… eep! Late.
So I’ve mentioned before in various places that I do, in fact, actively write fanfic under a Sekret Alias1 that I keep separate for Reasons. The main relevant thing about Sekret Alias is that it’s my relaxation space; it has pretty much no social media presence, and I do nothing to actively promote the fics I write and post there, to “network” in fandom spaces,2 or whatever. Because all of that stuff is the stuff I find exhausting and disheartening about profic, so gods know I don’t want to do any of it in my downtime.
Rachel Manija Brown on story without conflict.
I’m always really (a-har) conflicted by these sorts of posts, because on the one hand I agree—I love quiet scenes and cutrainfic and so on—but, on the other, I think in some respects they sell the notion of “conflict” itself short. Yes, there is an over-emphasis on superficial external conflict (e.g. violence, arguments) in a lot of media nowadays, see pretty much every action movie, for example. But, also, I think it’s possible for subtler forms of conflict to exist within a narrative, including metatextual conflict between the narrative and itself, the narrative and other works, or the narrative and the reader.
Brown mentions the “secret garden” genre, for example, as one that tends to be without conflict. But I’d argue that the attraction of the secret garden is, in fact, rooted in a metatextual conflict in this latter sense. That is, it’s the conflict between the reader’s unfulfilled desire for their own secret garden and the fact that the protagonist has one that the reader, by the very action of reading, intrudes upon and eventually takes over (by subsuming the book, and thus the garden, into their own memories).
Curtainfic, meanwhile, is a work that’s almost always in conflict with its own source material. A solid third of all fics tagged curtainfic on the AO3, for example, are in the Supernatural fandom, with the next biggest chunk coming from the MCU. These are not canons known for their fluffy domesticity! As someone who loves a curtainfic, and particularly loves its Villains Out Shopping subtrope, I can assert the fun in both reading and writing these scenarios is definitely in exploring the conflict their quiet mundanity presents against either the canon or the characters. (See also: why villain/antihero/antagonist fandoms tend to be full of “fluffy” memes.)
For another, related, example, see any time anyone trots out kishōtenketsu as a “story without conflict” trope… and then proceed to give a handful of examples all of which include some kind of conflict. The fact that the conflict is usually framed as the story presenting contrasting narrative elements, with the conflict between them occurring within the reader’s head as a kind of dialectic—as opposed to direct “on the page” action—does not, in fact, actually mean the narrative is “without conflict”. But, like. Good luck getting anyone to admit that.
“But, Alis!” you might be thinking. “What you’re describing is contrast, not ‘conflict’. You’ve even used the word multiple times!”
Yeah. And what I’d argue is that, in almost all circumstances, when people talk about “conflict” in the context of narrative what they actually mean to talk about is contrast (a.k.a. tension). Two random characters having a fight is conflict, but it isn’t narratively interesting unless you’re one of those people who nuts to mechanized descriptions of fight scenes.1 Two characters having a fight over differing ideologies, on the other hand, is interesting, particularly when each side has some valid points and the audience themselves is engaged with attempting to determine who to root for and why. This is also why so many “popcorn villains” are so flat and kinda bullshit.
Think about, say, Strickland in Shape of Water, for example, who is pretty much the epitome of an uncompelling antagonist. This isn’t the fault of Michael Shannon, who does great; it’s because in the context of the narrative Strickland is just a one-note bad guy. He’s a bigot who hates the fish man! Okay, well… good on him, I guess. But the reality is Strickland could be replaced by literally anything else—including nothing at all—and the film’s conflict would remain the same. Why? Because the conflict in the film isn’t “oh no gubba gonna getcha fish, gurl”. It’s “ahaha in every other story like this the fish guy is either evil, or dies, or turns human at the end”. It’s a metatextual conflict, in other words, between the audience and their expectations for the genre. This is also, incidentally, why I thought the film was kinda meh; because I read a lot of monster romance, I have no genre expectation of the narrative going in any way other than “girl fucks fish man”. Because that’s how monster romances work!2 Which means the actual narrative itself felt empty in the “superficial conflict no contrast/tension” way.3 Also, the romance was really flat. Like, really flat.
