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December 5, 2004

Squick and squee
Posted by Teresa at 12:03 AM * 281 comments

Ellen Fremedon, in her Live Journal Cenelice to ganganne hwaer gegan hafde naenig man aer, gets right in there and wrestles with the embarrassingly shameless heart of storytelling; also good fanwriting, bad prowriting, and what she calls the Id Vortex.

I won’t try to summarize it, except to say that it’s short, discomfiting, and I think she’s on to something real.

(And where are my manners? Belatedly: Thank you, Debra Doyle, for the original link.)

Further thoughts next morning: The thing that most fascinated me was the part about slash fanfic writers learning techniques for holding on to good fictional values while they’re writing about massively distracting subjects, a.k.a. the Id Vortex.

What’s in the vortex? If I understand her correctly, it’s all the magic stuff: Sex, power issues, identity issues, physical or emotional violence, revelation, transformation, transcendence, violent catharsis, and whatever else is a high-tension power line for that writer.

Handling that material is a real issue for a lot of writers. Few of the strategies they use for dealing with it are wholly satisfactory. F.I., the traditional row-of-asterisks, later-comma dance of avoidance relegates an entire universe of significant character interactions to a ghostly, implicit life offscreen. If the audience didn’t feel that as a loss, slash fanfic would never have gotten started in the first place.

Some writers go flat and write short, scanting the scene, as though it were an unpleasant episode they were trying to get through without inhaling. Some overcompress their exposition until it turns crabbed and gnomic. That’s great when it works; you can instantly see what that near-riddle has to mean, and the full realization of what follows comes crashing down on you. But when it doesn’t work—which happens far more frequently than authors imagine, because that’s a very hard trick to pull off—a moment that should carry a strong emotional payoff and advance the story suddenly becomes a DIY project. If the necessary clues are there, the reader may be able to stop and decode what must have happened; but that’s like the difference between being told a funny joke, and reading an imperfectly translated explanation of why a joke in some other language is really funny if you speak that language.

One of the things you see most often is the narrative collapsing into formulaic language. As Robyn Bender once observed,
My wise friend RW says there are two hallmarks of a Generic Sex Scene: (1.) You can grab a few such scenes at random from different books, juggle the names and eye colors, and be hard-pressed to tell which scene goes with which story; and, even more damning, (2.) you can remove the scene entirely, substitute the sentence, “Then they had sex,” and the larger narrative will not suffer.
Which is spot on. Writers fall into these evasions because the material makes them uncomfortable. They don’t want to embarrass themselves. That’s where Ellen Fremedon comes in. She starts by discussing a particular slashfic scenario that took her by surprise, something she’d never imagined (and which frankly I wish I’d never heard of), but which was
THE MOST CRACKTASTIC THING EVAR, but… it works, in this supremely creepy sick-and-wrong immensely compelling way.
Then went on:
That storyline cuts pretty close to the id, you know? And it’s just one of a large number of similarly… charged storylines (soul bonds, every fuck-or-die scenario ever written…) that you see very very often in fanfic, and from time to time in profic as well.
She’s talking about stories in which two characters have to get involved, regardless of their personalities, histories, or relative social context. Personally, I’ve always thought the potion Tristan and Isolde drink is a more suitable prop for horror than romance.
And the profic? Almost uniformly sucks. Because pro writers either have some shame, and relegate the purest, most cracklicious iterations of those stories to drawerfic that their workshop buddies will never see, or else they’re shameless. But they usually have to be shameless alone— and so their versions are written so solitarily that they don’t have any voice of restraint, to pull them back from the Event Horizon of the Id Vortex when it starts warping their story mechanics.
Fanfic online venues are full of writers and readers who really want there to be more stories about whatever it is that floats their boat, and who’ll work to help make it happen. That’s why those areas are such hot R&D labs for writerly craft and literary theory. This is not unlike the early days of science fiction, when you had that same deep hunger for the product, and a community of writers and readers who’d give a strongly engaged reading to whatever was there, but who passionately wanted what was there to be better. SF developed its own bag of tricks, mostly expository techniques and worldbuilding, which serious historical fiction snaffled early on, but which mainstream lit is only gradually getting around to stealing.

Is it going too far to formulate this as a rule of thumb? Very likely, but I’ll try one anyway: New ways of telling stories develop most readily when you have a population that’s hungry for the product, the creators have little or no dignity at stake, and there are open channels for feedback and discussion. The American comic book developed like that. So did Kabuki, Bunraku, and Elizabethan theatre.

Back to Ellen Fremedon:
But in fandom,* we’ve all got this agreement to just suspend shame. I mean, a lot of what we write is masturbation material—not all of it, and not for everyone, but. A lot of it is, and we all know it, and so we can’t really pretend that we’re only trying to write for our readers’ most rarefied sensibilities, you know? We all know right where the Id Vortex is, and we have this agreement to approach it with caution, but without any shame at all. (At least in matters of content. Grammar has displaced sex as a locus of shame. Discuss.) And so we’ve got all these shameless fantasies being thrown out into the fannish ether, being read and discussed, and the next thing you know, we’ve got genres. We’ve got narrative traditions. We have enough volume and history for these things to develop a whole critical vocabulary.
And so they do. Bear in mind that this is the social continuum that came up with accretional rating systems as a substitute for the editorial gatekeeping function, formalized the institution of beta readers, and identified and anatomized the Mary Sue.
We have a toolbox for writing this sort of thing really, really well, for making these 3 A.M. fantasies work as story and work as literature without having to draw back from the Id Vortex to do it. And I’m just kind of flailing now and going “Fandom is cool! Squee!” but, really, I wonder what the effect on, if not mainstream literary fiction, at least on mainstream genre fiction is going to be when the number of fanwriters taking that toolbox with them into pro writing reaches critical mass—which I think it’s going to, in the next decade.
Maybe, maybe not. If I have any doubts, it’s because I know that there’s been a steady trickle of fanfic writers turning pro since the days when fanfic was primarily (but not exclusively) about Star Trek characters, and was circulated via mimeography. But maybe Ellen Fremedon’s right. Fanfic’s been around for a while, but this aspect of the fanfic community as R&D lab is something that’s grown up on the Internet.

Suggestions for further reading: If you’re a writer looking to get better at writing sex scenes, a good place to start is historical novelist Sara Donati’s series of eleven short essays on the subject. I love her examples of how to get it right, which include a couple of scenes by romantic-comedy writer Jenny Cruisie, a scene by Booker Prize winner A. S. Byatt, and a piece of Farscape fanfic. The essays are: Writing Sex Scenes. :: Part One: Humor. :: Part Two: Lyricism. :: Part Three: Stream of Consciousness. :: Part Four: NC-17. :: Part Five: Where Things Go Wrong. :: Part Six: Where Things Go Wrong(er). :: Part Seven: Good Bad-Sex. :: Part Eight: More Good Bad-Sex. :: Part Nine: Falling in Love. :: Part Ten: Less or More.

Comments on Squick and squee:
#1 ::: dragonet2 ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 01:01 AM:

EEUW. I hate slash fan fic. (if you see me at a con, ask me about Lucy Synk the artist and her Artist GoH experience at a slash convention/ a kind of fandom that she was truly NOT aware of. It was not good for her.)

BUT I can see fantasizing about doing something with Hawkeye, he's the kind of man I'm actually married to (yes, Jim. And I'm a very devoted spouse. he makes me laugh, he makes me happy). Funny, scarcastic, pointy in many ways, intelligent and well-read. And who can sometimes go right to the meat of the matter at hand with no prior indiction or intent, to solve something that's going wrong.

#2 ::: Pookel ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 01:31 AM:

I wish I had an insightful comment, but mostly this reminds me of my Mulder/Krycek days and makes me want to go back and read it all again.

That, and I'm reminded of how impressed I was when I discovered how professional much of the slash-writing community is. I don't mean talent, I mean beta-reading, rewriting, editing, rating systems, and the mostly well-written and clean copy that resulted from the system. Unfortunately, I don't think those standards have carried over to the teenage girls posting Harry/Draco fic on fanfiction.net, but at least the X-Files fandom tended to produce high-quality writing.

#3 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 01:47 AM:

I'm reading the story she links to, and having a bit of trouble with the premise. Hawkeye and Trapper going whoring with Frank Burns? I just don't see it.

#4 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 02:10 AM:

One of the interesting things about fanfic is that I definitely have different expectations of it than I do of professional fiction. If a piece of fanfic has a really interesting story, or the occasional lovely image, that's good enough, and I enjoy it. When I read a supposedly professional story, I am upset by things I'll pass right over in fanfic -- flaccid writing, making explicit too much of what should be shown in the characters' reactions, different characters sounding too much like each other, and the like.

To invoke Delany, I have different reading protocols when reading fanfic and profic. That doesn't mean I have no standards for each -- just different standards. And I don't enjoy most fanfic enough to seek it out, even so.

#5 ::: Kimberly Chapman ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 03:32 AM:

I am torn up about fanfic in general. I don't want to discourage people from expressing their creativity. However, I have my own original characters - some published, others in the works - and I don't want other people ever usurping my toys. Granted that's not an issue for me right now, but I logically thus have to support other writers who are likewise displeased.

My books already have heterosexual and homosexual relationships. I don't want anyone else turning one into the other. It has nothing to do with being offended by the change of sexuality and everything to do with my thoroughly-defined character concepts.

I've decided that amateur fanfic between friends is perfectly fine and well within the bounds of fairness. But pseudo-publishing it by putting it publicly online gets to me.

I'm not sure how to balance my desire to promote creativity with my desire to keep other people's hands off of my characters.

So how do publishers deal with this stuff?

#6 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 04:50 AM:

I think she's right when she suggests that pro fiction writers need to write the scenes they usually skip and fade to black. In those scenes lie the truth.

But she's incorrect when she posits that shame no longer will inform the writing process, unless it's shame for bad grammar. I think the struggle through the shame helps. In her exemplar, I was struck that the mirror Hawkeye was shamed. He never did consummate the relationship with the slave Mulcahy. So even in the context of the slash story, she never did get down to business (so to speak).

I've struggled over sex scenes that were integral to my plots. And because my characters are, hopefully, recognizable human beings, they feel the emotional and physical consequences after the scenes. I'm not trying to write porno, and at least in my plots so far, sex happens; it is a part of my characters' world. Indeed, some of the scenes I've written, and still have planned, are quite brutal. These scenes are not the point of the stories, however.

The slash fiction writers may turn to other genres, and they may carry a sort of dispassion in their toolbox, but if this is all they write, they will discover the necessity for more tools to write coherent, three dimensional and interesting stories.

#7 ::: Naa-Dei Nikoi ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 04:59 AM:

I would say cross that bridge when you get there.

I know that there's a lot of fanfic for most things, but the majority of published works never have any fanfic written about them. Of those that do inspire someone to go 'what if' and write something down about them and then go on to trying to share it out there in the ether, few get a fandom whereby several other people say 'ooh, what a good idea' and start discussing the book and sharing their own stories about it.
In order to have fanfic, a story needs to do two things: engage the reader's interest and imagination and second, leave enough holes for the imagination to wander about. Not all stories can or should do that. In order to have a fandom, a story needs to be widely distributed enough to attract enough people who might be interested in interacting, so anything that doesn't make it to a second printing, is picked up by a small publisher and the like doesn't have a hope. It wouldn't be top of my list of things to worry about if I were out to get published.


Fanfic isn't written for the creator's perusal (indeed reading fanfic of something you've written is a bad idea) and it isn't about telling you how you *should* have written things.
Fanfic is about how a person has seen and speculated about a work; it is writing about things that could happen, might have happened under different circumstances and sometimes fanfic events exist because they could never happen. In seeking like-minded people to share with, fandoms can become networks of friends, to the extent that the thing that brought people together in the first place becomes secondary.


I think most authors ignore it. Some even see it as a good thing, given that fanfic writers are of necessity rabid fans of the book and can be guaranteed to buy everything they put out and issue free publicity. However, given that 'fair use' is in the eyes of the creator, if it all really, really bugs you, there's always the cease-and-desist letter.


Just my two cents.

#8 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 08:25 AM:

Pookel - A lot of the process you describe is done by teenage girls, though. I know I made use of betas and rating systems for years, and I've only just passed out of my teen years. I've never written Harry/Draco and posted it on the Pit of Voles, though...

Full disclosure: I've been writing fanfiction since I was about thirteen. But I've always felt it was more in the vein of a writing exercise than my own work with my own characters. And it can be helpful. Two of my friends and I were talking about fanfic at lunch the other day, and one of them said that writing fanfic meant she got all of the cliches out of her system years ago. As opposed to all the novice writers in her fiction workshop, who are all writing terrible cliched work right now - but that's another issue.

I feel like cease-and-desist letters only hurt the image of the author, in the end. It will provoke a strong reaction from fans that the author hates them for enjoying the work so much and wanting to play around with it.

Naa-Dei, I think you've hit the nail on the head - fandom grows beyond the central work, after a certain point. I met three of my best friends through Harry Potter fanfic and roleplaying; our friendships are no longer about the books, but instead about each other.

Sorry for rambling, I've been up for about fifteen minutes.

#9 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 09:59 AM:

So the takeaway I get from this is the inverse of King's dictum ("I skip all the boring parts") -- Don't skip the interesting parts.

With the corollary that to be imperceptive or squeamish about knowing what's interesting is a greater sin, in audience eyes at least, than not knowing what's boring.

Hmmmm.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:02 AM:

Conspire with your readers, even when it's heavy breathing.

#11 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:15 AM:

I'm personally fascinated by fanfiction. I see it as an extension of the genre conversation or the folk process--I've also collected more versions of "House of the Rising Sun" than I can comfortably recall.

And I think she's very apt in her advice to write down the bones, and get down in the blood and emotion. I'm not sure writers pull back because of shame; when I pull back from an intense scene, it's from personal discomfort, not worry what anybody will think. In other words, because it *hurts* to write, not because I'm ashamed of it.

(And, hopefully, I go back and make myself write it honestly anyway.)

The difference between that frankness and ellipsis and (I won't say implication, because implication can be painfully effective) euphemism is the difference between Allen Ginsberg and Rod McKuen.

#12 ::: Naomi Novik ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:33 AM:

Cease-and-desist letters also won't work unless the letter alone successfully intimidates the writer. The question of fanfic as fair use has never been tested in court; it's hard to imagine someone lawyering up to pursue someone who has cost them nothing, potentially discouraging and offending a part of the hard-core fanbase for their work in the process.

My sentiments remain that fanfic is a valid form of reader response, and is and should be entirely beyond the author's control. Once you've written the text, what the reader gets out of it is out of your hands -- and will inevitably be filtered through the lens of the reader's past experience and desires. That goes for fanfic as much as for other kinds of fannish discussion.

Personally, I'd be enthusiastic to see fanfic written about my soon-to-be-published pro work. I don't think that it's a coincidence that Star Trek both has extreme longevity and success, and was the first inspiration of fanfic and slash. As Naa-Dei says, a work that inspires fanfic is a work that's getting hold of the reader's gut in some way.

And this comes back to the Id Vortex idea that Ellen is talking about. I think that fanfic and slash fanfic in particular do often hit the lizard brain, so to speak, because the shared source that they are starting from has already tapped into the id on some level, and the fanfic is following that tap down (sometimes to the completely illogical conclusion).

Elizabeth, I might be wrong, but my interpretation is that the shame Ellen is referring to is not shame at putting the writing out there necessarily, but shame at *feeling* the underlying visceral pull of kink, so it may be the same discomfort that you're describing.

#13 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:43 AM:

Thanks for the links to Sarah Donati's essays. I read them with interest. I have been fighting my way through writing my first sex scene for over a month. It's about incest and power and I can't write more than a bit at a time because it's wrong in a way that makes me feel that it is right.

#14 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:43 AM:

Ah, that's where that analysis of _Welcome to Temptation_ was! I found it a while ago, thought it was great, and promptly lost the link. Thanks.

Random thought about the actual topic of this post:

Hurt/comfort is a part of the Id Vortex that pro writers *do* get close to, and part of the appeal of Mercedes Lackey's (early) stuff, Dorothy Dunnett, etc., depending in part on the age of the reader.

#15 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:46 AM:

Cease-and-desist letters are a necessary precursor to lawsuits. (Also, cheaper.)

Conspire with your readers, even when it's heavy breathing.

Or, especially when it's heavy breathing!

#16 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:12 AM:

Once again, Thank You Teresa! I've been looking for some how-to on writing sex scenes that were closer to the Id. My novel-in-prgress will be much improved for this.

#17 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:13 AM:

Naomi clarified, Elizabeth, I might be wrong, but my interpretation is that the shame Ellen is referring to is not shame at putting the writing out there necessarily, but shame at *feeling* the underlying visceral pull of kink, so it may be the same discomfort that you're describing.

That is what I meant, though I don't think I expressed it very clearly-- I only expected that post to be read by the people who usually read my lj. But, yes, it's that fanfic tends to be more successful than profic at engaging the sorts of kinks we (as writers or as readers) are most embarassed at *having* in the first place, and more successful at transmuting a kink-support framework into an effective story-- sometimes, into a story that appeals to readers who don't share the kink. (I'm using kink to cover all emotional hot-buttons, not just the sexual ones, btw.)

Teresa-- you've got an asterisk on 'fandom' up there-- is there a footnote on its way?

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:34 AM:

Hm. I just wanna point out that we're not always better off getting the explicit scene. And not just sex either -- sometimes we're better off without the as-you-know-Bob techno-exposition, or the detailed description of whale flensing, or Princess Noreena's five hundred hats. Sometimes these things don't actually help the story (advance the plot, shed useful light on character, whatever).

I was thinking back on Larry Niven's Ringworld as an example. There are a couple of bits where Louis Wu has sex with Teela Brown, and Niven skips over the details, and I thought including the details wouldn't make the reader's lives any better (even if Niven had been good enough to pull them off).

But then I thought about later on, when Louis is having sex with Halrloprillalar, and Nessus is using the tasp to stimulate her pleasure centers remotely. That could maybe have benefitted from an explicit description, and we'd have needed the earlier scenes with Teela for contrast.

#19 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:35 AM:

There's a lot of stuff out there in the blogosphere about fanfic and whether or not it's a good thing. Really, though, that's a moot question. Write a good story with strong characters who bring in a big enough audience, and fanfic will happen. It's a compliment of the highest order, though I absolutely agree with the commenter who said that an author shouldn't read fanfic about his or her own characters.

And, thanks for the links.

#20 ::: Meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:35 AM:

Ellen must've been fascinated by the same bit. She did a followup post on "what tools do you use to keep those stories from collapsing?"

I always get a kick out of seeing Making Light talk about fanfiction, like the old "who put chocolate in my peanut butter?" commercials.

The danger for me as a fanfic writer is that I'll be sucked into the Id Vortex. Tired as I get of coyness, I've also read stories that go to the other extreme.

It's like the characters are living on an emotional diet of twinkies and whiskey. Everything is so het up with Lust and Love and Loss and Pain that they would sob for a lost t-shirt. Half of what the slash world perennially debates as over-feminization of male characters seems to me a matter of feelings junkies needing bigger hits.

Learning to walk that line is not easy, especially when jumping merrily over it garners as much or more positive response. Hungry for product and open channels of feedback = good, but it can be tricky to figure out, when the feedback is "yum", whether we've actually cooked a balanced meal or just served cake for breakfast.

#21 ::: Dorothea Salo ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:41 AM:

Silly me. I guess I always thought the lust-potion was a horror device in that story. It certainly didn't HELP anything, just led to a lot of sword-down-the-bed loneliness, suspicion, and eventually death.

Romance? Um. Not so much. At least not for me.

#22 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:46 AM:

New ways of telling stories develop most readily when you have a population that’s hungry for the product, the creators have little or no dignity at stake, and there are open channels for feedback and discussion.

Teresa,

Welcome to the wonderful world of Open Source. This is exactly the sort of thing that is behind the Linux operating system. People wanted somethign other than the commercial operating systems available, and the internet allowed poeple to post their code for little cost, to a lot of people, and get free feedback via email.

#23 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:57 AM:

I agree with Avram that the explicit scene isn't always desirable. Sometimes the challenge should be, I think, to put that passion into other contexts. I would rather see a fade than a scene done poorly, and sometimes sex scenes are generic because they are in fact not very good vessels for insights into the passions that drive the characters.

Law & Order, particularly in its first, hmm, half dozen or so seasons, is the counter-example here. We knew essentially nothing about the characters' personal lives, and never saw them except in the context of work. Yet it's a show filled with a lot of personal passion, tangled histories, and all the human complexity that makes life fun to watch, just anchored in the sphere of work. I'd like to see other stories infuse other aspects of life with the same passion.

#24 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:57 AM:

I've been very interested to see what kind of publishing model emerges form the Internet, both for fiction and for other forms of media. We haven't seen anything particularly NEW just yet. You can buy individual works electronically, as if they were published on paper or CD. Or you can look at things that are supported by advertising, just like magazines, newspapers, TV and radio are.

It seems likely that a new publishing model will emerge around the Internet. We're still in the early stages of the Internet, the equivalent of pre-1920 for radio, well before Fibber McGee and Molly and Jack Benny and those guys, when there were just a handful of radio stations in the whole United States. We're still fumbling around, with no idea how artists and publishers will actually be able to make money off of this thing.

(Although journalists ARE making money---through ads.)

That's one of the exciting things about blogging. I do think blogging is overhyped, and I think it's by no means certain that it's going to be the Next Big Thing, any more than pets.com was the Next Big Thing. But, still, it's the first really NEW publishing model to emerge from the Internet. And it's in its early days yet; the blogs of 2014 will look very little like the blogs of today.

And the business model for blogging, in the form of blogads, is something legitimately new, different from anything in other media.

Although I'm not aware of anybody actually making a living off of blogads.

When the new publishing model for the Internet emerges, I expect it'll be what Clay Shirky calls "publish, and then filter." That's the opposite of how things work in TV, radio, books and periodicals.

In old media, you have an editor, like our Blog Hosts, who decides what is worthy of publishing. The editor helps the creator polish the work, and then sets the machinery to work marketing and distributing it. Filter, then publish.

On the Internet, anyone can publish, and have his work, theoretically, read by anyone in the world. So if you're a blogger in, say, Taiwan, you can post text to the web and have it read by Americans.

But how will the Americans see it? We're not in Taiwan, we don't know what the hell is going on there.

The answer is that somebody has to CALL ATTENTION TO THAT WORK. It has to cross the path of someone like InstaPundit or Josh Marshall or the gang at Boing Boing, who links to it from their blogs. Thousands of Americans read those blogs every day. Some of those Americans work for the mainstream news media.

I suspect, from what I'm reading here, that we're seeing the emergence of the same sort of publish-then-filter publishing mechanism in fanfic. An important question is: how will people make money off it?

The sf writer and all-around smart guy John Barnes touches on the subject of the evolution of fanfic in an article I wrote for SFWA Bulletin. The article is here (it's a PDF---sorry). The sidebar covers the Barnes interview. The subject of the article is e-books. Barnes describes some of the ways that commercial prose fiction might change in the coming century.

One of the things he describes is, basically, open source. He doesn't call it that---I don't know if he's even familiar with the details of how the open source process works. But that's what he's talking about. He describes shared fictional universes, with histories and technologies that anyone can write in. They're like the "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" universe, except in those universes, being fanfic-friendly is incidental, whereas in these future, shared universes, they'd be designed for other writers and creators to work in from the very beginning. And then you'd have a committee of people whose job it would be to sift through all the work that's been published in those universes and decide what's worthy of being accepted into the Canon.

#25 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 12:02 PM:

Ellen, the asterisk is a footnote. Rest your text pointer on top of it and the note will pop up. I put it in because some of the readers here come out of the mimeograph-cranking ancestral fannish rootstock, and they'd momentarily stumble over that use of "fandom."

#26 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 12:03 PM:

Funny. My new exemplar for sexually charged and emotionally intense is the excellent Graham Greene novel I just finished, The End of the Affair. Even my writing has changed; I lost some shame when Greene put everything on the table.

I say funny because the devices he uses to create intensity are so implicit, rather than explicit. Sex scenes: 0.

Now, I am curious what else slash (never read any) has to offer from the other end of the spectrum.

#27 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 12:35 PM:

Teresa, that hover-over-the-asterisks thing doesn't work with the browser I'm using right now (Firefox on Windows).

Mitch: I do think blogging is overhyped, and I think it's by no means certain that it's going to be the Next Big Thing, any more than pets.com was the Next Big Thing.

But when the blogging bubble bursts, will the Glenn Reynolds sock puppet sell for more than the net worth of Tech Central Station? (If you're a first-generation blogger, make that "Dave Winer" and "Userland".)

#28 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 12:39 PM:

Elizabeth Bear:

"The difference between that frankness and ellipsis and (I won't say implication, because implication can be painfully effective) euphemism is the difference between Allen Ginsberg and Rod McKuen."

Cleverly observed! Hmmm.... How about some academic fanfic where Ginsberg seduces Rod McKuen, who becomes converted to Politically Active Socialist Tibetan Buddhist Judaism, and finds true love... suddenly blossoming as an artist and winning a Pulitzer Prize for poetry? And then writes a new song for the Charlie Brown Hanukah Special that goes #1 on the charts? Then writes the songs for the Pixar feature animation of "Kaddish and Moloch?"

#29 ::: mike the corpuscle ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 12:57 PM:

Um, as it happens, I heard a story on the radio yesterday about Sophie Calle (artist, french), and it really got me going on the whole subject of Stories. I wrote something about it last night, a post in which I discover I am a storiopath. Maybe the post is somewhat tangential to the topic of needing particular stories to be written, but maybe not so much.

#30 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:04 PM:

it's in its early days yet; the blogs of 2014 will look very little like the blogs of today.

Mitch: wanna bet? I think 2014 blogs will look exactly like today's in all important particulars: same mix of A- through Z-listers, same mix of motivations (get famous, try out ideas, have somewhere to dump all these thoughts, etc), same sorts of posts from the same sorts of people: lefty outrage, rightwing whining, academics doing their thing (I think this will become more common), everyday folks just staying in touch with geographically scattered friends, geeks geeking out over the latest tech, etc etc.

I base my prediction on the observation that people change much less, and much less rapidly, than technology changes their environment. How different is blogging from pamphleteering or zine writing, other than speed and scope of distribution? It may be a simple failure of imagination on my part, but I don't think there's all that much more you can do in the way of putting words (pictures, sounds, movies, whatever as technology allows) together and distributing them.

On the subject of filtering, here's another prediction, just for the hell of it: filtering is the Next Big Thing; or if not the very Next, then soon after. We are already like to drown in data and using some combination of trusted agents (portals, blogs) and algorithms (Google, pet methods of finding cool stuff via del.icio.us or whatever) to stay afloat. As the waters get deeper, the flotation devices will have to get better -- so although I lack the technical know-how to make specific predictions as to how this will happen, I think that new and better filtering methods/agents are not very far off. Also, I think they will begin to advertise as filtering methods, explicitly saying "we can help you find the signals you want in all that noise".

#31 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:07 PM:

I like good sex scenes. I like good combat scenes. I like good scenes in general. I think fans write this sort of stuff because authors can't always pull it off.

The other bit is that if a fan starts to identify with a character, the fan may start getting frustrated if the character avoids feeling some emotions.

We live vicariously through the characters we read in books and watch on TV and movies. It isn't quite so vicarious if the characters are feeling the same emotions we feel every day. We want to feel passion and rage and sorrow and anything else that defines the whole human spectrum. We know what the day-to-day emotion feels like, so we want something more.

We know the lust is inside the characters we read about because we identify with those characters and the lust is inside us. So we want to ride along with them as they experience it. And if the author won't give it to us, then readers are going to start writing the kind of stuff they want to read.

#32 ::: colleen philippi ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:21 PM:

Mitch: And then you'd have a committee of people whose job it would be to sift through all the work that's been published in those universes and decide what's worthy of being accepted into the Canon.

