Monday, April 1, 2013

Fan Fiction Roundtable: Part Two

In the second part of the fanfic roundtable, we got a little more personal talking about our own favorite fanworks and favorite characters. Fan fiction has its dark side too: it has a reputation for being all amateur or all sexual, and can raise eyebrows even in geek communities tired of having eyebrows raised at them.  Tricia, Geralyn, SL, and myself share our experiences - or lack thereof - with stereotyping.

On a related note, Tricia has a special announcement today on Fangirlblog about the future of The Clone Wars...

Have you ever felt estranged or ostracized from other fans because you were a fanfic writer? What would you say to someone whose only exposure to fanfic is popularized, non-literary works like ’50 Shades of Gray’?

Tricia: Fanficcers were ostracized from the get-go in many internet message boards, and that culture permeated into other aspects of genre fandom, too. I believe it had a lot to do with the fact that most fanficcers are female. Fan fiction writers would read the Star Wars novels as closely as anyone, because so many fanficcers try to emulate canon characterizations in their stories. In the Literature culture, though, there were ridiculous geek credential barriers erected; if you couldn’t rattle off minute details from out-of-print roleplaying game manuals or obscure comics, your knowledge of continuity was deemed insufficient no matter how good your analysis of the most recently published novel. At one point, Literature moderators – which has been an boys’ club for many years now – called fan fiction writers “outsiders,” as if there is an out and in of being a Star Wars fan. I can take on all comers on philosophical points of Star Wars, but I don’t think that makes me a better fan. Yet we still see some circles setting up artificial barriers to keep other fans out of discussions.

Unfortunately, I think some of this dynamic came from the precedent Lucasfilm set after the end of the NJO that continuity of facts ruled. The NJO series had a story and characterization bible. After that point, though, we heard a lot about using the internal Holocron, or authors referring to the fan-edited Wookieepedia, to maximize accuracy of fact-checking – but almost nothing about the importance of continuity of characterization. It showed in the novels. Portrayals were all over the place from book to book in a series.

Considering how many women say Star Wars influenced them to want to tell stories, and how many women were writing Star Wars fan fiction, the imbalance of women actually working on creating new Star Wars stories for the franchise says something about the ingrained culture. In fan fiction, women just left and went to franchises where they felt more comfortable. I definitely feel it’s time to push back a bit at the misperceptions, because a lot of them were born out of the early digital online culture that everyone now seems to admit hasn’t always been women-friendly.

Geralyn: Honestly, I never think about whether or not I’m ostracized over writing fanfic. I saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977 (at Graumans in Hollywood actually), and I was an adult in my 20s then. You reach a certain age where the judgements of other people over certain things you do just don’t matter. You’ve got one life and you spend so much of it doing all those responsible adult things you have to do, and you get to the point where you realize you really do only have one life. The upshot of that is a freedom to do some of what you want to do without concern over what others will think or the attitudes they display. If someone has a problem with me writing fanfic (in a pbpRPG format no less), well that’s their problem, not mine. I’m not going to take ownership of it.

As for 50 Shades of Gray, I have no opinion on it. I’ve never read it. What I know about
it is that it started out as a Twilight fanfic, and I couldn’t think of a worse role model for
young, impressionable females than Bella Swan. But I have absolutely no idea if the female in 50 Shades is patterned on Bella. I actually have no idea if there is a female in 50 Shades. However, my answer to someone would probably be the same no matter what they were asking me about fanfic. I do it because it’s creative, it’s fun and I enjoy it.

SL: The only ostracizing I’ve ever felt with fanfiction was entirely in my own head, and that has largely to do with media portrayals of “geek” and “nerd” in a very negative light: with fanfiction being considered the nadir of those interests. In just the last couple decades, however, I’ve seen a huge shift in popular media from the concept that geek is lame to geek is chic, and I hope that it’s a trend that continues. Just looking at shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or movies like The Hobbit as well as games like Mass Effect and you see how much people appreciate these things that maybe 20 years ago would have been considered “too nerdy”. It sounds mercenary to say so, but the commercial viability of these IPs gives geekdom legitimacy.

50 Shades of Gray is a funny example, though, and I think its existence will have a profound impact on fanfiction writers: regardless of whether they approve of its publication or not. It’s proof that fanfiction can inspire people to create, and to create material that is not only fun for fans but commercially viable. I’m really not too elitist about works being derived from other sources: legally (at least in the US, it’s considered original work as long as there is a certain % of modification from the source material. 50 Shades of Gray fits that criteria. I mean, anyone who wants to create serious works of fiction isn’t even going to be selling to the demographic that buys those types of stories. Plus, are you really going to get worked up about a story that copies itself from Twilight? You can argue about whether they should or should not be allowed to exist, but I don’t see the problem with writers in the market rising to meet the demands of a specific demographic. If the demand is there: make money off of it.

Megan: I’ve had very positive experiences with the online fan community: I’ve felt ostracized for things, but never purely for being a fanfic writer. In the real world, though, as well as having friends who write fanfic, I’ve talked to others with equally geeky pursuits who make crude jokes or assume it’s all a bit shallow.

