Seanan McGuire on fanfic

Edit: The universe is trying to do my head in. I still don’t know how I silly-walked into Seanan’s piece on Fanfic, but only after I published this, I noticed it was from 2012. Way to go, necro-threader… And then, in my LJ feed, up pops this post by Seanan. On the subject of Fanfic. Really? What’s going on?

So. Seanan McGuire, writer of many many books of Urban Fantasy, whose soul linked sister is Mira Grant for purposes of the Undead, has written a piece on FanFiction and she loves it. Basically, writing FanFic is a training ground for the real thing, and it’s a good way to train. I have always had the knack of running conversations between people in my head, but until I started playing WoW, I never actually wrote them down. (Though I have written of all things Travian fanfic about the eternal struggles between the meat-loving Gaulish footmen and the vegan druid riders. If you must know, search for my LJ. I stopped writing that because Travian sucks as a game). Seanan is right that it doesn’t teach you to build a world, but it does let you practice on characters. As for settings, that is what my new series, The Algernon Expeditions, is there for. People will wander round Ipswich wondering where Algernon University actually is.

Seanan points out that Fanfic gives you the freedom to write what you want, and never care about whether there’s an audience for it. O yes. I once got a whole bunch of material from Diane Duane as preparation for a writer’s workshop at the UK Discworld Convention that unfortunately got canned because Life happened to Diane and Peter Morwood, and they were unable to attend. One of the things that I remember is that A.C. Doyle told you to think on what you are writing for: Money, pleasure, or art. And that influences your writing. Seanan writes for money. Which is not to say that there’s no art or pleasure to her writing, but if her books don’t sell, then her cats don’t get fed, and they will eat her. So in the back of her head, there is constantly the thought of “Will my fans like this?” and she can’t risk alienating a huge swathe of them. Me, I write mostly for pleasure. My own pleasure, that is. Which means that somewhat egoistically, the person who really has to be pleased with my writings is me, and anyone else who enjoys my witterings is a side benefit. Now I do aim for sellable quality in my writings, because I want to be a professional-quality writer even if I’m currently strictly amateur. But what I cannot do is allow these stories to become anything more than a vague “gosh, I ought to write a bit more Ariciel, haven’t done that in a while” type thing. That would make it Work, which would make it a source of stress,  and that would make it Not Fun Anymore.

Finding your voice, as Seanan says, (Note that I am avoiding the “Seanan points out” phrase here because that would echo with the previous paragraph, and unintentional echos are bad), is very important to your identity as a writer. My day job involves writing technical documents that have to clue people up on shit they need to know. I spent loads of time finding it out, and if I mess up the write-up, my friends and colleagues will have to waste their time finding it out for themselves. Writing, in my opinion, is the vehicle that transports my thoughts into someone else’s head. So I need that vehicle to be, variously, a heavy goods vehicle, or a convertible with the hood open, allowing you to take in the scenery. Pretty phrases be damned. If I need you to understand why the heroes are running, then I need to tell you it’s a long way from the Valley of Heroes to Stormwind Harbour. As a result, you won’t find much flowery language in my writings. (I hope). I’m fairly business-like in my fic, and conversely, display a little sense of humour in my technical docs.

I agree with Seanan that fanfic is an expression of love for the source material. In some cases, quite literally. I have a whole section (Snippets) on here of stories I wrote where I nicked other people’s characters for my own vile purposes, simply because I liked the characters and wanted to play with them a bit. In Arwen’s case, this grew to some 20K words, because after Thunderpetal, I wanted to check in on my characters to see if they were OK. With your fellow fic writers, you can do that more or less with impunity and as long as you don’t go round claiming them as your own, they will usually like it.

Which brings me to Seanan’s last point: Her characters are feeding her, and for reasons of Copyright and Story Integrity, she can’t allow people to mess around with them. There are very sound legal reasons for that. Everything about Toby Daye Seanan writes, has to be her own work, and not that of some unknown fic writer. Even the most vague idea that ends up in someone’s fic before it arrives in Seanan’s work, is potential dynamite. I would love to know Terry Pratchett’s opinion on my little Ariciel/Angua piece, but I can’t have it. Terry, and Seanan, can’t take the risk of me claiming ownership (and money) for something of mine that somehow ended up in their work, even if they had already thought of it long before I ever did.

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