janegraddell: (Default)
[personal profile] janegraddell
The old adage about "writing what you know" is a pretty good one. The little details added by someone who has visited the place, done the job, mastered the craft, or just done some darn good research can be an enormous asset to a fan fiction story.

But, just as there's the potential for an author to include a little too much of her nifty experience or research in a story, there's also the potential for an author to be blinded to other possibilities by her own personal experiences and preferences. In particular, what I'd like to address is the practice of automatically assuming that one's own personal experience has any revelance whatsoever to the experiences of the characters one is writing.

Before I start, though, I'd like to make the very important caveat that I also know that the way in which an author writes a character will inevitably be influenced by the way in which she interprets that character, and that interpretation will in turn be influenced by her own experiences. This is in itself mostly a Very Good Thing, and ensures that the fan fiction world will be treated to a lovely broad range of possibilities. The downside, though, is what happens when an author's interpretation, instead of being influenced by her experiences, is based on those experiences to the exclusion of how the character actually behaves.

One amazingly trivial example is the use of nicknames. In at least half a dozen completely separate forums over the years, I've seen discussions where authors justify their use of nicknames for a character because they themselves have or use nicknames. To me, this completely misses the rather important point that it's not relevant whether or not random people all over the world use nicknames, it's whether or not that particular character would use one. If a character has never used a nickname, then citing oneself or one's friends as examples is, for the most part, meaningless. It's not about the author, it's about the character.

Another potential pitfall is that an author's projection can cause her to close off any potential responses other than her own. If she is convinced, for instance, that a particular incident would scar a character for life based on the fact that she was deeply affected by a similar experience, it apparently becomes very easy to ignore the fact that said character doesn't appear to be either emotionally scarred or traumatized. Now, she could argue that the character, in that case, isn't portrayed realistically by the orginal creator, but even then there are usually others who've had real-life experiences that contradict hers and validate the original portrayal. This doesn't make that author's own responses any less valid or real, but it does make it less realistic in terms of a fan story if she grafts them onto a character who doesn't seem to share them.

Two of the distinguishing traits of writing fan fiction are that not only is the author writing about characters that she did not create, she's writing about characters whom her audience has also seen or read about, and about whom they already have their own notions. Obviously, it's impossible to write a character in such a way that will satisfy each of the hundreds of individuals who've seen the show or read the books (even the original creators rarely manage it), but in general the less the author projects, the better chance she'll have of creating a portrait of the character that has more to do with the source and less to do with her own life.
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December 2006

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