It's my understanding that this is what is happening with the japanese equivelent of fan fiction, and has been happening for quite some time. Doujinshi is very popular, and is considered the equal in status to small press published work. (Some doujinshi artists do get paid for their fan published works) Rarely, some of the twists proposed in a popular doujinshi are adopted as canon. It's a very interesting concept, and does reflect a model for the process that you're talking about

#33 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:35 PM:

Sennoma---You make excellent points as to the motivations, hierarchies and content of blogs.

When I said blogging of 2014 won't look like the blogging of today, I was being very literal for the word "look like."

We're looking at a difference of 10 years. Ten years ago, the web didn't have frames, and tables . You could have your choice of any background color you wanted so long as it was gray.

We're still in the pioneering days of the web, and I expect 10 years from now the changes will be almost as drastic. Not quite, but almost.

And I expect that as we learn more about web design, layout and usability, the traditional blog layout---center column of entries in reverse chronological order, meta-information in one or two columns on the left, right or both sides---will give way to something else.

And, as Clay Shirky noted, the word "blog" itself will likely be eclipsed, the same way the same way the word "portal" isn't something you read much anymore.

#34 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:39 PM:

Colleen Philippi---Another point Barnes makes is that we're already halfway toward this shared-source model of sf and fantasy, and have been for some time, in the way that the worlds for a lot of high fantasy novels look very similar. Likewise for space opera.

I see the similarities in high fantasy novels, not so much in space opera. I mean, "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" look FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT to me. To me, the universes have very little in common. Whereas one magic kingdom looks pretty much like another to me.

This is not a criticism of high fantasy, or a criticism of myself, either. It's just an observation.

#35 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:39 PM:

Fan fic? Canon?

One word: Sherlock Holmes.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes 150th Anniversary: The Short Stories
by Leslie S. Klinger, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Lecarre

"This monumental edition promises to be the most important new contribution to Sherlock Holmes literature since William Baring-Gould's 1967 classic work. In this boxed set, Leslie Klinger, a leading world authority, reassembles Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 classic short stories in the order in which they appeared in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century book editions. Inside, readers will find a cornucopia of insights: beginners will benefit from Klinger's insightful biographies of Holmes, Watson, and Conan Doyle; history lovers will revel in the wealth of Victorian literary and cultural details; Sherlockian fanatics will puzzle over tantalizing new theories; art lovers will thrill to the 700-plus illustrations, which make this the most lavishly illustrated edition of the Holmes tales ever produced. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes illuminates the timeless genius of Arthur Conan Doyle for an entirely new generation of readers. 700+ illustrations."

#36 ::: Alison ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:41 PM:

Dan: My new exemplar for sexually charged and emotionally intense is the excellent Graham Greene novel I just finished, The End of the Affair. Even my writing has changed; I lost some shame when Greene put everything on the table.

I actually declined to do a paper on that book in a Theology and Literature course because I didn't want to have to think about it in that level of detail. A testament to the power of sexually and emotionally intense scenes to affect a person and their views of a book or characters.

#37 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:43 PM:

Greg London:

We live vicariously through the characters we read in books and watch on TV and movies. It isn't quite so vicarious if the characters are feeling the same emotions we feel every day. We want to feel passion and rage and sorrow and anything else that defines the whole human spectrum. We know what the day-to-day emotion feels like, so we want something more.

Interesting.

David Gerrold observed that a major flaw of "Star Trek" is the way that the characters had their lives in jeopardy in just about every single episode.

In reality, only people actually in combat live that way. And they pay heavy emotional penalties. Even cops and firemen are rarely in jeopardy. Certainly, the 19th Century exploration ships that Trek was modelled on didn't live on that level of high alert all the time.

What you seem to be saying is that this level of high jeopardy isn't a flaw in Trek (and other TV adventure shows). It's exactly what the fans want. FWIW, I think you're right here and Gerrold is dead wrong.

#38 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 01:54 PM:

By the way, I've been writing some fiction lately.

I recently reached a conscious decision to stay away from sex and graphic violence. With the exception of language, my fiction is entirely PG-rated.

(With the exception of language. My characters all swear like they're from Long Island or New Jersey or something.)

I decided to stay away from graphic sex for two reasons. One of them is ... not exactly shame, but embarassment. I'm increasingly uncomfortable presenting myself publicly as a sexual being. I'm fat, fannish and 40. I wear glasses, chinos and suspenders. I have thinning hair. I feel like if people see me as a sexual being, they'll think eeeeewwww. Or they'll view me like I was hitting on the 22-year-old interns. What a sad bastard.

I don't think it's a self-esteem issue. I'm brimful of self-esteem. But I'm also like the James Garner character in "Murphy's Romance." He's a cranky curmudgeon. He expresses surprise that anyone could love him has much as his late wife did. He's asked, "Why, didn't you like yourself?" He responds, "I like myself just fine, I just don't think it's contagious."

I'm quite comfortable with my own sexuality. I just don't think other people (with one exception) are particularly comfortable with it.

Also, I'm kind of a workaholic. I used to be more of a raunchy goat, but in today's workplace environment, I think it's wiser for a man to behave as if he'd been a eunuch since he was 13 years old. A huge amount of my interaction with other people is work-related, and even much of the non-work-related stuff---like this post, right here---could come to reflect on my work. I try to be careful.

Clearly, I might want to think about getting over this if I'm going to be serious about writing fiction.

The other reason I've stayed away from writing sex is the adage "write what you know." My sex life has been pretty vanilla, not very interesting except for the direct participants, of which there have not been very many.

#39 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:04 PM:

Mitch: are you thinking of writing things that don't include sex and violence by the nature of the story (plot, narrator, setting)? I'd think that's different.

(And, y'know, sometimes vanilla, or off-screen, is what the story calls for.)

#40 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:13 PM:

I'm someone who habitually finds sex scenes uncomfortable to read and write, both for the same reason: I don't really need to know the details of how someone goes about making love, unless I'm personally involved with them.

I don't mind knowing the characters had sex. Sometimes, in fact, I actually want to know that (or that they didn't). I don't mind knowing that it was gentle, or rough, or in a disused men's room in a partly abandoned office building, or on someone's couch. What I don't really have any desire to know is who put whose hand where and who moaned G-d's name and who kissed whose stomach and worked their way down, for seven or ten paragraphs' worth of travelogue. And too many sex scenes read that way to me.

Sex is intensely private in a way that very little else is to me. I wouldn't want a lover to describe in detail what I did with him, and I won't do that to my characters, either.

That having been said, there's a sex scene in my second book which goes into virtually no detail but I hope gets the emotion across. I suppose I'll find out when it goes to my beta-readers.

#41 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:14 PM:

Mitch: I get your point now. I agree about the changes in tech -- they leave me floundering every six months or so.

(Guesses: lots more use of mobile devices (a la phonecam-->flickr-->blog, which is already in pretty wide use), lots more pictures (as storage and bandwidth issues become less pressing and digital photos improve), more use of includes/streams from organising centers like del.icio.us and flickr. Anyone else care to venture some predictions?)

#42 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:16 PM:

Naomi: Would it make any difference if you knew that by writing fanfic you'd make the original author unable to write (or at least publish) any more?

Would it make any difference if the cease-and-desist letter contained threats from the characters who had been diminished in the fanfic?

#43 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:30 PM:

To answer a comment upthread, Mitch -- I'm pretty sure Josh Marshall, Kos, and Atrios have all been making most or all of their income from blogads.com in the last few months.

As a blogads user myself, I get to look at their rates and I can count the number of ads they've got on their sites, and let me tell you, I find it entirely plausible that they could be living off of that income.

(As for the idea that blogads will fade after the election, what I can report is we've been getting more ad customers post-election, rather than fewer. Dunno if this is true for others.)

#44 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:47 PM:

Kate Nepveu:

Mitch: are you thinking of writing things that don't include sex and violence by the nature of the story (plot, narrator, setting)? I'd think that's different.

(And, y'know, sometimes vanilla, or off-screen, is what the story calls for.)

Those are essential questions, aren't they? In some works, the graphic descriptions of sex and violence are best left out. In other works, they should be included.

I read a story recently in which a middle-aged woman gets an unexpected, and, at first, unwanted visit from her good-for-nothing boyfriend. They end up having sex, against her better judgment. One important detail that seemed to be missing from the story: how was it? It made a difference to me. If he was a great lover, that said something about her character. If he was a lousy lover, that said something else. The character, as described, certainly had no other redeeming virtues, he was a selfish mooch.

So was this woman in a relationship with a guy with no redeeming virtues, or was she in a relationship with a guy who had no redeeming virtues except for being a great lover? I didn't need to see graphic descriptions of the sex, but I still wanted to know how it was.

sennoma:

Mitch: I get your point now. I agree about the changes in tech -- they leave me floundering every six months or so.

(Guesses: lots more use of mobile devices (a la phonecam-->flickr-->blog, which is already in pretty wide use), lots more pictures (as storage and bandwidth issues become less pressing and digital photos improve), more use of includes/streams from organising centers like del.icio.us and flickr. Anyone else care to venture some predictions?)

I think that better quality devices are going to blur the distinction between old media and new. I'm very enthusiastic about electronic ink and smart paper.

Patrick:

To answer a comment upthread, Mitch -- I'm pretty sure Josh Marshall, Kos, and Atrios have all been making most or all of their income from blogads.com in the last few months.

That's extremely interesting. Thank you.

#45 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:52 PM:


It's like the characters are living on an emotional diet of twinkies and whiskey. Everything is so het up with Lust and Love and Loss and Pain that they would sob for a lost t-shirt. Half of what the slash world perennially debates as over-feminization of male characters seems to me a matter of feelings junkies needing bigger hits.

This rings very true to my own experience. It took me a long, long time to realize that I was subsisting on hits of emotional twinkies and whiskey--it took me until I ran out of slash to read that pushed my buttons, and had to start writing it for myself.

And then I got more and more embarrassed with myself, and pulled away more and more from the Id Vortex (the rejection letters helped), so now I'm starting to doubt that fan writers will bring that particular toolbox with them when they turn pro. Something that is not something to be ashamed of when you're DarkAngel42 on a web site is something to be ashamed of when you're a Real Live Author in the company of your idols.

#46 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:56 PM:

Speed of interaction has been one of the most important ways of changing society over time. The existence of the automobile and airplane have resulted in more changes than I'd shake a stick at.

To say that _all the internet offers is a change in the speed of communication_ is to ignore just how important changes in speed of communication have been. I'd go so far as to say that the major difference between now and 100 years ago is the speed and ease of communication. And we're at a point where incremental differences can cause major shifts.

#47 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 02:57 PM:

Jo, has that first thing happened, or is it a thing you think might happen?

If I wrote fanfic, and I got a cease-and-desist letter from the characters involved, I think I'd drop what I was doing and engage in a public correspondance with the characters trying to explain why I thought I wasn't harming them.

But I'd have to be writing fanfic first.

Since my alma mater, home town, and mentor are the same as Susie Bright's, I went through a period of trying to write what she calls "erotica." (personally, I use "erotica" to mean writing that has sex as a theme or something, and "pornography" to mean writing that is itself an accessory to sex: just so I can talk about them, not to condemn the one and praise the other, or vice versa) It didn't work. Now, I think it's because I was trying to write short stories, and I can hardly ever do that. The way I thought about it then was that when it came to the clinch my first impulse was to say "well, no, they didn't do that --" because, I think now, it takes longer than that for me to get them into bed.

In the context of a novel, though, sex became easier to write when I realised it was exactly like writing dinner sequences. How much detail you include depends on how much the detail can do for the story. And then I made my "two things" rule which serves me well in talking about writing: everything in a story has to do at least two things for the story -- any two things, as long as they're the right two things.

And back to the actual subject of the thread: when fanfic works, it's because it does that. It doesn't just throw two characters at each other and have them intersect body parts. It touches on the Id Vortex (Ellen, thank you, that's a wonderful term) in at least two places, which means that things are flying in several directions, and you have complex e,otional physics, interference patterns, elaborate fields, that sort of thing.

Though I have to say I have recently found out that my weirdness rule ("all other things being equal, a story is better when it is stranger") has limits, which are defined by the Southern Gothic genre. Which I suppose you could apply here by asking yourself: "If I stuck in some magnolias and kudzu, and gave everybody quaint nicknames or surnames for first names or both, and tweaked the relationships so that at least two people are closer than second cousins, could I market this as a Southern Gothic?" If the answer is yes, you've probably fallen into the Id vortex, and you should probably climb out somehow.

#48 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:04 PM:

Emily: ...so now I'm starting to doubt that fan writers will bring that particular toolbox with them when they turn pro.

I wouldn't go that far. Pushing sexual boundaries is just another useful tool in the writer's toolkit. (It has been for some time, and yes, the pro writers already know about it.) The problem is when that's all you use from the toolkit.

#49 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:17 PM:

I'm thinking about the times when I've felt that the description of sex has moved the story forward, and the examples I'm thinking of are bad sex. Or no sex at all.

It's Garp, going to pick up his son at a sleepaway at a friend's house. The boys mother is drunk, and slutty, and lying naked on the bed. She demands that Garp pull down his jogging shorts to reveal his erection. He does, and then she dismisses him.

Or, in "Nobody's Fool," the philandering Carl Roebuck is driving while receiving fellatio from his latest girlfriend. He pulls up next to the protagonist, who's walking down the road, and tells the protagonist to look inside the car. The girlfriend has fallen asleep---or passed out---while giving head. His penis, now flaccid, is still in her mouth.

(I'm thinking, as I read this: foolhardy guy. People do have tendency to bite down when they sleep. Some people even grind their teeth. But that's part of Carl Roebuck's character, he's foolish, impulsive and self-destructive.)

#50 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:19 PM:

The comment about Doujinshi (though the pro/doujin line is even fuzzier than it indicates -- Miyuki-chan in X (or, by some lights, X itself, or XXXHolic) is an intra-studio doujinshi) is interesting.

But we already have a medium here that works in the way suggested. Unsurprisingly, it's the same medium. Except for the very first crop, the people in immediate creative control of comics have been the fans of those very comics (now evolved into creators.) Of course, this means that the nastiest fan debates get played out on the canon playground, which often isn't pretty at all (see the current run on Green Lantern, or post-Morrison X-Men).

#51 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:21 PM:

Emily:

And then I got more and more embarrassed with myself, and pulled away more and more from the Id Vortex (the rejection letters helped), so now I'm starting to doubt that fan writers will bring that particular toolbox with them when they turn pro. Something that is not something to be ashamed of when you're DarkAngel42 on a web site is something to be ashamed of when you're a Real Live Author in the company of your idols.

Why should you be ashamed of it?

I tried to draw a distinction earlier between shame and embarassment. I'm ashamed of the things that I did wrong in my life, especially as they hurt other people. I'm not ashamed of the things that I did that were merely foolish, I'm just embarassed by them.

Last week, I went to groups.google.com and read about a half-dozen of my very first posts to Usenet. I was embarassed by them---I was nowhere near as smart as I thought I was---but I wasn't particularly ashamed of them. They were harmless.

#52 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:25 PM:

Ellen, Naomi--

Nope, I'm talking about the visceral discomfort of not wanting to *live* through the experience with the character. An empathetic dislike, for example, of writing a rape scene because I don't want to have to live it with the character the way I will have to to make it visceral enough.

If I put a sex scene--or something else squicky--into a book, I am shameless about it. Because even if it's kinky, I'm not writing it because of the kink; I'm writing it because the kink *has to be there for the sake of the story,* so maybe that's the difference.

I'll cheerfully fade to black if all that happens is the characters get laid. If the sexual experience serves as a sea-change of sorts, however, then I'll detail it as lovingly as necessary.

#53 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:27 PM:

Jo Walton:

Naomi: Would it make any difference if you knew that by writing fanfic you'd make the original author unable to write (or at least publish) any more?

Can you describe any specific examples of that happening?

Would it make any difference if the cease-and-desist letter contained threats from the characters who had been diminished in the fanfic?

Threats from the characters? I'd tend to dismiss that as crank mail.

(I'm reminded of the story Wil Wheaton tells about being in contract negotiations with the studio when he was working on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The studio said they couldn't give him more money---but they'd promote his character from ensign to lieutenant. Wheaton was insulted.)

I tend to think that, ideally, people should be able to write stories about the worlds and characters other people have created. Star Trek fanfic should be legal, and writers should be able to sell it.

I accept that current law makes that impossible. But the law should be changed.

Disclaimer: I don't write fanfic, or read it. Not because I think it's unworthy. I just don't.

#54 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:27 PM:

In the context of a novel, though, sex became easier to write when I realised it was exactly like writing dinner sequences. How much detail you include depends on how much the detail can do for the story.
Any tips on writing dinner sequences -- or food in general, in fantasy? I know there are a lot of novels where I enjoy reading details about the food, and others where I skip over them; but I haven't figured out why, really.

#55 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:41 PM:

Mitch: I'm thinking about the times when I've felt that the description of sex has moved the story forward, and the examples I'm thinking of are bad sex. Or no sex at all.

The first thing that comes to mind is Jennifer Crusie's _Charlie All Night_ (which IMO is a terrible title that refers to the title character's job as a DJ). Which I see from the author's page has been reprinted. As she says there, "So I wrote a proposal in which the hero and heroine sleep together the first night they meet and begin a casual affair only to become platonic friends and then fall in love, so I could write the difference between great sex without love and great sex with love."

Also, the discussion of _Possession_ in the series TNH linked to.

#56 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:46 PM:

Other effective story-advancing sex scenes, from movies and TV:

- The scene in "Jerry Maguire," Jerry with his first fiance, played by Kelly Preston. They're sitting, she's on top and jumping up and down while shouting, "Never stop fucking me! Never stop fucking me!" It's supposed to illustrate how carnivorous she is.

You could argue there's a madonna/whore thing going on there. Viewed in a vacuum what, exactly, is wrong with her behavior? A different movie might view her behavior quite approvingly; she's an enthusiastic lover. But I don't think that movie would've been mainstream Hollywood Academy-award-winning fare.

- In "Deadwood," Al Swearingen screwing his girlfriend/prostitute. He seems to love her, in his own way. He's got great staying power. But he's mechanical. He approaches sex like everything else; he's working toward a goal and he doesn't particularly care about other people, except as means to the end.

- A lot of the interaction between Frank Furillo and Joyce on "Hill Street Blues." In their daily lives, they're both rigid, wooden and cold, their sex scenes show that they are capable of warm human feeling. No sex actually shown, though; we're talking about network TV in the 1980s.

#57 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:52 PM:

Mitch: And, as Clay Shirky noted, the word "blog" itself will likely be eclipsed, the same way the same way the word "portal" isn't something you read much anymore.

Hm. "Weblog" was coined in Dec 1997 by Jorn Barger, so it's been around for seven years. "Blog" was coined by Pater Merholz in the Spring of 1999, five years.

I don't know when "portal" was coined in this context, but my impression is that it never really took off in common use. (It does still show up occasionally.) I don't recall the word gaining traction in the general culture. I never heard it used as the punchline of a joke on a popular comedy show.

#58 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:53 PM:

Off topic, but: I'm inclined to award egoboo to anyone lacking a background knowledge of Anglo-Saxon who nevertheless figures out the meaning of Cenelice to ganganne hwaer gegan hafde naenig man aer.

#59 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:00 PM:

"Boldly going where no man has gone before?"

Wild guess from "ganganne" and "man," and a rough equivalence in number of words.

#60 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:05 PM:

TNH:

Off topic, but: I'm inclined to award egoboo to anyone lacking a background knowledge of Anglo-Saxon who nevertheless figures out the meaning of Cenelice to ganganne hwaer gegan hafde naenig man aer.

"My hovercraft is full of eels."

#61 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:14 PM:

Mitch: this level of high jeopardy isn't a flaw in Trek

I never liked Star Trek until "The Wrath of Khan".

See, the way I see it is fiction is sort of like a roller-coaster. You got to start from a point where readers/viewers can actually get on the ride, which is someplace emotionally familiar to them. If you're always in the loop-de-loop, readers can't identify and they can't get on for the ride.

Once they identify with the characters is when you can let the characters swing out because the readers will swing out with them. Wake the character up cold, tired, and hungry. busy them with the minutia of finding their boots, helmet, and rifle, and then oh-my-god-I-think-Im-gonna-die them. At that point, the reader is on board and will get whipped around with the character.

That's my model anyway. I'm sure there are others.

Star Trek didn't work for me because it was too plot driven, too much about the cool new world, too much about the hapless inhabitants who need saving from their overlord or themselves. There wasn't a whole lot of "wanting" on the show.

Kirk wanted to save the hapless inhabitants.
Spock supressed his wants to be logical.
Bones wanted no one to die.
Scotty wanted the ship to stay together.
Once you established that, you pretty much knew the emotional spectrum of every show.

It wasn't until "Wrath of Khan" that I saw some new emotions going on, starting out with mourning for Kirk's dead son, to fear of Khan and those ear-digging worms, to rage against him, to sorrow for Spock's death. It picks you up from a familiar place and then whips you all over the friggen map.

I didn't like Star Trek on TV, I didn't like most of the Star Trek movies, but Wrath of Khan is one of my all time favorite movies.

#62 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:23 PM:

Mitch Wagner wrote:
(I'm thinking, as I read this: foolhardy guy. People do have tendency to bite down when they sleep. Some people even grind their teeth. But that's part of Carl Roebuck's character, he's foolish, impulsive and self-destructive.)

And you think you're too vanilla to write a good sex scene, Mitch? I think you're mistaken.

#63 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:30 PM:

Steve Eley---Then I am a pervert after all? I'm so relieved!

Seriously, John Irving covered that ground already—also in Garp.

In that novel, sex scenes read violently, while scenes of wrestling are—if not erotic—then at least sensuous and pleasurable.

#64 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:32 PM:

sennoma:

I think 2014 blogs will look exactly like today's in all important particulars: same mix of A- through Z-listers, same mix of motivations (get famous, try out ideas, have somewhere to dump all these thoughts, etc), same sorts of posts from the same sorts of people: lefty outrage, rightwing whining, academics doing their thing (I think this will become more common), everyday folks just staying in touch with geographically scattered friends, geeks geeking out over the latest tech, etc etc.

I base my prediction on the observation that people change much less, and much less rapidly, than technology changes their environment. How different is blogging from pamphleteering or zine writing, other than speed and scope of distribution?

Tom Whitmore:

Speed of interaction has been one of the most important ways of changing society over time. The existence of the automobile and airplane have resulted in more changes than I'd shake a stick at.

To say that _all the internet offers is a change in the speed of communication_ is to ignore just how important changes in speed of communication have been. I'd go so far as to say that the major difference between now and 100 years ago is the speed and ease of communication. And we're at a point where incremental differences can cause major shifts.

Actually, I'd say what's significant about the Internet---or, more particularly, the web---isn't the speed of distribution.

Broadcast radio hit absolute zero for speed of distribution of local communications 100 years ago. You can't get any faster than the speed of light. Satellite television completed the process in the 1960s---now, you could communicate with a bulk audience anywhere in the world, at the speed of light.

The Web's revolutionary feature is its cost. There is no significant incremental cost difference between an e-mail sent to one person, and a web site readable by all the billions of people in the world with Internet access. That cost difference makes it fundamentally easier for, say, some Iraqi guy to reach a global audience just prior to the 2003 Iraq War, with no other qualifications other than being articulate, Westernized—so that what he writes will be accessible to middle-class American readers—and living in Baghdad.

Anyone can attempt to reach a global audience, without first having to convince someone with control over a publishing infrastructure worth tens of millions of dollars. This is exactly what gets some mainstream journalists in a tizzy, because they think the financial barrier to entry in old publishing somehow guarantees better quality of what's published. Why, these "bloggers" parade around openly, as though there were some kind of law giving them the right to "free speech," or something like that!

You still need the gatekeepers. That Iraqi guy doesn't find his audience unless influential American bloggers point to him. But even the gatekeepers face the same low barriers to entry as the original authors do.

The net result: publishing becomes widely distributed and decentralized. You don't have a few major corporations controlling the news and opinion anymore, anybody can contribute their $0.02.

It remains to be seen whether this state of distribution and decentralization will continue. There certainly seems to be a force in free markets that tends toward centralization. In the early days of the web, there were a gazillion portals and search engines, now there are three significant ones (MSN, Yahoo, Google).

#65 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:40 PM:

Mitch: Have you read Linked? I'd love to see a thread about it on Making Light (subtle hint to our gracious hostess, eh).

#66 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 04:43 PM:

Christopher Davis---No, I have not read Linked. Good stuff?

#67 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:00 PM:

Lucy Kemnitzer: If I wrote fanfic, and I got a cease-and-desist letter from the characters involved, I think I'd drop what I was doing and engage in a public correspondance with the characters trying to explain why I thought I wasn't harming them.

I have learned that a really nifty-keen way to have a dispute escalate into a conflict is, when one someone tells you that something you are doing is hurting them, to explain to them why what you are doing doesn't really hurt them.

Here is an example of a situation very similar to fanfic appropriation, in which the harm done is separate from the intellectual-property issues. Malcom Gladwell wrote an article, published in the New Yorker about psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis. A playwright, Byrony Lavery, wrote a play (Frozen) that drew heavily upon Gladwell's article. The result is that Lewis is feeling traumatized, that her life has somehow been stolen from her. She is in the odd position, though, that the person whose intellectual property traduced, if anyone, was Malcom Gladwell:

Dorothy Lewis, for her part, was understandably upset. She was considering a lawsuit. And, to increase her odds of success, she asked me to assign her the copyright to my article. I agreed, but then I changed my mind. Lewis had told me that she “wanted her life back.” Yet in order to get her life back, it appeared, she first had to acquire it from me. That seemed a little strange.

Lewis is upset, among other reasons, because the character in the play modeled on her has had an affair with her collaborator -- Lavery has, in some sense, written a slash of a living person.

Who has what it would take to say that the hurt Lewis has experienced isn't real hurt?

#68 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:02 PM:

My own favorite author for useful sex scenes is Michael Kube-McDowell. There's a devastating scene in Alternities, between a couple whose marriage is failing. We see the scene from the man's point of view, and then later from the woman's. The particular kind of disaster it is matters very much to both of them and to the rest of the story.

#69 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:04 PM:

Mitch: Oh, it's great stuff. It basically recapitulates the development of network theory, then goes into all sorts of applications of the theory as developed; the particular section that your comment reminded me of was the discussion of how the power law distribution of Web links develops from the interaction of first-mover advantage and "fitness".

I found it incredibly interesting because it ranges through topics like computer networking (which I have been doing for years), social networking (also an interest of mine), and biological/genomic/proteomic networks (a professional side-interest as I work as a sysadmin in a genome research center). It's the sort of book that the intellectually voracious folks here at Making Light should have a lot of fun with.

#70 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:05 PM:

Alan, I'll say that the woman's hurt is the sort that can't readily be fixed by litigation. The available facts of our lives are part of the raw material of creativity, and it's possible both to say "that hurts" and "I shouldn't try to stop that". I say this as someone who received deeply manipulative psychological abuse in my early BBSing days and had the exchanges logged by the instigator, who posted them online, complete with ironic comments about my descriptions of them to him (since I didn't know he was the one doing it) and how much it hurt. Less public than a major play, perhaps, but no less painful.

#71 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:13 PM:

Mitch:
Steve Eley---Then I am a pervert after all? I'm so relieved!
Seriously, John Irving covered that ground already—also in Garp.

And seriously, I disagree entirely with your self-effacement.

From your earlier post, you seem to think that not being sexy yourself (a proposition I can neither agree nor disagree with, although I suspect you're selling yourself short as most people do) makes it embarrassing to write about other people having sex in fiction. There's no logical connection there. It's an easy fix: if you don't turn yourself on, write about people who do.

Then you brought in that old "write what you know" chestnut, which I think is some of the dumbest fiction writing advice in existence. I got sick of that when I edited my high school literary magazine. Write what you can plausibly imagine. You don't have to be Caligula to possess and apply a vivid imagination.

