Friday, June 20, 2008

The Democratic Genre: More on Fanfic Versus Profic

I resonated with Belatrix Carter, quoted at length by Pugh in ch7, when she was taking about her desire to write being thwarted by her seeming inability to create her own universes and people them and figure out what the people should do:

All my life, I’ve enjoyed writing…but I never had any ideas, at least not any good ones….Then I got into fan fiction, and suddenly, whaddaya know, I was getting ideas…they were all ideas that were very specifically related to these existing TV characters, in these existing TV universes…this is just how the creative part of my brain workd…I don’t much like writing plot...I do like writing very short things, often just character vignettes, which are designed to have a very sharp emotional punch…I find that in fanfic I have more confidence in the thought that I’m doing something original.

This is completely how I see myself as a writer, again. I haven’t written much over the past few years, partly due to time constraints and partly because I stopped believing I was a writer. That is, I figured that if I couldn’t plot original stories, I had no business calling myself a writer. I do miss the adrenaline that comes from creating a story, which means fanfic is calling me back, I guess. And part of embracing rather than denying the love of writing, means facing the fact that the writing I do will not enable me to leave my day job. Rather than bemoaning this fact, I can relish in the idea that I am part of a noble tradition.

Quoting Pugh, quoting Jane Mortimer in her online essay, The Advantages of Fan Fiction as an Art Form:

There was a time when "amateur" was a compliment. Pursuing something for love was admired, while doing it for filthy lucre was despised. We live in a harsher age, when values have turned around, and if there's no immediate money from a project, writers are urged to abandon it. I find it reassuring to know the artistic impulse remains this strong, that people will still invest in something for sheer pleasure in its creation, and the hell with what the rest of the world may say.

I encourage you to read Mortimer’s essay—she has a lot to say about the robust quality of fan fiction, a literary form that is ancient…

Once upon a time, people told stories for love as well as for money (just as they do today). Achilles died before the gates of Troy ten thousand times over, as older brothers told the tale to younger ones, parents to children; and Camelot rose and fell again every sunset. People and stories. It was the same scene in tribal gatherings, in cramped peasants' huts, in the hall of Henry II.

Which is to say, there was no television.

And every time a story was told by a new voice, there was a slightly different spin on it. Ovid's gods and goddesses played the same games they had always played, but this time their dance through the familiar landscape seemed a bit more petty than it had been. Lancelot met Guinivere for the first time, and the meeting was comic, or tragic, or resentful, or admiring; it foreshadowed what was to come, it gave no hint as to what was to come. Merlin was wise; Merlin was foolish. The characters passed through the distinctive voices of thousands of people, each of whom took the tale inside themselves, loved it, and passed it on with new insights, new subtleties.

Both Mortimer and Pugh mention numerous fanfic writers who are also profic writers, and the fanfic they produce, like all fanfic, is done out of love…for the characters, for the process (unencumbered by the strictures of the publishing world), for the audience.

There's an old adage that when you turn your hobby into work, it ceases to be fun. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a great writer--even during the Depression, the Saturday Evening Post paid him $4000 per story. But, I wonder, given his demons, whether he loved to write and whether he loved his stories and audience. On the other hand, there's the notion of vocation--doing the work you are best suited to do. And then, the flip side of that other hand, will anyone pay you to do the work you're best suited to do, and can you and your family live on that pay?

I love the notion that Mortimer mentions in her essay and Pugh alludes to...fanfic is folk art. I love folk art.


  1. I've bookmarked your blog and the article mentioned.

    As one who moved from FF for the love of it, (obsessive, lost sleep, neglected housework and put off balancing the checkbook for years), to one who "makes it pay" I can tell you the quality of the whole experience does change.

    But, I still get the shakes when I've nailed a scene, or when Wentworth and I are in perfect sync.

    Lots of meat in this post.

    Take care

  2. AnonymousJune 21, 2008

    Thanks for stopping by Susan--you are definitely one of my favorite writers, ff or profic. Being in perfect sync with Wentworth would give me the shakes too :)