In defense of fan fiction

Earlier this week, I sent my website designer the content for my new author website. It contained a lot of things about me: my published novel, my current writing projects, my past projects. One of the things it contained was a blurb about and link to my fan fiction story, The Destroyer. I figured, why not, I worked hard on that story and readers liked it. It is an example of my SFF writing and series writing skills.

I think I forgot how few people out in the webosphere really understand what fan fiction is and why it can be a legitimate art form–an engagement with and reinterpretation of an existing text that can entertain us by continuing its story (or expanding the existing story), or shed critical light on aspects of that story the author might not have realized were in it.

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Where and when I write

I posted last week about a seminar I went to featuring an author who was speaking on her book about “discovering your true voice.”

Her angle on this much-tread topic is her background in yoga, and the basic premise is that, in order to discover your true voice–what you want to say with your writing and how you want to say it–you need to be in touch with your body and its habits and signals.

One of the first exercises in her book is to take a good look at your writing habits: how often you are able to write, where you write, what you write with, and how you use your body in writing. This was a little odd to me, since I conceive writing as primarily a mental activity, where the physical aspects are purely means to an end, but there’s a logic in the idea that your body is giving you signals about the content or manner of your writing, so I’m game to follow where she leads so far. So:

I live alone, which means I have the good fortune of spending my free time writing whenever and where ever it suits me. I am a creature of habit, though, so I tend to write in the same chair, in more or less the same physical position: legs up on the La-Z-Boy, lap top perched on one of those plastic-coated metal-rung kitchen shelves that fits over my hips with just enough clearance to ensure air is flowing between my lap and the bottom of the keyboard. This is a necessary thing, given the number of hours I often work, the heat of Arizona, and the heat of my middle-aged female lap.

Nowadays, I pretty much do all my writing tasks at the keyboard, rather than long hand. I used to write long hand all the time back in the pre-personal computer dinosaur days, and when I lived in San Francisco, I wrote on the bus or at bus stops, or at work. My writing at the present is confined to the lap top in that one same chair, where I sit for hours, eating, drinking, and watching television. I take breaks to run errands, go to the bathroom, or do a household chore or two, but that’s my Writing Way, for the most part.

Not sure what it says about me, or how it might effect my writing. I think sometimes I get “too comfortable” there, and it leads me to waste time on the internet, or “do anything-but-generating-new-words” because I can.

Original fiction project – week of 04/03/2011

1562 words this week. Yay me.

I’ve actually written a lot of words to this story, most of which I still feel will never end up in the actual first draft. I’m still unfocused, not sure what I really want to say. Aware of this frustration, I went to a writing workshop last night at Changing Hands bookstore. It was a spontaneous decision based on the description of the workshop, which was about “finding your voice.” I’ve taken workshops on that topic before, and I’m pretty aware of techniques for helping you determine what you really want to say in your writing, and express it in your own unique way. And yet I still struggle with it, so I thought I’d hear what some who wasn’t my old writer’s voice teacher had to say about it.

The speaker said something I already knew, which was you often won’t know what you’re trying to say until you’re done the first (or second or third) draft. Which I trust in, as it has happened to me before, but in the mean time, you have to find another motivation other than passion for your “point” to keep you returning to the story.

She didn’t delve a lot into techniques themselves since she was allowing the attendees to set the agenda, but she said enough that she sold me her book, which is, I suppose, what her purpose there was. I’ll see if the book has anything insightful to say.

In other writing news, I took anneth‘s suggestion and posted a “wanted” post on looking for illustrators. I got several replies, and since all of them made reasonable bids in the same ballpark, I am entertaining multiple preliminary sketches. It makes me feel like I’m “doing something already” with this old story, and that feels like a relief of something that’s been hanging over my head for a long time.


Taking a cue from buffyannotater, and given my own January-ish Spring cleaning urges, I’ve been going through my old VHS tape collection seeing what I want to keep and what I want to pare down. This time around (I’ve pared down before) I’m interested in what drives my choice of the “keepers.” I was “poked” by a recent post of rahirah‘s on fan fic “kinks and squicks.” She nicely differentiates author “kinks” in stories from repeated themes in an author’s stories, and I suppose what I want to talk about are better thought of as “themes” than “kinks,” but the idea is similar–what draws me to particular movies/books/TV shows, and makes me want to revisit them again and again, is that they contain elements that really push my buttons.

