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Fanfic vs. Original Stuff, and a Little Mary Sue

Ok, so I have this theory.

My theory is that many writers start out doing fanfic of some kind, whether they know that's what they're doing or not. They're intrigued by an idea, person, tv show, movie, or whatever, so they decide to write (or rewrite) a (part of the) story.

That's how I started. Well, I started with two things, one an "original" and one an "episode" of a TV show I plan to take to my grave. I think the "episode" came first, but I'm not sure. It was like 10 lines in a diary (the only diary I ever kept, and I wish I hadn't thrown it out in a fit of teenage mortification), but it was definitely the equivalent of fanfic.

We didn't call it fanfic then; in fact, I think many people thought they were the only ones (and certainly fanfic wasn't as common before the internet). I've been a fanfic snob in a lot of ways (I write original material!), but I certainly wouldn't grill it over an open flame, and I definitely wouldn't call it a scourge. It does seem to draw attention to the original material in question, along with fansites and fanlistings and the like--and most media has become interactive media, with writers and producers visiting fan sites to gauge how well ideas are working.

I got talked into trying my hand at fanfic a couple years ago, and I caved. And, horrors, I enjoyed writing it. (I didn't write much, but can I just tell you--it was good. I'm really proud of what I ended up with. I wrote it under a pen name, so it's out there, but as of right now, I'm not telling you where.) In fact, it worried me a little how much I liked doing it.

I didn't have to build my own characters and relationships from scratch; I didn't have to build a world complete with rules were believable. I didn't have to face that first blank page, wondering where the heck I was going and how I was going to get there. A whole backstory already existed, so it felt like diving into the middle rather than trying to figure out where the beginning of something new was, and how I was going to make it go anywhere.

One of my greatest fears has always been that there won't be a new story in me. I write novel-length material, and the number of short stories I've written can be counted on one hand. Some of them collapsed in on themselves and have been relegated to ruins that I might someday excavate, but don't want to right now. Short stories just aren't my thing. (Look at the length of anything I write, like my blog posts--I seem to have a defective "write short stuff" gene. *grin*)

When you write novel-length material, or maybe I should take a Gestalt-type responsibility here and say when I write things that long, I get attached to my characters, my worlds, and leaving them to go someplace completely different...that's hard. Recently, trying to go someplace new, I had a complete meltdown on the launchpad, the idea burning up into the equivalent of fried circuit boards and plastic. I haven't completely abandoned it yet, but I keep looking at that scorchmark, terrified that I shall never write another story. Believe me, the urge to write is still there, but a novel-length idea that's actually growing into something that will bear fruit is eluding me.

I know some people write fanfic when they're blocked with original material. What's hard for me is I feel like it's easy to fall into the relative comfort of writing in a world that has endless possibilities, because you can fiddle with canon, argue cannon, and Mary Sue yourself, either subtly or overtly. Mary Sue may be a real scourge, but she can be fun, even if she never meets anyone in your writing groups. She can be a dirty little secret. Or a confession that draws us closer to other writers. I think being Mary Sue can be what prompts people to start writing.

What do you think?


The tabloids are eager to point out possible eating disorders almost as much as they like hyping diets so readers can look just like the celebrities who were supposedly anorexic last week.

What we believe about who has what problem has a lot to do with what the media tells us. It took Paul McCartney a while to convince people he really wasn't dead after the news broke. Even Matt LeBlanc had to call his mother to reassure her after he was incorrectly reported deceased.

The point is, we get a lot of information through words, and we pay a lot of attention to those words. But we often lie with our mouths to try to convince people that what they're seeing is wrong. When a celebrity swears she doesn't have an eating disorder and that she is eating tons of food and working out with a trainer, it could be true. But it might not be.

Words are only 7% of what we say.

Pay attention to the other 93%.

Plagiarism Sucks

In the early days of the internet, everyone gave everyone else credit for the teeniest little thing. Information was still being passed the old fashioned way — by word of mouth, by ink on actual pieces of paper — and each new fact was something to be treasured, along with the person who found it for you. Pages intended to share information were peppered with italicized notes: Thanks to C for this information! W is always an amazing and generous resource. D tracked this down for us.

Now information is so easy to come by — just Google, cut, and paste — that "borrowing" it has become just as easy.

But the fact of the matter really is, you're not saying anything by plagiarising, other than perhaps "I'm not bright enough to dredge up an argument of my own."

Our culture seems to be losing its ability to think. Far too many people are flummoxed by the idea of having to find information when Google or Wikipedia don't provide them with a preformatted answer.

And that scares me. It really scares me.

Because when we forget how to think for ourselves, we're helpless.

There are lots of reasons people plagiarize. They do it because it's easier than writing a paper they don't care about writing. They do it because there's pressure to produce more and better stuff. They do it because they don't know how to say it better than the author.

But no matter what your reason is, you're not a writer if all you're doing is stapling together others' stories. At least, that's what the publishing industry decided during Harvard's Kaavya Viswanathan disaster. Even when uncited material stays on the market, like that in Ann Coulter's book, it reduces your credibility. If you can't make the argument with your own words, maybe you should sit down and let someone else do the arguing.

I really do believe that old adage that nothing under the sun is really new, but at least come up with a new way to talk about it, you know?

Listen, writing is hard work. The Muse is fickle, and sometimes writing stories feels less like magic than punishment, but the willingness — and ability — to ask questions that make other people uncomfortable, to plumb the abyss of the human Shadow, to find meaning in what might otherwise drive one mad...that makes it all worth it.

Fortunately, the Blog explosion and sites that encourage people to post original fiction have reminded people that churning out ideas — original ideas — is fun.

In June of 1993, there were 130 websites online1. By 2000, there were over 7 million2. As of November 2006, over 100 million3. As of this writing, the web is growing at more than 3.5 million sites per year3.

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