My peculiar rules for fanfiction: when NOT to write fanfic

I’ve confessed to writing fanfiction here before. And, since I seem to be finding some stress relief writing character studies for In Plain Sight and Viacom has deigned at last to release Daria ((minus the awesome original soundtrack, forcing me to Itunes and my burner once more)) on DVD, I will probably be doing it to release the pressure of my Very Serious Book. ((no, really, writing about divorce is a drag, moreso when you’re a newlywed))

I do have an internal code for writing fanfiction. Some of it is within the fanfiction, some of it is not:

1. Do not write/create fanfic in the same medium which the item you are a fan of is produced. If the source material is a TV cartoon, write stories. Scripts, maybe, but don’t actually produce them. I’ve gotten in some rollicking arguments about scripts. If it is a book, do NOT write stories – make art. If it’s a book and then a movie, stick to fan art interpretations but otherwise leave it the hell alone. To me, it’s very important that I do this as a way of honoring the people who were so kind as to create the things I’m a fan of in the first place.

2. Stories need not be canon, but characters should always be. The two core parts of a work and things that make you a fan are a)the characters and b)the running situation. For the purposes of fanfic, b can change, but a should never, ever under any circumstances change. The test of a quality fanfic ultimately comes down to whether you believe in the voice of the characters. If someone does something out of character, you need a truly compelling plotline wherein the person goes through a sliding scale of events to deliver him or her to that action. And each one of those events in succession must be believable. Yes, in all fiction you’re making it up – but you’re also selling your reader. Your reader forks over the cash of consciousness by being willing to and actually suspending disbelief.

3. Mary Sues. We all do them, though some of us do them in public. A Mary Sue should never, ever eclipse the main character. If it is a 1:1 interaction, the Mary Sue should take on a different aspect that in no way interferes with the core plot/situation of the overall original fiction that inspires the fanwork.

4. The world needs more meta-fiction. This is fan-fiction of a sort; for example, if I decided to produce an issue of Waif magazine ((the Cosmo for the Fashion Club in Daria)) or an issue of Val. It is definitely based on and would draw on the plots in Daria, and involve characters of Daria – say a letter to the editor from Sandi or an advice column letter from Stacey. But it would be a stand alone work, referential to the core fandom but taking on an influence we see on the show but don’t know the specifics of.  And yes, I still intend to write an episode of Sick Sad World. Unfortunately tabloid shows these days aren’t weird. Now, they’re just depressing. It makes watching for research difficult.

I used to believe that especially in the case of TV show fiction, since the fan ficter is not the creator, that standard omniscient prose was the wrong way to go. If you didn’t create it, you shouldn’t manipulate the characters so much that you’re putting thoughts in their heads. While I still think over-manipulating the characters is a problem, I’d never read a good fluffy shipper fic without them, and since a few of them find ways to do them in character, it sort of matters to me.

But I contend that script fics are just as valid as the other type. Even if I still suck at screenwriting format.

So there you have it, my rules for the Mild, mild west that is fanfiction. Just do yourself a favor: don’t read fandom secrets on livejournal unless you really want to know what the other fans are doing at their keyboards, because some of it ain’t pretty. And of course, these are my personal rules for writing fanfic. I am not an arbitrator of taste, nor am I foolhardy enough to try being one in a land as contentious as a fandom. This is just my honor code for creation.