Of course, if the stories that interest you don't involve sex, then that's totally understandable. But that's not what you said. You said you'd made a conscious decision not to write about sex because of your own body and history. Obviously you can do what you want, for any reason you want; but in my opinion, those are not the most sensible reasons to tread away from a subject in fiction.

#72 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Alan Bostick wrote:
I have learned that a really nifty-keen way to have a dispute escalate into a conflict is, when one someone tells you that something you are doing is hurting them, to explain to them why what you are doing doesn't really hurt them.

And a nifty-keen way to confuse almost any issue is to equate fictional characters with real people.

(Following the fallacy in the context of this thread, by the way, from Jo Walton's strange question down to your literal example, is head-bending to an almost beautiful degree.)

#73 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:41 PM:

"It's like the characters are living on an emotional diet of twinkies and whiskey."

Is that the Red States' version of this Dead lyric?

"Hey, what in the world ever became of sweet Jane?

She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same

Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine

All a friend can say is 'Ain't it a shame.'"

-- Truckin'

(J. Garcia, B. Weir, P. Lesh, R. Hunter)

I'm pondering the emotional similarities between Slash and Opera (the musical form, not the OS). I've produced operas, and seen some similarities between fanfic stars and literal prima donnas. Amateur opera can sometimes beat the professional variety, too. Audiences who thrive on backstory and backstage gossip. High drama on low budget.

#74 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:42 PM:

Mitch: Actually, I'd say what's significant about the Internet---or, more particularly, the web---isn't the speed of distribution. Broadcast radio hit absolute zero for speed of distribution of local communications 100 years ago. You can't get any faster than the speed of light. Satellite television completed the process in the 1960s

Heh, I think we're doing the same dance we did over "what blogs will look like". When I say "speed of distribution", I'm thinking of time from brainfart to blogpost, not just the speed at which said post travels to screens across the world (which, as you rightly point out, is the same as the speed at which older media like radio and TV travel). So my term was ill-chosen, because my point was about the basic convenience and low cost of the interface -- the speed with which one can communicate via web, as compared with the time taken to, say, convince an editor to run your article, print it, and send it out.

Tom: when I asked, How different is blogging from pamphleteering or zine writing, other than speed and scope of distribution?, I didn't mean to downplay the differences among those methods of publishing. Rather, I think the enormous differences come down to the intertwined common factors I listed: speed (in the sense above) and scope of distribution.

#75 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Christopher: I just added Linked to my wishlist. My budget does not thank you, but I do.

#76 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:51 PM:

In Mozilla, I have to hold the text input cursor over the * for a few seconds. The asterisk turns blue and the comment pops up.

#77 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 05:53 PM:

sennoma:

Einstein's Special Theory of Blogitivity established that the gravitas of a blog approaches zero as the speed approaches infinity, and it becomes the most aetherial fluff, less and less able to interact with real world matters.

Einstein's General Theory of Blogitivity, on the other hand, showed that as the speed exceeds the speed of Light Verse, it becomes possible to read a blog you posted before you ever thought of it.

This is also called "breaking the Deja Vu Barrier."

Einstein, increasingly distracted by lawsuits over P2P distribution of his violin jams, was never able to complete his General Database Field Theory.

Stephen Hawking, who of course is Stephen King rotated through the 5th Dimension, published his blogs in hardcover, and approached infinite circulation as coffeetable books where the average reader understood only an infinitesimal amount.

-- Extracts from "Theophysics, Theomathematics, and Theopoetics: Infected Membranes, and Bitstring Theory", by Pink, E. & T.H.E. Brane, Encyclopedia Galactica.

#78 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 06:20 PM:

Steve Eley—You've certainly given me a lot to think about with regards to sex and my own fiction.

I think what I need to realize is that the me who writes the stories is not the same me who interacts with people in any other way.

I learned a similar lesson years ago, when I started having social contact with professional fiction writers—some of my favorite people who write sf write fiction that I don't really care for. Likewise, I like some fiction by people I dislike. I stopped wondering at the apparent paradox years ago.

Alan Bostick:

I have learned that a really nifty-keen way to have a dispute escalate into a conflict is, when one someone tells you that something you are doing is hurting them, to explain to them why what you are doing doesn't really hurt them.

Steve Eley:

And a nifty-keen way to confuse almost any issue is to equate fictional characters with real people.

(Following the fallacy in the context of this thread, by the way, from Jo Walton's strange question down to your literal example, is head-bending to an almost beautiful degree.)

Still, I think that the issue Alan raises is a valid one, and related to the question of the legality and ethics of fanfic.

It all comes down to a question of who owns the events described in a big chunk of prose—article, short story, novel or other book.

There's a libel case being fought right now, filed by a New York lawyer who says he was defamed by an episode of "Law & Order"; he says the character of a sleazy lawyer was based on him, and recognizably so.

#79 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 06:30 PM:

One of them is ... not exactly shame, but embarassment. I'm increasingly uncomfortable presenting myself publicly as a sexual being. I'm fat, fannish and 40. I wear glasses, chinos and suspenders. I have thinning hair. I feel like if people see me as a sexual being, they'll think eeeeewwww. Or they'll view me like I was hitting on the 22-year-old interns. What a sad bastard.

Mitch, I think this is a hazard of fandom, thinking too much of writers as specific individual people. Most readers don't think that hard about the person behind the book. Even with writers I know, I keep in mind that what characters like and do is not at all necessarily what authors like and do. So if you were writing about a character named Match Wigner having sex with his hot friend Liza, your hot friend Lisa might have reason to squirm, but unless it gets that blatant, I don't think you should worry too much. Write what the characters need to have written.

This may be easier to say as a 26-year-old female, since I'm demographically a lot closer to your hypothetical interns than to you. But think about it: if I wrote some really hot sex scene in a published novel and people assumed that it meant I wanted to do everything in that scene -- possibly even with them! -- I don't think you'd have any trouble as classifying them as creeps, or at the very least as wrong. There shouldn't be a double standard because you're "fat, fannish, and 40" and I'm just fannish.

Now not aimed at Mitch specifically: it seems that once again some people are classifying "stuff [they] want to read" as "daring and edgy" and assuming that the reason other people aren't writing or publishing it is that it's too emotional, too hard, they don't dare. I don't think that explains things with slash vs. profic any more than it does with highly experimental prose vs. more standard prose forms. I mostly write in the past tense because it seems to fit most of my stories best, not because I'm scared of other tenses, and I don't write Spock/Harry Potter slash because it bores me, not because it scares me.

I'm with Bear: some sex scenes are extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable to write, but because they're emotionally difficult to have even as an indirect experience, not because they're shameful. I think Ellen Fremedon is probably a lot more right about what's going on in the minds of slash writers than about what is or isn't going on in the minds of profic writers.

And one more question for the group at large: if it has nothing to do with the personalities in question, why is it more appealing to have them be those personalities? Why not just have two random people? I don't want to read about Radar O'Reilly having sex, but I really, really, REALLY don't want to read about someone having sex who looks like Radar O'Reilly but otherwise has nothing in common with him. I mean, why? Why would that be more interesting to a M*A*S*H fan than someone who looked nothing like Radar O'Reilly having sex?

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 06:41 PM:

(A small sunset-colored cloud appears above Steve Eley's head and briefly rains gold sparkles all over him.)

Mitch, never tell me you're not a brave writer.

Elsewhere in the discussion: It's all very well to talk about the legalities and illegalities of fanfic, but you can't keep people from writing it. All you can do is keep them from publishing it via normal commercial channels, registering copyright on it, and displaying it in public venues.

As I've said before, when a reader picks up your book and reads it, it's not about you. It's about what your book does for the reader. Their relationships with your characters are far more real to them than whatever relationship you might have with those characters, and you'll never persuade them otherwise.

#81 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 06:43 PM:

Why not just have two random people?

Because starting with characters your readers already identifies with means they're already on for the ride.

The stuff with two random people is successful too, however. I've heard you'll find it in Playboy letters and similar stuff. But I wouldn't know personally...

It could be that the "random poeple" scenes work because it is allegedly a letter and therefore is in first person. And people can usually identify with first-person.


#82 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 06:58 PM:

Mris-- if it has nothing to do with the personalities in question, why is it more appealing to have them be those personalities?

*confused*

Where in this discussion has anyone said it (by which I assume you mean slash fanfic?) has nothing to do with the personalities in question? At least in the circles I hang out in, fanfic is all about the characters.

it seems that once again some people are classifying "stuff [they] want to read" as "daring and edgy" and assuming that the reason other people aren't writing or publishing it is that it's too emotional, too hard, they don't dare.

If by 'some people' you're referring to my post-- I wasn't trying to say this, though obviously I wasn't as clear as I needed to be. I was trying to make a point similar to Mitch's, actually-- that some writers shy away from some storylines not because they're daring and edgy, but because they're *embarassing*, because they cut too close to kinks (sexual and simply emotional) that they might be shy about admitting to-- and shy not because the kinks are necessarily edgy and daring, but because, under the weird and cracktastic story trappings that support them, they're often quite pedestrian, cliched, and embarassingly *un*-transgressive.

#83 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 07:17 PM:

Teresa wrote:
(A small sunset-colored cloud appears above Steve Eley's head and briefly rains gold sparkles all over him.)

Heh. I'm not entirely sure that this was the best possible thread for me to receive a, ahem, rain of gold, but thanks. >8-7

#84 ::: Genibee ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 07:27 PM:

"Lewis is upset, among other reasons, because the character in the play modeled on her has had an affair with her collaborator -- Lavery has, in some sense, written a slash of a living person."

Otherwise known as RPS, or Real People/Person Slash. Most frequently seen with the assorted actors from the Lord of the Rings movies, who all are particularly huggy and kissy in public.

This is one of the particular strains of slash that I really don't get.

#85 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 08:16 PM:

Mris:

Mitch, I think this is a hazard of fandom, thinking too much of writers as specific individual people. Most readers don't think that hard about the person behind the book.

Good points.

This may be easier to say as a 26-year-old female, since I'm demographically a lot closer to your hypothetical interns than to you. But think about it: if I wrote some really hot sex scene in a published novel and people assumed that it meant I wanted to do everything in that scene -- possibly even with them! -- I don't think you'd have any trouble as classifying them as creeps, or at the very least as wrong.

Still, some people will assume, and that can make life difficult. Or at least inconvenient.

On the other hand, that "fiction" label is a nice big mask to hide behind. Even if the protagonist's fetish is the most ridiculous, pathetic and laughable fetish in the world (like, he can only have achieve orgasm while having sexual relations with people who look like Bea Arthur), and this happens to be your fetish, you can freely deny it.

At least, until you're famous and the pictures turn up on "The Smoking Gun."

(Not the current Bea Arthur, mind you, or the Bea Arthur of "Golden Girls," but rather the Bea Arthur of "Maude," dressed in 70s-style knit pantsuits, long vests, and long scarfs. I mean, sheesh, what kind of pervert do you think I am THIS HYPOTHETICAL PERSON IS.

Teresa:

Mitch, never tell me you're not a brave writer.

Thanks. I have no illusions about my own courage as a writer. I know that I am more courageous than most, but not necessarily as courageus as some.

#86 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 08:23 PM:

Alan:
I have learned that a really nifty-keen way to have a dispute escalate into a conflict is, when one someone tells you that something you are doing is hurting them, to explain to them why what you are doing doesn't really hurt them.

Did you notice I was talking about a response to a message from fictional characters? And writing a response to those same fictional characters? The fictionalness of the characters is quite quite crucial to the undertaking. At the risk of boring the people who got it the first time: if I receive a letter from a fictional character, something interactive has happened in the realm of fiction. And then I feel honor bound to interact with it. If I were a fanfic writer, I would already be drawn to interacting with fiction anyway.

Imagine something like this:"Dear Dr McCoy: thank you so much for the kind letter concerning your response to my story. I'm truly flattered that you took the time to read mine, out of all the stories that are written about you. I have always admired you, and I have, as you can tell, spent some time thinking about alternative stories that could have but were not played out in your life in the movies, television series and novels. In no way have I meant any harm to you in the writing of these stories. Naturally, your own wishes, now that they are known to me, shall guide my future actions: however, given the affection and respect with which your large and loyal following regards you in the face of a generation's span of their production, I cannot believe you have been harmed in any way. With all sincerity, respect, and continuing affection, &c."

#87 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 08:26 PM:

Jo Walton asks: "Naomi: Would it make any difference if you knew that by writing fanfic you'd make the original author unable to write (or at least publish) any more?"

I'd have to actually hear that it would cause the author significant pain and inability to publish. And then I'd probably still write it, I just wouldn't show it to anybody. Even if you're not writing stuff that skates really close to the Id Vortex - if you're writing a happy fluffy piece about Harry and Hermione playing with a puppy, or Spock and Kirk discussing Kirk's need for a new hairpiece - there's still a tremendous amount of pleasure in playing with these characters to whom you have a deep emotional attachment.

"Would it make any difference if the cease-and-desist letter contained threats from the characters who had been diminished in the fanfic?"

This would make me go talk with my psychiatrist about my medication, actually. *tongue in cheek* And... I suppose that requires the assumption that fanfic diminishes the character. I don't think it always does. If I take a character and write a scene that's not in the story, or something that could have happened in the sequel that's never going to be written, I don't feel that's diminishing the character. It's just a "what if" sort of scenario.

Genibee - a lot of time, RPS is the desire to get more of a favourite actor than people see in interviews and such. So if somebody knows that Ewan McGregor and Jude Law are best friends, but both actors are reluctant to speak about their personal lives, some people extrapolate that into a relationship involving sex. Most people, though, approach RPS as if the characters were "sockpuppets," a term that's often used when roleplaying these scenarios. That is, the character might have the same name and face as the actor, and some of the same personality traits, but it all goes far off from reality there. It just means that two (or more) very pretty people are getting their rocks off in the same place and give people nice mental images. *shrug* (Disclaimer: I don't write RPS, but some of my best friends do.) I personally am squicked by it, but that's my own opinion.

#88 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 08:39 PM:

Hmmm. What confuses me, Ellen, is that I have seen some slash writers talk about how the characters would never, and how that's part of the appeal. If they wouldn't, isn't that out of character? Not if they haven't, but if they wouldn't. Very few mainstream shows, if any, have characters for whom it would be in character to sleep with every single other member of the cast.

I can understand the slash writers who look at characters and say, okay, this is how so-and-so would behave in bed, based on what I've seen of them in non-sexual situations in this show/book/etc. But I don't see how that could cover all or even most of the slash out there. It varies too much. I can accept that viewing characters as sexual beings and refusing to ignore that part of life is a good thing. I have a hard time believing that the main character in every show or book has shown signs of preferring everything that turns the viewers or readers on.

The example you gave with Father Mulcahy specifically involved people who looked just like his friends and behaved entirely unlike them in every way, which seems like it could be about at most one M*A*S*H character, and the rest are explicitly not their M*A*S*H selves but just look like them.

#89 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 08:39 PM:

TNH wrote:
Off topic, but: I'm inclined to award egoboo to anyone lacking a background knowledge of Anglo-Saxon who nevertheless figures out the meaning of Cenelice to ganganne hwaer gegan hafde naenig man aer.

to which, Steve Eley wrote:
"Boldly going where no man has gone before?"


Thanks to a suggestion from a friend in an IRC channel, I'd like to offer up the following URL, in case of future needs for emergency translation of AngloSaxon text...

The Bosworth-Toller Dictionary. (Warning, VERY image intensive---- uncompressed digital scans)

Since 1898, Bosworth-Toller's Anglo-Saxon Dictionary has been the primary lexical reference for study of the Anglo-Saxon language. The printed monograph was digitized under the direction of Sean Crist, with funding provided by Joel Dean grants, at Swarthmore College.

#90 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 08:53 PM:

mayakda -- I'm sorry. I just wrote a long, detailed response about how to apply the two things rule to writing about food, aqnd somehow I made a false move and it all evaporated irretrievably. This never happens to me except here and at that other nielsenhayden blog. Anyway, now I'm discouraged, and I won't try again until later. But I'm not ignoring you.

#91 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 09:00 PM:

I wonder how many of the slash writers include chatroom cybering experience in their tool boxes.

Now that I think about it, my own meager skill for creating and writing down sexual scenes comes from my ancient cybering flirtations.

#92 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 09:02 PM:

I'm thinking about the times when I've felt that the description of sex has moved the story forward, and the examples I'm thinking of are bad sex. Or no sex at all.

This is why I love Bruce Sterling’s sex scenes. They're not much of a turn-on (nothing like a frank discussion of drug-resistant yeast infections to put one in the mood) but they do move the story forward and tell you something about the characters and the world they live in.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm all in favor of the Id Vortex. But who was it that said "write your love scenes like murders, and your murders like love scenes"? (Or words to that effect.) Too much fictional sex is like the fictional murders in American Psycho — events that (to paraphrase somebody or other on Shakespeare) would not happen, and if they did, their effects would not be as described.

(And, on a side note, can I just put out a plea for people writing sex scenes to consider using a level of diction that's otherwise appropriate for the characters and the story?)

#93 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 09:23 PM:

Mris: The example you gave with Father Mulcahy specifically involved people who looked just like his friends and behaved entirely unlike them in every way, which seems like it could be about at most one M*A*S*H character, and the rest are explicitly not their M*A*S*H selves but just look like them.

Well, no. They're dark mirror versions of the canon characters. Hawkeye and Trapper still play poker and drink a lot and hate Burns and Hoolihan and play pranks. Winchester is still snooty. Hawkeye still says "finest kind".

I felt cheated by the story because they aren't consistently evil enough. Her evil BJ is perfect, but the rest of her characters aren't nearly dark and twisted enough. And Radar doesn't seem changed at all. I was so looking forward to an evil mirror Radar.

#94 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 09:31 PM:

David Moles: But who was it that said "write your love scenes like murders, and your murders like love scenes"? (Or words to that effect.)

Well, :g/write//film/, it was Alfred Hitchcock

"Film your murders like love scenes, and film your love scenes like murders."

#95 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 09:41 PM:

Steve winced:

Heh. I'm not entirely sure that this was the best possible thread to receive a, ahem, rain of gold, but thanks. >8-7

obClassicalReference: I wouldn't worry about it unless you suddenly find that you're bearing Teresa's love child...

#96 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:23 PM:

xeger wrote:

obClassicalReference: I wouldn't worry about it unless you suddenly find that you're bearing Teresa's love child...

Someone just had to bring up mpreg!

#97 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:24 PM:

I have written sex scenes. Lots of them, in novels that are still in print. Do people wonder if I do the things my characters do? Those few readers who actually give me a thought might, sure. My husband has asked me, on occasion, if I've been wanting to try something a character has done. (The answer is 'no'.)

You can no more forbid curiosity than you can forbid people thinking about the characters you've given life to. Once they've read the book, the characters belong to them, too, and will go off in their own direction. I have no problem with fanfic that involves my characters -- though I don't read it, for legal reasons. If somebody slashed my non-gay male characters and I knew about it, would I be upset? Heck no. I'd be curious, how they got to that place, but not upset. If they went out and sold the story and made a lot of money off my characters? That would be going over the line. At least it would be as long as I still own the copyright.

TNH said: you can't stop them writing it; I'm wondering why anybody would try to.

#98 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 10:48 PM:

I'd like to present an alternate hypothesis as to why many writers tend to avoid getting too specific during sex scenes: it tends to limit the potential audience to people who share the particular quirks of the folk in the sex scene.

To pick a random example: once upon a time, I was involved with a woman who was fond of the scent of the axillae. Not in a fetishstic sense-- just a quirk on a par with most men's fondness for high heeled shoes. Still, were I to attempt to write a scene taken from this life experience, the axillae would figure into it.

The trouble is, presenting such a thing as both erotic and as a mere quirk is extraordinarily difficult. If you've budgeted five sentences to set up the scene, at least one of them needs the word "armpit". That's not a real sensual word. "Axilla" is a little better, but like all the Latinisms, it feels awfully cold. Alternate solutions can lead to howlers-- "Nuzzled the branching of his sculpted torso and brawny upper arm" and the like. Even mentioning the quirk makes it feel like it's an important part of her character, something the reader should take note of and remember-- even though it's no more revalatory than whether she prefers chocolate or strawberry ice cream. (For fictional purposes, I'd be more inclined to make something new up about the character that is at least tangentially relevant. For instance, Person X closes ones eye during sex because they lost their virginity after a fistfight, so one eye was swollen shut at the time. That's arguably a lot weirder than taking a hit off a convenient scent trap, but it doesn't feel as weird. One-eye-closed thus becomes a double win-- far easier to write, and far more likely to feel evocative of the character as a unique individual.)

Anyway, saints preserve you if you're describing, oh, say, anilingus, or one of the more acrobatic positions from the Kama Sutra. Maybe, maybe, you can hold onto the reader if they're into that particular variation of Tab A and Slot B. Otherwise, you've crossed the Too Much Information line.

Things get worse if you try to use simile. Skin doesn't feel like velvet or a lily-- it feels like skin. Women feeling desire don't smell like honey or summer sunlight on a blackberry patch-- they smell like large lust-crazed apes, or possibly a chemical factory if they've seen one "feminine hygiene" product commercial too many. (I won't even discuss what horny men smell like; let's just say I consider the fact that straight women are into men a wonderful mystery on a par with photosynthesis. I don't really understand how either can happen, but I'm so happy they do...) This reduces you to idiomatic similes-- mostly floral-based for women, mostly animal or machine-based for men-- which only work if the reader doesn't think too hard about what it would actually look like if a bronze tiger tried to mate with a trembling rose bush.

Of course, if you're using the sex scene to develop the characters, that's different. Imagine a scene with a nervous virgin and a man with a somewhat slapstick sense of humor. It can be important that at a certain point during The Act, he squeezes one of her breasts and makes honking noises-- and whether she giggles nervously, slaps him, or dissolves into one of those I-hate-you-but-I'm-coming-anyway orgasms can reveal a lot.

But let's face it-- in most fiction, Tab A and Slot B are getting together because they just fought off an army of zombies together and are rutting like crazed minks to reaffirm that they're alive. You don't need details about who caresses whom where with what when for that. Save it for when the characters have something to say to each other-- and they just happen to be doing so naked.

#99 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:35 PM:

Mris-- As Avram clarified upthread, the characters in that M*A*S*H story, except for Mulcahy, were from a darker mirror universe, and the tension between the mannerisms that Mulcahy (and the readers) recognize, and the twisted behavior, drive the story. (If I'd known the post would be read by anyone unfamiliar with Star Trek's Mirror universe, I'd have been clearer about that.)

Moving from the specific to the general--

What confuses me, Ellen, is that I have seen some slash writers talk about how the characters would never, and how that's part of the appeal. If they wouldn't, isn't that out of character? Not if they haven't, but if they wouldn't.

Do you mean that they wouldn't *on the show*, or that they just *wouldn't*? Certainly most slash relationships are never going to be more than hinted at on the show, and even that is rather rare. But that's a different thing than saying that the characters-- if they had lives beyond what was shown on the screen-- would or wouldn't do something. We don't see every minute of their lives-- if we want to think about the characters' lives beyond the small slivers we see in canon, we have to extrapolate from what we're shown. And if what we're shown is a character having much more chemistry or understanding with his same-sex best friend or arch-enemy than with his opposite-sex love interest, then it may not be a stretch to extrapolate a slash relationship of some kind.

Very few mainstream shows, if any, have characters for whom it would be in character to sleep with every single other member of the cast.

True, but it's only if you look at slash in the aggregate that most characters do sleep with every other member of the cast. That is, search a major archive for fic about Jean-Luc Picard or Xander or whoever, and you'll find stories pairing them with everyone they ever starred with. Look *within a single story*, and their romantic histories and predilections are a lot more limited. And even across all stories, most fic will be clustered around a few of the most plausible pairings-- statistical outliers crop up, in large numbers if you have a large fandom with a large cast, but for every story pairing Remus Lupin with, say, Draco or Hagrid there are probably a hundred pairing him with Snape and a thousand pairing him with Sirius Black.

I can understand the slash writers who look at characters and say, okay, this is how so-and-so would behave in bed, based on what I've seen of them in non-sexual situations in this show/book/etc. But I don't see how that could cover all or even most of the slash out there. It varies too much. I can accept that viewing characters as sexual beings and refusing to ignore that part of life is a good thing. I have a hard time believing that the main character in every show or book has shown signs of preferring everything that turns the viewers or readers on.

I'm not for a moment that there is a lot of badly written, poorly motivated slash *and hetfic* out there in which characters exhibit the author's favorite kinks. But there's also fic out there in which those same characters exhibit those same kinks, and it's entirely believable. In most fandoms, with most characters, we've seen so little of the characters' sex lives that we simply don't know how they behave in sexual settings-- we can extrapolate, yes, but we can extraopolate equally plausibly in several directions from the same data. Good writing makes almost anything believable.

#100 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:37 PM:

Grr, I *did* preview that last post, but it's late. "I'm not denying for a moment," is how that last paragraph should have begun.

#101 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:55 PM:

Stephan, I'm just going to have to respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that real sex is not describable in words without violence to the experience or the language or something. First off, no single word is unsensual. Every word has context. And every word has potential context, waiting to be built by the user. Connections to be made with the sound, the meaning, the associations, and even the look of the words on the page.

So, for example, the armpit sniffer. I'll have to disclose here I've seen a lot of amateur gay erotica which pays homage to armpits, along with a truly amazing piece by Lars Eighner (not an amateur), so it's not a hypothetical to me. I've even seen the word "axilla" used effectively, though I can't remember where or when. Just this. You've got to begin before the armpit happens -- unless, or no, even if the armpit happens in the first sentence -- to lay down the context so it does the thing you intend to do. Does she nuzzle sweetly, wriggling up to him like a golden fish? Is there something a little edgy and discomforting, creating tension that begs to be released? Do you hardly notice it except in retrospect? Etc.

It's the corollary to everything having to do at least two things for the story: at least two things in the story have to support each thing. At least I think so. Probably why I don't write flash fiction: not enough material to make all the connections I feel I need to.

#102 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:58 PM:

I like the notion of fanfiction as R&D lab. That makes an lot of sense.

#103 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 11:59 PM:

Oops, I forgot to add: sometimes characters don't talk at all, but they say a lot to each other, about each other, and about themselves. And some of the ways they can do this are sexual. And sometimes a clinical, detailed, graphic description of a sex act is actually recording the ways in which the characters do this. Or other things. Some of the more interesting stuff I've read over the last few years was like this.

#104 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 12:08 AM:

Aquila wrote:
Someone just had to bring up mpreg!

Wonderful timing! I Googled "mpreg" at exactly 12:01 AM, and have already learned my new thing for the day. Thank you.

(Now if only I could declare myself done, and spend the rest of the day in bed...)

#105 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 01:49 AM:

I have been reading this discussion and others with great interest because (a) I write (not necessarily well), (b) I only very recently got around my "eeek! I can't write sex scenes! what if my mother saw this?" block (my mother *never* reads sf/f), and (c) writing to convey emotion is something I find very difficult. I don't think it's always embarrassment, although sometimes it *has* been. I simply can't get emotion on the page, and when I do it's on the cerebral end of the spectrum. This is enormously frustrating, because while I've enjoyed works with that kind of tone (math! math!), I've also enjoyed angsty, emotional works. And I would like to know how to do this even if I *don't* end up using it.

If fanfic is one way of learning these particular writing tools, heck, I'll *study* it. (Some people have already pointed me to Buffy fanfic that is not spoilery for how far I am in the series...) Like any other mode of writing. I mean, given good recommendations and/or a willingness to pore through the enormous amounts of fanfic, free! reference! material!

Tangent: Detailed sex scenes are especially tricky on the emotional front because I skim them when reading. I skim *Jennifer Crusie's* sex scenes. My eyes glaze over. I've tried the read-word-by-word and it doesn't make matters better. I'm well aware this is not a universal response, but for the moment I'm better off avoiding writing details that bore me.

#106 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 01:58 AM:

mayakda, what I ended up having to say about writing about food was really really long and so it's over here.

#107 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 02:06 AM:

First off, no single word is unsensual

Phlegm.
Diplodocus.
Hangnail.

