ali_wildgoose: (Default)
[personal profile] ali_wildgoose
Recently, John Rogers (the creator/showrunner for Leverage) was asked for his thoughts on fanfic, and actually took the time to articulate some pretty positive thoughts on the matter! I won't repost his entire response here (others have done so already, if you don't want to have to skim his post) but the one aspect of his outlook that irked me can be summed up with this quote: "Sure, a lot of fanfic is crap. Of course it's crap. It's written by people who are not professional writers."

I realize this is an INCREDIBLY minor point in the larger context of his not being an ass about fanwork. But it's a point that I'm particularly interested in for (probably obvious) reasons.

I'll admit: I was a little frustrated by the implication that fanfic is inherently inferior in quality because it isn't professional. It's a perspective that comes up often, from pros and fans alike, and while I understand the reasoning behind it I feel like it's an unhelpful and often inaccurate way of looking at things.

First of all, as many of you are no doubt KEENLY aware, being a professional doesn't make you a good writer -- plenty of excellent writers are technically amateurs, and a GREAT MANY pro writers are completely terrible. What being a professional actually implies is that you can write reasonably well within an existing system and on a deadline, that you can create marketable material, and that you bothered to try and find professional writing work in the first place.

Different kinds of pro writing require specific, often specialized skillsets. In my personal experience, A LOT of what separates seasoned pros from green newcomers is the ability to understand and stay within an often-merciless and rigid framework. Of course you need to have talent and good ideas, but a lot of it (PARTICULARLY in television writing and work-for-hire situations) is format and tone: how to write a one-sentence logline, how to organize and present a pitch, how to fit your story into three acts of a certain length, how to balance larger continuity with the need for a self-contained story, how to word something so that it will appeal to the specific people you're pitching to, etc etc etc.

And I'm not saying that isn't hard. It is really, REALLY hard. I'm hardly what you'd call a "seasoned pro" but I've had to learn many of these things to get to the point where I'm at. One of the most technically challenging things I've ever had to write was an 11-minute episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, which if you saw I doubt you'd be particularly impressed by. Earlier this week, I tortured myself for HOURS over how to cram a stack of exposition into ~200 words of captions without making it clunky and forced.

But I see my ability to do this kind of work as a skill that I've learned over time. It doesn't make my work GOOD or my stories particularly worthwhile. I actually think that, if you held my television writing and the licensed work-for-hire I've done up against my more successful fanwork, the fanwork probably tells a better story that's more enjoyable to read (depending on taste, of course.) It's not the kind of thing that's considered to be marketable within a pro framework, so I do it for fun and the entertainment of others. But I'd argue that, in some ways at least, it's BETTER. And I doubt I'm the only writer-in-two-worlds who feels that way.

Now, the above few paragraphs were written with one kind of pro work in mind, largely because of the context of what I'm reacting to -- a television writer's blog. Novels, original comics and other creations outside that mainstream media framework are a very different animal. But having done all three of these things -- TV/work-for-hire, wholly original work and fanwork -- I'd say that the experience of writing fanwork is somewhere in between the other two. On the one hand, you're building on someone else's foundation and working within their established rules, which is a huge part of the TV/WFH experience; on the other hand you're more free to tell the story you want to, with less rigid restrictions on style and format and more freedom to find your own, like-minded audience.

If there's a disparity in quality between pro and fan writing, it's that fan writers aren't required to take their work seriously or go through any sort of editorial process. OF COURSE this means that the good/bad ratio will be skewed, as nothing is stopping me or anyone else from banging out 500 words of garbage and uploading it to FF.net without even reading it over.

HOWEVER, I would argue that far too much attention is paid to the unwashed, unedited fanfiction masses in these conversations. If you compare a random story from FF.net to an episode of nationally distributed television, it's a given that 99.99% of the time the pro work will come out on top. Because that episode of TV isn't random -- it was collaboratively created by an already-vetted team of writers who have struggled and scraped their way to their current positions.

