my own fanfic history

I have other things I reeeeeally ought to be doing with my time right now, but I lack the motivation. So I’m going to ramble on for a bit about my own history writing fanfic.

I didn’t know what fanfic was for ages. I think I had encountered a bit of it online in high school (while searching for information on TV shows and the like), but I don’t think I knew the term or recognized the concept until I was in college. And I think everything I’m going to talk about in this post predates that, so remember that all of this was done in a complete vacuum. Not only was I not connected to the fanfic community, I had no idea it existed.

The first thing I want to talk about is Elfquest, a comic book series some of you may have read. (It was the only comic I read for many years, and still remains near and dear to my heart.) In the course of my fan-hood, I discovered there was an RPG book, so I bought it, and a friend of mine and I made characters. But we didn’t know how to play an RPG, and we didn’t have any friends who knew how, either, so we just kind of kept making characters . . . and making stories about them.

But here’s the thing: we didn’t make Wolfriders. I think they were supposed to be Wolfriders originally, but we didn’t like that, so we made up our own tribe. They eventually encountered the canon characters and interacted with them, and yeah, one of the female characters I’d created ended up being a love interest for a male character I’d always liked: a classic bit of Mary Sue-ness. (Hey, I was thirteen. But she didn’t have too many other Mary Sue traits.) But 98% of the story material I ended up with had nothing to do with the canon; I just wanted to play in that world.

A few years later, I got into the TV series of Highlander. I picked up the show somewhere in its later seasons, when they’d gotten over their urge to do episodes where things happened like criminals took over a building and killed Duncan only they didn’t know he was immortal so then he got up again and it was Highlander meets Die Hard; now they were doing episodes that dug into the philosophical issues of being immortal, like how long you can be held accountable for actions in your past that you might regret now. (Fifth season in particular has some good, chewy stuff in there.)

What I started writing so easily could have been a Mary Sue. Eithne was a pre-Christian Irish immortal, so she was Really Old, and she was friends with Duncan and knew Methos from way back . . . but I didn’t make her a love interest of either of them. In fact, in the first story I wrote, Eithne was pretty seriously messed up; her (likewise immortal) husband had been killed some decades before, and not only had she not gotten over it yet, the guy who killed him had been toying with her ever since, because he was a sadistic bastard who liked messing with her head. I never wrote the entirety of the story, but I had it in my head, and Eithne spent most of it sucking before getting her head screwed on straight and dealing with her problem. Not exactly Mary Sue behavior.

Part of the reason I never finished writing that story is, I kept coming up with other ones I wanted to play with, too. Like the story of how Eithne’s husband died. Or how she met him. Or some of the places they’d been together, and things that had happened. Or stuff she did before she met him.

I wasn’t writing fanfic; I was writing a spin-off series. And man, if they came to me right now and asked if I’d like to write a TV show for Eithne, I’d do it in a heartbeat; some of what I came up with was crap, but some wasn’t. I kind of wish I’d gotten around to writing more of my Gathering story for it — yes, I had one — because it wasn’t like the movie. I was in a less than pleasant place emotionally when I came up with it, but it really got into what immortals thought of that myth, and how they reacted when it started, and what it did to the lives they’d built and the mortals they left behind and what it meant to them to look at their immortal friends and know they were all going to die, violently, in the near future, and maybe at each others’ hands. I think I wrote a series of little snippets of Eithne meeting with her Watcher (yeah, she was friends with him) and getting updates on how many of them were left, which of her friends were dead, and who had killed them. Grim stuff, but I think I had some interesting material in there.

And that, folks, is all the fanfic I ever wrote. I wasn’t interested in playing around with other people’s characters; it was the settings and concepts that drew me, and when I learned to build my own worlds, this habit died out. (Though I still hope I find some ways to recycle some of their ideas in altered enough form that it’s my own thing, while still scratching the itch inside my head.)

I did do one other thing, though. For a while in junior high and high school, I mentally inserted my own characters into the novels I was reading. But if the writer has done even a halfway decent job, there isn’t much space for that, much room for a new character to contribute, unless you change the story. Which led to me trying to redo those novels as my own stories, names and plots altered to be a “new story” — that stuff I did occasionally write down — but I quickly realized the results were gimpy and dumb, too obviously what they’d started as, not enough their own thing. So I gave up on that pretty fast, and started building stories from scratch.

Maybe if I’d known about the fanfic community and been connected to it, the results would have been different. By the time I encountered that, though, I also recognized that time and creative energy I spent on fanfic was time and energy not spent on my original work, and I was committed enough to a professional career by then that I chose to focus on that instead. Or maybe I’m just not a fanfic writer; maybe that impulse isn’t really in me. When I started pondering a particular “what if” about the TV show The Sandbaggers, it turned into a short story about different people who made different choices; you can still see the connection if I tell you it’s there, but the thing doesn’t look much like Sandbaggers fanfic. I just don’t have much interest in doing that.

