alyssa_bethancourt: (No)
[personal profile] alyssa_bethancourt

Let me be honest, here: I write fanfiction.

Not a lot, or even primarily.  Most of the work I do is on my own original material.  But there is one fandom in particular that left me, when the story was done, simultaneously fascinated by the characters and asking myself a number of idea-spawning questions about where these people came from to make them this way, and what they could possibly do now.  I’m quite often left with questions after consuming media, and I usually spin these questions into fuel for my own stories.  Something about these characters, though…

But to the point.  Some weeks ago, I received a rare review on one of my pieces of fanfiction.  Rare, because my stories aren’t written to satisfy anyone’s prurient appetites, so they generally get passed over in the community.  It’s a matter of some excitement to me when I see that email alert informing me that another human being bothered not just to read my flights of fancy, but liked (or hated) it enough to communicate with me about it. 

This review, however, turned out to be maybe the weirdest piece of feedback I have ever garnered.  And even though I’ve sat with it for the last few weeks, glad of the attention, it has finally become impossible to ignore the fact that a certain accusation/observation in this review has been wriggling at the back of my mind this whole time.   
 
As the individual began by nervously wishing I had the anonymous review function turned on, I will not make with the naming of names.  And as I so rarely hear back from the void I’m constantly pouring my words into, I told myself repeatedly that I was simply glad that someone had taken the time to comment.  It’s even true.  I really am glad, even if what this person said made me scratch my head and reread the review several times to be certain I was getting the right idea from it.  Because on a first read-through, it wasn’t at all clear whether this person was congratulating me on a story very well-written, or informing me that I had done the single worst job of capturing these characters’ essences of all time.  That’s a pretty big dichotomy, I think.

A sample to illustrate my confusion:

“I was into it more than I thought I would. A little jarring. For… you injected everyone with a kind of normalcy that was almost TOO normal. Or was it realism? Maybe a mix. It's just weird for me. I’m only familiar with awkward.”

Now, let me be clear.  I don’t mind if this person hated my story.  Hate is a strong reaction and I’d be happy to have inspired it, because it would mean I made that person feel something.  The purpose of this rant, the thing that upsets me, is the claim that I wrote the characters as too normal.  I mean, is that a thing?  Too normal?  Like I should be upset when a movie makes an effect seem too real, or when a pastry chef bakes a cake that is too delicious?  Isn't that the idea?  Because let’s be clear here: it’s not that I wrote these people as boring or flat or lacking dynamism.  The review later confirms this while complaining that I made them too extreme in some cases.  So what I have to think is that the substance of the complaint lies in my having made the characters too much like actual people.

What?  Is that a thing?  Am I losing my mind?  Isn’t the goal of character creation to make people that feel real enough to connect to?  Isn’t the point of fanfiction to explore the inner workings of someone else’s creation and see if you can discover anything new about them that you didn’t get from the original material?  What kind of person goes into a story expecting – wanting! – to read about characters with alien motives and un-relatable emotions, doing things that make no sense and have no value outside of their badassery or sex-quotient?

This rant has been building because over these past few weeks, as I’ve been working on my novel in earnest, I’ve been devoting quite a lot of my attention to making my characters into something a reader can really bond with.  In fact, on the days when I’m willing to admit that I have any talent at all, I have to say that my greatest strength as a writer lies in my ability to make realistic empathetic characters.

And this is now a flaw?

My apologies, non-anonymous reviewer whose identity I am nevertheless protecting, but what?  I really do appreciate that you screwed up your courage to express your opinion of my work.  I just wish, while you were taking that leap, you could have said something that made any sense.

on 2012-02-16 06:33 pm (UTC)
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] indeliblesasha
**Disclaimer: I'm about to make gross generalizations from 17 years of participating in the reading and writing of fan fiction and observing the culture therein. Assume that I know that not everyone thinks or feels the way I'm about to generalize. ;)


I think that within the structures of your original canon that ...the goal of character creation [is] to make people that feel real enough to connect to... unless you're intentionally trying to bring to life a character that isn't.

In fandom it's different. (Mostly) the goal is to play with the either the characters or the canon. (Fixing canon is a common thing.)

Can you take your characters, put them somewhere else entirely and still have them recognizable? If X had happened in canon instead of Y, how does that change the character?

Are John and Rodney still John and Rodney if they never make it to Atlantis? Are they still John and Rodney if John is a baker and Rodney is a writer? What if John's dad had been supportive and loving? Can you make them buy curtains together and still be enjoyable to watch? Nope, sorry, killing that person was STUPID. I REFUSE. THEY SURVIVED AND HERE'S HOW.