If we want to make a comparison that actually tells us something, it should be between the pros and the fic writers who are ALSO at the top of their game -- those who take their work just as seriously and struggle just as fiercely to rise above the ranks and win themselves an audience. Some of those writers are professionals themselves, of course, but just as many of them aren't. And I don't think that the fact that they've decided to explore their favorite characters on their own terms -- rather than fight to worm their way into the industry -- means that their words are any less powerful, their ideas and stories any less interesting, or their talent any less impressive.

I realize that it's out of fashion to be "SRS BSNS" about fanfiction, but guess what! Some of us are. And I personally feel that their contributions, while different in many ways, are just as worthy of my eyeballs as the work of pros like John Rogers.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 10:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wodhaund.livejournal.com
Thank you for articulating everything I was thinking regarding that quote!

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 10:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sabledrake.livejournal.com
Well said!

-- C.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jlh.livejournal.com
Hey! first, wee typo in the fourth from last ¶, "trough" instead of "through."

I feel that capitalism just can't be taken out of this equation. First, he says that being paid for something is a marker of quality, which is a very capitalist way of viewing things. But second, he says that people should be able to have their hobbies in his simile about the paintings in the neighborhood show. I would argue that many people, and very likely including the fanfic hater who started all this—would indeed think that if your paintings are crap you should stop painting, that there should be no such thing as a neighborhood show, as being in a dorky cover band on the side, as a amateur chorus or a community playhouse. They don't think you should put effort into anything that isn't going to make you money. They think hobbies are a waste of time (and sometimes money) and are for chumps, and any kind of artistic hobby is at the top of that list.

(And in fact all the people who say, "you write so well you should do it for a living" are echoing those sentiments.)

But yes, comparing the best pro writing and the worst amateur writing is usually where the entire thing falls apart.
Edited Date: 2009-08-27 11:03 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zoesque.livejournal.com
I agree with -- everything you've said here!

You're also dead-on when you say it's out of fashion to be serious about fanfiction, to the point where I sometimes feel -- stupid? pathetic? misguided? take your pick -- for having that exact stance and vocalizing it. Which is insane, because isn't taking writing -- all writing -- seriously a quality or outlook that a writer should nurture and take pride in?

I have never, in my heart of hearts, felt that my fanfic writing was any less 'worthy' or legitimate than any of my other writing outlets, and I really wish that people would stop trying to shame or patronize me into feeling that way.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] melengro.livejournal.com
I was very refreshed and made to feel happy feelings by most of what Rogers said there and he seems pretty cool about it but that quote annoyed me as well. Thank you for articulating this. <3

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:13 pm (UTC)
ext_6866: (Might as well be in Chinese)
From: [identity profile] sistermagpie.livejournal.com
I was totally expecting him to say that of course a lot of it's crap. Most of anything is going to be crap. Because I assume he means there's just no quality control whatsoever, but still, it's a silly thing for any writer to say because surely he knows all writers start out as not being professionals.

What's always weird for me is when people say how a lot of it is crap that is totally not my experience, mostly because it's been years since I've had to troll ff.net for stories. On lj I pretty much go by writer, and people on my f'list are quite good. I mean seriously good. Like there's plenty of people on my f'list that I think of as being just good writers that I admire and want to learn from, and I'm talking about regarding skills that any writer would do well to have. So I almost forget that for some people fanfic is all about: "Oh Harry." said Hermoine. "Your going to be king of the prom."