Maybe I just don't have the right imagination.

#108 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 02:10 AM:

sennoma:

"...unsensual ... Hangnail."


I think it was in "Babel-17" that Sanuel Delany described the object of attraction in terms of the way he'd bitten his nails to the quick.

"Diplodocus..." he said, unbuttoning her blouse. It was his pet name for her long, graceful neck...

#109 ::: Holli ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 02:21 AM:

This whole discussion is completely fascinating. I've been in fandom since I was twelve, and at eighteen I'm finding it's sometimes hard to take the slash goggles off and come up for air, as it were, from the murky depth of fandom. Listening to non-ficcers discussing fic, and slash, and not in that horrible "They think Kirk and Spock have sex! Isn't that *wacky?*" way I'm familiar with, is wonderful. So thank you for that.

I do a lot of thinking about the mechanics of fandom, and how being in fandom for as long as I've been sexually aware has influenced me, but I have a feeling it'll take a lot longer than one comment to say it all. So I think I'll leave it for now with this:

For me, the single most useful thing about writing fanfic-- as opposed to original fiction-- is the shorthand it allows you wrt characterization and worldbuilding. Instead of creating and maintaining believable characters, you need to convince the reader that the characters in your story could conceivably be the characters they already know. Instead of coming up with a universe form scratch, you must refrain from violating the established laws of an established universe. It's not at all a restrictive framework-- in fact it's incredibly freeing, because the sandbox has been built, and all you have to do is play.

#110 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 03:08 AM:

Or maybe in "Triton?"

"unsensual... Phlegm" -- was in "Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man" that the would-be-ascetic Catholic loves everything in the world, and can't find the equivalent of self-flagellation, until he notices an instinctive revulsion at someone else's phlegm on the men's room floor (or in the urinal?) and pops it into his own mouth, for some sort of sensorily-antisensual act of contrition?

"sandbox has been built, and all you have to do is play." I enjoyed the sandbox so much in the little playground in Brooklyn Heights, near the foot of Montague Street (Teresa: did I recommend "The Angel of Montague Street" as a Brooklyn first-novel?), abutting the Promenade. Remember, too, the revulsion I experienced when I realized that cats had been using that very sandbox since before I was born, for other purposes.

Literary sandboxes -- not new. Epics spawned fanfic. A myriad of prequels and sequels (prequelae and sequelae?) to the Illiad, Odyssey, Aeneid. Scholar study them today. Do you think that the late 20th century will finally be understood through slash? Structure frees. Liberating to write sonnets, sestinas, triolets, compared to flaccid free verse. Frost: "... like playing tennis with the net down."

Every poem that I submitted to my High School literary magazine was rejected. Mined scanned, rhymed. They preferred bad imitation cummings (good slash name, that, he said recalling Asimov in "The Sensuous Dirty Old Man" saying something similar about Sir John Suckling). Now that I've had over 200 poems published in several countries, won awards, I wonder how well the kids did who got past the three-headed-dog-editor?

Free associating here; good sign that I should stop using Teresa's bandwidth, and get some zzzzs. G'night.

#111 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 07:57 AM:

I've been meaning to tackle my take on the food question.

The problem is, it's hard to describe, because what I do as a writer, vs what I'll read and enjoy (or tolerate) as a reader, don't always overlap.

For instance, I love that Steve Brust includes quite a bit of detail about at least one meal in any given Vlad book; Vlad's a good cook, he grew up in a restaurant, he ought to notice such things even if he weren't also a gourmand. Most of his ingredients are recognizable to me, and where they aren't real-world items, they're presented in a context that makes it fairly obvious what they are.

I also like the way Cherryh handles food and meal descriptions in the Foreigner books. Since food rituals are very important to the aliens and it's even been a point of contention in the slightly uneasy peace they have, it ought to sometimes take center stage; since humans can't eat all atevi food, obviously it can come up in that context as well. Poison's a weapon sometimes used, too. Food and meal descriptions usually make use of these facts therefore.

On the other hand, I hate when I am reading some High Fantasy book (which you can put on the list of reasons I read so little HF these days) and they make a huge deal about the food using these obscure names for items that are Just Like Ours only It's Not Earth. Superfluous description of the food is pointless, too, regardless of setting. You know:

The rolls were made of stone-ground i'fskdl -- the same grain grown in the fields the hero could see from where he sat. With each roll, a small daub of animal fat and a spicy dip was included. Not everyone partook of the dip, of course; it was composed of ground hiakljfds -- a plant with a hot, juicy fruit that could be pulped for its spice -- and could cause the eyes of even a strong man to water. It was unusual for it to be served this late in the season; perhaps J'Kjlkfds had had a good harvest. Along with the rolls, frosty glasses of jlfdkld were poured, mist forming above the deep crimson liquid as it was exposed to the chill autumn air...

Someone please shoot me now for writing that.

Now, since my main series is a modern setting, food is mostly used as a backdrop to conversation or thought. I don't go into great detail (except once, pointedly, and that's a tangent for another thread I think), but you may end up with a rough description of a meal by the end of a conversation, filled in as actions around the dialogue.

What I've written in my more traditional fantasy world has been very close to that, though I haven't done any sort of Big State Dinner yet, which might lead to my elaborating more. I do go into a bit more detail than in the real world books, mainly because, well, I too suffer from "rename a vegetable" syndrome, but not much more than that. And if I ever do write a paragraph like the one above in a work that gets printed, I kindly ask all y'all to email me disemvowelled copies until I publically swear to never do it again, unless I'm writing a parody, which I might.

#112 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 09:11 AM:

Lucy and Tina -- thanks for the food for thought. *ducks*

#113 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 10:11 AM:

I have my own original characters - some published, others in the works - and I don't want other people ever usurping my toys. Granted that's not an issue for me right now, but I logically thus have to support other writers who are likewise displeased.

If you feel that way... you shouldn't publish. Honestly. Once you put it out into the Sea of Story, you lose the right to decide how it lives or dies, and what people turn it into. Shakespeare didn't get to decide, Milton didn't get to decide, a thousand pulp novelists didn't get to decide.

#114 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 10:19 AM:

I've got a State Dinner scene queued up in my mind. Space opera, where three species-- obligate carnivore, omnivore, and scavenger-- are trying to eat together. It's ain't going to be pretty. (Humans, of course, being the scavengers. You think the Chinese react badly to being served cheese? Nor will it help when the obligate carnivores offer around a box of live mice.)

#115 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 10:35 AM:

While I have no problem with erotic literature at all, I don't think every story must have explicit sex scenes in it, to be "honest". What about virgin nuns, can't they write honest literature?
Meredith's "It's like the characters are living on an emotional diet of twinkies and whiskey." is a very good expression of what I mean by this. And Bruce Baugh's mention of Law & Order is a perfect example. And not every great author should be expected to present themselves, as Mitch Wagner says, as a sexual being. It's not necessary.
Sometimes I really don't want to know that angle in every story I read, or watch on the screen. Sometimes it's not pertinent. Sometimes it would get in the way.
I do not need a straight diet of sex and violence, anymore than I need a straight diet of coffee & cigarettes, even though I like coffee & cigarettes. (And I enjoyed that movie, but wouldn't want to watch it every night.)

Plus, I think it's insulting to assume that readers don't have any imagination to fill in blanks or fades. Fanfic itself would seem to contradict that notion. Indeed, I think that's why the most prolific work has the most fanfic... The best work inspires the imagination, it doesn't leave-no-room for it.

Of course, I've never really understood fanfic. And I less understand slash fanfic.

I guess it always seemed to me a bit like making a porn flick, by taking a really popular movie, and remaking it, adding explicit sex scenes.

While I don't see anything wrong, or immoral, with the kids writing down their fantasies, I do not believe that people should be attempting to sell this stuff for profit. Though I doubt there's much of a profit market for it, as I think most of the people who read fanfic, are the ones who write it. I've always suspected it's just people sharing their fantasies with each other.

And on some level, I've always considered some of it to be just a few steps away from the people who harrass, or even accost, actors who play villainous characters on General Hospital when they see them in public. ;)

And whatever anybody's fantasies are, fine, I don't really want to know about them all though. So if there's Jane Austen fanfic, please do not send me a googled-link to it. I would consider it apt punishment for felony crimes to have to endure a reading of a sex scene between Mr. Collins & Lady Catherine DeBourgh.

Alan Bostick: "I have learned that a really nifty-keen way to have a dispute escalate into a conflict is, when one someone tells you that something you are doing is hurting them, to explain to them why what you are doing doesn't really hurt them."
Yep, I think that's psychologically considered verbal/mental abuse, and a sign of a 'control freak'. ;)
And that could be a theory on fanfic, being a desire to control characters not one's own. ;)
Lucy Kemnitzer: An author generally does feel proprietorial over the characters they invented themselves.

Greg London on Star Trek; "Once you established that, you pretty much knew the emotional spectrum of every show."
The original series focused on social commentary more than character/emotional development. This preference or non-preference is simply a matter of taste. I myself prefer character development, and atmosphere settings, over plot development. For example, I loved the film The Station Agent which had virtually no plot at all. But I loved Star Trek growing up, because it was a commentary on all the flaws of society I was beginning to see.

Nomie: Are you saying there's no merit in original work involving sock puppets? ;) ;) If so, I am heartily insulted, considering my only publicly displayed (and performed) fiction work, has been a sock puppet show. haha. ;) ;) (Which I more or less wrote on the fly after being basically pressured into it.) (And which, by the way, had plenty of innuendo, but left everything to the imagination. heh. And that was totally deliberate in the context of the story.)

#116 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 10:40 AM:

Re: the general discussion on whether one should write fanfic at all:

There's art, and law, and courtesy. Each suggests a different path to take. The third, which I don't see being emphasized here, suggests taking into account a living author's wishes, during that author's life.

Yoon: re: conveying emotion and sex: what do you think of _The Last Hot Time_?

#117 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 10:40 AM:

Another thing about the net, beside the low cost and speed, lies in the combination of both that very radio wave speed and the archiving comfort of written material : the net is like an always open, always reactualised and constanly annoted and commented upon public library (also with, sadly, an infinite surface of toilet door to write onto, if you look at some forums).
I think what makes a good blog entry, and by extension, a good of blogging, is not only, or even necessarily, good posts, but the sequence it forms with the good exchanges of comments that comes afterwards.

About writing sex scenes, I think the real fun arises when you try to write them for the sake of it. Since the mechanical act in itself can feel very limited and repetitive real fast when stripped of it's emotions (well, unless you're a clinical description maestro I guess), it can become pretty hard writing something that just don't feel boring or ridiculously over the top (thinking of which: both might be good with another idea in mind to make it whole).
Generally speaking, when introducing sex in a story is bugging/embarrassing/hurting me, I try to find why, and how I can exploit it further, cause it more often than most means I've spotted something worth digging.

Tina wrote:
On the other hand, I hate when I am reading some High Fantasy book (which you can put on the list of reasons I read so little HF these days) and they make a huge deal about the food using these obscure names for items that are Just Like Ours only It's Not Earth. Superfluous description of the food is pointless, too, regardless of setting.

A nice counter reaction to this I always thought was in Timothy Zann's Star Wars trilogy, the only books of the franchise I read with pleasure, in which Luke was introduced to a strange, barbarous, probably alien in origin, but still quite tasty hot drink: cocoa.

#118 ::: A. Nonny Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 11:08 AM:

Some stories need sex and violence. Some do not. I believe a writer needs to know which story is which, and include them or not based on that knowledge. Some writers include sex or violence (or both) as a matter of course, as "Well, I'm expected to include this. The readers want to see it." Some writers don't include one or both out of embarrassment, or the difficulty of writing them, or thinking there is just too darn much sex and violence in literature.

You can't do that. The individual story is the final judge, be it fanfic or original fiction.

I found Ellen Fremedon's point about not being ashamed particularly informative. I learned in art school "No guts, no glory." You have to go ahead and risk looking stupid or weird. Just spit it out and decide later if it's good or bad. If it sucks, you don't have to show it to anyone.

In fan fiction, I've heard many authors say that the stories they thought were the most "Oh my God I'm sick and exposing my sickness to the world!" were the best received. I suspect this would apply to original fiction as well. Perseonally, I would say that my most violent story (nonsexual violence, but very violent) received the most positive reader comments. Since I personally find violence much harder to write than sex, this was a big deal for me.

So, basically, I've been thinking along these lines myself, and trying to loosen up in my original fiction. Not to be so self-conscious, but to instead write closer to the bone--or the id.

#119 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 11:53 AM:

I just had a conversation with a friend about this topic... And I thought I'd share it here.

When I mentioned it, my friend agreed that often sex is not pertinent at all to a story. And I was thinking about one of my favourite films, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, even if the characters in there weren't gay, we can assume that on a long voyage like that, they would maybe, probably, be masturbating. I didn't need to see Poole masturbating, in fact it would've been distracting. I didn't even need to think about it at all, really.
My friend said it was pretty much like it's not necessary to be specific about people eating or using the toilet. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, they show the astronauts eating - but they show them eating astronaut paste food, which I thought was important, to story and atmosphere.
I also thought about the scene where Bowman is running in the loop of the space station for excercise. The scene is visually interesting. If he was running on a treadmill, the scene would've needed to be far shorter.

And what is wrong with innuendo, even when a full explicit description would do well?

And, not to keep harping on my one & only public fiction venture, but my sock puppet show story was positively hinged on innuendo, and not being explicit. I'm not sure there's much else to the story! haha. (Even though I totally realized how much of my psyche I potentially exposed with such a silly, limited, story.)

That said, yes, it's obvious when a writer is holding back out of "no guts, no glory". (Though memories of one of my art professors in college saying that, make me nauseous, for reasons I won't go into.)

#120 ::: Meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 11:54 AM:

Jonathan Vos Post: Who you callin' Red States? *grin*

Speaking of which, I've always wondered what "Reds" are in that line.

Emily: I think we'll bring the toolbox. At least I'm hoping to. It's more a question for me of figuring out when to use what. Just because I have a hammer doesn't mean everything's a nail.

Mris: The appeal for me of characters who "would never" is the challenge of making it plausible. The more unlikely the pairing, the greater my glory if I can make the skeptical reader buy it, by a) offering creative reinterpretations of canon to support it and b) showing a convincing portrait of what they would be like together and what they would learn from each other.

That doesn't mean I think it's all equally likely, or even that I think it would be all equally likely in a world without homophobia or network constraints. But the point for me is not to predict the most likely outcome but to create the proper set of circumstances so as to make an unlikely outcome feel not only possbile but inevitable.

Plus its a question of what else I want to bring out in the characters: guilt, protectiveness, freedom, fear of commitment, banter? I'll choose who to pair them with depending on what kind of useful tension they'll create.

As a reader, if I branch out from the pairings I see chemistry between personally, it'll either be for a trusted author, or for a pairing whose effects, if I could believe in them, would be intriguing.

Plus there's just plain bouncing them off each other to see what happens. The "what if Ben Franklin had lunch with the Dali Lama" school of story plotting. It's not that anybody thinks they would or did, it's just that they're both known quantities and it can be fun to speculate about how they'd combine or clash.

#121 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 12:03 PM:

Chloe, I think you've got me confused with someone else, because I didn't engage with the issue of authors having proprietary feelings toward their characters. I dealt with what to do if you are written a cease-and-desist letter by fictional people. Not on behalf of fictional people, by fictional people.

#122 ::: A. Nonny Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 12:35 PM:

Chloe--

Yeah, I had an art prof I used to tease with the comment, "No guts, no gory." She was working with sausage casings.

--Nonny

#123 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Wasn't there a discussion a week or three ago of lit. students who had been assigned a Neil Gaiman novel, but had trouble reading it because they liked the story but it wasn't explicit enough? details weren't all laid out in order?

Because that sounded like an unhealthy weakness in the readers - it will certainly limit their ability to read classic fiction, or study stuff that nobody knows all of yet. The desire to make everything explicit, which some but not all fanficcers have claimed as a strength of fanfic, seems to me like an extension of that weakness, or a crutch for it.

Whether that's a weakness or not should be independent of whatever's being exposed. As it happens, I also think the obsession with sex as the moving force is currently overdone and limiting, like trying to express every detail about a character by naming the brands they consume and the VIPs they know.

#124 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 01:16 PM:

People who have difficulty understanding the concept of harming fictional characters might take a look at case law in the US. The Department of Justice has been very successful, for example, in prosecuting people who attempted to arrange over the Internet sexual liaisons with minors who turned out to be fictional. The fictionality of the victims is no obstacle to the convictions of the perpetrators.

The point I am trying to make has nothing to do with the existence or nonexistence of fictional characters:

When someone tells you that you are harming them, attempting to explain to them how it is you aren't really harming them is a really bad idea.

I don't know about Jo Walton, who raised the issue, but I do know writers whose characters remain important parts of their inner lives long after their book is written. For example, if I were to receive a letter postmarked from San Pablo, California, and signed by "Zed Yago", I would take it very seriously.

#125 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 01:27 PM:

Chloe: I would consider it apt punishment for felony crimes to have to endure a reading of a sex scene between Mr. Collins & Lady Catherine DeBourgh.

Oh, you don't like het... But how about a sex scene between Darcy and Wickham? ;-)

dragonet2: EEUW. I hate slash fan fic.

see No. 7.

(if you see me at a con, ask me about Lucy Synk the artist and her Artist GoH experience at a slash convention/ a kind of fandom that she was truly NOT aware of. It was not good for her.)

This sounds absolutely and intrinsically unlikely - not that I know anything about Lucy Synk, but I do know quite a bit about slash cons. It is the highest degree improbable that anyone could attend a slash convention and not be made aware, well in advance, of what kind of convention it was: many slash conventions actually make you sign a confirmation that yes, you know slash is about same-sex relationships, often explicitly sexual ones, and if you're going to be offended by that, don't go. I find it really hard to believe that a GoH could get as far as attending the convention without finding out what slash is.

Sorry for the late response - I've been having major trouble accessing the comment threads at Making Light at all, especially when they're active. I mentioned this in the Feedback thread, but haven't been able to access the Feedback thread since.

#126 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 01:49 PM:

Lucy Kemnitzer: My point is, that an author, who invented the character in the first place, would obviously feel they were the only way a fictional character could "speak"... Sorry if that wasn't clear.
Obviously this fictional scenario had a point I missed generally, if mine was misunderstood and taken to be a misunderstanding.

Alan Bostick: I see the point. I'm not sure the law you cite makes any difference.

I do agree that, "When someone tells you that you are harming them, attempting to explain to them how it is you aren't really harming them is a really bad idea."... whether someone is doing this towards a real person, or a fictional character, the implication of the situation of perpetrator is the same.
That was part of my point.

And then it went along the lines of the author feeling a personal near-sameness, if you will, with their characters.

It reminds me of my sock puppet.

(Heavens, really, I don't mean to be going on about the damn sock puppets, but it's relevant!)

I asked an a friend (who does acting in local theatre) to puppeteer for my sock puppet.
I wasn't very comfortable with him making my sock puppet smoke! And a couple of other things he suggested kind of got to me too.
And to be fair, I kind of gave him a free hand more or less. But I felt as the one behind the camera, and the maker of the sock puppet, I was basically the director, and he the actor. (If that makes sense.)
Minor things to object about... I didn't make a fuss about it. (I even have a photo of my sock puppet smoking... but it does bother me somehow.)
For some reason, after making this sock puppet, and writing a whole sock puppet show around this sock puppet... I feel I am the sole arbitrator of that character's behaviour and choices. Like smoking!
And this is all over a SOCK PUPPET, which almost nobody ever saw! haha. And rather a minor deviation from my own thoughts on the character.
I mean, really, in the grand scope of things...
So I can ONLY IMAGINE how a "bigger" or "more important" (somehow) character could be perceived by its author.
If I get such a twinge, over a year later, about this person making my damn sock puppet smoke.

#127 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 02:11 PM:

Yonmei: Totally gross. ;)
But this is based on the characters, and the story as it is. And I feel EQUALLY judgemental against such things, regardless of sexual orientation.
For example... if Darcy/Bingley or Lizzy/Charlotte took place before their marriages, I wouldn't find it completely off-base, or as objectionable in that sense, as Darcy/Wickham (post-seduction of Georgiana Darcy by Wickham).
And I might forgive a Charlotte lesbian liason after her marriage, based on the situation of the era. In the same way the story ends leaving certain parties unattached, I wouldn't "object" to a Colonel Fitzwilliam/Caroline Bingley scenario necessarily, nor a Mary Bennett/Maria Lucas scenario.
But the bottom line is, I don't really care to read anything of the type. Nor have I ever thought about it until today, this thread. And I wish I hadn't, quite frankly. heh.
And it's not about specific moral values of mine, but the moral values of the original story setting of the characters.
For example, I feel, as I believe Jane Austen felt, and meant the readers to feel, that it was rather reprehensible, even as unlikable a character as Lydia was, that she should have to wind up stuck with Wickham. And I feel the same way about Mr. Collins & Lady Catherine DeBourgh, along the same lines.

#128 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 02:28 PM:

If you don't like it, don't read it.

Really, I feel like that ought to be the final word in fanfic. The very idea makes you outraged? Fine. Don't go to fanfiction.net. The thought of two male characters getting it on makes you queasy? Okay. Don't read fanfiction that's been marked as written about a slashed pairing. It just bothers me when people get their knickers in a twist over stuff they've never encountered, just as I was angry when there was a protest about Saving Private Ryan by people who hadn't seen it and didn't intend to see it but were instead outraged on general principles that had nothing to do with the film.

Chloe, about the sockpuppets - oh, real sockpuppets have a lot of artistic merit. There's no doubt about that. *winks back*

#129 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 02:32 PM:

clew: Because that sounded like an unhealthy weakness in the readers - it will certainly limit their ability to read classic fiction, or study stuff that nobody knows all of yet. The desire to make everything explicit, which some but not all fanficcers have claimed as a strength of fanfic, seems to me like an extension of that weakness, or a crutch for it.

Oh, those sound like completely different things to me. Unfamiliarity with genre conventions and with reading between the lines on one hand, and *reading* between the lines, seeing what might be there, and dragging it out in the open, on the other.

Or are we talking past each other?

#130 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 02:42 PM:

Kate Nepveu: Yoon: re: conveying emotion and sex: what do you think of _The Last Hot Time_?

Sadly, that's a book that's been on my "seek out and read" list for a while, because I've seen the title floating around, but I haven't actually read it yet. I'll let you know when I do?

#131 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 03:35 PM:

Chloe, the things you're missing are magic, engagement, and whimsy. If I were a fanfic writer and I received a cease-and-desist letter from a fictional character, I cannot emphasize this enough, I would have crossed into an entirely different world, in which everything I had said and done would mean something different. This is magic. I would feel that I must engage with it, on its own terms, whether or not I was pretty sure that the literal author of the letter had been the author. And -- well, I felt in my next thought that the main text of that should be apology, with defense running second, as you could see in the "Dear Dr. McCoy" note I included. But still -- if I'm contacted by the fictional characters, I would feel that I should respond to the fictional characters.

That's engagement: respond to who you hear from, not someone else.

Why public? Well, the offense was public, right? Shouldn't the apology, explanation, and defense be public too?

And the whimsy comes in with the not-secret hope that the correspondence would develop and bloom and go on for a long long time. After all, if I were a fanfic writer, I would have been writing about characters I always wanted to get closer to, right? And what better way, really, than to have a deep, respectful, philosophical, and heavily charged discussion, in public, where others can engage and there are no controls?

(which touches on another thing I strongly believe: that to write things that people see is to engage in a conversation with the whole of human history, past and future).

#132 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 05:20 PM:

Genibee, Allen Steele based a character on me in "The Tranquillity Alternative," with my permission, and Genevieve does a lot of things I wouldn't and that I'm not interested in. I'm able to discern me from her.

#133 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 06:23 PM:

Mitch Wagner (Way back up there):

Open Source universes are already appearing. One example is Spontoon Island at http://spontoon.rootoon.com/SPwHome1.html

It partly comes out of fanzines, and maybe isn't fully open-source. And I don't think it's picked up the processes from other fanfic groups.

I'm alightly embroiled in another which I hesitate to describe, lest I get lynched -- a very blatant porn universe.

#134 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 06:42 PM:

Betty: Chatroom Cybersex

And such venues in general...

Where I do know of such writers, it's a significant element. Why? My guess is that it's because you're writing a scene live, and reacting to another person. You're not creating both action and reaction.

But I suspect both parties are feeding off the other, and choosing reactions which are positive. Stories might sometimes need something lukewarm rather than hot.

#135 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 08:01 PM:

Stephan Zelienski said: I'd like to present an alternate hypothesis as to why many writers tend to avoid getting too specific during sex scenes: it tends to limit the potential audience to people who share the particular quirks of the folk in the sex scene.

This is a big thing, for me. I think that we all have different kinks and quirks, and the more specific things get, the less engaged I get, unless for some reason the writer happens to hit the exact same buttons I have, which happens very, very infrequently. I'm happy to fill in blanks, where blanks are applicable, as a reader.

The scenes in which sex play a large part of plot and psychology are almost all of necessity darker; they pass out of the bounds of the erotic for me, and become part of personal geography; in that sense, I'm not being invited in on any level that the rest of the story hasn't already demanded of me. Or: I think the source wish-fulfillment has vanished entirely by this time, and the scene itself serves a different purpose.

#136 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 08:03 PM:

Ummm, that would be Stephan Zielinkski, and apologies for the mis-spelling.


#137 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 08:11 PM:

But. . . we're all different in our quirks about other things besides sex. Food. Weather, indoor heating, and warm clothing. Food again. How to potty train children, indeed whether to do it. How to feed children. Music. Television. Bathing. Food. Music.

It's the writer's job to communicate how the characters in the story are about the things that matter in the story. Why should it be different with sex? Do you get turned off when writers are specific about the ways the characters respond to winter?

I believe that more specificity is probably better more often than less -- not necessarily more details, but more carefully-chosen ones.

#138 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 08:19 PM:

It depends on what I'm supposed to take out of the text.

I don't consider, given the whole concept of the ID Vortex, that the ways characters respond to winter -- shorn of, say, being thrown out of the house to freeze to death -- are on par with the way they approach the negotiations of sex.

I'm willing to admit that some people think that this may be on par -- I can't think of any offhand, but sure. It could happen.

I don't fantasize about food; I'm not a foodie. It's one of the things I don't really care about, and I skip it; foodie books, where food=sex, wouldn't speak to me at all. Unless, you know, I'm reading Poppy Brite. Absent that, those details may, in fact, be tied to that vortex, but in that case, they're not details, they're dark epiphanies.

Why should it be different with sex? Maybe it shouldn't. But then again, why do we have whole communities that define themselves entirely by sexuality? People can be pretty specific about toilet-training, but they don't self-identify as communities.

I think it's different, because I think so much of our fantasy lives and our personal quirks are things we hold that much closer.

If you're writing something meant to be erotic and powerful in the erotic sense, you want to draw me there -- and implication, specificity that doesn't tread on my ability to be there in that fashion works better for me.

If you're writing sex a la Garp, you're not writing erotica. In which case, as I said above, it's a different map.

#139 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 08:25 PM:

I think I'm with Lucy on this one-- good writers have convinced me to go along with things that don't do much for me but that the characters got off on, and have made things I have no problem with seem strange or threatening or gross.

#140 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 08:35 PM:

I think I'm with Lucy on this one-- good writers have convinced me to go along with things that don't do much for me but that the characters got off on, and have made things I have no problem with seem strange or threatening or gross.

If it works, it works (I'm borrowing a phrase here).

I think that accessibility is a reasonable concern upon which one can make certain authorial choices where sex is concerned, ones that have little to do with squick factor, or even shame, fwiw.

And having not had your experience in this particular regard, I'm speaking from my own experience, as usual.

#141 ::: Mog ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 10:20 PM:

Jo Walton: Would it make any difference if you knew that by writing fanfic you'd make the original author unable to write (or at least publish) any more?