The other option is absolutely "I want MORE of EXACTLY THAT" which is sought by people who just can't get enough canon. MOAR CANON YAY.


So if I suppose that you are writing from a place of MOAR CANON YAY, and without knowing the fandom, without knowing the story, without being your non-anon reviewer...etc. what *I* would take from that review is that you left the reader with a feeling of "Okay, but I could see that in canon."

Supposing that *is* what the reader meant, well, it means you wrote the characters right, and normal, and just how they appear in settings they exist in already. You did a good job mimicking canon.

And that's not what that reader was looking for. They read fanfic for extraordinary, not ordinary. And especially if they have come to this fandom from another, like SGA or Merlin or SPN or such, they have been conditioned that fanfic is for messing around, not maintaining the status quo.

Many if not most of the writers I have known use fanfic to stretch themselves, to see how far they can push and still do a good job. Writing strictly to canon doesn't do that, so not a lot of writers do it.

All of which might be completely wrong and totally not even on point since I don't know what your intention as a writer was nor what the reader was looking for, or if in fact the reader was leaving a comment that was in any way actually meaningful.

So that leaves me to say:

I've gotten my share of weird reviews that just stuck with me because, what!? What does that even MEAN? Were you drunk when you wrote that? Did you like the story or hate it...I DON'T UNDERSTAND.

I have never forgotten the reviewer that left a long gushing review stopping just shy of offering to have my babies, and then ended by wishing I would write more! because one story just isn't enough!

It was the 3rd story in a series of 6 and all of the works were linked to each other and to the master post.

WTF!?

All the praise meant nothing in the face of their inability to read the header that said "Third in the --- Series" or to see the link to the previous story before the current story text, nor the link to the NEXT story just was right above the LEAVE A COMMENT button.

I mean, really? Ever since then I just assumed every weird review was left by someone not terribly bright with completely non-existent social skills or ability to express themselves. I say thinks for your comment, I always appreciate knowing someone read my story. And leave it at that. :/

(Really, the feeling of "I have to say something but I have no idea what so I'll just ramble and hope they figure out that I mean 'I read your story' and not much more." is a strong urge to ignore. Also the feeling that every comment must be somehow intellectual leads people who have no idea how to do lit crit to say asinine things because they think "omg that was awesome" isn't a good enough response. Or they hated it but have been told they aren't supposed to say that, but they feel compelled to say SOMETHING and so you wind up with ramblings that makes no sense and a vague sense of disquiet. Or they're just an idiot. Welcome to the glorious world of fanfic commentary. It's random and frustrating and not entirely useful. Hit counters are much more fun to pay attention to. :D ;)

Um. I'm feeling chatty today, apparently.

on 2012-02-17 03:27 am (UTC)
indeliblesasha: Bright highlighter-pink tulips with yellow tulips in the background surrounded by bright green foliage (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] indeliblesasha
And I suppose that's an interesting point about every fandom having a different flavor.

Yep. See: John and Rodney, two girl scout cookies in love. Or the one where they're dolphins. Merlin and Arthur are college roommates! Sherlock and Holmes are actors. In modern day Hollywood.

So if you cut your teeth in a fandom where it's *standard* to make your leads into condiments, and the characters have such enormous personalities and quirks to the point they are riding the line of caricature so you can make them peas in a pod and they are STILL RECOGNIZABLE, and then maybe you dabble in a fandom that takes largely mythical historical figures and makes them into college students, and then you drop into a more esoteric fandom that prides itself on not ever turning its people into foodstuffs, and in fact likes to snuggle with canon as a matter of being...oh look! WTF comments! :D

And hey, since they are never going to tell you? You can totally just decide this is in fact the problem, and then it won't bother you anymore.

:DDD

Now, what am I supposed to be reading? The thing that was cut-tag deficient the other day?

on 2012-02-24 04:28 pm (UTC)
frank_leo: (seriously?)
Posted by [personal profile] frank_leo
I am just now starting to put my writing out where people can read it and comment on it. Thus far, as far as I can tell, people are doing neither and given the rather curious feedback you received, this might be a blessing. I do find that a lot of people don't have the attention span to wait for the payoff of a good story, they want one disaster after another until the badass kicks ass and the world is safe.

Personally, I like the idea of making the characters from worlds we know more real by filling in the blanks as it were to make them human. A character I already relate to is only going to become closer to my heart if I can dip into their heads and read about what they like and think of when stuck in rush hour traffic while on the way to their super amazing job. I sure can't relate to the job thing, but if s/he like me enjoys heated seats while sitting in winter rush hour, then that's something I can relate to.

I guess I just want my heroes to be a little ordinary to give me some hope that ordinary me could one day be a hero.

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Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

May 2013

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