Fix 15: The Class Assigned Fanfiction

Okay, so this isn’t a Fix per say, but more something to think about.

 

I’m taking two workshop classes this semester, which means that my time is filled up with having to write and insane amount of things and be ridiculously busy since I’m also writing for the newspaper, and maybe getting paid to write for another publication. In other words this is an insane amount of just writing focused work. What about this is interesting to you? One of my teachers asked me to write a five-page fanfiction and then review everyone else’s 5-page fanfiction.

 

Does this sound odd?

 

Well, it’s a little less odd, it’s for Playwriting class. We read Edward Albie’s The Zoo Story, discussed it, and then the teacher told us to write a 5 page sequel due yesterday at 5pm, and to read everyone else’s by class tomorrow. Honestly I’ve done such things before for things like The Giver, but that was in middle school. I’ve done creative papers in College for a Shakespeare class where I updated Julius Caesar to where our friend JC was becoming king of the United States (to analyze the missed historical significance of crowning Caesar). All of those things to a greater or lesser degree are writing a fanfiction.

 

I realized it when I was writing my little 5-page script (happily titled The Zoo News Story). At which point I realized that I had to write it like a fanfiction. For some reason a lot of people think this means that your work becomes less good, but to properly write a fanfiction you have to really understand the medium shift and the original series/characters/writing style/humor, and then be able to put in the time commitment to do the work to write the big piece. In other words there is a real art to proper imitation, especially since you’re not just copying, but creating from someone else’s foundation. It is now looked down it, but this is what Shakespeare did. This is what Virgil did. This is what Dante did.

 

Because of the recent invention of copyright fanfiction is now seen as something dirty, an almost below the law. But please consider the idea that it’s more… beside the law, all art is. There is nothing new under the sun, says (my slight misquote) of the bible. There is nothing new. Art is the ability to take an old idea and recycle it in a way that is able to reach people. Fanfiction is in someways easier because instead of having to come up with a new story about Good vs Evil you can write about Batman or about Harry Potter. At the same time, the narrowing down of the subject matter suddenly opens up the world with a huge amount of possibilities.

 

To quote Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation: “When told I can [do] everything I just can’t think of anything.” Limitations allow for creativity, even if it’s a creative way of getting around those limits. Suddenly only writing in Harry Potter give the writer a focus, and now the hard part starts. To write a good fanfiction you can write your own version on the world, but frankly I get tried of explaining those away. The best writers blend what is their own and what is in the original work.

 

A great example is Ladya C. Maxine’s (Beyblade) story “Our First Noel”, which aside from the BL sticks very close to the characters, and is so incredibly funny that I still end up unable to breathe whenever I re-read it. What the author does is write it from the point of view of a character, and it’s completely from inside his mind. That opened insane possibilities, since most people have very non-linear and odd stray thoughts. This means that a character who normally seems sane and dependable can be incredibly pathetic and funny without losing the original character. Let me add this isn’t an easy thing to do, but the writer was able to blend her own writing style, her own voice, and the original series in a way that is both different from the original series but not at all alien or unfamiliar.

 

So, how does this relate back to my assignment?

 

Truthfully it made me very frustrated because I only had one reading to understand the characters and write a continuation. Thankfully the character of Peter (one of the two leads) is like a pathetic human version of Aziraphale from Good Omens, so much so that when I described what I’d written to my roommate she fell on the floor laughing because she could completely see Aziraphale doing what I had Peter do. This was lucky because I knew how to write it, but I was still frustrated because I couldn’t get the proper character voice down because I’d only had one view on the original work.

 

There are only three types of fanfiction: the type that’s starting out or bad (since all new people to fanfiction will be bad, and probably willfully bad for a while), the type where the writer knows they aren’t good and are trying to improve, the type that’s amazing and really fits with the original while having their own voice.

 

When you’re new or just ignorant your work will fit in category one. My intended audience (and myself for that matter) is in category two, and we should all aspire to category three. I feel like I’ve even achieved category three sometimes, but not always, really it’s not easy but I continue to strive to reach category three.