I added my own comment to her post in response to someone talking about books and bookstores. The original commentator noted that being in bookstores drives her crazy because she knows there are books there that include her own personal kinks, but the difficulty is finding them! This resonated with me because I have a very quirky way of choosing what books I will read. I rarely, if ever, pick a book to read because it’s by a favorite author, or recced by a friend, or any normal way of choosing books. I want the books I read to satisfy my kinks or my themes or push my buttons or whatever the appropriate metaphor is. So I find the books I will read by spending hours in bookstores (or surfing amazon) reading the blurbs on the back of book after book until I find one that sounds like it will satisfy a kink/theme/button.

Which is probably why I don’t read a lot of books, or see a lot movies, and tend to revisit the ones I already like.

Is anyone else this way, or am I entirely weird?

Exploring one’s own writing is an easier way to judge one’s kinks and button-pushing themes because you’re in control of what gets on the page. I see repeated themes in my writing. Family is one of them, but it can’t be just anything having to do with family, because there’s a zillion movies, books, and TV shows out there dealing with family that do nothing for me. Children lost to their parents for a number of years and found again is certainly a theme that pings me. Also children who inherit some supernatural talent from their parents. I used to write a lot of “half-alien girl living as human on Earth discovers she is half-alien” stories when I was a teen. Being alien (as in not-human) and what that means to one’s own personal identity is also a big theme with me. Not just as an exploration of how that makes you different and isolated from others, but, for me, how it connects you to others who share your quirky difference.

Part of this comes from being gay, I’m sure. Belonging to a relatively invisible, shunned, but assimilated minority group that has created its own sub-culture due to its relative isolation from mainstream society has its “pretty cool” side, and that gets reflected in stories I write about “groups of aliens living secretly among us.”

But on the whole, I don’t know where a lot of my button-pushing themes come from. There’s nothing in my past that suggests itself as an obvious origin of my need for emotionally screwed-up protagonists, for example, or my odd preference for broad age-difference romantic couplings. And I wonder if knowing the genesis of one’s kinks isn’t like knowing the biological basis of being in love or something similar. It sort of takes the magic out of it, the same way that therapy takes the trauma out of the quirky things that disturb us the most.

Another one of my necessary “elements” in stories is the need for strong women. Many times, I end up primarily identifying with a male character in a story, but if there isn’t any strong women in the story, the Kate Lockleys and Darlas and Hermiones and McGonnegals, I’m not going to continue with a story universe no matter how much I vibe with a male character (e.g., that’s why the LoTR movies just didn’t stick with me after one viewing.)

A few years ago, I took a fascinating writing class called “The Intuitive Voice”. The purpose of the class was to help you discover the kinds of things you should be writing about. What your best mode was, for example–fiction, memoir, non-fiction, short-story, novel, etc. And what repeated themes would supply the most energy to your writing. The instructor actually used this metaphor–that certain themes are like an incendiary fuel that once we learn how to stop avoiding them (in our thoughts or in our writing), would actually get us putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard better than any other writer’s block cure. rahirah notes that many fan fic writers write their kinks into their stories without even being aware that they’re there, sometimes to the detriment of the story, but I think the opposite is true for a lot of would-be writers. They haven’t gotten words on the page yet, or they have, but they’ve written uninspired, half-assed stories–because they’re afraid to write about the themes and kinks that would fuel them the most. Taboos, either societal or personal, block them.

I learned to get past that by telling myself that no one would ever have to read a particular thing I was writing. And lord knows I often censor my public writing a bit lest my kinks be judged. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of my personal issues in the writing I’ve put out there for public consumption, though.

In that Intuitive Voice class, the instructor had exercises that helped us discover what our most resonant personal themes were. I need to dig up my homework from that class, because the exercises were pretty cool.