(That might be in part because of my technical eye. I can’t write Neil Burnside, or Francis Crawford of Lymond, or Trent the Uncatchable, well enough to ever be happy with any attempt to do so. I’ll stick with characters I invented, thank you; I’m mostly confident in my ability to write them. Mostly.)

So when I talk about fanfic, I’m doing it from the outside, and I admit that. I know enough of the trends within it to recognize most of the common terms, and some of the community structures, certain cultural practices, particular motivations . . . but I’m not an insider, and I don’t claim to be. And I doubt I ever will be; it’s just not an activity that floats my personal boat very far.

0 Responses to “my own fanfic history”

  1. kitsunealyc

    I dunno, Eithne sounds like an anti-sue, which is a rather popular form of mary-sue where the character has a terribly tragic past, terribly tragic and/or angsty relationships, often some villain who is psychopathologically fixated on her, and where she usually can’t get her shit together until the end of the story (wallowing in the dark spotlight of tragic angst that is her life). Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is an anti-sue. So are several of Anne Rice’s characters.

    I have to admit that crossover fanfic is what is most interesting to me. I’m often less interested in playing in one sandbox, and much more interested in seeing what happens when sandboxes collide. It is also challenging to write crossovers where the characters and styles of each property are well-portrayed.

    Properties with extended universes (Doctor Who, Whedon-verse, and Star Wars, for example) are also interesting because the properties already encourage multi-vocal development of stories. The property might be owned in the legal sense, but no one author has ownership of any of the characters for the purposes of storytelling. The characters become even more open to the kinds of play that we usually associate with folklore. In fact, I think there’s a lot of similarity between this kind of fanfic writing, and folk-tale retellings. They both start with well-known characters and tropes, and a big “what if”, and in many cases the appeal of such a story is how interesting the author’s “what if” is, and how well the author plays against the canonical text(s). I wonder how different the history you’ve described would be if you included folk-tale retellings in the mix.

    I will point out that fans and site moderators are for the most part *very* respectful when individual authors request that their characters and worlds not be used as fodder for fanfiction. Those authors are often well-known by people involved in fanfic communities (Anne Rice, Robin Hobb, Laurell Hamiltion and Anne McCaffery are the ones that spring immediately to mind). Nor are any of those authors held in contempt by the fanfic communities for these requests (they might be held in lower regard for the perceived quality of their work or their general attitude towards fans, but that’s another kettle of chips).

    Finally, I am curious who the Elfquest hook-up was with. I’m going to guess Skywise. Do I win a cookie?

    • Marie Brennan

      Eithne might have been an anti-sue, though it’s hard for me to say for sure without attempting to excavate the fragments of text themselves; the version of her in my head doesn’t precisely wallow (she’s not that self-indulgent about her angst), but she might have changed over time.

      I totally hear you about the folklore comparison; it just isn’t something I want to do. (Which is funny, given the number of fairy-tale retellings I’ve written. If you count those as a form of fanfic, then I’ve done a bunch . . . but I dunno, they feel different in my head.)

      As for your guess, nope. Want to try again?

      • kitsunealyc

        I’m trying to think of characters who were “single”. Or did you break up some pre-existing relationship, you hussy?

        Assuming you didn’t, that doesn’t leave many options. Rayek?

        Of course, I always forget that you regard more of the books as being worth reading, whereas the story stops for me with “Shade and Sweet Water” at the end of Book 4. Some of the young-uns grow up in the later books, don’t they? So it could be Dart or Suntop or Rain’s annoying chubby-cheeked kid whose name I can never remember.

        Just tell me it’s not Pike. Or Picknose. I’ll lose all respect.

        • Marie Brennan

          No, you got it on the second try; it was indeed Rayek.

          • unforth

            Bah. I woulda gone for Skywise, personally. I’m all about the Skywise. πŸ™‚

            Anyway, I’ve written a bit of fan fic, both before I knew what fan fic was and after. I think when we come to it early, we do so for love of the thing we’re interacting with. My first “fan fic” was a story I wrote when I was about 5 entitled “My littl ponies and the evil glob” or something like that, and with more typos, about the my little ponies fighting. you guessed it, an evil glob. It was 2 pages long. When I was 10, I rewrote the ending of the third book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, because I hated the actual ending and saw an easy solution to the bad situation that existed at the end of the book. I did other stuff like that when I was a kid, including at least one that was your typical Mary Sue situation (an awesome kick ass girl gets to travel to all these worlds (my favorite books) and vastly impress the people in them.

            I haven’t followed this entire debate, so this probably doesn’t add much, but I tend to feel that fan fic is as valid as actual writing, as long as it isn’t complete Mary Sue-ness. I personally write fan fic sometimes, and original fic sometimes, and it all depends on my mood and what sort of ideas I come up with. πŸ™‚

          • Marie Brennan

            Yes, I did just gratuitously spend one of my few remaining icon slots on a Clearbrook icon.

            I liked Skywise, too. Then again, Wendy Pini did a good enough job that I liked pretty much all of the characters, except for non-entities like Woodlock (who apparently only existed to help Rainsong pop out babies. Did anybody else notice that they were the only biologically realistic family among the Wolfriders? Seriously, if having three kids is so unusual, then that race is doooooooomed, I don’t care how long they live. Their birth rate was way too low for survival.)

