Monday, April 30, 2007

Fan Fics I Want to See

I commented:

It's interesting what characters become the focus of fanfic and which ones don't. It's not about the writing. Really good writers write really good books but no one writes fanfic about them. (As far as I know, no one is writing fanfic about Genly Ai from Left Hand of Darkness and the Gethan who consoles him for the death of Estraven.

Ted commented:

Isn't the vast majority of fanfic about characters from television and movies? Very few books achieve that kind of audience; LotR and Harry Potter managed, but Left Hand of Darkness doesn't come close. So I think the question is, why is there so much fanfic about BtVS but so little about E.R., when the latter was a much more popular show?

I think Ted is not wrong, but I think they are the same class of questions.

I found a list* of books that have fanfic written about them, (Harry Potter, 293379 works linked, followed by The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, 2 works) and a list of tv show fanfic, (Buffy The Vampire Slayer 30924 works, ER 4933, Bill Nye The Science Guy! 7) It didn't surprise me that the books with the most written about them had crossed over and were movies as well.

But I have to echo Ted's question, I am under the impression that most fanfic is written by women. George Clooney seems to appeal to women. So why little about ER? It's not because Buffy is a story centered on a woman, since Harry Potter is centered on a boy and it gets a ton of fanfic. Although it is hard to imagine Goerge Clooney's ER character as one of the two main characters in a hurt/comfort story.

(Btw, the game Final Fantasy has a lot of fanfic written about it 41273 works for the whole series, but Halo, which I have been paid to write a kind of fanfic for, has only 1757 works. And Sonic the Hedgehog has 8627 works.)

There are no Maureen McHugh works or Ted Chiang works with fanfic written about them. No Walter Jon Williams, either. But Orson Scott Card makes the list.

*The list I've linked to is far from definitive, of course, since Star Trek The Original Series, the granddaddy of fanfic, has only 1488 works linked.


Blogger David said...

Have you ever read Umberto Eco's Casablanca essay, "Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage"? (I can't find a copy on-line but you can get to it via the Amazon Search Inside the Book page for Travels in Hyperreality.)

Eco says that in order to be turned into a cult object, a book or movie...

...must provide a completely furnished world sothat its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan's private sectarian world, a world about which one can make up quizzes and play trivia games so that the adepts of the sect recognize through each other a shared expertise.

I think that goes double for inspiring fanfic.

It occurs to me that a fair chunk of the pleasure of a series like Star Trek or Harry Potter is the episodes, to a certain extent, repeat and reinforce themselves. You get some of the same pleasure you get rereading a familiar book or watching a familiar film, but with the pleasure of novelty as well -- which mixture must be one of the driving pleasures behind fanfic, too.

Without that element of repetition, there's nothing for the fanfic writer (or reader) to latch on to -- no clue that says Yes, this is Hogwarts, or Yes, this is the Enterprise.

So you might take some comfort from the thought that if there's no China Mountain Zhang fanfic, that's just because you don't repeat yourself. :)

April 30, 2007 1:03 PM  
Blogger David said...

I think this episode of Dinosaur Comics is relevant, too.

April 30, 2007 1:18 PM  
Blogger meredith said...

I think that aside from a "completely furnished world", a show/book/etc. has to have inspiring characters that people want to write about. People need to feel that the stories they've read/seen aren't enough, and want to create more of those stories.

In general, the characters of "Buffy" (or "Xena", which is my main fanfic experience as a reader) are much more inspiring than the characters of "ER". On "ER", for the most part what you see is what you get ... and even in the case of Dr. Weaver, whose story should have been 1000x more interesting than it was ever portrayed on screen, as a character Weaver wasn't really the kind to inspire fanfic. In general she was too annoying for people to want to write about, I think.

(I must admit that I have actually sought out a bit of "ER" fanfic, out of curiosity to see if I'm the only person out there waiting in vain for Abby and Neela to declare their undying love for one another. ;> Turns out I'm not, but there's not much out there anyway.)

April 30, 2007 5:23 PM  
Blogger tinatsu said...

(Because I like to comment on things about which I have no knowledge...)

If the question is what qualities a show or book needs to appeal to fanfic authors, I would add that it helps if the characters are more iconic than realistic. Characters that conform to a type offer more opportunities for a fanfic author, because they can be cast into recognizable roles while still offering the flexibility for the author to add her own shadings of personality to them. The more complex a character is, the harder it is to fit him into a wide variety of narratives.

If the question is merely why Show X generates more fanfic than Show Z, the determining factor can be found by looking at who's writing fanfic. As far as I know, most of it is written by young women (late teens-early 20's). So the characters that become the focus for fanfic are the ones from TV shows and other media that appeal to this audience. [E.R., while very popular, is not targeted at this audience--George Clooney appeals to a slightly older set of women. (I say "slightly" so as not to make myself feel too old, although I'm more of a Brad Pitt girl myself.) And, in such a case, the women are fans of the actor, not the character.] The stuff that has lots of associated fanfic tallies pretty much across the board with what my 18-year-old stepdaughter likes. I am, of course, speaking in broad generalizations, with plenty of exceptions for the geek contingent, et al.

