Hopefully you’ve read the previous post on the good points of fan fiction. As a quick recap, here are my definitions of fan fiction:
1. A piece of fiction that both is based on and pays homage to a previously created work or story. Can be both professional and amateur.
2. A piece of unauthorized fiction based on copyrighted materials.
And now for:
First, I recommend this reasoned and professional view of fan fiction’s downsides by one of my favorite authors, Robin McKinley. In it, she discusses her discomfort with fan fiction violating copyright laws, as well as stunting the potential creativity of budding writers.
By the way, if you are a YA fantasy fan, I highly recommend anything by Robin McKinley. My personal favorite is The Blue Sword, followed closely by Chalice.
Second, I recommend this cartoon on fan fiction from homestarrunner.com. If you have a goofy, snarky sense of humor, you’ll probably enjoy the rest of the website.
The rest of this post will explore 1.Some key downsides to amateur fan fiction, and then 2. Examples of professional fan fiction that have gone wrong.
Downsides in Amateur Fan Fiction
1. Wish Fulfillment
We read, watch, or play through stories because they ignite our imagination. Who doesn’t want to receive a letter of acceptance from Hogwarts?
However, wish fulfillment really only fulfills the author. Most people won’t be interested in a tale where Aragorn leaves Arwen to run off with a much hotter character, who happens to be the writer’s avatar. These characters tend to be extraneous, obnoxious, and also contradict the original source. They know everything, are capable of anything, and can solve all problems.
This is similar to the TV trope “The Wesley Effect,” named for Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the first portion of the series he was featured prominently and somehow magically solved each week’s problem. The writers decided to feature him more even while fans turned against him. No character should solve everything.
Original characters can be good, if well-placed and a natural fit. They don’t need to be best friends or a new love interest to characters from the canon. Her’s a good rule to follow: If you were someone else, would you want to read about this character?
2. Shock-Value Content
This includes all R and NC-17 rated material, such as heavy swearing, uber-violence, or adult content. Fortunately, most fan fiction sites feature a rating or warning system. I know many people enjoy such content, but I try to keep my life as PG as possible. Also, I firmly believe great stories can be told without going into gratuitous territory.
3. Lack Of An Editor
Readers of fan fiction are often pulled into a vortex of gaping plot holes, indecipherable syntax, inconsistent characters, and a swamp of abused grammar and spelling. All of this can be prevented by finding someone to read it, otherwise known as a beta reader, before presenting the story to the public.
This falls into two categories:
A. Pretentious and Stilted Dialogue:
“Oh, this is the grandest adventure ever,” Ironman supposed.
“It is most scrumdidlylicious,” emoted Megaman. “I’m so glad we’re in this crossover together!”
Or, to quote Strong Sad from the cartoon mentioned above: “Grandiose. Grandiose indeed.”
B. Dialogue That Doesn’t Match The Setting:
“Dude!” Legolas said. “Gimli, you’re axe is cra-zay!”
Or, to go the opposite way…
“For sooth,” said Batman. “Where doth the Joker’s Lair lie?”
As a note, while wondering if someone has written The Dark Knight In King Arthur’s Court, I discovered a 1946 DC Comics titled Sir Batman And Robin In King Arthur’s Court. For sooth, Batman and King Arthur are already friends.
Professional Fan Fiction
1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull / Star Wars Episodes 1,2,3
These are grouped together because I think George Lucas gets enough injury for these eye-sores in otherwise great franchises. We should remember Mr. Lucas also helped create Dolby surround sound and Pixar, two of the greatest advances in modern cinema.
However, here’s examples of the downfalls of these four movies:
Wish-Fulfillment: (Please read the following with youthful glee) Marion and Indy have a son, and he gets to swing on vines! Anakin built C3-P0, and was best friends with R2-D2! Boba Fett’s dad tried to assassinate Luke and Leia’s mom! Samuel L. Jackson’s a Jedi with a purple lightsaber!
Questions An Editor Should Have Asked: Why aliens when Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade revolve around Judeo-Christian mythology? Why stretch out Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, only to rush through the important plot points during Revenge of the Sith? Anakin accidentally flies a starfighter and has enough luck to take down a droid army single-handedly?
Shock Value: For Indiana Jones: Aliens! For Star Wars: Look at Anakin burn after he’s murdered children.
Dialogue: From Phantom Menace: “Are you an angel?”
From Revenge of the Sith: “Ani, you’re breaking my heart,” or the classic Darth Vader, “Noooooooooooo!”
From Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
Irina Spalko: And where is it you would imagine I am from… Doctor Jones?
Indiana Jones: Well, the way you’re sinking your teeth into those W-ouble-u’s, I should think maybe…Eastern Ukraine.
2. Love Never Dies (Sequel to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical version of The Phantom of the Opera).
I should make the disclaimer that I adore the original musical. In my mind, I keep it separate from this passion project by Andrew Lloyd Weber himself.
The musical is about The Phantom, a misunderstood musical genius, and, possibly, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s avatar, escaped to New York’s Coney Island and set up a successful carnival show. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) After The Phantom lures Christine to Coney Island, she reveals The Phantom and Christine have a love child. Why would Christine be happy to have had a child with her murderous, but loveable stalker? Going into questions of when delves into territory that is not Good, Wholesome, or Fun.
3. Love’s Labor Lost, as directed by Kenneth Branagh
To begin, Kenneth Branagh is a brilliant actor and director. Anyone who can make stellar adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet, and then turn around and make Thor a good film, deserves respect.
However, here’s the concept: Combine the fun and comedic Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost with classic Gershwin songs.
Here’s the trailer.
Done right, I suppose this concept would work. However, the story is lost in the concept, creating an incoherent mess. This is really unfortunate, because so much good material and talent is wasted. I’m unsure any actor can smooth the jarring shift between unchanged Shakespearean dialogue and Gershwin songs containing contemporary phrases.
4. Star Wars Galaxies: Return to Dantooine
As a disclaimer, this book was bought for me for my birthday. I returned it in mint condition and traded it for Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter instead. All I remember of the plot is the main character, Dusque Mistflier, is an imperial bio-engineer, and because she’s an imperial bio-engineer she somehow knows the weakness of the monstrous flora and fauna that attack her and her companion, Finn Darktrin, on their journey. Yet another example of the author placing an avatar in the work.
What can be learned from these examples? Professional writers are fallible to.
Do you have any examples of so bad it’s fun fan fiction? How about professional fan fiction that didn’t work? Have you ever been guilty of pulling people into a gaping plot hole?
Tune in for the next post, in which I list my own forays into fan fiction.
“Avoiding Mistakes in Fanfiction Writing: A Beginner’s Guide” from sycophanthex.com, and “Ten Pitfalls of Fanfiction” from lucentdusk.com.