5 Fanfiction Tropes I Adore
Well the fans, and recent events have spoken. It’s also just a plain good idea.
Last week, as part of the quick-and-dirty blogs I’m doing so as to have more time for NaNoWriMo, I touched on types of fanfics I can’t stand. I also asked for suggestions and a couple of emails pointed out that the obvious choice would be a companion piece talking about the types that I love. It also would give me a chance to (once again) discuss the merits of the the art form (and yes, fan fiction is an art form) in the light of this past week, where G.R.R. Martin said some pretty condescending things about it. And of course, a lot of people on a writing forum I frequent had to leap in with the same stupid soundbites they hear from other ignorant people on the subject of fanfic.
Look folks: if you’re telling people who write and enjoy fanfic to ‘just make your own stuff’, you are showing the world that you have no goddamn idea what (most) fanfiction is all about, dig? Yeah, I know that a lot of people write is purely as a creative exercise—the main reason I finally started writing mine down was to see if I could keep the characters in characters—but that’s NOT the main reason.
Stunningly enough, fanfiction is about the fandom. The best fan fiction, at least to my eyes, is the kind that you can’t just scrub down, change some names, and have a completely original fic. In fact, you might recall that ‘poorly disguised original fic’ is one of the things that I as a reader cannot stand. No, fanfiction is about taking a work and expanding it in some direction; taking it to places where limitations of medium, marketing or even just the original creator’s intent could not or would not go. You’ll notice below that my favorite kinds of fan fictions are almost wholly unique to the art form, or when they show up in other media, are almost always one-offs.
And one more thing before I dive into these things I enjoy: I understand the defensiveness creators have over fanfiction, I really do. There have been a few legal issues spinning out of it that ended up hurting the creator because of a fan being a jackass, and it’s never fun seeing someone ‘sully’ your babies in ways you wouldn’t (though hearing Martin complain about abusing characters is laughable). However, you have to look at fanfiction for what it really is:
Barring troll fics and ‘fix’ fics, most fanfiction is a shrine to how awesome you are as a creator. People care so much about what you’ve done, the characters, places and concepts you’ve created that they don’t want it to end. They want to go further, explore beyond the boundaries you left, and venture into the myriad possibilities. And they are doing it in as an act of creation. Yes, they could be writing an original fic, but they don’t want to; at least not right now, because they would rather write a love letter to your original creation.
So it makes me angry when G.R.R. Martin, a man awash on a sea of money because of his fans, or my fellow self-pubbers, who live and die on every goddamn sale and depend on good reviews to even be able to promote their work (yes, this is a thing. If you don’t have ~20 reviews at 4+ stars on Amazon, there are places where you cannot even mention your book. It used to be 10… until like a month after A Girl and Her Monster reached ten reviews. Because the world hates me) spit in these people’s faces.
Fans, especially the fans who do things like fan fic, who take the time to comment on our web-presences, who email us, and all the other fannish things are our greatest allies for they are the people who spread the word about us, who thrust our books into people’s hands and say ‘You’ve Got to Read This!’, and who buy our swag. (And actually if that inspire you to check out the Cafepress store… don’t get the Descendants logo stuff yet. It’s the old logo, not the new, nicer one at the top of the site. I’m also in talks to get real-life D-icon keychains made ^_^). To insult these people and mock their tributes and homages to us is a sign of the highest, most despicable arrogance.
And we need to cut that shit out.
Which brings us to the actual subject of today’s blog: the things I love in fanfiction, and incidentally, the things that make it so gloriously unique. I’m not going to cheat and pick wide swathes like ‘original flavor’ here. I’m looking at specific tropes and what makes them awesome.
A fusion fic is one in which concepts or conceits of one universe is applied to another and taken as a given in the ‘receiving’ universe. This is not the same thing as a crossover, as the idea is that the new thing becomes part of the new universe instead of just being dropped into it.
For example, Superman coming out of a fold in time-space into Star Trek is a crossover, not a fusion, but Spock hailing from the Federation Planet, Krypton and having the appropriate powers when exposed to yellow sunlight is.
As a general rule, in a fusion fic, either one universe supplies all the characters and usually keeps its setting and its own concepts (The Stargate network in Stargate, bending in Avatar The Last Airbender) and receives one or more new concepts (mutant powers ala X-men with accompanying social issues, the Morphing Grid from Power Rangers); OR one series supplies all the characters and those characters are then considered to have been born into another world’s setting.
It’s going to become a theme in this article, but what I like most about fusion fics is that they are almost always driven by character. It’s all about how Our Beloved Characters would act and where they would be in life if they had been born in this new type of universe or these circumstances (Keitaro Urashima of Love Hina is not like Harry Potter, so handing him the wand and evil wizard clean-up duty is going to go WAY differently).
This is one of those things that you mostly can only get from fan fic… but it didn’t use to be that way. Before we had draconian copyright laws and fiction was all about money, this was a big part of how literature worked. The Arthurian Legend, for example, was built on this. You know everyone’s favorite cuckolding knight, Lancelot? Yeah, that dude was from an entirely different set of stories. One of the definitive bodies of Britain’s lore… is an ancient fusion fic.
Now you see why I call it an art form?
I love ensemble casts.
Almost every comic series I follow is a team book, almost all of my favorite shows have a large cast of characters. Relationship dynamics is one of my favorite things in fiction. Buuut that doesn’t mean I don’t have favorite characters out of those groups and it certainly doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a big ‘ol dose of them every once in a while even if it means the others have to fade into the background a bit.
