I don't understand fanfiction", they could be speaking

-- Why people would choose to publish something for free to the world
like that.  I don't think that's the discussion we're having here.

-- Why people would choose to read through all the crap looking for the
gems, since there's so much crap.  I can answer that once, for me: I
almost only read fiction recommended by people I trust; I've gotten very
good at rejecting the bad stuff in a paragraph or two for minimal time
wastage; and -- most important -- the gems are so good I re-read them
again and again.

-- Why people would write in a derivative genre.  (I know you repudiated
the words and its connotations, Minnow, and thanks, though like Katta,
I don't find it insulting. *g*)  This is the one I'm harping on.  I just
want to make the point that the valuable artistic distinction is between
the genre and not-the-genre, not between published and not-published.
At least, to me.

Minnow again:
|The quality *does* have a lot to do with it.  If the person using the ideas
|writes badly, then in some subtle way it feels like an insult to the thing
|that person presumably loves and is trying to imitate.
|Does this start to be a look at the difference between "emulation" and
|"imitation", perhaps?

Exactly.  And ameteurs who are net publishing occasionally write very
high-quality fiction.  Not all of them -- not even most of them.  But if
you look hard, you can find them.

|That  was the thing I was meaning, except that I think your definition of
|"derivative" is a great deal more far-ranging than mine.  C'mon, I was
|talking from the basis of the fanfiction text you and Kyra quoted, which is
|*not* very good.

Um, yes.  Definitely.  And I feel like I should send anyone interested
to some top-notch fanfic.  *g*  Mocking badfic is all well and good, but
not if it gives you a bad impression of an entire genre!  I feel like
we've accidentally handed you some terrible fantasy novel and you've
judged all fantasy by it because it's all you've ever seen.  Not that
I'm saying fanfiction is for everyone; it isn't.  But assessing those
who read and write it as if badfic is the mainstay of the genre just
makes me sad.  Trust me, I'm a book reviewer and Diana Wynne Jones fan.
I wouldn't read fiction that wasn't good.  (Deborah carefully pretends
her friday-night obsession with pulp romances doesn't exist.)

|But I do still feel that if it's good, it shouldn't really need the leg-up
|from association with some other, familiar work: it can be an homage, and
|people who've read the original work that gave the springboard can grin
|happily when they encounter something that tells them the author is
|deliberately refering to another author, without that having to be writ in
|large spangled letters on the front, surely?

|Is that worth it?  I mean, isn't it better to be judged on your own merits,
|rather than made allowance for because you're writing about characters the
|reader already likes?  (And isn't there the risk that they may dislike your
|interpretation and think you have got it wrong?) (And as a writer would I
|want only an audience who won't read anything they aren't already familiar
|with, anyhow?)

Only if you think the leg up is a detriment.  If it doesn't bother you,
if you don't think it weakens your work to add the spangled letters,
then what does it hurt?

Again, you're talking about writers who are choosing not to seek
publication.  For some, it might be because their work isn't good
enough.  For some, it might be the legalities involved.  But for others,
they fundamentally might not care.  If a community of people will read
and give opinions, why not take the entry into that community?

Once you're in, you will definitely be judged on your own merits.
...No, wait, that's not fair.  In many communities, everything someone
writes will be followed up with "wow!  U rawk!!1!   I love everthing u
rite will u B my girlfriend?"

I don't tend to read those pieces, or attend those communities.   :)

|>- Your thoughts about the world are focused on your ideas of what it
|>  will eventually become in the source material's canon, even if that
|>  doesn't come through in the story.
|That's more complicated: you mean fanfic as what would happen in say the
|Vorkosigen universe three or four hundred years down the line, like Angela
|Thirkell writing in Barsetshire a hundred or so years after Trollope's
|novels set there?  I don't think that's a mistake: I might disagree with
|the conclusions, but it's valid.  It wouldn't be Vorkosigen fanfic to me,
|though, I don't think.

But if it would be to me, and I'm the writer, then that's how I'll tag
it.  Because, and again, I can't beat this dead horse enough, *I don't
find it a negative thing to call something fanfic*.  To me, it's just a
way of saying "I'm writing an homage, ala _Grendel_ or _R&G_, and I'm
an ameteur and have no intention of being published.  Not to mention
that the original is still copyright, and I'm not asking permission, so
just to remind all the lawyers that this is all under fair use and I'm
not turning a profit or attempting to hijack anyone else's."  In
otherwords, a genre definition combined with a legal and medium

Not, by the way, that I flatter myself that I'm Stoppard or Gardner.