Would it make any difference if the cease-and-desist letter contained threats from the characters who had been diminished in the fanfic?

Question 1. The only case I know of where this actually happened wasn't fanfic -- it was Sartre's snooty-ass litcrit of Jean Genet, and I wanted to kill him for it! Yet I'd defend to the death (probably by my hands) his right to say it.

Question 2. ;-) Define "diminished".

#142 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 11:05 PM:

A few thoughts:

There Are Some Things Slash Was Not Meant To Show. I've read a moderate amount of slash, mostly in the late 80's/early 90's, and while most of it I didn't object to, there were occasionally slash pairings and/or writings that gave me a strong "this is wrong" feeling.

Some of the Simon & Simon slash, for instance, particularly the story where Mom joined the Simon brothers to make it a threesome. And the Dirty Harry slash. Not so much at the thought that Harry might be gay, but that he'd partner up with anyone, sexually or otherwise. Stories where, despite all the writer's handwaving and rationalizing, making it slash just stretched the character(s) too far to be acceptable/believable.

I tend to think of this sort of thing as "secular blasphemy". And I think the "MirrorMASH" concept would probably make me feel that way. (I could see Hawkeye, whose humor is based on a dark cynicism of his soul, turning evil. I could see Radar as an enabler of evil. But B.J. HUNNICUTT?! C'mon, the guy is too, too... just plain good! to be seduced by the dark side of the Force.) So I'm sort of balanced between a perverse curiousity to click on the link and see for myself, and a near certainty that I probably wouldn't like it.

Part of this reaction on my part is that, while I support the idea that two or more consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want together in the privacy of their bedroom, I actually tend to be pretty prudish in my own sexual life. The (very) few times I've found myself living out Penthouse lettercolumn material, it's invariably been by circumstance rather than design. Plus the apparent fact that kinky sex in real life tends more often than not to be more Three Stooges than threesome.

(Oh dear. I'm suddenly flashing -- pardon the expression -- on the idea of Three Stooges slash. ["So that's why you're called Curly, eh?"] I think this is an idea whose time has NOT yet come.)

#143 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2004, 11:38 PM:

Bruce - I'm sure someone's already written it. I think of this as the paradox of fanfic and slashfic: no matter how weird and perverted you think something is, it's probably already been written.

#144 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 12:13 AM:

Right now, googling "squick" places this thread at #4 in the world.

Before that comes:

UrbanDictionary.com/squick
... 1. squick 1. Noun. ... 2. Squick noun and verb. An instinctive revulsion to something, a combination of "squirm" and "ick".

Hmmmm. A Carrollian Portmanteau-word. I'd been wondering if purely homosexual slash and purely heterosexual slash was squick, and swing-either-way slash was Bisquick. Gives a whole new meaning to "stud-muffin."

And "squee" is from Squee's Wonderful Big Giant Book of Unspeakable ...?

Or maybe the Elizabethan contraction of "By God's Queer Eye?"

Or perhaps the pirate Smee's squicky brother?

False etymology, take some home today!

#145 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 12:53 AM:

I wonder if people have noticed how few books, of all the books out there, actually have fanfic written about them?

Some theories, from someone who hasn't tried to write fanfic in almost a decade, and who never succeeded, but who has occasionally read it:

1) Most authors just aren't read enough, even if a tiny handful of individuals are as rabid as a Trekkie. Hardly anyone will do any kind of fanfic about them; and hardly anyone else will ever read it. Part of the appeal of fanfic seems to be in the group sharing, seeing what other people do with the same scenario, seeing what they say about yours. Hard to do if you're the only person in the world who wrote a fanfic for (insert author here).

2) Some stories are too complete in themselves to spend time trying to imagine what the characters do outside the scope of the canon story. This has nothing to do with length - the complete runs of Buffy and Star Trek are both longer than most novels or even book series'. It's the feeling that all the really interesting events in that world and storyline are already taken, thanks. Every knot was tied, every t crossed.

This (As well as the obvious "total number of fans out there") might also be why television series' are more prone to fanfic than most books. The series', due to multiple writers, or network restrictions on what they can show, or simple forgetfulness, will tend to leave more dangling threads and missed chances than most books. (Even those trying for completeness and virtually single-authored still leave absences; in Babylon 5, what are the respective fates of Garibaldi's motorcycle and/or Londo's remaining wife? And those are the non-sexual examples.)

3) Some stories are too *in*complete; there's not enoguh substance and differentiation to bother hanging an additional story on. Most of the most generic by the numbers Epic fantasy for example, as a counter to the way Lord of the Rings seems to invite it. Why bother?

4) For slash specifically: Some characters are harder to sexualize in the right way. Most obvious slash/het scenarios just wouldn't make sense for that character.

Maybe it's just my brain going "AUGH!" at the very concept, but either of Robin McKinley's Beauty characters -- they have their own sensuality, but it's not the kind that invites imagining secret assignations with other characters -- although, no doubt, someone out there has tried.

Or, more obviously, Jo Walton's own Sulien ap Gwien, a character whose whole concept, and all the things that make her interesting and worth liking, would be destroyed by the attempt**.

By contrast, Xander in Buffy is portrayed having to deal with his sexuality and his emotional/ sexual responses to several different relationships, so it's easy to imagine taking that a step further.

I'd have thought most of Harry Potter was right out - it is for me - but clearly others disagree.


** I can see writing other kinds of fanfic in that setting - sorry, Jo - but not slash, and definitely not with Sulien.


5) Which is linked to both 2 (all knots tied up already) and 4 (right/wrong kind of character) above, but warrants its own note. Though the author leaves the right kind of empty spaces and deliberately dropped threads for fanfic to fill in, they also have the courage to look right into that ID Vortex themselves***. While I imagine it's possible for someone sufficiently warped and determined to do a 'slash' from almost any story in existance, I have a harder time seeing it done with, say, Ellen Kushner, who's already doing splendid sex scenes and putting them right on the page. It's redundant.

***Again, while sex is the obvious focus of discussion, and of my example, it's not necessarily just about sex or slash.

#146 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 01:06 AM:

Hi there! New reader here; I wanted to thank you for sharing the links off to Ms. Donati's posts about writing good sex scenes, and for the rich food for thought regarding folks in the fanfic community and the large potential for what will happen when they make the jump over to being pro. I'm coming out of a very similar community--online MUSHes--and have found a lot of similar trends in that particular group as well, folks who have been spending years in online roleplay honing their writing craft and then going and making the leap to being professionals.

Since I'm pursuing making that very leap, I found both your commentary and Ms. Donati's very thought-provoking indeed, and I shall enjoy coming back for more. :)

Cheers,
Anna

#147 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 01:18 AM:

Thanks to the always-insightful Michelle Sagara for her comments.

But to me, the question of whether someone likes or dislikes fan fiction is the least interesting question in this thread. (Second place goes to whether or not someone has written Three Stooges slash.) The most interesting is this:

New ways of telling stories develop most readily when you have a population that’s hungry for the product, the creators have little or no dignity at stake, and there are open channels for feedback and discussion. The American comic book developed like that. So did Kabuki, Bunraku, and Elizabethan theatre.

I don't have anything to add to it, except that it makes me think of the animated short films and silly games I've been watching online.

#148 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 02:06 AM:

Kate Nepveu:

Yeeees, the way you describe it could be accurate for most or all people. But I also get worried that we - for some nebulous, pontificating, condescending value of 'we' - are becoming intolerant of the not merely unsaid but unknown, and need to make up something precise rather than deal with unfillable gaps.

There's so much history completely, hopelessly lost that I don't think this is an intellectually healthy need. Not just history; much human motivation is probably indeterminate, many rigorously stated questions undecidable.

(I was trying to explain Chaitin's Maximally Unknowable Number to a buncha high-octane tech geeks a while ago; was startled that many hadn't even studied Computability & Unsolvability, and therefore hadn't been cured of the characteristic techies' belief that any problem you can state clearly enough must have a solution.... I feel this gap in their educations may help to explain the goofier branches of techno-libertarianism. I am now hopelessly off point.)

#149 ::: Kylee Peterson ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 02:31 AM:

Tina, you didn't tell us what kind of animal fat! And how do you make llama sausages anyway?

Meredith, "creative reinterpretations of canon" are one of the main reasons I read fanfic. Reading the very occasional story that is completely bizarre but in some way works is such an amazing (-ed) feeling.

#150 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 03:21 AM:

clew:

To them, Chaitin might as well be Satan.

But I agree, his stuff is WAY cool! Infinitely cool. No, more than that...

I tried, at about 15, writing a Shakespearean play in which the Three Stooges meet the Beatles. But I was too young to write ANY slash scenes. Now... no, better not!

#151 ::: Naa-Dei Nikoi ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 04:35 AM:

Goodness, look away for a day... :) Let's see if I can't add something not already said better elsewhere.

Someone said that fanfic is the highest compliment a writer can receive. I disagree.

Fanfic doesn't mean that a work is good. I'd argue that a lot of stuff with the most fanfiction are second or third rate stories. What it does mean is that there is something *within* the story that has caught the readers' eyes and that they love and that they feel they can work with.
What that thing the readers fall in love with may not be central to the original story itself -- it can be quite a minor scene that considered and expanded upon, can cast the whole show in a different light. And sadly, it's often the very incompleteness (or incompetence) of the writer that creates the urge on the readers' parts to do something with it.

With all due respect, Star Trek is not that good a show. What it is is engaging -- and filled with enough holes to tempt the fans into writing. Speaking for myself, the one fandom I'm in (I like loads of things, but there's only so much time in my life for fannishness) well lessee... it's a thirty year old anime whose writers have major issues with consistency, logic, geography, practically all the sciences and a good chunk of the arts. Not very good at all -- but all the better material for it.

I'm not saying that if your work generates fanfic it's incomplete or poorly-written, but it does mean that it has a certain something to it that encourages people to explore it and that something isn't necessarily related to writing quality.


Jo Walton, I have to say, your post really caught my eye. :)
Leaving aside the practical 'it's not about you and it's not under your control' thing that others have wonderfully pointed out, there are two other reasons for avoiding fanfic.

One is that it won't do you any good. If it's bad in your eyes, it'll be upsetting because you'd never write them that way and if it's good in your eyes, it'll be upsetting because that person had an idea that you might have wanted to use, which leads on to the next reason to avoid fanfic -- accusation of plagiarism.

If your next book has a major plot point of a fanfic, it can get hairy if you are known to read fanfic -- while it's unlikely that a fan would take an author to court, it's not impossible. If you haven't been reading fanfic, it's coincidence and it's all good.


#152 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 06:30 AM:

Kylee, that information is in the appendices, of course. Duh. :-P

JvP: 'squee' is a sound fangirls make. I presume that's the same thing T was referring to. It's sort of a wild, high-pitched sound of delight.

#153 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 07:06 AM:

People can be pretty specific about toilet-training, but they don't self-identify as communities.

One word: Ittoen

Sorry, it's lame, but I couldn't resist.

#154 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 07:15 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer: I think we must be talking at cross-purposes, in this 'hypothetical' scenario, and that's why nothing's clear. I'll try again...
Because the whole point is, if you were to receive a letter from a fictional character, you would not be living in reality! haha. And under those circumstances... In this fictional reality, if you will... If the fictional character were autonomous enough to write you a cease and desist letter, I think there would be even MORE grounds for what I said, as you would be "toying with" (for lack of a better term) a "real" (in the fictional reality) "being", who is capable of writing a cease and desist letter and capable of being annoyed with being perhaps "slandered". So what I said about your arguing with this character would be even more to the point, very domineering - in that fictional reality. You'd be there too... That doesn't change the rules fundamentally. Unless you mean that when you enter the fictional reality, you alone are still "superior" somehow to the fictional reality you're in, and, indeed, superior to, and in a position to play god willy-nilly with a fictional character being, not your own.
How on earth did this even come up with this idea in the first place that a fictional character would write you a letter? This is the kind of thing I'm talking about when I mentioned those General Hospital fans. haha!! ;) And now you've got me theorizing on it. I'm telling you, if I wind up running into Pierce Brosnan and get punched out by his security team because I'm grabbing his pen, trying to find out what kind of secret spy gadget it is, I'm going to have to sue you, and that other person who touched this off, for punitive damages in dragging me into this fantasy world y'all are cooking up, and then the naysayers from the common fraud thread might have a real case to hold up as example. haha.
Meanwhile, we'll both be in the booby-hatch. And they'll probably let me smoke, but they probably won't let you have your fanfic! haha. ;)

Bruce Arthurs: Some of the Simon & Simon slash, for instance, particularly the story where Mom joined the Simon brothers to make it a threesome.

Okay, this is EXACTLY what I was talking about. I'm not generally judgemental of other people's tastes and fantasies... But clearly this type of fantasy belongs nowhere but in the privacy of your own homes. Sorry if that sounds harsh. But really, incest is in a whole other category from kinky sex, or homosexuality, or whatnot. It brings to mind that music from Deliverance. Is there fanfic about that? Don't answer that!

Bruce Arthurs: And the Dirty Harry slash. Not so much at the thought that Harry might be gay, but that he'd partner up with anyone, sexually or otherwise.
That could be interpreted in a number of ways. haha.
I was going to say it's the funniest thing I ever heard, but then I read on...
Plus the apparent fact that kinky sex in real life tends more often than not to be more Three Stooges than threesome. (Oh dear. I'm suddenly flashing -- pardon the expression -- on the idea of Three Stooges slash.

Lenora Rose: I've always thought that fanfic was about fantasy-sharing more than anything else. Is this a generally accepted thought though? Every time I've suggested around fanfic people, they get hot under the collar about that for some unknown reason.

Naa-Dei Nikoi: Has there really ever been a case where a fanfic writer successfully took an author to court? I thought that was one of the myths, just another fantasy of a lot of fanfic people, along with thinking they were going to get hired on as writers on the staff of various television series. As far as I ever heard, neither ever happened. But if something's changed in recent times, I'd sure love to hear that story.

#155 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 08:22 AM:

Chloe: just another fantasy of a lot of fanfic people, along with thinking they were going to get hired on as writers on the staff of various television series. As far as I ever heard, neither ever happened

Yes, several fanfic writers I know personally have been hired as writers on the staff of various television series. For obvious reasons, I can't name names: but I can't see why this obvious career move would surprise anyone.

Has there really ever been a case where a fanfic writer successfully took an author to court?

Not a living author, but Alice Randall, writer of The Wind Done Gone, successfully took the estate of Margaret Mitchell to court for her right to publish. TWDG was professionally published (and had the legal status of parody) but from what Alice Randall wrote about her novel and Gone With The Wind, it was fanfic.

#156 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 08:38 AM:

Perhaps this should go into the latest Open thread, but since this was discussing writing, I thought it might give a different kind of slant on the subject.
Memories of a writer's festival ( Road to Surfdom, 3rd December, 2004)

This morning I went to a meet-the-authors function held at our local Elementary school. The authors in question were my son's third grade class, and each kid had written and illustrated a story which, with aid of teacher and parents, had been bound in a plastic folder and "published." We were there to hear the authors read and to discuss their work with them ...

#157 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 09:11 AM:

"Yes, several fanfic writers I know personally have been hired as writers on the staff of various television series. For obvious reasons, I can't name names: but I can't see why this obvious career move would surprise anyone."

Do you mean they eventually became became writers?
Or do you mean they sent their fanfic about [name the tv show] and got a job writing for that tv show?

(BTW: I don't consider it an "obvious career move" because I never considered fanfic writing a "career". I don't think I'd be wrong in assuming that the bulk of fanfic writers never write anything else.)

And when you say obviously you can't name names... That is to say they find their fanfic past an embarrassment? Or...? They're still writing fanfic and would get in trouble for it? Or...?

#158 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 09:44 AM:

Speaking of fanfic, encountering a fictional character, and even in the Trek context, here's an excerpt from Ultimate Science Fiction Authors: "C"
Links: 187; Notes without Links: 384; Total Names/Links: 571
At least 136 Non-author Encyclopedia entries
Updated 5 August 2003
Warning: contains over 200 Kilobytes of text, may load slowly

Miguel de Saavedra Cervantes (1547-1616): "Don Quixote of La Mancha" was
published in two volumes, 1605 and 1615. Your humble webmaster's mother
learned to read Spanish primarily to read this great masterpiece of world
literature.

An elderly country gentleman of La Mancha reads so many chivalric romances
that he becomes insane, believes them to be true, and goes forth into the
world as a knight-errant to right wrongs and defend the oppressed. Today
one might read this as a warning to obsessed science fiction fans to, in
the words of a famous William Shatner skit on Saturday Night Live "Get a Life!"

Since knight errants cannot do their thing without a lady-love, he
chooses a local peasant girl he knew and dubs her Dulcinea. After his
first sortie, wherein he's knighted, he convinces a good-natured but
ignorant middle-aged local to be his sidekick, or esquire. Off they go,
through one adventure after another, which Don Quixote sees in delusional
forms: a windmill as a giant, inns as castles, galley slaves as oppressed
gentlemen. His buddy Sancho Panza sees things as they are, but both suffer
terribly, returning home depressed and damaged.

A pseudo-Quixote novel was published in the next decade, and this
goaded Miguel de Cervantes to write his own genuine sequel, which is even
better than the first volume. Wonderful chapters cover his dream in the
cave of Montesinos, the puppet shows of Maese Pedro, adventures at the
Duke's castle, scenes with Robin Hood Guianrt, and the final defeat. When
Quixote dies, Sancho Panza has become a beloved figure himself, so that
the reader can hardly stand to leave the world of Quixote, which may have
started as a satire on the fantasy genre of the day, but grew into a
panoramic masterpiece of 17th century Spanish life. The mere
entertainment became what many consider the first modern novel, which set a
standard for self-aware fantasy (at one point Quixote encounters a
character pretending to be Quixote) which endures in the best work of
today.

#159 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 10:42 AM:

Chloe: Do you mean they eventually became became writers? Or do you mean they sent their fanfic about [name the tv show] and got a job writing for that tv show?

I mean exactly what I said: they were fanfic writers, and they eventually got a job as writers for a TV show of which they were fans.

(BTW: I don't consider it an "obvious career move" because I never considered fanfic writing a "career". I don't think I'd be wrong in assuming that the bulk of fanfic writers never write anything else.)

Probably not. But if you consider writing a career, you can see that writing fanfic (if you're good) could be a good precursor for writing for a regular TV show: if nothing else, you already have the knack of making the characters say things that sound like themselves, so to speak.

And when you say obviously you can't name names... That is to say they find their fanfic past an embarrassment? Or...? They're still writing fanfic and would get in trouble for it? Or...?

Obviously it's not obvious why I wouldn't name names. Nevertheless, I'm still not going to.

#160 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 11:06 AM:

Over 150 comments, and no one has mentioned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Heavens.

(Or, while we're at it, Silverlock. Or Grendel, or Wicked, or Caliban's Hour, or - But I think my point is made by now. If borrowing the toys of another creator is Just Wrong, I suppose we should toss out the lot of these, shouldn't we?)

#161 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 11:26 AM:

I'm not generally judgemental of other people's tastes and fantasies... But clearly this type of fantasy belongs nowhere but in the privacy of your own homes.

No one said you had to read it.

#162 ::: Naomi Novik ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 12:32 PM:

Jo Walton:

Naomi: Would it make any difference if you knew that by writing fanfic you'd make the original author unable to write (or at least publish) any more?

Mitch Wagner:

Can you describe any specific examples of that happening?

For purposes of discussion, I can imagine a case where someone was posting fanfic of so high a caliber that the original author's work compared unfavorably, with the result that fans deserted the original author and started only reading the fanfic writer's work.

Personally, I think my core principle is still to come down on the side of the reader. If what the fanfic writer is doing is at least in the opinion of the wide body of readers so much more satisfying than what the original author is doing -- it just doesn't feel right to me that the author should be able to shut them down *because* they're doing something so successful and pleasing to the readers.

As I was writing this, it turned very long, so I've put the long rambly version in my lj instead.

#163 ::: Naomi Novik ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 12:48 PM:

Naa-Dei:

Fanfic doesn't mean that a work is good....I'm not saying that if your work generates fanfic it's incomplete or poorly-written, but it does mean that it has a certain something to it that encourages people to explore it and that something isn't necessarily related to writing quality.

I agree, but I do wonder if this might not vary between literary and media inspirations for fanfic. It's hard to imagine a literary source that's poorly written that could also create a deep-enough attachment to the characters and universe to inspire fanfic writing. In media sources, you have so much else happening: the visuals, the performance of the actors, the multiple writers. (I would range series like Dragonlance, etc in the 'media' camp rather than the literary, myself.)

#164 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 12:53 PM:

Thanks to the always-insightful Michelle Sagara for her comments.

But to me, the question of whether someone likes or dislikes fan fiction is the least interesting question in this thread.

I just want to say two things: a) thank you! and b) I'm not actually coming down on fan fiction, because, with the exception of a piece I'm reading now, I've never read it; this is all newish to me (if a couple of months can be considered new in internet time).

My post was simply regarding the writing of sex in the context of character and story, all things being equal; I'm perfectly willing to talk about fanfic as writing, because that's what it was.

Yonmei, the one writer I can think of (who became a writer for Angel said in an interview that that's how she was discovered -- by writing fanfic. Is it now a big secret?

#165 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 01:05 PM:

Sorry, Michelle. I knew you weren't talking about the like or dislike of fan fiction; I was trying to change the subject, but I see I needed some kind of transition there.

#166 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 01:15 PM:

Naomi Novik wrote:
For purposes of discussion, I can imagine a case where someone was posting fanfic of so high a caliber that the original author's work compared unfavorably, with the result that fans deserted the original author and started only reading the fanfic writer's work.

For purposes of discussion, I can't say that would be impossible, but it seems unlikely. The premise makes the unfounded assumption that the "caliber" of a work is what drives readers to it -- that better writing is going to be more popular than worse writing. I think we can all find examples to counter this.

I do think there are qualities that compel popularity in a work, and qualities that compel fanfic from a work; but that's different from quality as literary blog readers are likely thinking of it. If the original author's work didn't possess the right qualities, there wouldn't be any fanfic; and the existence of higher-quality fanfic won't take those qualities away.

#167 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 01:24 PM:

Chloe, the question of receiving a cease-and-desist letter from fictional characters was brought up by Jo Walton. I responded to that.

As for the rest of what you said, I don't get it, but I gather that I'm supposed to recognize that I've been being facetious or something.

I wasn't.

I know plenty of writers who feel as if the characters they write about have an existence separate from their imagination, and that their real function as writers is amanuensis, not creator. Now, I don't feel that way, and when I listen to them talk, I don't hear that: but I'm not going to argue with them about it, because I have magical-thinking issues of my own with writing.

But I can see quite clearly how a writer whose writing feels to them like a possession by the characters, and who is offended on her characters' behalf, would also be possessed by her characters to write just such a cease-and-desist letter. And if I were the recipient of such a letter, I would have to, out of the -- what -- orientation to the literature that brought me into the fanfic writing in the first place, respond and in the same vein. (Magic and engagement)

But, having stepped into the place where that kind of author lives -- the place where the fictional characters live -- I still would not be wholly of it or in it, because I was the fanfic writer and not the original writer, and that would give me a step of distance: I would be enjoying the engagement, not distressed by it, and there's the whimsy.

I think I've been repeating myself, and I'm going to stop. I don't know if I actually answered Jo's question in the first place. And you're talking about things, that if they have anything to do with what I'm talking about, I do not understand.

#168 ::: colleen philippi ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 01:40 PM:

Naomi:
For purposes of discussion, I can imagine a case where someone was posting fanfic of so high a caliber that the original author's work compared unfavorably, with the result that fans deserted the original author and started only reading the fanfic writer's work.

Somehow, I really can't see this, at least with American Culture and the publishing process (all bets are off once you get out of that sphere, as that's the one I am most familiar with.) I have a hard time wraping my mind around that thought, simply because the reward/payment/status system in fandom is so different from the system if you go the professional route, and the size of the audience still so limited in comparison to new york times best seller that I just can't imagine how that could happen. I can see it as a fear, but I can't envison how to get it to work, the cultures are so different.

#169 ::: Naomi Novik ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 04:48 PM:

Steve Eley:

The premise makes the unfounded assumption that the "caliber" of a work is what drives readers to it

Yes, you've got me! *g*

But really, all I meant with that example was to set up the hypothetical situation where a fanfic writer had a practical effect on the ability of an author to publish. Which turns out not to be what Jo was aiming at, from her posts in lj, but I think is still an interesting question to consider.

#170 ::: Naomi Novik ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 04:58 PM:

colleen:

Somehow, I really can't see this, at least with American Culture and the publishing process.

Really, I can't either, at least not at present. But then, I also remember back when Star Trek books were the only kind of tie-in novels on the shelves and had only a tiny sliver of space. The profile of fanfiction has certainly increased, also. So things may be changing.

#171 ::: Naa-Dei Nikoi ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 06:35 PM:

Wrote Naomi (in part):

I do wonder if this might not vary between literary and media inspirations for fanfic. It's hard to imagine a literary source that's poorly written that could also create a deep-enough attachment to the characters and universe to inspire fanfic writing. In media sources, you have so much else happening: the visuals, the performance of the actors, the multiple writers. (I would range series like Dragonlance, etc in the 'media' camp rather than the literary, myself.)


Well there's just one thing: how then can you explain the Pern fandom? With all due respect to any fans, Anne McCaffrey's body of work is a long, long, long way from being on anyone's list of work worth preserving. And she's not the only writer to have achieved enduring fandoms with less-than-stellar (hell, sometimes awful) writing. Far from it and if you were to try to judge the worth of works from what fandoms they generate, you'd be tempted to despair.

I'd say that some subject matter attracts fanfic more. Vampires seem to be a good one: alienated of necessity but have powers over mere mortals, vulnerable yet strong, can have angst foisted onto them and don't have to obey laws of physics -- just the things to identify and work with. I think that if the qualities that can be worked with are there and it's at all readable, it can have someone writing fanfic about it. If it's decent and/or a little club can be founded to attract more people into looking at its good qualities, it can take on a life of its own. (No, I'm not a fan of vampire stories -- a very few are interesting but most of them suck, pun intended).

Dan:

I see your League of Gentlemen (not bad but couldn't finish it, alas) and raise you another: His Dark Materials. What didn't that one borrow from? Writers *are* magpies, taking from this and that and that else to feather their own nests, but there's a difference (not a super sharp one, but a difference nonetheless) between the pro-writer 'borrowing' aspects of some other work and the fanfic writer in that the pro-writer is making his or her own thing at the end of the day, while no matter how well a fanfic writer writes, the purpose of his or her work is to cast glory back to the original work. Okay, glory mightn't be the very best word to use, but you get the sense of it, no?


Btw, how do you quote previous posts properly, with italics and all?


#172 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 06:40 PM:

Michelle: the one writer I can think of (who became a writer for Angel said in an interview that that's how she was discovered -- by writing fanfic. Is it now a big secret?

As with everything else - it depends. Joss Whedon is certainly fanfic-friendly. (I've heard Aaron Sorkin was, too.) But the times I was told about a change from fanfic-writer to pro script writer, I don't recall an instance where I wasn't told in confidence - and no one's ever given me permission, either explicit or implicit, to break that confidence.

#173 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 08:22 PM:

Well this example isn't a secret, nor does it involve a pro script writer, since she's kept her day job, but Melissa Good who wrote very popular Xena fanfiction was asked to write an episode of Xena, because they thought it would be cool to have a fan do an episode. They liked it enough to invite her back to do two more.

#174 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 09:27 PM:

Over 150 comments, and no one has mentioned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Heavens.

(Or, while we're at it, Silverlock. Or Grendel, or Wicked, or Caliban's Hour, or - But I think my point is made by now. If borrowing the toys of another creator is Just Wrong, I suppose we should toss out the lot of these, shouldn't we?)

I haven't read Grendel or Wicked, so I can't really express an opinion there. I will note that I have absolutely no interest in the continuations of series by other authors that you sometimes see-- the Goldsborough (IIRC) Nero Wolfe stories, say, or the various John Bellairs books that were finished by... somebody whose name I'm forgetting. I'd rather read something entirely different than a copy, however faithful, of another author's work.

