Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Democratic Genre: From Canon to Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

Ch 4 is all about characters. I loved how Pugh compared writing within a fandom to ancient authors writing within the canon of mythology, “…writers of medieval morality plays with their cast of Bible characters,” and even historical novelists using figures such as QEI or Napoleon. The last struck me as a bit excessive—while historical fact might be considered as canon, many historical novelists blithely ignore well-established facts…Phillipa Gregory springs to mind here. I think her Anne Boleyn could be considered more of an OC (i.e., original character) than historical. But then, Pugh goes on to say that “…if you consider canon, like history, as raw material for fiction…you can create AU [i.e., alternate universes] or missing scenes.”

With regards to voice, Pugh points out that until recently virtually all fanfic was written in the third person because writing in the first-person demands “complete control of the voice.” However, an increasing amount of fanfic is being written in first person, and surprising to me, Pugh polled various sites and lit mailing lists and discovered that many readers do not like stories (and novels) written in the first person. As an author, I love to write in the first person—I find it more fun to try to channel another person’s psyche than to play the role of omniscient narrator, getting inside everyone’s head. This might be a symptom of my immaturity as a writer, though, because I’ve found that one person’s inner life is much easier to handle than even two or three. By the same token, I don’t seem to have a preference for reading third person over first, or vice versa.

Pugh notes that with regards to first person, there are more examples of this POV in TV-based fanfic stories than book-based, and her reasoning is that TV-based stories spring from screenplays that are exclusively dialogue. The only problem with this reasoning is that Austen’s novels are so rich in dialogue that sections are practically plays in themselves. Pugh does say that the first-person fanfic that does exist in Austen fandom tends to be epistolary, and she goes on to discuss Mags’ A Clandestine Correspondence, which is a series of letters between Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney during their engagement.

Another interesting point in this discussion of character is how so much fanfic is really not about what else happens in a story, but how a character copes with it, which explains why angst fiction is so prevalent in fanfic stories. A variation of angst is the “hurt/comfort” genre, in which “a character is systematically taken to bits emotionally (and sometimes physically too) before being consoled and sometimes rehabilitated by another character. This tends to happen most in fanfic to those canon characters who seem the most self-controlled and reticent about showing their feelings…”

With regards to Mary-Sues (i.e., original characters who are basically idealized versions of the author who swoop in and solve all the problems of the canon characters and earn their love before dying themselves), I was fascinated to find that Pugh cites George Eliot complaining about “’silly novels by lady novelists’” back in the 1850’s:

Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well-dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues.

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