 

Now, this is more of a spectrum than three different boxes you check off. It’s completely possible that you ma have to hit all three for each new genre or series you write in, or you may skip the first category whenever you skip to a new series, or you may even just hit number three when you hit a new series, but to hit number three you need understanding of writing, writing theory, your own style, the style of the original series, and the knowledge and experience of having written bad fanfics in the past. No one is a natural born writer, it’s something we learn, as such no one is initially good at fanfiction when they begin. It takes practice and work.

 

So, while I do my little fanfic assignments for class I will go in with my pride as a fanfiction writer, and as a novelist, and as produced playwright, and I’ll hold my head up high. As for what you should do the next time your teacher assigns you a fanfiction… write it like a fanfiction, and have fun. Remember that the only reason anyone writes a good fanfiction is because they see something they don’t think anyone else can see. Remember that you’re writing your part of the fandom, and remember that if you’re reading this an nodding along that you’ve probably got some competency and you can figure out something original to write, so don’t stress and have fun.

Fix 5: Flash Characters

Readymade Villians, just add water!

 

While I haven’t specifically talked about different types of Sues, I suppose I should try today. I’ll be touching on the “Villian-Sue”. Now honestly, I haven’t seen a lot of these, because my villains were never supposed to be liked, not when I was in my Sue phase anyway. Now I have villains who range from being terrifying if attractive, to so likable you almost wish they could win but they’re wrong.  The last one involves an OC villain for a fanfiction, where I didn’t want anyone evil, just someone who feels his country will be wronged if the heir becomes he monarch, and is willing to do anything to stop that from happening. Ironically, the audience really loves the villain, and some of them really want him to win in the end.

 

Making characters is kind of my thing. Right now if I do any personal writing, it’s often little character sketches. Things without plot, simply describing a cool character idea I had.  It’s actually a good exercise to do for writing, because there’s no push to go anywhere, you’re simply laying out back story, and getting a feel for your character. The last time I did this I wrote about an atheist bounty hunter in the old west. He’s a fantastically interesting character, but I don’t know enough about westerns to really write things with him.

 

So, how do you write a good villain? Well, I can’t really tell you. The problem with Mary-Sue litmus tests is that they’re really only for identifying one type of character, and sometimes the character isn’t a Sue once they’re within the context of the story. Same thing with the Villain. If your villain is ridiculously powerful, but has something tragic happen to them so their destroying things is ‘explained away’, then you have a very common type of villain. These appear often in movies and books, and everywhere. What makes it interesting is if the hero’s journey include great struggle against the villain.

 

The other thing to consider about the above villain is that unless you’re doing a duel journey (the journey of the hero vs the journey of the villain) it’s hard for the villian’s tragic past to not seem… unnecessary. Remember this mantra “Less is more, less is more”. Hannibal Lector is far more threatening when you don’t know about his past. Same thing with Darth Vader. *spoiler for HP book 7 ending* Voldemort is less threatening when Harry verbally reduces him to that of man. *end spoiler* This is part of what’s wrong with the 7th movie, but I digress.

 

How does any of this pertain to the title? Well first off, characters get easier to make the more you make them. Your first character is often a Sue because you want so badly for people to love them and you spend so much time on them that you over burden them with things. I have characters that I’ve been working on for almost as long as I’ve had my Sue. One of them includes a character who I recently discovered had a mind that worked so fast that she often had trouble communicating. It’s a clear case of Blessed with Suck, but it also makes her interesting to write as she struggles to be understood. (It’s also an interesting variation on the Cassandra story, as my character may know something that could help, but she simply never speaks up because she’s so lost in thought that she forgets to say anything at all.)

 

This character I have just mentioned has taken years to perfect, and now she’s a very well formed character. You can work on a character for years, watch them grow and change within the confines of their original character. It’s a good thing. On the other hand, you don’t always have the time for those fantastically well formed characters. Save them for your magnum opus. Instead, when writing a book, or starting an RP, or something you often have a clear idea in mind, but no pre-formed character to fit the mold of the story.

 

I have a friend who I’ve been RPing with for about 3 years now. We know each other’s styles and characters very well. We ended a 2-year running RP that spanned about 2 hundred years before starting over with it because we go tired of dealing with demons and the characters formed for that world, a lot of whom were characters I’d had for many, many years.  We moved on to some other ideas, but we finally decided on things with political intrigue, like our first RP, but more normal. One of them is set with a basis for a book I’m writing, but set in the Victorian Era, instead of the present (which is a fantastic way for me to explore my world without having to taint the characters I already have).

