Monday, June 09, 2008

The Democratic Genre: Communal Online Sandpit

First off, I love this chapter title, and apparently it’s fanfic jargon to refer to drawing on a fandom (or a mythology or some other canon) as playing in a communal sandpit. Nice image! The subtitle is “Collaboration and Support,” and that is part of what makes fanfic special—the relationship of readers and writers.

Interesting item—in the fanfic world, the plural of fan is not “fans” but “fen.” Why? Pugh reports two answers— one reason is man/men, woman/women, fan/fen…cute. The second reason is slightly more complex: fen is used to “’differentiate it from the mainstream world’s derogatory use of the term’…Fanfic writers get this in spades, particularly if they happen also to be profic writers or academics who choose not to use ‘original characters’ and the low value set by academics and critics on genre fiction of any kind.”

Mega interesting item: according to Pugh, Terry Pratchett, “in a talk at the 2003 Hay Festival…claimed to have once written a Lord of the Rings/Pride and Prejudice crossover in which “orcs attack Hunsford Parsonage.” I googled and couldn’t find any reference to this, so if anyone can provide a link…please do so!

In this chapter, Pugh points out a “deeply illogical” phenomenon in fanfic—this is when a fanfic author will ask another fanfic author if he/she can “borrow” an original character from the latter’s stories. This is illogical because fanfic authors are already using a whole canon’s worth of characters without permission from the original author, but I think there is logic to this in that the relationship of readers and writers is so much stronger in a fandom than in the world of published fiction. Fanfic authors are justifiably concerned about ticking off a fellow fanfic writer, who is very likely a reader and has an immediate access to a very public way of venting any displeasure at a fellow writer playing too much in their own particular corner of the sandpit. A few years ago on the DWG, someone suggested that the unfinished works in the Epilogue Abbey and Fanstasia Gallery be opened up to other authors to finish. This idea was hastily shut down, and I was relieved, having more than one unfinished story that I would hate to have anyone else finish.

Thinking about the notion of a fandom being a “sandpit,” I know from having kids and cats that it’s very important that everyone understand the rules of the sandpit. Playing together is good, in fact, it’s usually better than playing alone…but don’t kick sand, especially when it’s windy, don’t hog all the toys, don’t kick someone else’s meticulously crafted sandcastle down, and whatever you do, don’t let the cats in!

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