Online, though, it’s been great, partially because I’ve stuck to large fan fiction sites with low potential for drama. Fanfic sites are also one of the few places in my experience where “she” is the default pronoun.

I feel like fanfic is a bit of an untouchable, though.  Like all writing it can be very personal, not only in terms of content but in terms of philosophy and what it means to the writer, so people can be reluctant to share fanfic, or even the fact that they write it, in a group of people they don’t know. Professional writers like Naomi Novak and Lev Grossman use fanfic in a playful way, though, and are making it more of a household word. I want people to know that it's more than the poorly-written erotica of 50 Shades.

What’s your favorite subject or characters to write about?

Tricia: I don’t write fan fiction any more. No time! Jaina was my favorite character by far. I also loved writing Kyp, Mara, Luke, Han, Leia, Wedge, Shawknyr, light side Jacen, dark side Zekk, and of course my original characters. I have seen discussions on message boards where people discussed scenes with Soontir and Syal Fel, or Shawnkyr, and I’d realize “that’s not in the books, it’s in my fanfic!”  That’s how the collective fan consciousness works sometimes. Fanon is the Borg.

Warriors and pilots, mysticism, and philosophy are all things that interest me as a writer. I really enjoy telling the stories of strong characters who crash into each other and shape each other’s lives. I learned that from Star Wars. Luke saw Leia in A New Hope and she shifted his world; he reacted to her. Obi-Wan shifted Luke’s course and Han’s course. Leia redirects both Han and Luke again. The brilliance of the Original Trilogy is that it’s not just about Luke’s journey, compared to the tales of old in which the hero was the only piece of the puzzle, with one-dimensional archetypes coming in and out of that journey as needed for the hero’s story.

So a few years ago I found myself with an idea – and enough confidence to wonder if I could pull off a hero’s journey, creating my own characters, world, and situations. Fan fiction writers do all of those things separately within the franchise universe, but in an original story you have to do it all at once. I spent two years building my own universe, and my own characters with their own story. Coming from fan fiction, I wanted each character to be a known quantity to me, with histories as rich as the characters in Star Wars. I literally have notebooks on my characters and my world. When characters come across on the page, my goal is to have the reader constantly wondering about the details that filter their motivations.

The magic of stories is where they spin your imagination. No two readers will take away the same thing. It’s like being a mad chemist trying to work out the formula that will spark something on the page for the reader. Chemistry isn’t necessarily romantic, either; it can be aggression or familial, for example. People pick up on chemistry between characters, though, and often it’s morphed by fans into something romantic –as fanfic proves, sometimes in the weirdest of ways. (This is why Fifty Shades is the biggest irony of all: you can read that kind of stuff for free on the internet, yet people pay for it!) The takeaway for me isn’t that you need romance in stories, but always chemistry, where the right spark always has potential for combustion of some sort.

Geralyn: I adore the Jedi, and my ideals are Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Ironically what I like to write are gray characters with some ambiguity to them.  The straight up evil bad don’t interest me at all because, in my opinion, you really can’t do anything with them other than have them be bad.  For me evil Sith are not much more than plot devices to get my other characters into some interesting dynamic.

I’ve noticed I tend to bring a lightsider into my gray character’s sphere.  It’s fun to write the dichotomy and it takes me to unexpected places.  Mostly I just write characters who are fully fleshed out.  They have strengths, weakness, and they’re fallible.  Only with Force users fallibilities can lead to serious repercussions for innocent bystanders.  I’m fascinated with exploring the ramifications of having a Force connection.  I think that’s why I prefer writing in the Post Return of the Jedi eras.  In the Old Republic era (I mainly mean just before and prequel eras here) the rules were set in stone and the Jedi knew what they should/could and shouldn’t/couldn’t do.  They had a roadmap.  You get a bit more than just a glimpse of that in the OT when Obi-Wan and Yoda are teaching Luke.  In Luke’s post-ROTJ, he’s got to do a lot of figuring it out for himself.  I like the figuring it out for yourself stuff.

I also like to write them into rip roaring adventures.  It’s through the rip roaring adventures that they learn and discover things about themselves.  And, well, that’s very Star Wars.  Plus adventures are fun to write.

SL: Like Geralyn, fanfiction for me is a chance to really explore character dichotomies as well as unexpected aspects of a situation. I generally start with an idea: using an extended metaphor, exploring a specific point of view, twisting around the audience’s existing perceptions of a character by presenting them in a different light. I think the ladies covered the gamut of interests pretty well, so I’ll save you my big spiel on that! Current favorites? Well, I have a set of roleplaying characters my friends and I created based on BioWare’s Dragon Age franchise. You can find them online here: It’s quite silly.

Megan: I don’t write for Star Wars much any more. Right now my favorite subject for fic is Red vs Blue, which is nearly a large fanfic in video form itself. It also introduced me to the first female character who ever starred in one of my novel-length fics and who wasn’t a customizable player character.