This one isn’t unique to fan fiction, but it is something fan fiction excels at by virtue of the aforementioned lack of limits.
Your average TV season runs 13-26 episodes. Given a cast of five protagonists, a main villain and two important minions of that villain (This is my preferred starting point of a show, yet ironically a formula I have NEVER USED), that would mean that everyone in theory could get, at most, three spotlight episodes, barring B-plots. That’s not going to happen; not when you have the main story arc, the season opener and finale (almost never spotlight episodes), breather episodes, and subplots. At best, the most important few will get two, others will get one and the rest will get nothing but B-plots. And there’s no guarantee that those episodes will be any good.
So the math just isn’t there for that sweet, sweet character focus. If you’re a really big fan of a given character, you’re never going to get enough with just the main body of work.
Once again, fanfic is here to save the day. Hell, most archives of it even let you filter for just that character and you can find a great variety of tales focusing on your favorite. They might not be canon, but that’s not why you were looking, now was it?
In most media, the status quo is a pretty solid thing. And I think that’s great. As I’ve said before, you can’t do anything meaningful or interesting to the status quo if you don’t have one (looking at you, comics).
At the same time, that means that a lot of things that would be nice or at least interesting changes are on-and done type deals. Sometimes it isn’t even an issue of status quo, but budget or disruption to the main story. While it’s fun to give characters power, switch their bodies, or make evil twins of them, if it isn’t actually part of the plot, it’s perfectly understandable to drop it, especially if the new thing involves expensive new sets/special effects. Fine.
Luckily, fanfiction once again steps up to the plate. Text is as good as free no matter how many explosions are in it, and it has no need to follow through with canon. I’ve spoken at length before about how the Buffy fandom latched on to a single-episode plot where everyone’s costumes turn them into what they were dressed as, but it’s worth repeating: this is idea is awesome and the fact that the idea basically split into an entire post-apocalyptic universe of its own is testament to what this kind of thing can do.
Even if it isn’t so epic, it can still be interesting and worthwhile. In the fandom of Avatar: the Last Airbender, there is a recurring plot that couldn’t have possibly happened in the series, where the ax-crazy antagonist, Azula, turns out to be the Avatar instead of (or sometimes after) the series protagonist, Aang. She’s still evil and usually still more than a little ax-crazy, but now she’s saddled with saving the world in spite of herself. Some of the variations on the theme are simply amazing.
Like I said, that’s one of the reasons why fan fiction is something more than people who ‘can’t create something of their own’, this kind of thing is anchored in the parent work itself and is all the better for it.
Expansion on Canon
This one is a given considering the nature of fan fic, but I would be remiss if I didn’t list it among the things I love about fan fiction. I’d like to coin a phrase concerning this: a work is bigger than it is.
With some rare exceptions, TV shows, book series, and movies are finite. No matter how big the universes they touch upon are, no matter how many expanded universe novels and tie-in games that comes out, we’re talking about a universe here and not everything ill be covered. And, let’s be frank here, sometimes they end before their time, sometimes even against the will of their creators such as is the case of shows like Firefly or… pretty much any modern comic book run.
This is where fan fiction shines brightest and where its value is most obvious. Yes, it isn’t being done by the original creator (mostly), but really, neither are expanded universe novels. It’s just really nice to be able to explore these worlds more and follow through with interesting concepts presented in these worlds.
For me personally, I’m more partial to continuations of minor plot lines and expanding on ideas that weren’t touched on in (what I felt) was enough depth than continuing main plots, but when the original work was largely episodic, or plotted out in arcs, I am all over the promise of new ‘episodes’ or a new arc of the show.
All in all, this makes fanfiction a great companion to a work and writing it becomes an excellent way to celebrate it.
For Want of a Nail
This is one that often disappoints me in original fiction and I feel tends to be better in fan works.
A ‘for want of a nail’ plot is one where one or two changes are made early in the story and we follow the event of the story to see how those changes alter the events as they come. For example, this is what the genre of Alternate History runs on, telling historical stories base don the conceit that, say, George Washington died at Valley Forge or Hitler became a famous artist instead of alternately a completely monstrous human being and internet punchline.
In historical fiction, this works really well because we know history (… most of it. The rest we make up to justify our politics). However, the same type of plot often gets played out in shows as a singular, episodic instance. These often fall flat for me because a) it’s only one episode and thus can’t cover everything and b) most of that episode is usually dedicated to fixing the change.
Fan fics that follow this formula, however aren’t limited to the episode format and can rely on the readers’ knowledge of the story as it exists in canon, neatly sidestepping the need for any sort of framing device and is just able to dive directly into the story as if that was how things always happened.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys over-thinking your fiction (and considering the genres I write for, that’s a good bet an I love you guys for it), this kind of thing is just plain fun both to read and to write. Even if I don’t agree that things might have went the way the ficcer sends them, it’s always interesting following their logic to get there.
Even if you’re not that into picking apart stories you enjoy, it can still be really nice going through the stations of the canon once more with feeling and getting a new and different story out of it.
Well, that’s it for this week, guys. No idea what will be in this space this week. One announcement: Amazon has finally stopped going insane over pricing the Rune Breaker Paperbacks, and they’re now discounted to $8.99 USD.
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