In the case of things like Silverlock or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or The Eyre Affair, there's a different feel to the borrowing that puts them in a different class. Those are all essentially playful works, and I think that makes a real difference. It's sort of hard to quantify, though.

I also think that this may help account for my intense dislike of the second League volume-- some of the things Moore does to the story take it out of the "playful" mode in the direction of the nastier sorts of fanfic, and I really did not enjoy that.

#175 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 09:38 PM:

Yonmei:

Joss Whedon is certainly fanfic-friendly. (I've heard Aaron Sorkin was, too.)

"The West Wing" fanfic?

Fanfic about a show taking place in a Presidential administration in a United States that doesn't exist, and yet whose current events parallel the events of our own, real U.S.?

How deliciously bizarre.

PNH had a gag a few weeks ago about the Bush Administration actually being a series of alternate history stories. Maybe the world we're living in is just bad fanfic written in the universe where Jed Bartlet is president?

#176 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 09:58 PM:

Naa-Dei Nikoi:
Btw, how do you quote previous posts properly, with italics and all?

Nobody else did, so I will, since I'm probably the last person here to figure it out. There may be a simpler way to do it.

Select-copy the piece you want. Paste it in the "write here box." At the beginning, insert a side karet bracket thing with an i in it (I'm going to experiment how I can get it to show up), and at the end, do the same with a /i in it.

The side karet bracket thing I'm talking about has > on the second side and the other side has the karet going the other way. On my keyboard you find them above the comma and period, respectively. I'm having trouble getting them to show up because the symbols have functional meaning in html. So I have to circumlocute.

#177 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 10:05 PM:

Naa-Dei: I can see the Pullman parallel, but my point was that League is explicitly fanfic, even though that's not a word Moore uses to describe it. He's using other people's characters to tell a story - in fact, he's talked about how he has the entire universe of fiction to play in, and the sense that it's as "real" a place to many people as the physical world (and more so to some of us). I can't recommend enough the interview with Moore in A Blazing World, Jess Nevins' second volume of League annotations - it touches on a lot of the things discussed in this thread (including the squicky sex), and is of potential interest to anyone in the business of tale-telling.

(BTW, you can do italics et al here using HTML tags - e.g., [i][/i], except replace the square brackets with pointy ones.)

Chad, I just finished the second League series, so I can see how you'd feel that way, though my reaction was very different. I think it's very playful, though I may mean something different by that than you do. And I like the dark irreverent boundary-pushing stuff.

I don't hold "reverence" in especially high regard, though. Stoker and Wells and Haggard would probably be horrified by what Alan moore does with their creations in League (and I can't imagine the Beowulf poet being crazy about Grendel either). I don't think that means that Moore should be discouraged from using them to tell the stories he's interested in telling, which couldn't be the same stories if he invented characters of his own, even transparent copies of the originals. The fact that he's legally allowed to because they're not under copyright has only a very little to do with this.

#178 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 10:09 PM:

Put the text you want to quote between <i> and </i>

#179 ::: Hannah Wolf Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2004, 11:53 PM:

Jo Walton:


Naomi: Would it make any difference if you knew that by writing fanfic you'd make the original author unable to write (or at least publish) any more?

Mitch Wagner:


Can you describe any specific examples of that happening?

Me:

A quick Google on "Marion Zimmer Bradley fanfic lawsuit" or similar will turn up one case.

That's the only such that I'm aware of.

#180 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 12:16 AM:

Mitch wrote:
Maybe the world we're living in is just bad fanfic written in the universe where Jed Bartlet is president?

Hrm. Some really bad fanfic is the thinly-veiled masturbatory fantasies of the author. Hence, out there somewhere is another universe where a lunatic is sitting in a hospital-- TV playing soap operas, men in bathrobes doing the Thorazine Shuffle from one end of the ward to the other. His eye is ticcing as he writes his fantasies of war and love and respect in a tiny notebook with one hand, while sneaking gropes of his crotch with the other.

If nothing else, it explains Condoleeza Rice's Freudian "My husb-- the president" slip. The madman temporarily lost track of who his protagonist was having hot sex with at that point in the story.

Hang on, I think I'm getting a fix... I can smell the dried urine on the bedsheets; there's an elevated train passing outside, shaking dust off the windows. The head orderly is six foot four with a beard; I can see his nametag: "O. Bill." The steam heat is up too high; it's stirring the stale cigarette smoke and the dewinged flies crawling on the windowsill... Quick! Quick, somebody bring me a brace of goats. I think I know enough necromancy to summon a ghost and send him to the other world bearing the message, "FOR GOD'S SAKE, HE'S HIDING THE ANTIPSYCHOTICS UNDER HIS TONGUE AGAIN. MAKE HIM SWALLOW THE DAMN THINGS, WILL YOU?"

#181 ::: Doris Egan ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 12:50 AM:

Although I've dipped into Making Light from time to time with great enjoyment, this is the first time I've posted. I hope I'm not violating the customs of the country in any way, but the discussion was too interesting to resist.

For what it's worth, I'm a professional writer who for a long time never saw the point of fan fiction. But somewhere after writing my fourth book, I dipped a toe in the water, and found it personally fulfilling. Yes, I've written slash, and I've found it a creative joy -- it was pure fun facing problems I'd never faced before, trying to integrate a sexual relationship with a story plot so that both were advanced simulataneously. I could say more about this, but honestly, I wouldn't know where to stop -- I could write essays on the subject, and god knows I haven't the time.

More pertinently, in terms of this discussion, I'm a television scriptwriter, and as TV writers go I'm highly ranked (co-executive producer of a prime time show) with a respectable amount of experience in the industry on a wide variety of one-hour dramas. Here's what I've learned: First, all producers know about fan fiction, and know about slash. Producers and writers who haven't read much of it -- who've only picked up what you may find by chance at, say, fanfiction.net, assume it's all crap. (Though generally they have no moral or ethical issue with it.) Other TV writers -- just like a number of other novelists I know -- love it, and have nothing but respect for that talented top one or two percent of fanwriters. In fact, they may be fans of the fans.

Like Yonmei, I have to respect the confidences of others, but yes, fan fiction writers have occasionally been asked if they would like to go pro. Indeed, there are some I'd ask myself, but I don't have my own show and can't make the offer.

Although that isn't why one writes fan fiction. If you think of it purely as a training ground, you're missing the point of the genre. You write fan fiction to follow up interesting characters and premises, and to do things creatively that you can't do very well in the pro world. Again, I'd have to write at too great a length to really explain what I mean, so I'll simply point out that it's much easier to write a deeper, more intense, and more realistic story in fan fiction than it is on a TV show, where the characters all have to be put back in the box exactly the same at the end. The joint mythmaking aspects of fan fiction as a whole is one of the things I get a big personal jolt out of.

#182 ::: Serenade ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 11:12 AM:

Doris Egan wrote:

Although that isn't why one writes fan fiction. If you think of it purely as a training ground, you're missing the point of the genre.

Jane Mortimer's The Advantages of Fan Fiction As an Art Form is simply the best essay on this topic I have come across. She makes a wonderfully eloquent case for why fan fiction isn't just pro fiction's poor cousin but instead is a literary form in its own right. Recommended reading for anyone interested in these issues.

#183 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 11:15 AM:

Was Sherlock Holmes the first character to generate significant amounts of fanfic?

It wasn't called that, of course, and back then the only way you could publish fanfic was by calling it "pastiche" and censoring all the naughty bits, but the Holmes/Watson universe is the earliest case I know of where lots of people got interested in extrapolating from the existing stories.

#184 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 12:05 PM:

No, if you're going to call the early Holmes/Watson pastiches fanfic, you're going to have a hard time not calling "A Gest of Robyn Hode" (I did spell that right, I have my Oxford Child Ballads right here next to the computer) fanfic, you're going to have a hard time not calling "The Cherry Tree Carol" fanfic, you're going to have a hard time not calling any number of things fanfic (Homer?). And that would be entertaining, but of limited usefulness.

It's enough to say that the Watson/Holmes pastiches have some of the characteristics of fanfic, and let the exact phenomenon of fanfic be a product of the late 20th- early 21st centuries.

But comparing them, and seeing what they do have in common, is probably useful.

#185 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 12:27 PM:

I think it can be called fanfic while the copyright is still in effect. Once the original work enters the PublicDomain, fanfic should really be called an "homage to the classics".

#186 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 12:51 PM:

Laura Roberts, Lucy Kemnitzer, Greg London:

Hence my earlier comments in this thread on Sherlock Holmes, Homer, Virgil, and Cervantes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wanted to be remembered for his "serious" novels, was forced to revive Holmes when Doyle's own mother begged him by snailmail. Fans are one thing, family pressure is another.

Teresa has an apparent affection for pastiche, and has run plenty on this blog, some of it (by talented authors such as John M. Ford) clearly rise to the level of Literature with a capital L.

There's a nice scene in a recent John Barnes novel, where he has a character explain (I paraphrase): "of course, as everybody knows, ALL art is merely bits and pieces of other art cut and pasted together in new ways."

Bill Gibson's "Idoru" was a rather deep analysis of the interaction of authors, increasingly autonomous media characters, and fans.

#187 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 01:03 PM:

I just finished the second League series, so I can see how you'd feel that way, though my reaction was very different. I think it's very playful, though I may mean something different by that than you do. And I like the dark irreverent boundary-pushing stuff.

I don't really mind "dark and irreverant"-- the first volume was fairly dark and hardly reverant, after all. The second just went way too far, and wasn't even particularly true to the way the characters were in the first volume, let alone in their works of origin.

I should've thrown in the link to my booklog review:

http://www.steelypips.org/library/0104.html#011404

And while I'm shamelessly self-promoting, I'll include:

http://www.steelypips.org/library/2004_12_01_libarchive.php#110247586464717035

which is a direct result of this post and comment thread.

#188 ::: genibee ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 01:11 PM:

"Genibee, Allen Steele based a character on me in "The Tranquillity Alternative," with my permission, and Genevieve does a lot of things I wouldn't and that I'm not interested in. I'm able to discern me from her."

This is oddly amusing since my name is Genevieve, and it would rock to be the inspiration for a character. I don't think RPS and what you're talking about is quite the same thing, though.
I can understand basing a character on somebody and then taking the character to other places. But with RPF, the actor's private lives are frequently scrutinized to a level that goes beyond fangirl and into the realm of the obsessive. I know not all writers of RPF are this detatched from reality, but I've also seen communities of people who are *convinced* that Elijah and Viggo are having a Sekrit love affair that is being carefully hidden to avoid bad publicity, but which they express by hand signals and other secret codes in publicity pictures.

Basically, it's not my thing, so I don't read the stuff. I'm not condeming it, I'm just politely baffled.

#189 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 03:00 PM:

Ah, see, you lose me with the words "too far." For my money, a great deal of fiction is Not Far Enough.

#190 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 03:48 PM:

Jonathan: ALL art is merely bits and pieces of other art cut and pasted together in new ways

well, I wouldn't go quite that far. I think there is original works being created now.

I'd metaphor it as building a tower (of babel?) over generations. Some people build it higher at the top. Some expand it out to the side. Some are inside, painting a room blue. And some are tearing down a non-load-bearing wall just to build it up again out of the latest material. Ripping out that lime-green shag carpet and thin wood paneling and recasting the room more in line with the current styles.

#191 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 03:51 PM:

JVP:

I saw your Holmes comment, but wasn't in posting mode then. Or something. I read the Annotated Sherlock Holmes as a child, and it was pretty amazing to see the lengths to which people would go to resolve inconsistencies between the stories, figure out how many times Watson got married, etc.

Lucy:

Is there any difference between fanfic and the folk tradition, then? Maybe not. Maybe 1,000 years from now Kirk and Spock, or Buffy, will still exist as legendary figures.

#192 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 04:22 PM:

Ovid's Heroides as fanfic? mm, except he was all sorts of pro.

Jonathan Vos Post, at fifteen I attempted a play in which all the characters who died in the great Athenian tragedies laid in wait for each other at the banks of the Lethe and had bitter family squabbles. I wish I could say that I meant it to be funny.

#193 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 04:30 PM:

I just think fanfic is something specific. When you say "folk tradition," you're not saying much. After all -- "It's all folk music. I ain't never heard no mule sing the blues." (I'm blanking on the author of this quote, I'm afraid to say Jelly Role Morton, who did say "I, not W.C. Handy, invented jazz in 1903" -- I know Leabelly said it, but not first)

#194 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 04:42 PM:

"Folk tradition" implies to me that the name of the original author has been lost in the mists of time (that would be the creator of a specific character or plotline, not a whole genre like "blues" or "jazz" or indeed "folk.")

In fanfic, it seems like the influence of the original creator is still around - witness the discussion in this current thread around the question of "is it okay to use/change someone else's characters?"

Lucy, what is your specific definition of fanfic? Since I know almost nothing about it, I was wondering if the word means "fiction written by fans" (which is more likely) or "fiction based on someone's fantasies" (which also seems like an accurate description.)

#195 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Not being wither a writer or reader of fanfic -- and therefore, only exposed a little bit to it -- I would defer the definition to someone who has studied it in detail.

It's a mistake to think that the folk tradition is necessarily anonymous. We know who made up lots of folk songs -- sometimes the author is included right in the verses. Other times there is controversy about it -- like the story of "Peat Bog Soldiers." Other times we just know.

Honestly, I think defining fanfic and folk tradition have the same problems as defining science fiction.

#196 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 05:36 PM:

Laura: Is there any difference between fanfic and the folk tradition?

Yeah, folk tradition is public domain.

fanfic is fiction written by fans, while the work is still protected under terms of copyright.

A fan writing about Kirk and Spock having an affair would be "fanfic" today and simply a new story in 2100 A.D. (assuming copyright terms aren't pushed out to infinity by that point)

It isn't fanfic if the work is public domain because the "fan" is actually just another author creating a new work.

If you wrote a story about Achilles, it wouldn't be fanfic, it would just be another story and you'd be the author, because Achilles is a public domain character.

#197 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 05:38 PM:

ICK! I typed "Jelly Role Morton!" I didn't see it!

Jelly ROLL, Jelly ROLL, Jelly ROLL!

#198 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 05:43 PM:

Thanks, clew - now I have a "Family Feud" parody writing itself in my head:

"The subject is.... great children's books!" [Board does flippy thing]

Medea stares icily at the host...

#199 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 07:01 PM:

JVP, do you leave links to your posts here at places like steelypips? Is it a circular series of posts?

#200 ::: Serenade ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 07:44 PM:

Greg London wrote:

fanfic is fiction written by fans, while the work is still protected under terms of copyright.

and

It isn't fanfic if the work is public domain because the "fan" is actually just another author creating a new work.

It seems to me rather limiting to define fan fiction in terms of whether the work it is based on enjoys copyright protection or not.

Are fan-created stories set in the worlds of Pride and Prejudice or Les Miserables essentially different from similar works about Horatio Hornblower or Watership Down, simply because the former are in the public domain and the latter are not?

I believe that a definition closer to the spirit of fan fiction would be about the derivative nature of the work and the fan culture in which it is created.

#201 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 08:23 PM:

Marilee:
JVP, do you leave links to your posts here at places like steelypips? Is it a circular series of posts?

I think I've just been mistaken for Jonathan Vos Post.

Ow.

#202 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 11:28 PM:

Serenade: Are fan-created stories set in the worlds of Pride and Prejudice or Les Miserables essentially different from similar works about Horatio Hornblower or Watership Down, simply because the former are in the public domain and the latter are not?

Um, no, you miss my point, which was one of vocabulary, not quality. "Fan fiction" is used to separate stories written by fans from stories written by the copyright-holding author. Once copyright expires, the author is likely dead by 70 years, and any further derivatives are all fan-fiction, at which point the term loses its significance.

You could argue that it's fan-fiction once the author dies, but I think whoever inherits the copyrights will generally try to keep the distinction between "from the original or heirs of the original" and "from a fan" around as long as possible.

It wasn't a question of quality. A derivative work is a derivative work. An author could write a horrible sequel to their own book. And a fan could tap into some really great theme that teh author might not see. quality wasn't the question.


#203 ::: Serenade ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 01:14 AM:

Greg London wrote:

Um, no, you miss my point, which was one of vocabulary, not quality. "Fan fiction" is used to separate stories written by fans from stories written by the copyright-holding author.

Hi Greg, I agree that we're talking about vocabulary, not quality. I should probably clarify what I was trying to say in my earlier post.

In the post I was responding to, I understood you to be saying that a story based on a work in the public domain should be classed as 'a new work' rather than as 'fan fiction', and only stories based on works under copyright should be classed as the latter.

What I was trying to say was that the above definition didn't mesh with my own understanding of the term 'fan fiction', which would be more inclusive. For example, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is a work in the public domain, but stories based on it written by fans are generally regarded as fan fiction rather than as new and independent works. I agree that for legal purposes they may be original works, but in the vocabulary of fandom - and perhaps of the broader community - they are not.

I do agree with your point that a story about Achilles wouldn't be fanfic but just another story about Achilles. I think there does come a stage where the source material has become so much a part of our collective consciousness that further derived works don't fit within the same mindspace as the concept of fan fiction. But - and this is my main point - I don't think it's the expiration of copyright that is the defining factor here.

I hope this makes things clearer, and that I haven't hideously misinterpreted your meaning or something.

#204 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 01:35 AM:

Over 150 comments, and no one has mentioned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Heavens.

Or Philip José Farmer, a substantial portion of whose output could be regarded as fanfic (and in some cases, very close to slash).

#205 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 01:44 AM:

Greg London, Serenade, et al:

"a story about Achilles wouldn't be fanfic but just another story about Achilles."

So the question is, WHICH fictional characters have that degree of immortality?

Harlan Ellison listed 5 from the past century.

And what is the minimum number from a given novel / TV series / film / anime / whatever
for viable slash?

Chad Orzel or Marilee:

"JVP, do you leave links to your posts here at places like steelypips? Is it a circular series of posts?"

I think I've been accused of building Stonehenge. The only person I've personally spent much time with who built a henge was the amazing:

Duncan Lunan

"In 1978-79 he was Manager of the Glasgow Parks Dept. Astronomy Project, which built the first astronomically aligned stone circle in Britain for 5000 years, and among many other ASTRA conferences he organised one on archaeoastronomy at the Third Eye Centre in 1978, 'Heresies in Archaeoastronomy' at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 1996 and its follow-up events in Glasgow."

On another front, I've sent some bridge-burning email to my atrocious boss' boss, who already hired my replacement because my wife and I committed the crimes of being very popular with students and very published. small excerpt:

-- start excerpt --

I quote from "Universities and the Teaching of
Science", Science, 8 Oct 2004, Vol.306, p.229:

"Faculty at undergraduate colleges and universities publish about one paper every 2 years. Although it is noteworthy that these professors maintain modest research programs under challenging research conditions, this level of publication is likely to be unacceptable at research universities. Indeed, administrators at research universities should be striving for greater faculty productivity in research."

One supremely productive person such as my wife and myself raises the average even in the face of hundreds of unpublishable drones such as yourself. It is short-sighted in the extreme for you to get rid of someone who has accomplished more than you could do in a millennium. But short-sightedness is part of your instrumentarium.

Again, I beseech you to put the interests of the University and its students ahead of your personal, selfish, manipulative, dishonest, abusive, illegal, childish, petty, and meretricious style.

Or, if you cannot change, at least be aware that other people are not "untouchables" below your caste, but, rather, thinking, feeling human beings. If you cut us, do we not bleed?

-- end excerpt --

I figured, what the hell, he can hardly do worse than fire me, and I've been de factor fired already. Further, people at University are so fearful of telling the truth, or even tiptoing around the truth, that I might as well say what I believe, and let the chips fall where they may.

My father calls such missives "nastygrams" and advises that it is cathartic to write them, but usually a bad idea to send them. I do feel the catharsis already. And await the next shoe to drop. What do you think?

#206 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 03:27 AM:

Hanna suggested I google Marion Zimmer Bradly for examples of an author being blocked from writing her own stories because of fanfic in her universe:

- Lawsuits stemming out of fan fiction

- Babylon-5 producer JMS speaks out about his opinion of fanfic:

I've asked that fans *not* write any fan fiction set in the B5 universe while the show is on the air. Remember, most ST fanfic began after the show was over, to keep those characters alive. We're still around.

Fanfic is a threat to us, in that if someone writes a story, puts it in a fanzine, and something remotely similar is done in the show, that person could decide to sue. It happens; Marion Zimmer Bradley lost an entire *book* over this, when her publisher refused to put the book out because of the threat of lawsuit from a fanzine with a similar story.

Greg London:

fanfic is fiction written by fans, while the work is still protected under terms of copyright.

A fan writing about Kirk and Spock having an affair would be "fanfic" today and simply a new story in 2100 A.D. (assuming copyright terms aren't pushed out to infinity by that point)

It isn't fanfic if the work is public domain because the "fan" is actually just another author creating a new work.

If you wrote a story about Achilles, it wouldn't be fanfic, it would just be another story and you'd be the author, because Achilles is a public domain character.

Actually, I'd say the distinction is whether the original work is currently in the pop culture or not. We don't generally speak of "fans" of "The Odyssey" or "Iliad."

#207 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 04:32 AM:

Yes, I'd mostly agree on the pop culture definition.

If the person writing the Troy story has Briseis and Patroclus as cousins,* and Achilles' description matches Brad Pitt's then it's fanfic.

And I'm pretty sure the folks over at the Derbyshire Writer's Guild are writing fanfic too. From sequels and modern updates and fill in the gaps to AU retellings like "Lizzie, the Vampire Slayer" (Mr Darcy is her watcher).

*uh, not of each other

#208 ::: Leila Sharpe ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 07:16 AM:

New poster, here, and following this discussion with great interest. I did want to add my two cents as to how fan ficiton is defined, not withstanding other people's definitions:

Greg London:
fanfic is fiction written by fans, while the work is still protected under terms of copyright.

Which is true, as far as it goes, but I would add that fan fiction by definition is always an amateur production. It may seem obvious, but while a story about Achilles may no longer have a copyright issue to worry about, if it's published professionally, it's no longer fan fiction -- fan derived, it may have started off as a riff off Troy -- but when it ceases to be amateur, it ceases to be fan fiction (as opposed to being an issue of copyright, so much.) At least as far as my understanding goes.

The vast majority of fan fiction currently in circulation has only been around for thirty years or so, with the advent of mass access to television and movies. (Aknowledging the fact that people have been writing pastiches or other forms of "fan" authored works for a very long time), and in general its target audience is other fans as opposed to the population at large.

Mitch Wagner:
Actually, I'd say the distinction is whether the original work is currently in the pop culture or not. We don't generally speak of "fans" of "The Odyssey" or "Iliad."

I might disagree mildly here if only because as with the movie "Troy" the lines between the original literary source and the sudden interest in that source can get blurred. A good many fans inspired by the visuals of Troy are still writing fan fiction that is based on the books -- in ways that can be less atltering of "events" than the movies was to fit a 2-3 hour format. In those cases, pop culture did, indeed, spur the sudden onset of fan fiction, but the purists are actually fans of the original.

#209 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 09:41 AM:

WHICH fictional characters have that degree of immortality? [...] And what is the minimum number from a given novel / TV series / film / anime / whatever for viable slash?

The minimum number of immortal characters is zero-- and good thing, or else buddy-cop shows would only be slashable in crossovers with Highlander

#210 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 09:43 AM:

A serious answer: The minimum number of well-developed or fascinating characters is still zero-- taking a cardboard character or a spear-carrier and making him three-dimensional (or queer, or both) is a very common fanfic strategy.

The number of characters, period, that a source text needs to be slashed is one, if you're allowing for crossovers.

#211 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 09:53 AM:

Serenade wrote:
I do agree with your point that a story about Achilles wouldn't be fanfic but just another story about Achilles. I think there does come a stage where the source material has become so much a part of our collective consciousness that further derived works don't fit within the same mindspace as the concept of fan fiction. But - and this is my main point - I don't think it's the expiration of copyright that is the defining factor here.

I'll take a shot at this. How about:

If the original author of a work is known and closely identified with the work in common reference, then any derivative works by other people are identified as fan fiction. Audiences will draw an automatic separation in their heads as being "Not by _____."

If the original author of a work is not known and the work is identified only as part of our shared culture, then derivative works are simply additions to that culture. The automatic separation isn't there.

Is this a practical rule of thumb? I'm sure there will still be ambiguous cases (where the author is only known by a few, for example, or where the author is only weakly connected with the creation -- Dracula comes to mind) but for determining whether, say, writing about Jane Austen's characters qualifies as fanfic vs. writing about Robin Hood, I think this ought to do.

#212 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 09:54 AM:

Ellen Fremedon wrote:
A serious answer: The minimum number of well-developed or fascinating characters is still zero-- taking a cardboard character or a spear-carrier and making him three-dimensional (or queer, or both) is a very common fanfic strategy.

Motion to introduce Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as Exibit A.

#213 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 10:30 AM:

Lucy: I just think fanfic is something specific. When you say "folk tradition," you're not saying much. After all -- "It's all folk music. I ain't never heard no mule sing the blues."

And it's all fan fiction, too. Do you think George Lucas and Steven Speilberg and Joss Whedon aren't fans of the SF and fantasy traditions they're working in?

#214 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 11:23 AM:

Serenade: we're cool

#215 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 11:26 AM:

Leila:

I could sign on to the notion that fanfiction is generally non-commercial in nature. Versus someone writing a derived work for money. I think that's what you're saying.

Which would allow fanfiction of Achilles to be written today even though the character is Public Domain.

#216 ::: Leila Sharpe ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 11:54 AM:

Greg London: Versus someone writing a derived work for money. I think that's what you're saying.

Exactly. I mean there's more than one qualifier, but primarily amateur and fan spring to mind because as was pointed out in several places, there are plenty of "fans" who don't restrict their expressions to amateur works -- but once they enter the commercial track, they may still be considered fans, but what they're writing (be it novels or screenplays) while it may look and feel like fan fiction, really isn't. It's something else. Something financially viable.

Steve Eley
Is this a practical rule of thumb? ... but for determining whether, say, writing about Jane Austen's characters qualifies as fanfic vs. writing about Robin Hood, I think this ought to do.

I don't think it is. There is a goodly amount of fan fiction written about Kevin Costner's, "Robin Hood-Prince of Thieves" and the old television series, "Robin of Sherwood." All fan fiction. You might be able to make that argument about something like Chaucer, but only up until someone makes a movie about it, or a cartoon, or even writes a derivative pro novel with interesting revisions and great cover art.


#217 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 02:33 PM:

I'll amend my earlier definition of fanfic: it needs to be amateur, as well.

Ellen Fremedon:

taking a cardboard character or a spear-carrier and making him three-dimensional (or queer, or both) is a very common fanfic strategy.

Interesting. Examples, please? I know about that guy from "Star Wars," the bounty hunter or whoever he was. Others?

#218 ::: Leila Sharpe ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 02:48 PM:

Mitch Wagner: Interesting. Examples, please? I know about that guy from "Star Wars," the bounty hunter or whoever he was. Others?

What instantly springs to mind is Highlander: the Series, a couple of characters only popped in for a single episode, guest star of the week (er Brian Cullen and Lord Bryon as characters), only to end up with reams of fanfic written about them with either the main character or another co-star. Granted Highlander has all that Immortality and millenia of history to play with. It's probably the most fertile ground for crossover fever from historical characters to SF ones regardless of whether the fan fic is gen, het, or slash oriented. Crosses well with more fantasy worlds too.

There's actually some fans who prefer to write about minor recurring characters rather than the leads in television and I would say with movies as well. I can think of a few literary characters of minor status that are probably fertile and intriguing ground (or would be, if I wrote litfic).

#219 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 03:38 PM:

Mitch Wagner: Examples, please? I know about that guy from "Star Wars," the bounty hunter or whoever he was. Others?