          • unforth

            I think it’s part of this obsession with making elves “special” – they always are long lived and have tiny families and low birthrates…I like elves, but I find they tend to be very strangely used in fiction in general.

          • Marie Brennan

            I think it got inherited from Tolkien — but in his case, he was deliberately setting it up that the Elves were fading out of the world, whereas other people seem to have grabbed onto the low birthrate without thinking about what it means.

            We joke about that in Heather’s D&D game(s). “Why don’t you have more kids?” “We just had twins!” “Thyss, that was eighty years ago.” “Exactly! We just had twins!” And then Amaliace had twins again, a hundred and twenty years after the first set. She’s pretty much done her duty by the elven race now. My impression of D&D is that at least they grant three or four children as not too weird, so long as you space them out decently. Getting above that is unusual, but three or four per child-bearing woman is enough to counterbalance the ones who never have any.

            The drow, unsurprisingly, are supposed to have a higher birth rate. You need it, to counterbalance all the murder . . . .

          • kitsunealyc

            I’m having so much fun with my drow in the WLD, casually dropping anecdotes of her mother trying to kill her in her sleep and the deadly competition between siblings. It’s completely cheesy and clichΓ©, but then it’s the Dungeon!

          • kitsunealyc

            You are *so* Clearbrook. Although I woulda gone with ElaborateHairstyle!BlueMountain!Clearbrook for you…mostly cause of the odd juxtaposition, and the idea of you spending torturous hours sitting still while someone styled your hair like that.

            I could do it, I bet.

          • Marie Brennan

            I happened to have this image of Clearbrook on my computer.

            You get me a good icon of ElaborateHairstyle!BlueMountain!Clearbrook, and I’ll think about using that one. πŸ™‚

            (But yeah . . . I always kind of identified with her the most, out of the female characters. Also, I know you don’t like the later books, but I lovelovelove some of the stuff that happens with her in them.)

  2. unforth

    For a while in junior high and high school, I mentally inserted my own characters into the novels I was reading. But if the writer has done even a halfway decent job, there isn’t much space for that, much room for a new character to contribute, unless you change the story

    I missed that the first time. I did this compulsively. πŸ˜‰ For the better part of ten years, I would put myself to sleep every night by composing such “stories.” My inserted character was named Lyla, and she was of course completely awesome and perfect and beautiful and such, but I still had a lot of fun – it was only ever for me, so it didn’t really matter that it was completely arrogant and silly. I ran into the same problem, too – the better constructed a story, the harder it was to bully my way in there with my character.

  3. milbrcrsan

    I used to do the same when I was younger, but to the show Charmed. That was when it first came on, of course I had my fair share of moments when I added myself in there too *blush* but hey, I was twelve or thirteen.

    Other than those moments, I never really did “fanfic”, whether just coming up with scenes in my head or even writing them down. I was and am (especially now) more of a original writer, however…when I first started writing I came up with this one, incredibly embarrassing and horrible, short story that had this one agent woman trying to get this lost jewel back. Ugh, that, so horribly, ripped off Mission Impossible or other things like it, I try to avoid reading it and forget that I even wrote it. :p

  4. gollumgollum

    Heh. My Highlander Mary Sue/anti-Sue was named Miriam, was an old (as in 2000 years) friend of Methos’s, and had a nasty drug habit/Immortal ex-boyfriend situation that she was trying to get out of. Angst, drama, oldness.

    Oh, and Methos had used his time in the Watchers to put together a computer program (a secret part of the one he and the tongue-cut-out Watcher are working on in “Methos”) that not only told him where all of his enemies were, but also gave him updates on his friends. Coz even the world’s oldest and most paranoid man had to have some friends.

    Word, yo.

  5. katfeete

    For a while in junior high and high school, I mentally inserted my own characters into the novels I was reading. But if the writer has done even a halfway decent job, there isn’t much space for that, much room for a new character to contribute, unless you change the story.

    I used to do this one to. Hell, I still do, some — though nowadays it’s more taking characters who haven’t quite found their story yet and knocking them around in other people’s, in the hopes some plot will rub off. Every so often it works.

    I do sometimes wonder whether I would have written fanfic if I’d known what it was (I, like you, encountered fanfic in college and after I’d started writing my own stuff). I’m not sure I would have, though. For one thing, as you say, the books I was borrowing from most heavily were often ones I couldn’t really be considered a fan of per se — they were the ones with the great gaping holes into which I could insert a character. And I don’t share well with others. It irritates me enough when the author does something with a character that I don’t agree with; I can’t imagine how I’d be with a bunch of other people all poking at the same characters. And I wasn’t at my most tactful in my teens. It probably would have been a short-lived and infamous foray. *wry grin*

    Thanks a lot for this series of posts, by the way. It’s doing a good job making me think about aspects of the fanfic debate, if so it should be called, and about my own writing habits. Sometimes useful, and always a good way to vacuum the cat. *grin*

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