I did look pretty, though. So… there’s that I guess.4 Also, it won a bunch of Oscars, which just goes to show why narrative conflict is such a minefield, since it leans so heavily on being able to anticipate the mental/emotional states of your audience…
- No judgement, you do you. [↩]
- Except when they’re, like, “boy fucks fish man”, or “girl fucks eldritch horror”, or “enby shares non-sexual intimacy with demon”, or whatever. [↩]
- Also see: the Obvious Hints that Sally is also, in fact, a fish monster. Meaning the story isn’t even “girl fucks fish man”, it’s “fish woman fucks fish man” which… eeeeeh. [↩]
- Though don’t get me started on the whole “sassy Black best friend with deadbeat husband” and “tragic queer uncle” tropes because, ugh. What is it about del Toro films and throwing intersectionality under the goddamn bus? [↩]
I know I’ve told this story before, but at a conference once, an author on a panel was asked how long it took her to write a book, from idea to publication. She said idea to publication, ten days. Ten. It takes her seven days to write it, a day to self-edit, and then a couple days to format it and set up sales channels, etc. She skips having someone else edit her work because it slows down the process, which makes her readers unhappy. They want as much new material as she can write, as fast as possible, and since they loved her books, there can’t be much wrong with them, right? It’s this story that made me absolutely skeptical of the quality of work authors with monthly or bi-monthly releases because the timeline doesn’t allow for another human being to put their eyeballs on their work. So, yes, technically this can be done. Whether or not it should be done is entirely subjective.
Jenny Trout on turnover.
Coming from fandom I find this kind of interesting, because very fast turnarounds in fanfic are both not-uncommon1 and always welcome; no one ever complained that their fav WIP got chapters added too quickly.
I think the fastest I’ve written a novel-length (60k-ish) fic was slightly under two weeks. The caveats are I didn’t have to work out characterization, setting, or lore–since they’d all been provided to me by the existing canon–and, even though I still think the fic is quite good, I find new typos and badly written sentences every time I re-read it. I also not-quite-unobviously changed the direction the fic’s finale was headed in halfway through, meaning some of the early foreshadowing is off. It’s something I’d fix up in a “profic” but didn’t worry too much about when I was posting something chapter-by-chapter to the AO3.
On the other hand, fandom is as fandom does, which means no-one’s ever complained about the fic’s deficiencies; only praised the parts about it they like. It doesn’t mean the rough edges aren’t there, though, and it doesn’t mean that learning to both, a) identify them, and b) polish them off isn’t a valuable skill. It’s just not something I feel all that bothered about doing when I’m posting fanfic, which is basically why I write fanfic; because it’s such a low-pressure2 exercise compared to producing pro works, and yet is something that helps me develop certain craft skills in ways the pro workflow doesn’t.
So there’s a post that’s been going around presenting an argument against beta readers. This is something I’ve been thinking about recently, for a variety of reasons, and so obviously I have Opinions on both the post specifically and beta readers in general.
To get the basic stuff out of the way first, I deeply dislike (though am hardly surprised by) the sneering, arm’s-length-pinched-nose way the article talks about the term “beta readers” in particular. As far as I know, the concept of betas comes out of fandom (who cribbed it off software development), so old dudes choosing to single it out for ridicule above-and-beyond other, similar concepts (e.g. crit circles) gets my back up.
That being said…
Yeah. I kinda agree with the premise. Sort of. I agree with it in the sense that getting a good beta reader is hard, meaning most people end up with bad ones, and I’d argue that a bad beta is worse than no beta at all. Obviously (and as the article points out) this isn’t something limited to beta readers: I have a friend, for example, who’s lamented to me in the past that they stopped attending their local writer’s group because it basically turned into the group’s president hosting vicious teardown sessions of everyone else’s work. This, incidentally, is not the sort of beta/”crit” that’s helpful.