Not that you've probably ever heard of it, but there's a British TV series called The Professionals (about a British secret police department called CI5) which had a fair number of interesting one-off characters who have spawned a lot of fanfic. Kate Ross, Elizabeth Walsh, Brian Macklin, "Shotgun" Tommy, all only appeared in one episode but in any number of fan stories. Another agent named Murphy appeared in eight or nine episodes, and is frequently slashed with Brian Macklin, even though Murphy never appeared in the only episode in which Macklin appeared.

#220 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 04:40 PM:

Then there's the Angel/Diskworld crossover short story featuring Nanny Ogg's cat....

#221 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 04:57 PM:

Avram, what I was trying to do was put some limits on words so they'll mean something useful. The thing you're saying there about these people all being fans is an interesting and useful thing to say, but you can only say it if you have words that distinguish one sort of creator from another for the purposes of discussion. Otherwise you have the dilemma of the young toddler, who has to make do with one word for all things that satisfy hunger, and that word is "mama." Fortunately for the toddler -- and everybody else's peace of mind -- she outgrows that, and develops more words to talk about more specific things, to compare things to each other, to make subsets of things, to put things in ever finer relationships to each other.

#222 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 05:36 PM:

Steve, I nearly think I agree with you. (Why, yes, I have been reading Brust lately, why do you ask?)

I would say that fanfic is fanfic while there remains the perception of a single canon. Fanfic about television shows have, as their canon, those shows that were shown on the air. They may then diverge from them significantly, but there remains a canon against which they are judged. Even in those cases where there are works based on divergent works, neither work is really considered to be canon.

#223 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 08:10 PM:

Oops, sorry, Chad. I'm just skimming because I don't really care much about fanfic. I wondered why JVP would be posting to Kate's domain, but it was the form of the post that made me think it was him.

#224 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 10:26 PM:

Leila says fan fiction by definition is always an amateur production. I offer Barbara Hambly's Ishmael as a counterexample (not outright slash, just a brutally implausible crossover), to stand next to Steve Eley's. And what can you say about much of Farmer, or "The New York Review of Bird"?

I don't read slash and have seen almost no fanfic (aside from examples such as the above). But it seems to me from this discussion that the essence is addressing specifics -- not Great Moral Issues, but who might be doing what and to whom -- that enough other people are engaged with to take most of the background for granted.

#225 ::: Leila Sharpe ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2004, 11:14 PM:

CHip
I offer Barbara Hambly's Ishmael as a counterexample (not outright slash, just a brutally implausible crossover)

I haven't read it, but I just glanced over the description and if you're trying to find an example of fan fiction that doesn't include amateur, then this looks to be a good one. But, I think it actually is the exception that proves the rule, in a way, because the Star Trek tie ins are licensed products whereas again, fan fiction is not. It's why the copyright issue comes up, because if fan fiction writers could be licensed to write their works, then what would you call the work of those fan writers who are outside the licensing process either because they aren't interested or they are just bad? Amateur fan writers, most likely.

I think I said above that there's no bar to pro writers being influenced by their own fannishness, whether they are doing tie ins or writing original characters and situations. But again, what separates them from the writers who are the subject of the start of this discussion is kind of a descending tree. Published/not published, original source/derivative fiction. I mean you could but original/derivative at the top of the tree but at some point, published/unpublished would have to come in there in order to make any kind of delineation between what pro author "A" does and what her fans do.

Not having read the book, though, what makes it slash? Is there sexual tension between Spock and Aaron? Or between any two characters?

(and I absolutely had to blink twice at the "Here Comes The Brides" aspect. Are we sure this isn't really a parody of 70's television?)

#226 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 01:32 AM:

Lydia-- But there's usually some degree of construction to the canon. I don't write in RPF-- Real Person Fic, of which the most common exemplars are slash of boybands or of the Lord of the Rings actors-- but I'm given to understand that what constitutes canon in those fandoms is extremely fluid and under constant debate. Or there's DC universe fanfic, with decades' worth of contradictory comics, movies, live-action and animated TV series, books-- again, I don't write this fandom, but choosing what constitutes one's canon for writing Batman must be every bit as fraught as trying to pinpoint a canonical Robin Hood.

#227 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 03:13 AM:

I haven't read "Ishmael." What makes it fanfic? I assume it was published professionally.

I'm going to agree with the earlier definition---fanfic is, by definition, amateur.

#228 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 04:58 AM:

Mitch: I haven't read "Ishmael." What makes it fanfic? I assume it was published professionally.

I used to be able to divide the Trek novels into three types, of which I found only one type worth reading, and not all of those. First type were written by hacks - people who had no notion of what they were doing. We can dismiss those.

Second type were written by competent science-fiction writers who patently had not much feeling for Trek itself, but who could turn out a reasonably good SF novel based on Star Trek. (I discovered in 1987 that this had been an early Paramount policy for the Trek novels, to offer contracts to known SF writers. But I recognised the results well before.)

Third type were written by fans. And you could tell: these writers knew the series, had thought about it, had come up with ideas based on it, and had written novels that could not have been set anywhere else but in Trek. Characterization was plainly based not on an official handbook but on watching the series intently and thinking about what the actions of the characters meant - it varied, I mean, from writer to writer, but clearly always based solidly on canon. Barbara Hambly's Ishmael is one of these novels (no, it's not slash, though there are slashy moments... AFAIK only one slash novel ever made it to pro publication), as are a handful of others: Carolyn Clowes's The Pandora Principle, Janet Kagan's Uhura's Song, John M. Ford's How Much for Just the Planet? and The Final Reflection, Diane Duane's My Enemy, My Ally, The Romulan Way, The Wounded Sky, (and so on in that sequence until and not including Swordhunt, which was rubbish).

These novels are fanfic - in every sense except that they are being professionally published. Which does tend to preclude their being fanfic normally - but, still: they are.

#229 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 05:26 AM:

Ishmael was Star Trek/Here Come the Brides crossover fic, based on the fact that the same actor (Mark Lenard) portrayed Aaron Stempel on Brides and Ambassador Sarek on Trek.

#230 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 06:39 AM:

based on the fact that the same actor (Mark Lenard) portrayed Aaron Stempel on Brides and Ambassador Sarek on Trek.

Really? I never knew that. Of course, I never saw Brides, but you'd have thought someone would have mentioned it...

#231 ::: Doris Egan ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 02:17 PM:

Ishmael not only "feels" like fan fiction, but I've heard that it was written as fan fiction -- i.e., written for personal pleasure before it was sold. I can't vouch for that, but I can say that I also heard from a reliable source that it was hell getting permission from the long-defunct "Here Come The Brides" -- such hell that if there had been another way to go, they would have gone that way. (Which would seem to support the idea that there was a book already in existence that people were trying to find a way to publish.)

In any case, whether true or not, it provides an interesting spin on definition. The same work is fan fiction for, say, six months, then suddenly a wand is waved over it and it becomes something else.

There are obviously two -- well, at least two -- different schools of definition here. One's looking at the feel of genre; i.e., "Fan fiction and slash tend to satisfy these needs in an audience, tend to contain elements X and Y, etc." It's easy for people who know the genre to then talk about certain works of pro fiction that have, say, "slashy elements."

The other definition is not genre-related; it's simply, "One is bought and sold and the copyright issues are all clear. The other isn't."

By the second definition, Ishmael jumped ship and went from one box to another. By the first definition, it didn't.

People, of course, will use any definition that pleases them; I doubt any absolute hard and fast rules will be found that work in every case, any more than they'll be found for the ancient debate over what really separates science fiction from fantasy. I can say, however, that I personally am far more interested in the question of genre, of what it is that fan fiction and its subset of slash offer that appeal to an audience, and whether those elements are indeed creeping out into the mainstream.

#232 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 03:00 PM:

Doris Egan:

Very interesting analysis ("I personally am far more interested in the question of genre"), and exactly the key questions ("what it is that fan fiction and its subset of slash offer that appeal to an audience") and ("whether those elements are indeed creeping out into the mainstream").

If there is a Paradigm Shift going on, in the sense of Kuhn, then this is extremely important.

I have been working for years on a General Theory of Genre, but unless and until one of the 5 universities with which I am affiliated decides to offer me a position to complete it, I would be a blockhead to finish writing it ("except for money").

I already have about 1,000 publications, presentations, and broadcasts to my credit over several decades, including over 200 in 2004 alone (thanks to refereed/edited online encyclopedias). But, as a professional, I cannot afford to spend my time on amateur activities -- unless struck by inspiration, as with a poem that needs to be written even though I've earned under $10,000 from over 230 poems published.

Hence my fascination with amateur works (i.e. fan-fic, slash) which do sometimes rise to the level of professionalism, and, as you point out, are even sometime transmogrified, breaking through the force field that separates manuscripts from books. Is the barrier coming down, or if a million monkeys bash their heads against a brick wall, is it historically inevitable (Marx) or physically inevitable (Quantum Mechanics) for "Hamlet" to eventually tunnel through the wall? No actual monkeys were injured in the filming of this episode.

#233 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 04:02 PM:

Yonmei:

Second type were written by competent science-fiction writers who patently had not much feeling for Trek itself, but who could turn out a reasonably good SF novel based on Star Trek. (I discovered in 1987 that this had been an early Paramount policy for the Trek novels, to offer contracts to known SF writers. But I recognised the results well before.)

Yup. As you know B/o/b/, Yonmei, the very first Trek books were written by a cat named James Blish, an extremely talented writer who already had a 30-year sf career, and if you haven't read any of his non-Trek stuff, well, there's a big treat waiting for you there.

(I have no idea whether the preceding paragraph is forgotten lore among current Trek fans, or so well-known that all the fanwriters reading this are now rolling their eyes and calling me a patronizing git.)

About 10 years ago, I was going through a period where I was reading everything I could find by Joe Haldeman, and I read one of his Star Trek novels. I was disappointed; there was almost no Haldeman in it.

Indeed, that would be a dream anthology, or book series, for me. By now, just about everyone has grown up familiar with Trek. When I was a kid, Trek was this bizarre cult show that had gone off the air 10 years ago, and most people had never heard of. But it's very different today. Every American is a Trekkie now, Captain Kirk is in the same category as Superman and Mickey Mouse, Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise are instantly recognizable.

So, I'd love to see an anthology, or series of books, written by the best sf writers around. I know that Trek books, like all media tie-in novels, currently have a very strict "bible," very strict guidelines, a manual the size of the Manhattan phone book, with pages as thin and type as small, listing all the things you can and can't do with the characters. And, for my dream anthology (or series of books), I'd throw all that out. I'd give Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon and Ken MacLeod and Steven Brust just one sentence in their assignment: Write a "Star Trek" story. Then I'd stand back and enjoy whatever it was they delivered, whether it read exactly like an episode, or some weird Philip K. Dickian thing.

Third type were written by fans. And you could tell: these writers knew the series, had thought about it, had come up with ideas based on it, and had written novels that could not have been set anywhere else but in Trek. Characterization was plainly based not on an official handbook but on watching the series intently and thinking about what the actions of the characters meant - it varied, I mean, from writer to writer, but clearly always based solidly on canon. Barbara Hambly's Ishmael is one of these novels (no, it's not slash, though there are slashy moments... AFAIK only one slash novel ever made it to pro publication), as are a handful of others: Carolyn Clowes's The Pandora Principle, Janet Kagan's Uhura's Song, John M. Ford's How Much for Just the Planet? and The Final Reflection, Diane Duane's My Enemy, My Ally, The Romulan Way, The Wounded Sky, (and so on in that sequence until and not including Swordhunt, which was rubbish).

These novels are fanfic - in every sense except that they are being professionally published. Which does tend to preclude their being fanfic normally - but, still: they are.

Okay. I actually have no business participating in this discussion, and my opinions are foolish, because I don't read fanfic or media tie-in novels. Just not my thing. I like that other people enjoy it, and my dislike of those kinds of fiction doesn't make me better than anyone else, it's just a personal taste.

But I do know something about the difference between professional writing and amateur writing, because I do both. I'm a journalist, I keep a blog, and I love to participate in discussions like this one.

As a matter of fact, I have two blogs---one I do as part of my job, another I do just for the fun of it.

When I'm writing for work, I am constantly aware that my ability to make my next payment on my mortgage depends on satisfying a couple of dozen people who might read my work at any moment. It makes me a little bit cautious, ready to justify whatever I write if I'm challenged by my editor. Or the guy who is, theoretically, my peer, but who everyone knows is going to be named to head up the department next year. Or the guy who currently heads up the department. Or two or three people who are theoretically my peers, but who work for publications that bring in a lot more revenue than mine. Or the editorial director. Or the publisher. Or the president of the division. Or even the CEO of the whole company, who is over in London and is a by-gosh English peer, with the word "Lord" in front of his name and everything.

So when I write professionally, I'm more cautious.

But when I write here or on my blog, well, I say whatever I want. And, if I don't feel like saying anything, I don't. I've let my personal blog go fallow and not posted things for months at a time, just because I didn't feel like it. When I do that at work, it's called "unemployment."

#234 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 04:45 PM:

Mitch, have you seen Steve Boyett's TREKS NOT TAKEN, a pseudo-anthology of what Anne Rice, Brett Easton Ellis, Stephen King and others might have done if they had written ST:TNG episodes? It's actually quite a bit of fun.

#235 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Mitch: or so well-known that all the fanwriters reading this are now rolling their eyes and calling me a patronizing git.

*rolls eyes* *is too polite to call you a patronizing git*

No, seriously, I imagine there can be few Trek fans who date from the days before VCRs who haven't read James Blish, and who aren't aware that he wrote considerable other SF besides the Trek novels. (Of variable quality, admittedly: and with the problem that most pre-70s male SF writers had, that it never seemed to occur to them other than that "the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature".)

So, I'd love to see an anthology, or series of books, written by the best sf writers around.

I wouldn't: unless they were Trek fans. "Every American is a Trekkie now" - sure, but most of them don't have the wide ranging knowledge of the series and the characters that fans have.

I like (for example) John Varley. (And I have no idea if Varley is a Trek fan or not, I hasten to add, but let me assume for the sake of argument that he isn't.) I would hate to read a novel by John Varley that was supposedly a Trek novel in which Varley had thrown out all the background information and continuity (that "bible" you mentioned) and written a novel about characters with the same names on a ship called the Enterprise that were clearly not Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and McCoy. If it was anything like Treks not Taken, it would be an amusing conceit for a short story - but it wouldn't work as a full-length novel.

It would sell, no doubt. Varley has a name, Trek has a name, the combination would be commercially viable. But it wouldn't be worth reading as a Star Trek novel unless Varley was a Star Trek fan and wanted to reproduce his vision of the characters, based on his long-term viewing of the series.

and my opinions are foolish, because I don't read fanfic or media tie-in novels. Just not my thing. I like that other people enjoy it, and my dislike of those kinds of fiction doesn't make me better than anyone else, it's just a personal taste.

*doubletake* So you want pro writers to write these Trek novels, but you yourself wouldn't want to read them because you know in advance you'd dislike them?

*doubletake again*

#236 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 06:09 PM:

Second type were written by competent science-fiction writers who patently had not much feeling for Trek itself, but who could turn out a reasonably good SF novel based on Star Trek. (I discovered in 1987 that this had been an early Paramount policy for the Trek novels, to offer contracts to known SF writers. But I recognised the results well before.)

In fact, this was a David G. Hartwell policy; Paraquat had nothing to do with it. With the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by PPC, David found himself with a Trek line -- I don't know if it was his idea or Paramount's (the first feature film was coming up), but he decided to ask a number of midlist writers -- Vonda, Bob Vardeman, Greg Bear, other people I could name -- to write Trek novels. (The prior series -- the Blish books, Joe's, a coupla others -- had been from Signet.)

I don't think there was a slushpile at this time; the quality of the Trek slush (and yes, I read it for a while) is certainly not any higher than the run-of-the-sluice slush, and whatever you think of the results, it wouldn't have been possible to start a regular line in any other way.

And all the books Yonmei cites as being Fannish Type Three are in fact his Type Two (possibly excepting the Clowes, as I don't know her or it). I can accept that those categories are nonexclusive, but the books were not first written out of a pure and stainless (if that's the word I want) love of the show and later found publication; they were written because David asked us to write something he could publish.

Backing up, someone referred (I can't locate the post now) to Trek novels being the only such items on the shelves. This is one of those O Tempora, Nine Men's Morris things. TV tie-in novels used to be quite common; usually (not always) the series would begin with an adaptation of the pilot episode, but originals would follow. Most of the time the line would run for only two or three books, but there were major exceptions. The Man From UNCLE line ran for forty-plus, and there were eight or so Prisoners, one by Tom Disch. (Both these lines were edited by Terry Carr at Ace. This is a significant datum.) There were at least forty Dark Shadows Gothics, all written by one guy (W. E. D. Ross, using his "Clarissa Ross" pseud). A lot of these books were written by sossidge-factors, such as Michael Avallone, the gold-filled standard of industry over talent, but not all. Literary merit probably had something to do with the success or failure of the lines, though I suspect it was as much about the nature of the show and the readers. There were obviously a lot of people who wanted more UNCLE and Dark Shadows yarns, not so many who needed another fix of Leslie Stevens's Search. Mission: Impossible would have seemed like a natural, but it faded after a couple of books, probably because of the show's highly visual nature -- the impersonation gimmick doesn't work very well on paper. (There was supposed to be a line of original Mission novels after the first movie; two books had appeared on order lists, and two more announced, but were cancelled a few weeks before ship date, for reasons Paraquat never explained.)

#237 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 06:12 PM:

Nope, the opposite---I think I would read my hypothetical pro-written Trek novels, because they would be driven by the voice and creative vision of the authors.

I think that's what I dislike about media tie-in fiction—the creators have put on a bridle and harness and allowed themselves to be driven by someone else's vision. That's the same reason why I didn't particularly enjoy the Goldsborough Nero Wolfe books, or the recent round of Dune novels by Kevin J. Anderson and Frank Herbert's son.

To use another metaphor: the media tie-ins, the Goldsborough Nero Wolfe's and the recent Dune prequels all seemed to me to be knockoffs. Watered-down. Inauthentic.

My last try at media tie-in novel was Terry Bisson's novelization of "Galaxy Quest." Says I to myself: I love Terry Bisson. And I loved "Galaxy Quest." So. "Galaxy Quest" as written by Bisson--well, that's just going to be cracktastic.

It wasn't. It was a novelization.

Sometimes the same thing happens when a writer returns, as an old man, to works he created when he was a young man. Examples: Heinlein's last Lazarus Long novels, or Asimov's last robot/Foundation novels.

And that's why I think I might actually enjoy some fanfiction, if I read the right stuff. It seems to me in that case that the writer has the opportunity to pick and choose among the canon, and serve no master other than herself.

#238 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 06:45 PM:

No, Mike, there were only three Prisoner books, by Tom Disch, David McDaniel, and Hank Stine. The McDaniel is the strongest evidence that the series was actually intended as a contination of DANGER MAN -- its first sentence, passed by McGoohan, is "Drake woke."

#239 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 07:35 PM:

Tom -- you are, naturally, right; I don't know why I hallucinated half a dozen extras. (Number One will be very annoyed.) I do recall reading those three, though -- and it's probably no surprise that they are All Quite Different.

The argument about whether Number Six is or isn't John Drake is interesting -- not critical to the survival of the English-like-you-know-talking world, but interesting. But then, of course, the fellow may be no more "John Drake" than that other chap's parents named him "Quiller."

And since you bring up David McDaniel, I suppose I should note that The Final Reflection is in a typically crooked line of descent from The Dagger Affair.

#240 ::: Leila Sharpe ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 07:43 PM:

Doris Egan: ...of what it is that fan fiction and its subset of slash offer that appeal to an audience,

Not that I think you meant to toss this out as a question to be answered but...

[[am utterly fascnated by this conversation and the very cool questions coming out of it.]]

I both read and write fan fiction and slash, and the appeal of it is slightly different but related as both a producer and a consumer.

As a consumer, it has a lot to do with loving whatever it was that I loved about the tv show, movie, book, etc., and getting more of that and in great quantity. Maybe the ultimate in nearly instant gratification. Unfortunately (or maybe consequently) it's rather like getting a large box of chocolates. Some of them you will love and some you will bite into and immediately spit out.

In looking at the conflicts between pro writers and fan writers though, it does strike me that I don't think it's possible for a single pro writer or even a team of writers (in the case of tie-ins) to produce enough product to satisfy the consumers.

When I'm in the midst of a fan fic reading frenzy, I probably read the equivalent of about 3-5 novels a week, in addition to the 5 or so pro novels I'm reading or re-reading at any given time. Fan fic tends to come in smaller bites, suitable for reading at lunch or over coffee...

My most favorite and prolific pro authors produce maybe a book a year if I am extremely lucky (which isn't to say anything againt pro writers. I know how long it takes to write a novel, much less get it polished and published). Granted, most of the fan fic I read is TV inspired or movie inspired, but it's a lot of reading and I still want more at the end of the day.

And as for slash...the actual pro-equivalent of pro novels available don't even come close because most gay fiction really doesn't read as slash -- women aren't its target. And there are very few pro published books that have that vibe. I can think of two or three but no more.

#241 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 08:17 PM:

McDaniel is the only one who really _got_ the humor of THE MAN FROM UNCLE -- I can re-read all of them except THE DAGGER AFFAIR and still enjoy them. I'd have thought HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET was more in line with THE RAINBOW AFFAIR, myself....

#242 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 08:22 PM:

Mitch: Nope, the opposite---I think I would read my hypothetical pro-written Trek novels, because they would be driven by the voice and creative vision of the authors.

I'd rather read their own good novels, than the shoddy Trek novels you propose. Seriously. What is the point of a good writer setting out to write a bad Trek novel? No one is served in that respect.

John M. Ford: (The prior series -- the Blish books, Joe's, a coupla others -- had been from Signet.)

Those were the ones I was thinking of, actually. I think. (Though my recollection of the 1987 panel is a little dim by now, I believe you were one of the writers on the panel at which the policy of asking pro SF writers to do Trek novels was mentioned: it may even have been you who mentioned it.) So I may be confusing things somewhere. Probably I am. But I was remembering a bunch of fairly early Trek novels that were written by pro SF writers and were pretty much like any hard-SF novel only with a Trek gloss.

I can accept that those categories are nonexclusive, but the books were not first written out of a pure and stainless (if that's the word I want) love of the show and later found publication; they were written because David asked us to write something he could publish.

Well, um. But I happen to know Diane Duane was a Star Trek fan before she wrote her Trek novels. And your two Trek novels do not read like someone who never watched the series and didn't give two hoots for it: they read like you're a fan.

#243 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 09:03 PM:

Tom and Mike:

I used to regularly advance the point that No. 6 is John Drake to Dave McDaniel and Hank Stine, while they were writing their Prisoner novels, which may have influenced them to adopt this point of view.

In the "Once Upon a Time" Prisoner episode, a number of people thought they heard No. 2 (Leo McKern) say "See me in the morning, Drake." However, the written transcript for this episode has the line as "See me in the morning break."

The phrase "Be Seeing You" was used a number of times in "Danger Man" episodes. See also, the discussion in this FAQ.

#244 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 09:07 PM:

I believe you were one of the writers on the panel at which the policy of asking pro SF writers to do Trek novels was mentioned: it may even have been you who mentioned it.) So I may be confusing things somewhere.

Read what I wrote. David asked midlist writers -- some of whom he'd published at S&S, others not -- if they wanted to do a Star Trek novel. Paramount had only recently acquired S&S, and there was, at that time, no active Trek line from any publisher; PPC decided to start one during the runup to the first film. (Signet was keeping its books in print, and I believe still publishing Best of Trek, which clouds the issue by being mass-market republication of original fanzine material.) And, being new at publishing, Paramount wouldn't have known where to find actual sf writers even if they'd recognized the value thereof.

Any editor would prefer to work with working professionals rather than with a slushpile, as anyone who regularly reads this weblog ought to have no trouble understanding. Calling it a "policy" implies that it was some kind of rule or directive, which it wasn't; slush was eventually accepted, though that has varied over time, with the number of books being published and the number of pro mss. on offer.

And it was you who divided the series into "books solicited from sf writers" and "books by fans." Since those are not in fact distinct categories, the actual division is between "books you liked" and "books you didn't," which is an inalienable privilege, but not the same thing.

#245 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 09:38 PM:

And it was you who divided the series into "books solicited from sf writers" and "books by fans." Since those are not in fact distinct categories, the actual division is between "books you liked" and "books you didn't," which is an inalienable privilege, but not the same thing.

Well, yes. But it wasn't only that: there were Trek books that "felt" like science-fiction Trek-flavoured, and the Trek books that "felt" like Trek fanfiction. For the most part, I didn't like the first category very much: but there were a fair few books in the second category I didn't like either, though usually for different reasons from the first category.

Now, I've clearly got muddled about the reasons why some Trek books felt like the author had set out to write a science-fiction novel and trick it out with Trek characters, and why some felt like they'd been written by fans of the series, but the distinction I'm trying to make between the two sorts of Trek novels is something other than just "I liked it" or "I didn't like it".

#246 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 10:30 PM:

(Oh yes, and the Blishes and first round of other books were all from Bantam, not Signet. Script authors got credit on the Photonovels, a format that didn't last very long and still gets trotted out occasionally. Ballantine also did a series from the animated shows. More publishing history than should be in any one post, I fear.)

#247 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2004, 10:36 PM:

I wrote:

Mitch: Nope, the opposite---I think I would read my hypothetical pro-written Trek novels, because they would be driven by the voice and creative vision of the authors.

Yonmei:

I'd rather read their own good novels, than the shoddy Trek novels you propose. Seriously. What is the point of a good writer setting out to write a bad Trek novel? No one is served in that respect.

Well, when you phrase the question that way, the answer is, of course, no point whatsoever. And the discussion ends.

However, the stories I'm imagining are not bad Trek stories, but rather stories that take the basic elements of Trek and build something new from them. The writers would be pros who loved Star Trek---or, at least, loved it at some time in their lives---and are telling new stories based on the same building blocks. If you want to think of them as being part of the Trek canon, imagine that they are set in other parallel universes, aside from the "Mirror, Mirror" universe, where the Federation and the characters lives turned out differently.

David Gerrold has already done something like it, although he had to change the names of the characters, the name of the starship, and some of the history of the galaxy, to avoid copyright entanglements. In "Yesterday's Children," his Kirk-figure isn't named James Kirk, it's Jonathan Korie. Korie is only the second-in-command, not the captain, but he's in charge because the captain has had a breakdown and locked himself in his cabin. The ship is a second-rate destroyer (shades of "The Caine Mutiny") and Korie is somewhat mad himself, desperate to whip the crew into a fighting ship and make himself a war hero.

In another Trek-inspired Gerrold novel, the ship has been disgraced, and the captain---named Korie again, but as far as I know unconnected with "Yesterday's Children"---is desperate to win back his honor.

And I've never been able to watch the show "Andromeda" because I'd read about the initial vision for the series: that it was originally intended to be a "Star Trek" series, set thousands of years in the future of the Federation, when civilization has collapsed and the Galaxy has settled into a lawless Dark Age. The ship that is transferred into this Dark Age (through a bolonium accident) is one with a legendary name: Enterprise. That would've been a fantastic series, but, alas, I think there was some sorts of rights issues, even though, IIRC, the idea was Roddenberry's and Majel Roddenberry was involved in the production.

#248 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 01:59 AM:

Great, now I have this urge to dig out (or re-acquire) my old Man from UNCLE books. Or perhaps just re-read Too Many Magicians.