 

For the plot there’s a witch, and a Lord who she serves. A main part of the plot up until now has just been their interaction (I don’t do RPs without a promise of a future romance, even if the romance is really screwed up). So far my main character (the Lord) has been the antagonist in the story… Lord Jasper Southerland, trader in magical creatures that are otherwise unknown to society (We’re knowingly playing fast and loose with history). Then along came Wilhelm, Wilhelm the Witch Breaker. A man who, like ‘the hero’ is on the outs of society because of his birth status (Jasper is probably a bastard, but his father acknowledged him as a legitimate son. Wilhelm is a confirmed bastard). At the same time, Jasper has more social connections, and his also physically stronger than Wilhelm. Wilhelm, though needing Jasper, hates him because he can’t use him.

 

All of Wilhelm’s back story, appearance, and personality came to me in a flash.  He’s perfectly wonderful for the story we have going, and he’s going to be a fantastic villain. A lot about writing is very much practice makes perfect… another lot of it is stealing strategically then being creative what you stole. Among the Preacher community the saying goes: “A good preacher steals parts of other sermons. A great preacher steals the whole thing outright.” Another thing to keep in mind is that Shakespeare, the God of Writing, never wrote and original play. All of his plays were based on other stories. Most of the characters based on other characters. To quote the bible: “”What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Nothing new exists anymore. It has been done. Well, what does that mean for the writer?

 

To continue with Christian type writers, on the same TV Tropes page I found the bible quote (I’m so too lazy to actually pull out my own bible and look it up when TV Tropes nicely did it for me.) I found this:

“…No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

—C. S. Lewis

 

Here’s an example from the 2nd RP I’m doing with my friend: For the RP I needed a character who is infinitely loyal to the Queen (I’m sure you’ve noticed I play all the male roles in these RPs by now). So I created Jimajen, if the name looks familiar it’s from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster series (of which the 2nd book is my favorite book.) The RP is about spies and political intrigue in a fictional, non-magical, medieval based world. The two sources I borrow the most from end up being Tamora Pierce (who corners the market on good fictional, magical, medieval based worlds) and Shakespeare (who’s Shakespeare).  For Jimajen I literally copy-pasted Othello’s back story, and then added Taybur Sibigat (Tamora Pierce)’s loyalty and position. Jim is the closest friend the Queen has, desperately loyal, and desperately in love with a woman who can (for personal and political reasons) never love him back. Instant character, new and interesting. I’ll probably never use him outside the RP, but Jimajen is a good character.

 

“But that’s a hero!” you say, “What about villains?”

 

It’s about the same actually. Wilhelm the Witch Breaker came from a concept I already had in the story (the Witch Breaker), combined with having just returned from seeing Much Ado about Nothing, and wanting a character like Don John, throw in the boyish good looks of Teaser from Anne Bishop’s Sebastian. Teaser is actually a good character, not a hero, but close, in his world. This is just to say that you can get things from everywhere.

 

Now unlike Jimajen, Wilhelm is a lot more his own person. He is somewhat like a couple of my other characters (including the terrifying one I keep talking about) in that he doesn’t see people as people, but toys he can play with or frogs he can dissect. This causes a lot of problems with Jasper because Wilhelm can’t see Jasper like that, and it really pisses him off *understatement*. Even though I said Wilhelm is his own person, I can easily trace his influences.

 

Jimajen, while being a lot more obvious about where I got his influences, in personality is a lot more original than Wilhelm. I’ve had characters that have similar personalities to Jimajen, but they were like Tset, the Cinderella-like half-breed son of the Tiger King. With Jimajen he is both hard and military, while sweet and strong for his queen. It makes him very believable. For me he is very original compared to my other types of characters.

 

To create a flash character you can’t simply just say: “I’m going to create a character!” It’s a much smarter idea to need the character for something, like a Roleplay. In the first book I wrote every single character was a flash character. This includes the narrator/main character.  All I had was the first line that popped in my head: “I killed myself”, from there I knew I was writing a ghost story told from the point of view of a ghost writing a blog. Everything else about that book came from simply filling in what I needed when I needed… and it surprisingly good.