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] soggytoast.livejournal.com
I interpreted the quote to say that usually when fanfic sucks, it's because it's written by those who do not have any training or honed skills.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ali-wildgoose.livejournal.com
And I think that's a totally valid way to interpret it! I think I was pushed to write a post not only by this specific instance than by the larger conversation and attitude it represents. Most professional writers see fanwriting as inherently inferior in quality, and I'll admit that it gets on my nerves.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] soggytoast.livejournal.com
I can see that, as it's the same with fan art. I think the feeling often is that as a pro, there are gatekeepers that you've passed and dues you've paid. Which is true more often then not. But the feeling that someone is NOT good because they haven't passed those gates is wrong. because every professional was just an amateur at one point.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:25 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-27 11:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] harriet-vane.livejournal.com
Yeah, I agree. And it can actually be way scarier posting something online than sending it to a rl publisher. The publisher might say no thank you, but I've run across stuff on delicious that would make Perez Hilton feel apologetic.

Also, I'd say that if a lot of it is crap it's because there's no minimum entry age. Most fanfic writers start off mary sueing themselves into something when they're really young, and yeah, a lot of those stories are badly written. They get better.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rawles.livejournal.com
I saw this a couple of days ago right before I saw this (final question) where a Tor senior editor thinks of fanfic as legit transformative work that is sometimes superior to the material on which it is based and very nearly takes a position of more faith in the quality of fanfic than he does in that of the quality of amateur original fiction. The rationale being that fanfic *can't* be published/is by definition stuck amateur and as such might be brilliant regardless of whether someone is being paid.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 12:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ali-wildgoose.livejournal.com
That is a rationale that I can VERY MUCH get behind *___*

edit: although I admittedly wish someone other than PNH had said it, as he is kind of an ass :|
Edited Date: 2009-08-28 12:33 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 12:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rawles.livejournal.com
Yes.

My only thought was too bad I hate him and love John Rogers, but whatevs.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 12:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aerodactylus.livejournal.com
That is extremely heartening to read that there are, in fact, members of the mass media who don't think fanfic is trash, or that the very concept is trash.

I personally would like to just think that John Rogers was referencing Sturgeon's Law (that being that 90% of everything is crap), rather than calling fanfic inherently inferior because it isn't done by pro writers, but I can certainly appreciate your stance.

You know, someone should organize a...a something...in which a stellar episode of a TV show/movie/book/video game is held up to an equally stellar fanfic of the same work, and see what people think. I think it might go some way towards lessening general pro disdain of fanwork in general.

Then again, I could be hopelessly naive...

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 01:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tammylee.livejournal.com
The line between pro and amateur is very fine for many industries. (I'm thinking design for one, as I am seeing gorgeous amateur design stuff coming out of DIY sites all over the net!)

I think the problem is with how we define 'professional'; by if you get paid vs. quality of work.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 01:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gallo-de-pelea.livejournal.com
Stephanie Meyer is a professional writer. :I

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 03:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gallo-de-pelea.livejournal.com
I kinda jumped the gun -- but man, I'm just so tired of the "not pro=crap" mindset...

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 02:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kita0610.livejournal.com
Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-28 04:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] junglefowl26.livejournal.com
You know, I few months ago i read J.R.R. Martin give an essay on why fanfic is bad and wrong and since I really liked his work, I was ashamed and stopped writing fanfic for a while. I got over it, but you make me feel good about being a fanficer again.

Though I think I am going to start working on my own stuff soon.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-29 10:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hello-scorpling.livejournal.com
Mm, so agreed. IDK what grates on me most of all whenever the subject of fanfic comes up, is how I often get the impression that the reason my hobby is so frowned upon is because it won't lead to anything.. "real" in the end. I'm not making money or gaining recognition I'll ever have use for irl, and I have absolutely no plans on ever becoming a professional writer. That's not what I'm after. Writing for me is about enjoying the feeling of being creative, put thoughts and feelings into words and honing a skill, not for profit, but to make my personal life a little richer. When did that stop being a good thing?

Also, haha, I'm very serious about fanfic, too. B) If I do something, I want to do it well! Regardless!

(It could be worth mentioning that copyright laws are far more lenient in Sweden than the US, and so there have been a number of novels in recent years that are mor or less long fanfics of classical Swedish novels. So, you know. If the cultural establishment gets on a high horse over here, I think they're throwing stones in their snob-tinted glass house)

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