In Star Wars, though, I’m primarily interested in fics about Luke, Darth Maul, and Ahsoka. Darth Maul was especially important for me to write about because so few people did: I thought he was very unique from Sidious, Vader, and other Sith in that he didn’t want to build an Empire. He just wanted to do what he was told, and the fact that he was told to kill crime lords and capture princesses made that idea of blind, small obedience in a person who from his vocabulary and bearing seemed very intelligent was fascinating. It was also nice as an angsty teenager to get into somebody’s head who was allowed to rage for a while. On the other hand, Luke was the side of me that wanted to be a calm martial arts master but also occasionally whined and was ignorant about what was going on in places that weren’t Tatooine, so I wrote about him, trying to figure out that mentality too.

Later I liked alternate universe adventures, seeing how characters would react if something in their world was very slightly changed.

I’m proudest of some of my stories about Ahsoka, where I tried to make her less of a viewpoint character for kids and more of her own entity.

Recommend some favorite fics, or advertise for your own.

Tricia: I’ve written about Jaina and Jag extensively. (Okay, that’s an understatement.) Some of it is dark, angsty stuff, from my mourning stage when I tried to rectify Dark Nest back into something more hopeful. “Splinters” was a novella that time-jumped each chapter, with two timelines were running in opposition to each other. If you want to imagine what Jaina’s and Jag’s wedding would have been like, I told a few versions. “Return to Bolis Island,” which I co-wrote with my editor Lex, is one of my favorites because we were both pretty solid writers at that point. It’s an action-adventure on the way to a wedding, with all the Fels, Antilles, Solos and Skywalkers you might imagine would be there – plus some cranky Yuuzhan Vong. I also co-wrote an homage to The Courtship of Princess Leia with Lex called “The Courtship of Jagged Fel.” We had a great time making Jag the butt of the duty-over-romance trope, then poking fun at the zaniness that is COPL. Jag was a good sport about it. You can find that story at the TFN Fanfiction Archive, along with my one-offs about Luke, Leia, and Mara as children, as well as a couple of missing scenes.

The Archive is a great place to find complete stories that were vetted. I was a reviewer there for a few years. We would check for grammar, POV shifts, and other weaknesses, and it wasn’t easy to get through the process. Some of my favorite authors there were geo3, Lady Padme, VaderLVR64, and Gabri Jade, who wrote about Anakin, Padmé, Anakin/Luke and Mara, respectively.

Geralyn: Oh gosh, a favorite, that’s a hard one.  I did some fun stuff on an NJO era RPG once, but my favorite has to be the one set in 600 ABY.  It’s kind of on the back burner right now, but we have a great plot we’re working through.  But In all honestly, I have to admit some of my favorite stuff comes about accidentally like when your rp partner forgets that his character is blind and you call him on it.  Then you get to read lines like “I think I’m starting to see clearer now.”  See, fun.

A note on RPGs: there are all kinds of RPGs out there.  Mine has a general plot, but how you get there is up to the writers.  We don’t do outlines, but something more along the lines of “Here’s the beginning and here’s the end.  Now let’s get going.”  You can add some steps along the way as points you want to hit, or you can wing it, go for full spontaneity.  If you’re really into structure, it’s probably not for you.  And if you just want to take advantage of the world, but not so much the plot, that’s fine.  As long as you don’t “break the world”, it’s all good.

SL: Oh, boy! Well, I’ve definitely got a few favorites I’d love to dish out. My long-time love is Kendris who just has an amazing grasp of what makes characters likeable and endearing to a reader, and who has an ongoing epic about her Baldur’s Gate character, Jessime. For style, I’ve found few who can compare to Lilith Morgana, who has this way of making images dance in your head while carrying you away into the depths of some very complicated emotions. Louiseifer  is one of the most prolific writers I know and is both a consummate wordsmith as well as a keen observer of character. In the sci-fi genre, eyyowlf and AssaultSloth, are just mind-blowingly brilliant. Sloth’s an awesome rapper, too!

The guys I really want to pimp out, however, is the team over at who have taken fan creation to an entirely new level. They’re not just writing fanfiction, they’re creating an entire fan universe complete with comics and choices and voice-acting based on the Mass Effect franchise. The team is absolutely awesome socks: smart, sassy, and hilarious to boot! Please check them out and show them love!

Megan: There are a few writers who I read and immediately think “this is what my fic wants to be when it grows up.” Mathematica is the best example in Star Wars fandom: she does great Han/Leia and quite a bit about Ahsoka. Silver Pard is my example of fantastic crossovers and phrases (and sentient cities).   The Red vs Blue fan community on tumblr is relatively cohesive and has a group of fantastic, supportive writers.  I also realized when I was going for another favorite fic that it had sortof already been mentioned - I'm seconding SL on recommending AssaultSloth's "Interstitium".

It's actually bizarre to look back at how long it's been since I wrote a Star Wars story.  I did a short about Asajj recently, though, and there is the occasional crossover.  Otherwise it's mostly Mass Effect and Red vs Blue. Also, appropriate since I thought of this while reading Tricia's Clone Wars exclusive above, I'm Team Hondo.

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