That being said, I have both performed and received beta reads in the past, and I do think they can be useful, under a couple of provisos:
It’s a PDF, because of course it is, available for download here. Key point (bold added):
A piece of fanfiction is more likely to infringe copyright where it uses a “substantial part” of the original work, without permission from the copyright owner, and no exception applies (see Copyright exceptions and fanfiction below). Courts have held that a “substantial part” is a distinct, important, or essential part of a copyright work. In the context of fanfiction, this would include key characters and key plot elements, all things which fanfiction by its very nature explicitly uses and reproduces. Although the extent may vary between types and pieces of fanfiction, in many cases it will be arguable that fanfiction does use enough of a pre-existing original copyright work to be a considered a substantial part for the purposes of copyright infringement
And then, a bit further down (again, bold added):
For fanfiction authors who write parody fanfiction, or fanfiction that satirises the original story or story tropes, this would easily come under the fair dealing for the purposes of parody or satire. Similarly, fanfiction authors who write fanfiction which examine and critique the original material, either the original story itself or its themes and ideas, could arguably come under the fair dealing purpose of criticism and review. Other types of fanfiction, however, such as alternate universes or romance, do not easily fit into these purposes, and thus would not be covered by a fair dealing exception.
I’m kind of surprised about that “alternate universes” line, because to me that would seem to be exactly the type of fanfic that doesn’t use the “key plot elements” or–arguably, if it’s ATG‘y enough–“key characters”. Though I guess the latter in particular would rely on you making the argument that your fanfic isn’t copyright infringing because it’s, yanno. Too poorly written.
I’m also side-eyeing that whole “parody and criticism is okay but romance is by definition not parody or criticism” concept so hard, you’d better believe it. But the whole paper suffers from that “when men write it, it’s fine, but when women write it… ew!” thing, as seen in the direct quote:
[F]anfiction has become increasingly mainstream with the internet and “remix” novels such as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, and 50 Shades of Grey with (in)famously began as Twilight fanfiction.
“(In)famously”? Fuck you, buddy. It’s probably not a surprising to learn that I’m of the opinion that romance–or romantic elements–can absolutely be used for the purpose of criticism, particularly in the “queering” context used in a lot of fanfic. This is the premise of Liesmith and Stormbringer, after all, which are Norse mythology fanfic under the lens of, “Yeah but how would you interpret the eddas if you weren’t a straight white dude?”
But I’m oldskool fandom, so maybe that’s just my bias showing.
That being said, don’t take it to mean I think the Copyright Council’s interpretation of the law is factually wrong; I’m assuming it’s not. It’s the cultural assumptions underneath the law that I have a problem with…
Mike Shatzkin on the rise-and-rise of ereaders and interstitial reading.
“Interstitial reading” is the fancy-pants name for the reading you do on your phone when you’re on the loo or in the line at the supermarket. It’s short paragraphs and short chapters, fast-moving action and dialogue, easy to put down and easier to pick up. It’s a very, very difficult way of writing, in other words, and one that tends to get sneered at by a lot of (paper book) authors.
It’s also the native format of (almost) anyone who comes from writing fanfic.
Fanfic, at least for the last decade, is both natively digital and natively interstitial. It has no need to be formatted for print, no need to worry about things like the commercial viability of page counts, and so it tends to fall into a very specific kind of rhythm.
One like this.
In fact, I can usually tell when an author wrote fanfic before they wrote profic1 because they tend to write in The Style,2 at least for the first few books until it gets beaten out of them by editors or, like in my case, their own conscious effort to try and “write longer”.3
Anyway. The point is that this is something I think about a lot when I see people in fandom complain that they can never get into profic in the way they can with fanfic. Because, yeah, obviously there are issues around character familiarity and whatnot… but with the seemingly massive surge in popularity of ATG-esque AUs,4 I do wonder if there isn’t something else going on. Some kind of mechanical difference between the way fan- and profic tends to be constructed. So, yeah. I kinda think there is, and that Shatzkin has (inadvertently) nailed it.
- And, despite Conventional Fandom Wisdom, there are a lot of authors that did, and no, not just the ones you know about. [↩]
- There are some other tells, like writing in present tense. Ironically, one of the authors I can think of that most predominantly writes in “fanfic style” is Chuck Wendig. We can have a discussion about the gendered implications of this another time. [↩]
- I’m actually currently in the process of trying to unlearn my unlearning of fanfic style, because Reasons, but… that’s another story. Like, literally another story. Keep your eyes out in 2017/2018, in other words! [↩]
- Seriously. These were not so popular a decade ago, I swear. [↩]