(And with all of my conversation here, I speak only for myself.  There
are as many definitions of fanfiction as there are people who read it.
More, actually, if this conversation is anything to go on.)

|>- You could be using the artistic conventions of your fandom's genre,
|>  which are subtly different, probably, from the artistic conventions
|>  used in standard published fiction.  *Not* worse, just different.
|>  (The way thoughts are portrayed, for example, is completely different
|>  and very ritualized in high quality fanfiction.  Or the sentence
|>  structure for shocking moments.  If I were a linguist, I would love to
|>  study those writing conventions of what's a highly literate and
|>  educated audience, at least in Buffy fandom.  There's a thesis for ya;
|>  when a community invents its own writing style by consensus.)
|That seems to me to be a limiting of one's writing, though; in-crowd
|writing is by its nature not going anywhere much except the in-crowd, I
|would've thought.  Like stories that end "well, you had to be there, I

It's not in-crowd writing, just a different set of literary conventions.
When I read a romance novel, I implicitly understand certain conventions
of character.  When I first read Heyer's _A Civil Contract_, which was
packaged like any other Heyer romance/comedy of manners, I had a most
unpleasant experience, because I read the characters using those
conventions.  It was only later, reading the book knowing it was a novel
and not a lighthearted Heyer romance, that I correctly interpreted the
characters and their actions.  Genre style is everything.

|>There's places where I ask the same question you're asking.  Why write a
|>story in which Howl is a Barbary Pirate and Sophie is a French teacher
|>from a girl's prep school, and then call it "fanfiction"?
|Boggle.  Is that a real example?

It will be a real example in a year, dollars to doughnuts.  If American
kids get to see Howl in vaguely the same timeframe that "Pirates of the
Carribean 2" comes out, definitely.  Trust me.  Unfortunately.

|Short pause whilst I contemplate "Dragonlance" or whatever it was called.
|Nothing actively *wrong* with it, it was quite fun, I didn't want to scream
|and throw it at the wall when I was having to review one,  but
|Is that where fanfic ends up?  And what may have been left unpublished in
|order for that to come out?

Fanfic ends up on websites, mailing lists, zines, and illicit printouts.
Many of the better fanfic authors go on to write original fiction, and
either self-publish their original fiction and fanfiction
simultaneously, or continue writing fanfiction while their original
fiction is published.  Fanfic, by its nature, is unauthorized, and with
the possible exception of Cassie Claire's "Very Secret Diaries" of the
Lord of the Rings characters, do not get officially or semi-officially
sanctioned or published.  (Those I think were more homage of Adrian Mole
or Georgia Nicholson than Tolkien, anyway.)

Professional tie-ins happen all the time.

Other types of derivative fiction happen less frequently.  What went
unpublished so Tom Stoppard could publish "R&G"?  Who cares?  :)

|>I suppose in my mind it's very hard not to go "it all depends on what you do
|>with it."
|Well, yes, that does rather seem to be the point.  There were dozens and
|hundreds of mediocre Boys' School Books, and then there were one or two
|really first rate books that happened to be set in boys' schools.  If they
|were all set in the same school, that would still be true (most of them
|might as well be, but).  People might well read the P.G. Wodehouse and
|ignore most of the rest, or feel cheated if they read one of the others
|expecting it to be as good as *Mike*.
|See also books set in FantasyLand!  :-)

Exactly!  I think we agree.  I've just read enough great ameteur
fanfiction to know that some of it is lovely, and enough rubbish
Fantasyland books (did anyone read _The Baker's Boy_?) to know that
there's a signal-to-noise ratio, too.  DWJ couldn't have written the
Tough Guide without the badfic, after all.

On Sun, 21 Nov 2004, [iso-8859-1] Katarina Hjärpe wrote:
|Wow, I just thought of the quilt metaphor before – how fanfic - or all forms
|of derivative stories - can be seen as making a quilt of a piece of cloth.
|You have to add something of your own to make it worthwhile - otherwise the
|quilt just keeps getting smaller and smaller until there's not enough left
|to keep anyone warm.