Fanfic reminds me of an adolescent/young adult version of playing with Barbies, complete with Dream House and Corvette.

What I thought was interesting in the list of books that have fanfic is that there's a listing for Fairy Tales. I hadn't thought of fairy tale adaptations being considered fanfic, but they have all the requirements for suitable fanfic fodder: fully-furnished world, mythic characters, girlie appeal. The only thing they have against them is being in the public domain, so they're fair game for trespasses.

In summary: Maureen, if you and Ted want some fanfic, just write a TV-adaptable series that appeals to young women and start pimping yourselves to the YA set. Easy, no?

May 01, 2007 3:45 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Tinatsu, I'm soooo there.

(I think there is something in your observation that the characters need to be iconic. Iconic, avatars, conventional, something in there seems to ring true, not in all fanfic cases but in a lot of it.)

May 01, 2007 10:26 AM  
Blogger Beth Adele said...

I'd just like to note that Jane Austen weighs in at a very respectable 622, which I find both delightful and fascinating.

May 01, 2007 10:28 AM  
Blogger Lyn said...

There are actually quite a number of book-based fanfics being written over at

May 01, 2007 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anne Harris said...

Even before I read tinatsu's comment, I was wondering if the ER/Buffy discrepancy had to do with the audiences for these two programs. ER is mainstream, I think that's safe to say. Buffy has a lot of appeal to sf fans. Fanfic is a fannish activity. See where I'm going here?

In the same vein, Left Hand of Darkness slash (though I'd like to see some too, M) goes begging because though sf, it is literary sf and literary sf fans don't write much fan fic. probably for the same reasons that they don't seem to do a lot of masquerading either. It's a culture thing.

May 02, 2007 3:20 PM  
Blogger Jarvis Rockhall said...

I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I wrote an extremely bad piece of fanfic for the Left Hand of Darkness a few years ago.

In a nutshell, a hippy-ish anthropologist rents a room in a hearth and is stared at by a young child, who acts as the narrator.

Fortunately I had the good sense not to stick it up on the web.

(The geekiness, it burns...)

May 02, 2007 4:00 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

As far as I know, most of it is written by young women (late teens-early 20's).

My impression has been that a lot of fan fiction written during the 70s, especially the Kirk/Spock slash fiction, was written by women who were older than that.

ER is mainstream, I think that's safe to say. Buffy has a lot of appeal to sf fans. Fanfic is a fannish activity. See where I'm going here?

But why doesn't E.R. inspire more fannish activity? Why aren't people writing more fanfic about mainstream dramas, or soap operas? When so many people talk about the latest pairing on Gray's Anatomy, why do so few write their own stories about the characters?

May 03, 2007 4:00 AM  
Anonymous Anne Harris said...

>Why aren't people writing more fanfic about >mainstream dramas, or soap operas?

Maybe fans of mainstream programs are not accustomed to interacting with their entertaiment as much as sf fans are.

And that may be changing. A pal of mine writes Keanu Reeves fanfic.

May 04, 2007 6:58 PM  
Blogger tinatsu said...

My impression has been that a lot of fan fiction written during the 70s, especially the Kirk/Spock slash fiction, was written by women who were older than that.

Sure, Ted. I was talking about the differences in numbers nowadays, which is a different situation than the 70s. Current youth culture is evolving to where participation in interactive, media-centric communities is the norm, whereas older audiences are generally accustomed to more passive modes of media consumption. Hence, more Buffy teens feel like sharing fanfic online is a natural expression of their fandom, whereas E.R. fans are more likely to share their fandom through office gossip.

Within that youth audience, genre isn't as much of a factor in determining levels of fannish activity (Gilmore Girls and Dawson's Creek, as well as the soap opera Passions, which has a younger audience, all generate lots of fanfic). But otherwise genre becomes important, especially if you view fandom as "interpretive communities," where fans come together to purposefully engage in interpreting a show and using it to create a shared experience relevant to their interests. Then the show needs to have enough structure to define the limits of interpretation, but also enough room for fans to stake out their own space and fit the world and characters to their own needs/interests. This works better for SF-type settings where so much is left to the audience's imagination in the first place and where archetypal characters provide more flexible roles for interpretation/creation, than in more naturalistic, mainstream dramas with less flexibility in interpretation and less room to take ownership.

May 05, 2007 11:08 AM  
Blogger lucette said...

The Hours is sort of Virginia Woolf fan fiction, don't you think? And I believe there's a book called Mr. Dalloway, so she's got at least 2.

May 06, 2007 10:10 PM  
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