Friday, April 09, 2004

A Recovering Fanfic writer speaks out 

Partly because I egged him on, and no doubt in small part due to Lee Goldberg's stylish entry into the blogosphere, Jim Winter delivers with his own tales of writing fan fiction and what, finally, prompted him to leave the whole thing behind. He brings up the major point I always stress whenever the subject comes up in conversations I have with various folks: why spend your time doing this stuff for free when you can channel your energies into creative work that actually belongs to you, that you can get paid for? And so, why do it in the first place?

Most people who do write fanfic are getting their feet wet. I know when I initially did it, I had no idea what I wanted to write. My exposure to PI fiction at the time was limited to Parker, Loren Estleman, and Sue Grafton. I expected two, maybe three years tops. After a while, though, I started getting the ego stroke. "Hey, J, cool story!" I also got immediate feedback. People I learned to trust were giving me honest crit, so one could say I was honing my talent. I'd like to tell myself I was getting better (I was), and that's why I stayed. That was a lie. I could also get better writing original material for writing credit and for pay just the same. I wanted the ego stroke. And getting one in fanfic is easy because even the worst writers can build a following. (Hopefully, I'm not one of those.)

There are also no rules. I could plunder characters from anywhere at will, quote song lyrics with impunity, and thumb my nose at the networks by writing things many execs won't touch. No word counts to manage, no formats, and - this is a double-edged sword - no editing. So I stayed and built my little Trek series that never was. And you know what?

It occured to me that I'd been wasting my time starting with my third year of writing this stuff. I put off writing Nick Kepler and all the other things I'd had filed away somewhere gathering dust. You know, stuff that gets reviewed, gets you legitimate writing credits, respect...


Luckily, Jim's figured it out and his first novel--a damn good one, I might add--will be out this November. But it amazes me just how much fanfic there is out there, in all permutations and combinations. And I'm not even talking slashfic here. Fortunately, my own experiences with fan fiction withered on the vine early enough. Way back in 1999, I think, when Angel was in its first season, I decided to give the whole fanfic thing a whirl. I conceived of a story that began with Angel finding the unconscious form of an Indian girl in princess-y garb, lying on a darkened street in LA. Cue flashbacks to late 19th century India in the aftermath of the Opium war. Throw in a Scottish vampire, a marriage of convenience, and I realized that in order for this story to work, I'd have to do a tremendous amount of research. For fanfic? Please. So I let it go, mercifully.

Because sure, it's easy to use all the reasons fanfic writers cite--honing skills, trying other people's voices--but in the end, it's all about playing it safe with other people's property. Original characters, your own voice--THAT is what's difficult. And that's what's most interesting.

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