Fanfiction and Story Insights: Or Plausible Creativity

It’s been a while, yet again. I know that I have talked about fanfiction before, but I have been working on a particular story on A03 that has made me think about certain elements. It also helps that this DeviantArt article on Mary-Sues was brought to my attention. I don’t know if I agree with a lot of it, necessarily, but there are some good insights within it with regards to making a particularly plausible or believable character in which to make a story of a similar kind around.

It is important to bear in mind that any character you create, as a writer, should have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as have different relationships with other characters and environments. In other words, a good character is arguably as close to a realistic person as you can make them, even on a basic level, where they have different facets that you as a writer can explore.

But I have been thinking less about this point, and more about how to write fanfiction: specifically setting a story in an established fictional universe. And I’m afraid that I have less advice to give, and more of my own personal insights — or what works for me — to actually talk about.

I find that what really works for me is to use characters that already exist. Often, I can create dialogue and character studies and let them play off of each other. The dialogue is important to me as it embodies who those characters are, how they are different or similar to one another, and what is actually important to them. Sometimes I will even act out those characters, aloud or in my mind — as I do with my original fiction — and see what happens from there.

I research them and their world as much as possible. Sometimes I don’t necessarily read the original work or narrative from where they come from, or the particular element that I want to focus on, but I will read up on it in encyclopedia articles. In some cases, I will look at other media such as animation or film instead of the original texts. This isn’t always the case, but especially for Star Wars Expanded Universe and Fate/Stay Night I tend to do this.

For me, I find the best fanfiction — that I can make — is the more plausible kind. I try to work with continuity and the rules of the world in question as much as I can understand or, learn about them. I do not add new abilities or characters, but if I do I will try to incorporate some kind of logic or description of them that fits that world, and describe their mentalities in a way that makes sense as either influenced by the world or the pre-existing characters.

A lot of it, for me, is extrapolation: seeing how the characters function in that world and then placing them in another situation or series thereof and seeing how they will pan out from there. Often I focus a lot less on physical description, and — as I said before — dialogue, but also a lot of third-person limited introspection. I tend to refer back to events, creating call backs, to both things that happened in canon and things that happened in my fanfic as well — in the narrative — to fully flesh things out further and add to that sense of plausibility.

The way I see it, at least with the fanfic I have been writing for over seventy chapters as of this post, I have done a few things. First, I extrapolated on the characters previous actions and emotions and gradually transitioned them into newer but familiar places. I have made original characters too that I might plan to use in another fanfic, or a sequel, but I use them sparingly. When I build up events or changes, I make sure to show all of the steps. Sometimes I will describe something. Other things I will reveal it through dialogue, limited narrative perspective, or even an italics-based first person point of view throughout the work.

But sometimes, there is the other challenge. Imagine you are trying to work in a creative sand box, but you have this idea that is incredibly fascinating to you. You look at it, and you feel like it would make for an excellent development in the story, a nice chapter for instance, but you don’t know if you can describe it well, or if it works in the lore of that world. Sometimes you have to let it go, for the story’s flow, and for the sake of your own sanity. Certainly, you will have a fanbase of that world watching your every move in some form to consider.

At the same time, though, sometimes it is for the sake of the story itself that you should in fact challenge yourself in adding this new chapter or element. The main challenge is incorporating it into that world. You can do it by making it clear this world is just a gradation or variant of the established one. Or, conversely, you can leave it open and ambiguous: with just enough examination or description to hint on one thing, or another and leave people to wonder. For instance, I gave a character an ability she probably shouldn’t have had, but I played around with the relatively ambiguous and not always orderly rules of that world: and I described a way in which she could have gotten that skill in a few ways, and how it fit her power and her intention.

Basically, I extrapolated a character’s abilities after her time in canon, with what little knowledge we were given of them after the fact, and then added this little surprise. And then I had her and another character address this: where even they were not entirely sure how she could do some of these things, or how it worked. It is a little jaded and self-aware, but I took advantage of a loophole in their knowledge and offered a plausible explanation — or head-canon on my part — to make it possible. To me, it made sense. I had to rewrite some of it, but I think it works and I am glad I took that risk because it makes the whole fanfic stronger for it.

For the most part I have been careful, building it up, but in that particular instance I thought starting with a fight — even in an unfamiliar place to me and the characters — worked. I did research it as much as I could, aspects and all, but in the end I just had to write the damned thing. And like I said, it worked for me.

And then, in this same fic, I have had other challenges which in turn have offered unique solutions. For instance, mythological figures are used in the world in which I am writing. So at a few points, the characters have found or searched for items associated with these figures. Most of these artifacts have been described in the story, or in encyclopedias. However, some of them have not. I found myself in a quandary: where I had to determine what these artifacts were, how powerful they are, and how they were different from each other. There was one in particular that I had no information about beyond a basic description in normal Wikipedia or elsewhere. And it wasn’t even in the fictional universe I was working within.

So what I did, was I took the artifact and described what it could look like. I gave it something of a Whovian perception filter: that some characters could see it and have some idea of it, and others could not. And even the ones that could knew that they saw something subjective. And it matched the nature of what the item was, and what it does. I explained, through dialogue and some thoughts of one mythological figure how this might be so, and how it was different from a similar artifact which went back into this character’s history a bit. I also gave an explanation as to how another enchantment of hers was related or derived from said artifact. And because she is so old, and due to the reason she exists again, she doesn’t remember all of it. But in the end, it isn’t that important. What is important is that I grafted an item related to a mythological character who has been adapted into that universe. I made it plausible. And I covered my own ass, hopefully well, by making that knowledge subjective through that character’s perspective.

I’m not going to say that I’ve been perfect, because I’m not. I have a feeling there might be some loose ends in the tapestry I am forming from my idea of a pre-existing one. And here is the most important thing that I have to tell you.

The best thing you can do when writing a fanfic is to put your slant on that world. Your voice. The way that you want to look at that world. When I write a story, I look at character interactions, and philosophical implications: specifically introspection and development in between the fighting, the fucking, the walking, the sitting, and the discussion of past and present events. I want to deal with actual talking, and dealing with closure: as well as emotions coming from the results of consequences. Not everyone is interested in that focus, and I know that.

Some fanfic readers want to see the minutiae of that world and their favourite characters unfold. Some want to see the stories of their heroes continue. Others want to see those conflicts from canon get resolved or come to a head: to have the good person get their justice, or the jerk get smashed in the head with a baseball bat. Others want to see characters they hate die or suffer, or others ascend to greater potential.

Honestly, I have had commenters on my fic request romantic pairings, and outright fucking.

The point is, everyone has different expectations and you have to tell the story that you want to tell. You will never be the original creator, and that is a good thing. You can explore things and do things in ways they did not. As for me, I like to remain plausible and retain a sense of continuity, but I will suspend it for the sake of what it is all is — entertainment — while backing up what I say with details if I can, or I will fudge it by finding some kind of ambiguous loophole while making it all about those character interactions.

Now this, all of this here, was a lot of text to read. So thank you for reading this far. I have to say, writing so much is exercising my mind: getting me to research, think, and plan creatively. I am still working on my own projects in the mean time and, who knows? Maybe one day I will share some of them with you, once again. I hope to write to you all again soon, as time goes. Take care everyone.

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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