#249 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 02:18 AM:

Excerpt from my: Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide: Television

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., NBC, 22 Sep 1964-15 Jan 1968
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Listed here because, in the James Bond tradition, it sometimes crossed
the line from Spy story to Spy Spoof, to Science Fiction. In
particular, the 1966-67 season had ever more absurd plots, with a
comic-book flavor. The series became more realistic in 1967-68, but
it was too late to stop the series from being replaced by the smash
hit "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" -- or was that a final victory by
THRUSH?
U.N.C.L.E. = United Network Command for Law Enforcement.
THRUSH = the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of
Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity
Napoleon Solo -- Robert Vaughn (the show was originally to be called
"Mr. Solo" but the James Bond producers objected for some reason)
Ilya Kuryakin -- David McCallum
Mr. Alexander Waverly -- Leo G. Carroll
Lisa Rogers (1967-68) -- Barbara Moore
Creator -- Norman Felton
Producer -- Sam Rolfe and Anthony Spinner
note: David [Edward] McDaniel (16 Jun 1939-?), pseudonym of Ted Johnstone,
wrote several SF-oriented "Man from U.N.C.L.E". novels and
"The Arsenal Out of Time" (Ace, 1967) space opera.

The Prisoner, ITC (Great Britain) and CBS, 1 June 1968-11 Sep 1969 (and rerun 1969)
Deservedly a cult favorite, this was one of America's greatest orginal
television dramas, in part because it was filmed in England, and was the
brainchild of the charismatic Patrick McGoohan, who created, starred,
produced, and wrote some episodes (American science fiction/opera/poet
genius Thomas M. Disch wrote most of the rest). It was a
quasi-spinoff of Patrick McGoohan's character John Drake in the British
(1965-66) series "Secret Agent", (for which Johnny Rivers had a pop hit with
the Phil Sloane & Steve Barri theme song "Secret Agent Man" --
"they've given you a number, and taken away your name").
Rather like James Bond meets Kafka in John La Carre
neverland. The main location, "the village", was Portmeiron, a North
Wales resort on Cardigan Bay, where Bertrand Russell, George Bernard
Shaw, and Noel Coward used to relax. This is most appropriate, as the
intelligent scripts combined the twisted mathematical logic of
Bertrand "Principia Mathematica" Russell (once jailed for antiwar
activism), the vegetarian iconoclast playwright Shaw, and the zany
musical ironies of Noel Coward -- Disch's choreography of "Dem Bones"
had to be seen to be believed.
The Prisoner/Number 6 -- Patrick McGoohan
The Butler -- Angelo Muscat
Number 2 -- different in each episode
Producer -- David Tomblin
[hotlinks to useful episode guides, etc.]

#250 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:31 AM:

Thomas M. Disch wrote actual episodes of The Prisoner? Not just the one novel? I'm sure I never saw his name in the credits.

#251 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:53 AM:

Tom Disch didn't write any scripts for "The Prisoner" on TV. He did author "Amnesia," a Prisoner-like GURPS-style text adventure -- but you probably knew that.

#252 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 05:42 AM:

I played "Amnesia" on my Apple II way back in the day. At the risk of seeming contrary, I remember it as reasonably well-written, but not very much like The Prisoner at all. (And I'm not even sure what "GURPS-style" means -- yes, I know what GURPS is.)

One of the problems confronting authors of text adventures/interactive fiction is that the player, who is supposed to be animating the main character, initially knows nothing about the story and world. (Andrew Plotkin brilliantly exploits this tension between the player's knowledge and the character's knowledge in Spider and Web.) Giving the protagonist amnesia has at this point been used to the point of cliché in the text-adventure community.

(There are a lot of free text adventures out there. Some of them -- such as the aformentioned Spider and Web -- are extremely good.)

#253 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 12:32 PM:

David:

What I meant is that the opening of Amnesia is similar to the opening of a number of Prisoner episodes. The protagonist wakes up in a strange place, doesn't know who's been screwing around with his reality, and has to find out.

>GURPS-like:

GO SOUTH

You walk into the room with a pencil in your hand. You see somebody naked.

ASK "Who is that man?"

"There ought to be a law against you coming around."

CHOICES

a) put down your pencil
b) write down many facts about lumberjacks
c) pick up a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald
d) call a one-eyed lawyer

#254 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 02:56 PM:

I think you mean Zork-like, rather than GURPS-like. Zork was an early text based computer game, while Gurps is a paper and dice role-playing game.

#255 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:48 PM:

Lenny Bailes:

"You should be made to wear headphones."

Then again, slash respects something in the characters and settings, while the Official version of things can get this very, very wrong.

See Ursula K. Le Guin's commentary on:

"Earthsea" -- the Mismaking of the Film

#256 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 08:05 PM:

It is worth noting that McDaniel's THE ARSENAL OUT OF TIME was apparently originally planned as a MAN FROM UNCLE novel, but turned out way too skiffy so he had to file the serial numbers off. At least, that's what I heard from friends. McDaniel is also the person who taught me to enjoy playing pinball, back in my misspent youth. But that is drift.

#257 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 08:26 PM:

Tom Whitmore:

I've been out-namedropped. Cool! I've heard that story about McDaniel's THE ARSENAL OUT OF TIME and find it plausible, but would like to hear from someone in the loop. The Who's "Tommy" aside, the single best pinball game I ever saw played was back when I was 11% owner of Caltech's vending machine cartel. A student on a massive dose of mescaline broke the campus record on a classic Gottlieb machine -- on the first ball. I asked him how he could do it.

"It's easy," he said, still flipping. "You just BECOME the ball."

Then he grumbled, "too easy;" tilted deliberately; walked away.

Later he concluded: "If God wanted us to play pinball, we'd have been born with flippers."

Ahhhh, the 60s....

#258 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 09:17 PM:

Quick query -- is that the Mog I think it is?

#259 ::: Doris Egan ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:49 PM:

Leila --

And as for slash...the actual pro-equivalent of pro novels available don't even come close because most gay fiction really doesn't read as slash -- women aren't its target. And there are very few pro published books that have that vibe. I can think of two or three but no more.

As a fellow slash fan, I have to agree -- but I do find more and more that slash-as-subtext seems to be thicker on the ground than it once was, and in some cases, quite consciously done. I suspect that as the visibility of slash grows, and more pro writers find themselves reading it and thinking about it, this phenomenon will grow with it.

You noted:

When I'm in the midst of a fan fic reading frenzy, I probably read the equivalent of about 3-5 novels a week, in addition to the 5 or so pro novels I'm reading or re-reading at any given time. Fan fic tends to come in smaller bites, suitable for reading at lunch or over coffee...

The smaller doses are part of what gets me reading fan fiction after a long day, instead of a sliver of a long pro novel. But I don't think that's all there is to it. A couple of years ago I found myself in a conversation with three very sharp members of the SF/fantasy community -- all editors as well as writers -- and I mentioned how much less fiction reading I was doing.

A couple of them recommended books, and as we analyzed the matter I realized that I was not facing a shortage of novels that I think of as "difficult to get into, but rewarding of the effort." I had a number of those on my shelf, and I could still enjoy them. What I was facing a dearth of was the kind of book I loved as a child, when I'd carry five SF or fantasy novels home from the library every Friday and consume them, nonstop, over the weekend -- books that I'd describe as the sort that "pick you up and take you away whether you want to go or not."

It hit me then that fan fiction was supplying the lack in my life. And I began to wonder if, as fan fiction became more popular and visible, the sort of writers who'd be creating the books I missed were now comfortably ensconsed in fan fiction, where they could bask in the love and admiration of readers without having to brave the chilly waters of professional publishing.

#260 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 12:05 AM:

...there were Trek books that "felt" like science-fiction Trek-flavoured, and the Trek books that "felt" like Trek fanfiction.

It's hardly surprising that some writers would be better than others at building a matching castle in somebody else's sandbox; it's not a talent that's likely to get would-be writers their first contracts, and (as mentioned) Hartwell went to people who had already shown the skills necessary to produce a sellable book from scratch. I read very few Trek novels, so I wouldn't be surprised by claims that a better job had been done either by Vardeman (IMO a low-midlist writer at best) or by Bear (who soared in the next several years -- I'm \still/ blown away by Songs of Earth and Power (well, by everything except the collective title) -- and kept rising from there).

#261 ::: Leila Sharpe ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 12:27 AM:

Doris Egan: It hit me then that fan fiction was supplying the lack in my life. And I began to wonder if, as fan fiction became more popular and visible, the sort of writers who'd be creating the books I missed were now comfortably ensconsed in fan fiction, where they could bask in the love and admiration of readers without having to brave the chilly waters of professional publishing.

It wouldn't surprise me. I was actually writing and working toward being published when I hit the net (which is to say, I had a novel, a couple of short stories, was making all the right inquiries into agents, talking to people, going to conventions, whatever I could do -- what I thought I was supposed to do...to get published or at least what I hoped would eventually lead me in that direction.)

I got sideswiped. I have no idea if I could be professionally published. I have a rough idea of what an average fiction writer can make in a good year, a new writer. I think I'd be hard pressed to replace the income I have from my more mundane job, but it would be possible to do both (as many do) since I seem to have plenty of time to write fan fiction.

But what I found in fan fiction really was closer to what I was looking for in being a pro: I got to tell my stories, (even if they were made up of someone else's characters). I got feedback, critical and complimentary. I found a group of like minded people who like to discuss everything from nuts and bolts grammar to complex plots and characterizations. The audience was already in place. As a bonus, I got a community and made a ton of new friends who I've now met in person and who will likely be friends for life -- a select few anyway.

I still write original fiction, characters, worlds, and they aren't fan stories with the serial nubmers filed off. I think though, that even were I to try and get them published, Ellen's Fremedon's cache pot of the ID Vortex would probably bar most publishers from even considering what I write. I don't think mainstream publishers or the local bookstore are quite ready for the sudden opening of the ID Vortex. I'd like, no *love*, to be wrong about that.

I understand why some pro authors approach fan writers with wariness. I'm really not trying to compete...not as a writer. I'm still spending way too much money on books.

And I could be a horrible writer that no self-respecting publisher should even look at...and for the most part, I'm okay with that. It would be nice to know, just by a different set of standards, if I know my stuff. I certainly think I'm a better storyteller than I was in '97, both technically and just in construction and depth...because I have written a lot in the last seven years.

But what I would want from being published? A story I need to tell, and audience to read it and a few kind and encouraging words on the way (and a kick in the fanny when I need it.) I have those, so what's left is a paycheck and a different kind of peer recongnition. Not bad things, but, not necessarily priorities.

I do agree that the subtext, or even supra text with slashy elements is making a slow emergence...but not fast enough. And not boldly enough to satisfy me. Which is a pitty really, because I'd be willing to spend a whole lot more to get what I want. Because currently I'm buy several copies of the same book becasue I wear them out. (The re-release of Tanya Huff's, "The Fire's Stone" finally gave my local used book store owner a rest from my incessant check ins.)

#262 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:24 PM:

Tom Whitmore said:
Then there's the Angel/Diskworld crossover short story featuring Nanny Ogg's cat....

(boggle)

You're kidding? You have to be kidding. I can't even comprehend, no less imagine.

#263 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 08:46 PM:

When I'm kidding, I'll let you know. You now join with Mike Glicksohn in completely disbelieving some of the things I run across (he thought "Raiders of the Lost Basement" was fanfic).

#264 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 12:03 AM:

Mitch Wagner:
And I've never been able to watch the show "Andromeda" because I'd read about the initial vision for the series: that it was originally intended to be a "Star Trek" series, set thousands of years in the future of the Federation, when civilization has collapsed and the Galaxy has settled into a lawless Dark Age. The ship that is transferred into this Dark Age (through a bolonium accident) is one with a legendary name: Enterprise.

Interesting... I didn't know Roddenberry even had the starship angle in mind. He'd pitched an idea that led to at least three different unsold pilots ("Planet Earth", "Strange New World", and something else) about a guy who works for a UN-like organization called Pax (and who I think is even sometimes named "Dylan Hunt") who gets suspended Buck Rogers-style and ends up on a post-apocalyptic future Earth where he has to put civilization back together, traveling around to a different screwed-up micro-society every week. I always assumed that "Andromeda" was just that crossed posthumously with Star Trek.

#265 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 01:17 AM:

To excerpt the start of my capsule summary
on The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide: TV:

Andromeda, a.k.a. "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda" (Syndicated, 2000);
Canada / USA; ??? 60-minute episodes;
Executive Producers:
Majel Barrett (2000-2001) (credited as Majel Roddenberry),
Allan Eastman, Jay Firestone, Adam Haight, Kevin Sorbo;
Co-Executive Producer: Robert Hewitt Wolfe (2000-2001) ;
Producers: Keri Young, Kevin Sorbo;
Directors: Allan Eastman, Allan Harmon, Allan Kroeker, George Mendeluk,
Mike Rohl (as Michael Rohl), T.J. Scott, Brenton Spencer,
David Warry-Smith, David Winning (episodes "The Banks of The Lethe",
"The Pearls That Were His Eyes", "The Sum of Its Parts",
"A Heart For Falsehood Framed", "Last Call at the Broken Hammer");
Developed By: Robert Hewitt Wolfe;
Writers: Steven Barnes (episode 1.16 "The Sum Of It's Parts"), others;
Tagline: Worlds Apart from the Rest;
Plot Summary:
Captain Dylan Hunt commands the sentient Andromeda Ascendant
starship, which is part of the military muscle of multi-galaxy utopian
All-Systems Commonwealth monarchy. That Commonwealth is a blend of the
Federation (as Roddenberry invented for "Star Trek") without the depth of
Ken McLeod's Communist utopian Solar Union ("Cassini Division" is its
elite military force), or Iain Banks' Anarcho-socialist Culture novels
("Consider Phlebas", "The Player of Games", "Use of Weapons", "Excession")
or the very Capitalist Qeng Ho interstellar trading fleet in Vernor
Vinge's novels ("A Fire Upon the Deep", "A Deepness in the Sky").
That is, in my opinion, "Andromeda" is Space Opera without the deep
politics of literary science fiction, or the exuberent fun of, say,
"5th Element."
The Nietzcheans back-stab the Commonwealth, Hunt has little choice
but to order his crew to abandon ship, and fling Andromeda Ascendant
into a black hole. Three centuries later, the passing salvage ship
Eureka Maru drags the ship out of the frozen time near the black hole.
To Hunt's horror, the All-Systems Commonwealth is virtually forgotten,
and the Three Galaxies have sunken to barbarianism (as ripped off from
Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" novels).
The rag-tag crew of salvage crew, alien Nietzchean mercenary,
alien predator monk must, under the quixotic leadership of Captain Dylan
Hunt, aboard the intelligent living spaceship (think HAL-9000 of Clarke &
Kubrik's "2001" crossed with Sci-Fi Channel's "Lexx") to re-establish
the Commonwealth and restore the glory of civilization (as in David
Brin's self-indulgently filmed "The Postman" with its Re-United States
of America."
So, in summary, Gene Roddenberry was a TV genius, but Star Trek
was his real hit. "Andromeda" is utterly derivative, and so stupid that
I could never sit through any full episode. Almost as stupid as
"Star Wars", politically speaking, but without the cool special effects.
So shoot me.
Cast (in credits order):
High Guard Captain Dylan Hunt -- Kevin Sorbo
Freighter Captain Rebeka 'Beka' Valentine -- Lisa Ryder
Tyr Anasazi Out of Victoria by Barbarossa aka Nemo -- Keith Hamilton Cobb
Trance 'The Purple One' Gemini -- Laura Bertram
Reverend 'Rev' Bem aka Behemial Far Traveler aka Redplague -- Brent Stait
Seamus Zelazny Harper -- Gordon Woolvett (credited as Gordon Michael Woolvett)
Andromeda aka Shining Path to Truth and Knowledge AI model GRA 112,
serial number XMC-10-182 aka Rommie -- Lexa Doig;
Other Writers:
Matt Kiene (episodes 1.03 "To Lose The Fateful Lightening",
1.05 "Double Helix", 1.12 "The Mathematics Of Tears",
1.15 "Forced Perspective", 1.20 "The Honey Offering")
Ashley Miller (episodes 1.04 "D Minus Zero",
1.08 "The Banks Of The Lethe",
1.18 "Devil Take The Hindmost",
1.19 "Fear & Loathing In The Milky Way")
Joe Reinkemeyer (episodes 1.03 "To Lose The Fateful Lightening",
1.05 "Double Helix", 1.12 "The Mathematics Of Tears",
1.15 "Forced Perspective", 1.20 "The Honey Offering")
Gene Roddenberry (creator)
Zack Stentz (episodes 1.04 "D Minus Zero", 1.08 "The Banks Of The Lethe",
1.18 "Devil Take The Hindmost", 1.19 "Fear & Loathing In
The Milky Way")
Ethlie Ann Vare (episodes 1.07 "The Ties That Bind",
1.09 "A Rose In The Ashes", 1.11 "The Pearls That Were His Eyes",
1.17 "Star-Crossed", 1.21 "It Makes A Lovely Light")
John Whelpley (episode 1.14 "Harper 2.0)
Walter Jon Williams (episode 1.10 "All Great Neptune's Ocean");

#266 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 01:43 AM:

The Literary Review's annual Bad Sex Awards have been announced. The prize's purpose is "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel."

These two articles include some hilariously bad sentences from mainstream fiction. Um, enjoy?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4091643.stm

http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/books/12/13/odd.literature.sex.reut/index.html

#267 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 08:06 AM:

Avram, regarding Theresa's footnotes in Firefox:

Have you tried it? The "hover over pictures to see text" doesn't work in Firefox, but I can see Theresa's footnotes just fine. (I'm running 1.0.) I wouldn't have expected it to work if I'd read the description before trying, but I stumbled on to it by trying to click the link I thought was there. I think she's using a different bit of html magic that Firefox likes.

#268 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 10:19 AM:

What Theresa's using for her footnotes is <a title="...">*</a>. "title" is properly shown in a tooltip, or in the status bar, or some other way that isn't a part of the page itself. The "alt" tag to images, which internet explorer (and, sadly, mozilla copied this behavior) shows as a popup is not intended for people who are able to see the images - "alt" is intended for browsers which can't display images, such as lynx, speech-enabled browsers for the blind, or graphical browsers with images turned off. (Or in cases where the images can't be retrieved or the image format isn't understood)

The idea is supposed to be that "alt" is an alternative to the image when "the element cannot be rendered normally", whereas "title" is "advisory information" - a label that is applicable whether the image is there or not. As an added bonus, the semantics of "title" applies just as well to links/anchors as it does to images. (And indeed, the spec allows "title" on most html elements)

Sadly, "title" is not an allowed attribute in "a" tags in comments; I wish it were, and it wouldn't seem too hard (or dangerous) for mt to allow it...

#269 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 05:21 PM:

From this week's Onion horoscopes:

Leo: (July 23—Aug. 22)
You thought you'd seen the worst humanity had to offer, but that was before you read fan-fiction set in an alternate universe where Hawkeye Pierce and Father Mulcahy are lovers.

#270 ::: TB ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2004, 05:16 AM:

Hullo all.
I am always interested when I see people declare things wrong, like "Muppets having sex? That's just wrong!", or the reactions above to many of the fanficced pairings. Indeed I can't remember ever being squicked, exactly (by art, that is). Not even by stories of people roasting their family members on spits, 'erotically'. It don't turn me over, y'know, but it doesn't make me squirm and ick!

I wonder if this means I'm missing something, like the delights of things "cracktacular" or whatever it was. People saying "That's just wrong!" usually have a broad smile.

But in any case, "squick" is such a useful concept, as I have read somewhere (it's all "I got it off the Internet" in my little brains, I fear), because it places the onus on the reader. As opposed to "that's disgusting!/perverted!/wrong!" which attacks the author, "that squicks me" confesses, not exactly a failing, but a boundary of the reader's.

Healthy respect for others? Moral relativism gone mad? I report, you decide!

Oh yus, I also wanted to say, if you want to say "Uhura's Song" fits into the "feels like real Trek/fanfic-ish" category, I'll have no beef, but golly that doctor's as bad a Mary Sue as I've ever seen. And back I swoop to my lurkin'.

#271 ::: S. E. ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2005, 09:43 AM:

I'm dearly behind in commenting on this. I saw the original recommendation when Ellen posted about it, but I hadn't had a chance to read the "... And the next morning" version. This is especially interesting to me, as I'm one of that trickle of fanfic writers turning pro. (Hell, Ellen and I beta each other's stuff. *grin* She's the reason mine's any good.) It's enlightening to see an outsider's view on the subculture and the transition.

The difference in fanfic and professional standards has been a murky one since I started the move. The most blatant difficulty is sex. Given the sheer amount of acceptability placed on graphic sex in fanfic, it's been difficult for me to judge how far I can go in that respect in anything I want to have published. This goes double for slash; I know precisely how far I can go--all the way and off the cliff--when the boys/girls are intended for a fandom audience, but I'm still getting a feeling for the limits in the pro world. Gay sex is a touchy subject outside my little online niche. It's led to a lot of trouble writing sex that feel like sex, whether it be good or bad, but which doesn't cross the line from plot element to erotica (or porn).

I agree with Ellen that more "fade to black" scenes do need to be written out; they're one of the best sources of character development available, and you can sneak some wonderful little plot details into the mix. However, erotica's received such a reputation as "not real writing" that there's an enormous amount of fear regarding the label "erotica writer." Couple this with the most shunned of labels, "fanfic writer," and images of terminal rejection float before one's eyes. (The Catch-22 is that erotica is one of the easiest genres to be published when coming out of fanfic. It has been for me, anyway, and I'm not even a big sex-scene writer.)

The differences are a lot more widespread than just the sex, but it gets more nebulous after that. One difference I've noted is that fanfic allows for a lot more strictly character-based "story" and less out-and-out plot. I think this is one reason a lot of good character writers never make the switch. I'm lucky; for me, it's just a matter of compression and editing. Then, I came into fanfic with several years of unpublished literary and genre writing under my belt.

There's one area I know of in which fanfic makes a writer more prepared for the pro world, no questions asked: it gives you a phenomenal eye for copy-editing and proofreading. When you and your friends have notions of professional quality and you're the only ones who can do it, by gum, that mss is gonna be /flawless/. (Keep in mind, this is the extreme end of fanfic. There are still PLENTY of places to get your fill of "...... And tehn Harree OMGSOHOTLOL!!!one!!!...")

In the end, though, it's a strain to shift from a no-holds-barred standard where the Id Vortex can run relatively rampant to a more restrained one with alien concerns, like "word count" and "your writing's good, but I think you'd have better luck submitting to an erotica publisher." (Hey, we slash writers didn't get our reputation as perverts for nothing.) I'd like to formally compare styles and mores between fan-writers-turned-pro and writers who only ever wrote original, just to see if there are any differences that carry over. This will be more entertaining once the Internet revolution writers start getting published with more regularity.

And that's my really long way of saying, "OMG someone with real credentials is talking about us LOLYAYSQUEE!" ;)

#272 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2005, 06:49 PM:

S.E.: The differences are a lot more widespread than just the sex, but it gets more nebulous after that. One difference I've noted is that fanfic allows for a lot more strictly character-based "story" and less out-and-out plot. I think this is one reason a lot of good character writers never make the switch.

Maybe slash writers going pro might be more comfortable writing mainstream fiction, then? Mainstream seems to be more character-driven.

Mystery stories often seem more character-driven than sf or fantasy. I've got a Robert B. Parker novel at the top of my to-be-read stack, his stories are pretty formulaic at this point but one thing that keeps me going back is that the stories are character-driven. In the end, the detective generally figures out the mystery by figuring out the motivation of the villain---and usually the villain ended up doing the wrong thing for love.

Let's see now, "LOLYAYSQUEE!" is "laughing out loud, yay, squee! right? I can't figure out all of "OMGSOHOTLOL!!!one!!!..." though. Clearly the beginning is "Oh my God, so hot, laughing out loud," but I don't know the rest.

(signed) Mitch Wagner, Emoticon Detective

#273 ::: S. E. ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2005, 12:56 PM:

Maybe slash writers going pro might be more comfortable writing mainstream fiction, then? Mainstream seems to be more character-driven.

Unfortunately, most of us seem to have a very genre-based mindset. I'm fairly slipstream, myself; I write in definite fantasy and SF worlds, but from a literary perspective. It really depends on the writer. Some of us are almost solely character-driven, and others latch onto plot like a chihuahua on a mailman. I like to think of myself as being in the second category; it would certainly explain all the fangirls saying, "But they need to shag more! You frustrate us! Bad writer! (More? Please?)"

I may have to do a poll on mystery writers and readers within fandom (when LJ is working again). While I've seen quite a few stories with mystery elements and even whodunits, I've seldom found a true fannish mystery. I'm not a big reader in the genre myself, but that sounds like a good formula for a lot of fan writers to move into. "I did it for LOVE" is a major motivation in a lot of fanfic.

Let's see now, "LOLYAYSQUEE!" is "laughing out loud, yay, squee! right? I can't figure out all of "OMGSOHOTLOL!!!one!!!..." though. Clearly the beginning is "Oh my God, so hot, laughing out loud," but I don't know the rest.

The mess with the exclamation points is a parody of a tendency that appeared on fanfiction.net a while ago. *sheepish grin* A mark of immaturity began as a series of exclamation points... and then someone missed the shift key. It grew from there. Other variations include the words "eleven" and "eleventy-one."

And, of course, there's the sub-dialect of Netspeak with regards to LOL, in which it's a general display of glee or cheer or approval rather than a true indication of laughing, but it all depends on the context, and... /linguist

S. E. Ward, Destroyer of Mysteries ;)

#274 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2005, 03:53 PM:

I'm a purist on using LOL. I only use it when I have actually laughed out loud while reading something someone wrote. For lesser forms of cheerful appreciation, I use :)

#275 ::: S. E. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2005, 01:14 PM:

Ahh, we used that one to death years ago. :) It's now meant to indicate general approval or to soften the impact of a potentially abrasive statement. Keep in mind, roving groups of fangirls are always assumed to be armed and silly (or at least ovaried and silly). Exaggeration within fandom is an art form. When taken to its most sublime conclusions, you can't even tell it's exaggeration.

#276 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2005, 09:34 PM:

S.E.:

Isn't eleventy-one the atomic number of mithril?

Fictional chemical substance

#277 ::: Jane Carnall ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2005, 06:18 PM:

FWIW, this is the story that sparked Ellen Fremedon's original comments.

#278 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2007, 10:42 PM:

I just want to come around and thank you: I've been referring people to this essay for a long while, and I'm about to use it as one of my reference materials for a seminar, along with Labyrinth (the David Bowie movie,) The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and The King in Yellow.

#279 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2007, 04:51 PM:

For future reference, Donati's tutorial moved with her blog to:

Intro. :: Part One: Humor. :: Part Two: Lyricism. :: Part Three: Stream of Consciousness. :: Part Four: NC-17. :: Part Five: Where Things Go Wrong. :: Part Six: Where Things Go Wrong(er). :: Part Seven: Good Bad-Sex. :: Part Eight: More Good Bad-Sex. :: Part Nine: Falling in Love. :: Part Ten: Less or More.

I borrowed liberally from Ms. Nielsen Hayden's contextualization of fanfic when I explained it to someone last night. Thanks.

And the other day, when I asked myself why I kept dreaming that Stephen Colbert was a teacher, I turned to The Colbert Report fanfic to help me understand the themes in TCR that are getting at me. One unexpected theme that resonates: attention-seeking and approval-seeking. The real Colbert is the youngest of eleven children and lost his dad and two brothers when he was a child. He freely admits a huge attention-seeking drive, but he'll act silly on stage without fear of embarrassment. The Colbert persona is a tremendous narcissist and that may be the only urge of his that he isn't in denial about.

There is some GREAT Colbert fanfic; if you enjoy Pratchett, you'll like Erin Ptah's "The Thing With Feathers."

#280 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2014, 10:48 AM:

Oh interesting, her sentence "I wonder what the effect on, if not mainstream literary fiction, at least on mainstream genre fiction is going to be when the number of fanwriters taking that toolbox with them into pro writing reaches critical mass-- which I think it's going to, in the next decade." was almost exactly ten years ago now. Before Fifty Shades of Gray, before the Temeraire series, before Zen Cho's work took off...

#281 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2014, 11:57 AM:

All the links in the final paragraph of the OP are dead. Perhaps they've been moved? As it sounds like a useful set of references, perhaps someone could update them?

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