 

You can create flash characters simply by doing the NaNoWriMo thing of just putting words on paper; but that doesn’t always turn out good product. Another way to create a good flash character is to create a character who fits a parameter. For Jasper I needed a man who was a lord and traded magical creatures. I thought he was going to be a jerk… I just didn’t realize how much until I started writing, or that he was essentially still a child in many ways.

 

Flash characters very rarely come out fully formed, but unlike other characters that you create and tinker with, all the tinkering comes in the writing process. With a normal character you create them to play with, and later write them down. You create a flash character while writing. Mary-Sues are often the characters you play with first. Now, the characters you play with will often end up being much more interesting, but they can also become over burdened with interesting.

 

If you know that you write Mary-Sues, it is you assignment to create a few flash characters for RPs or a fanfiction. Just start writing. You don’t have to show them to anyone, they just have to be. Remember that you won’t be completely original, and that’s fine. Take parts of a couple of random and non-relating characters, throw them together, give them a new name, and go.

 

So what about a flash villain? Well, honestly the best parts of villains is that you don’t know a lot about them. It’s sometimes hard to write a good villain if they exist first (although this is a good way to get either poor or great villains). Instead, start with your hero, then you can do two things 1) make the villain be someone who can stop the hero by being strong against the hero’s weaknesses. 2) make the villain a variation on the hero.

 

Type one is essentially an Iago, a person who is able to get the hero where it hurts. Iago is well trusted, but also manipulative. He’s able to get Othello thinking his wife is cheating on him. The character doesn’t have to be manipulative, in fact Iago is far and away the best villain ever written, so much so that I don’t suggest trying to write anything like him. It will pale in comparison. Ironically, the closet modern correlation is the Joker from The Dark Knight. This is ironic because the Joker is also our next example.

 

Type two makes me think of Batman and the Joker. In one of the Tim Burton Batmans, Batman (in human form) complements something in a woman’s home. Later the Joker breaks in and complements the exact same thing. Batman is a great hero because he’s only about two degrees away from the villains. The DK Joker is both a type one and two because he recognizes this matter of degrees, and his similarity to Batman (no sane man dresses in costume and beats people up). He also tries to poke Batman in his weaknesses to force him to admit the similarity.  Again, this is a once in a generation (or maybe a century) type character, don’t try to write it. If you do create the next Iago or Joker it’ll happen, but not if you try and force it.

 

So what do you? You have your hero, and you figure out what are his weaknesses. You either make a character who specifically poke those weaknesses (whether they mean to or not), or you create a character who is very similar to the hero, but just a little different. Wilhelm is a type two. He’s similar to Jasper, but he takes Jasper’s dislike of people and general meanness about ten steps farther.

 

Now, I suggest RPing to do this, because it’s a great way to get instant feedback and it’s okay to mess up. To do this I’d suggest trying to do more than the standard one-word-sums-it-up idea (Band, Highschool, Doctor, Slave, etc). I normally do one on ones, and really only romances, but I like epics a lot as well. So I’m going to list a few ideas I’ve tried before, and you can run with them as well.

 

  1. 1.       A writer has one (or more) of their characters come alive.  There’s a fun bit of meta with this, but I don’t like writing writers, it’s really uncomfortable for him.
  2. 2.       A bad man wishes on a star, and then the star falls and says she’s there to grant him all his wishes. This one I’m still doing. I saw it as someone else’s idea, but they were looking for a pure-hearted person to make the wish… which I think would be boring.
  3. 3.       A Cheerleader is secretly in love with a nerd.
  4. 4.       A Witch and Witch Hunter fall in love.
  5. 5.       A princess from an isolated country has to go on a quest with an outsider so she can save her father.

 

All of these are very random, just one I’ve done, or liked that. Start out with the hero, and then you can figure out the villain. Note that who I’d have as the villain will not necessarily be who you would have.  I listed heroes, but you need to write the villain as well, or at least an antagonist (the person trying to stop the action). It’s often hard to make the story do anything if you don’t have an antagonist (ironically).

 

So, go write and have fun!