Eee, I love that.  Which is why _Dark Lord of Derkholm_ is so brilliant.
(Wow.  Did I actually just go on-topic?  Thanks, Katta!)  Almost every
element of that book is pastiche, scrap cloth from Fantasyland.  No,
every element.  I recognized each character, each scene.  It's the tread
and the pattern, so uniquely DWJ, which make that scrap cloth into
something wonderful.  Not that I think DLoD is doing the same thing
fanfiction is doing, but it does follow the same rules good fanfic needs
to follow in order to be good.

A good Jeeves & Wooster story which could have been written by Wodehose
is fun, but it's like the Oz books not by Baum.  It's clever that you
can do that, and we all wish there were more Jeeves and Wooster stories,
so thanks for the fun read!  But it's not original fic, per se.

|But I'm weird - I read fanfic of shows I've never seen and books I've never

Me too, if the fiction is good on its own.

Minnow again:
|Most of fanfic is as *bad* as the "anything else" that you and your
|magazine rejected, surely?

Oh, lordy, yes.  Pots and pots of it.

|It seems daft not to admit that some writing
|just is Bad Writing, and that some people *simply cannot write and ought
|not to do it*, and it's an awful waste of their time if nobody tells them
|so (kindly and politely but firmly) so that they can go away and do
|something else that they might be better at, and stop being an
|embarrassment to their friends and later on to themselves.

Unless they and their friends are having fun, and aren't embarassed, and
they aren't setting their hearts on being professional writers and thus
avoiding carpentry training.  In that case, what harm does it do? Let
them write.

|Don't get me wrong: I'm sure that there is some excellent fan-fiction,
|well-written and worthy of respect

Well, yeah.  That's exactly my point.  I'm not trying to convince y'all
that all fanfiction is high-quality, or even worth the bits it's sitting
on.  Just that some of it is, so the entire genre shouldn't be tarred
with the same brush.  Anymore than DWJ should be condemned because _The
Secret of Platform 13_ is so bad.

Er.  Sorry if you like Ibbotson.

|Is there Archers fanfic?  :-)  I have this urge to write a script in which
|Clive Horrobin breaks out of jail and turns up in Ambridge with an Uzi, a
|lot of ammo and nothing to lose!

Oh, there's fanfic of everything. Just because I couldn't find it just
now doesn't mean it isn't there.  :)  I see Peter Wingfield used to do
The Archers, which means there's almost certainly a crossover with
Highlander the Series.

Ugh, this went on for far too long, and was only on-topic in dribs and
drabs.  I guess here's what I want to sum up.

--  As Theodore Sturgeon once said "Sure, 90% of science fiction is
crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud."   With fanfiction, you
probably have to up the percentage to 98% or so, just because of the
slushpile effect.  Yes, Lots of Fanfiction is Very Very Very Bad.

-- The genre might not be to your taste.  That's fine.  Among fanfiction
writers and readers, there are vicious arguments constantly as to
whether All Those Other People Who Write Fanfiction Are Morons and/or
Perverts, so you can bet your boots that even to those of use who like
fanfiction, counting only the quality fiction, there's plenty not to our

-- We should distinguish between three hotly debated facets: Publication
status; Legal and ethical status; and Artistic merit.  The first two I'm
not even beginning to defend here.  My claim is that you ignore the
first two, there are public domain works which are artistically of a
high quality and in similar genres to published works which we'll agree
to be high quality.

-- I'm the moderator so you all need to agree with me and do everything
I say or I'll pack up my toys and go home aaarghh rumble murple

Er.  Was that my outside voice?  Seriously, I love you all, so you
should all disagree with me, except for Katta who is strangely Swedish.
My impassioned defence of fanfiction is no more than you would have
heard if you'd been near me for any of those conversations which began
"Have you read these Harry Potter books?  It's like they're
children's books (or fantasy, depending on the speaker), but they're
*good*!"  But those conversations usually involved a lot more rage,
because I trust y'all.

love and kisses for letting me go on and making it all the way through
this (digest readers, I apologise),

Can the gods catch flu?  I think I may have given it to all of them.
					-- chrestomanci

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