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[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.
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ali_wildgoose: (Default)
Go make some new disaster.

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