A WRITER'S MELTDOWN: A HOPELESS OUTLOOK ON FANDOMTHIRD EDITION
Written by Diane N. Tran
Today, I had skimmed through the typical "fanfiction" at a forum: It was one I had no taste for, one where there was no plot, no character development, no thought, no creativity, one of those average, mediocre writings where 98% of fan-writers attempt to write porn for porn's own sake by using "fuck me and fuck me hard," which just left me with a nasty taste in my mouth. Usually, these things wouldn't bother me as a rule, but what puzzled me was the numerous responses of nosebleeds and drools in the comment section and I began to question the concept of "fandoms":
Is really the audience I have to brown-nose to in order to get views from, to get comments from, to get critiques from? Is this what people really honestly want from fiction? Why do people say they don't want Mary Sues, but create them anyway? Why do people like characters then remove every aspect of their personalities, personalities that made you love them in the first place, personalities that made them unique, in order to self-insert them into their own selfish fantasies? If you love these characters and their stories, it makes sense that you would want to stay faithful and respectful of them, so why alter them into something they are not? Why do people have the need to change anything at all? What's wrong with sticking to the source material, expanding upon it, and why is that concept so difficult to grasp? Why don't people care about proper grammar and correct spelling? Why don't people research? Why don't people write as if they don't read? What's the appeal of porn? Whatever happened to writing with a brain? Why does it sound like a monkey dancing on a typewriter could do better? How can something so mediocre, so average, so boring, so predictable, so badly written, so thoughtless, get so much attention? Why is it when you do something different, it's never appreciated at all? And why is it, when you do your best, your best is never enough?
So, why do I even try at all?
I have always been the epitome of an "outcast among outcasts" when it comes to fandom: When I started, there was no internet. The term "fanfiction" didn't exist yet. It was, instead, known by the scholastic term of "pastiche." The word "pastiche" is defined as "a creative work, whether literary, pictorial, musical, or architectural, that closely imitates the work or style of another artist." I was part of scions of the Sherlock Holmes literary and scholastic circles, so my perspective of "fandom" (which, too, was a word that didn't exist at the time) was completely different. There were no prepubescent and/or teenage crowds of "fangirls" or "fanboys" that we know of today blocking the way. My competitors were university professors, research historians, literary scholars, published essayists, professional writers, avid collectors, learned hobbyists, even members from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate itself — and I had laudable hopes to be a would-be "gentlewoman and scholar" and still do: I have had a few articles, essays, and a pastiche or two published in a few Sherlockian magazines. Of course, this was back when people regularly read books, then came the internet and everything changed in such a brief amount of time that I'm still playing catch up to this day.
Nowadays, the term of "fandom" both frustrates and disgusts me. I have never been the "conformist" because I could never tolerate being part of the "public standard." I always find myself wanting to do something the average fan-writer would never ever do. I'm not interested in the most popular fandom, nor am I interested in the most popular pairing. All I truly desire is to tell a good story with good characters, but I have learnt, in observation, that the general audience, the average reader, doesn't care for that: If you give people something different, all they want is something commonplace. People ask for treasure when, in reality, they want trash. The world doesn't like anything unique or unusual because the world prefers conformity, and that is why they push the unconventional and the unorthodox aside and keep them out of sight. That, of course, hurts someone like me. In my heart and soul, I know that I shouldn't care what the masses think and want, that I should write as I feel I should, but it doesn't hurt any less. You try and try that uphill climb and you find that you didn't make a wink of difference, that no one really cares, in the end.
I feel that an artist, whether a painter, animator, actor, photographer, or writer, has the responsibility to reflect the culture that you're in and to give back to that culture in some way, that they should have purpose in what they do. There's always reason to express oneself, to say something, and mean it. There's always a story to tell. People may say there are no more new ideas, that everything under the sun and moon that can be said has been said, but I don't think that's exactly true. If there's such things as new characters, then there can always be new stories, and there can always be new ways to write them, incorporate them, and express them. One can even take an old idea, something that hasn't been done in awhile, and make it appear new. There are people out there who talk and say nothing, then there are people talk and say something. There's always a message, a moral, or a reason, and a purpose to say and express something, whether people are receptive of it or not.
But what do you do when your best simply isn't enough? Some people slide through, do half the work, and get all the credit. Other people, those whom give it their all, get no credit at all. I strive, push, challenge myself to write do best I can with the time I have. I labour intensively over every paragraph, every sentence, every word, with a jaunting eye. I research extensively, knowing that a meager 10% of it appears onto the page, but I do it all the same. I enjoy bringing meaning, metaphor, pathos, subtlety, sophistication, subtext, intelligence, characterization, conflict, maturity, uniqueness, and a sense of realism into everything I do. As someone who writes the language that brought us Milton and Shakespeare, Orwell and Hemingway, Browning and Yeats, I feel obligated to bring literature into my work and that it's necessary make use of proper grammar and correct spelling because of my love for literature. I love the power of vocabulary. I love the music of monologues. I love the beauty of soliloquies. I love the command of speeches. I love the emotion of oaths. I love the wisdom of words.
But that doesn't mean I can't make bad decisions when it comes to those words. I'm liable to them, like every other living being is, and fully capable of failure and pay for the subsequent price that comes with them by using words incorrectly. Because writing requires talent. It is a vernacular mastery, an indicative discipline, of definition, spelling, grammar, structure, style, space, sound, rhythm, rhetoric, balance, form, function, composition, conversation, design, knowledge, imagination, and artistry. A writer is no mere wordsmith: We are craftsmen. We are artists no different than Botticelli with a brush, Michelangelo with a chisel, or Beethoven with a piano.
To this day, I still refer my fan-written stories as "pastiche." To me, there's a divide between what is "pastiche" and what is "fanfiction": "Pastiches" is a subtype of "fanfiction" that clearly imitates the style, the ideas, and the characters of the original work. It is where one is faithful and respectful to its "canon" (or the original source material), expanding upon it rather than altering it into something it is not. It's like asking me to change something that's already perfect: I don't have the heart to remove a sentence from Hamlet's monologue. I don't have the heart to remove a measure from Mozart's Requiem. I don't have the heart to remove the smile from the Mona Lisa's face. I don't have the heart to remove a gargoyle from the Notre-Dame de Paris. I don't have the heart to remove a single frame from Casablanca, or a single hair from Chaplin's false moustache. Because for me, it's perfect as it is. I love it just as it is. It is art at its finest! I may not be able to equal that perfection, not even close, but I can try my damnest:
Behold, this is my pastiche: This is a my tribute to art for art's sake, and that pastiche can be done well, will be done well to the best of my abilities, and allow me to demonstrate to you that well-thought, well-meaning, well-written, well-done "pastiches" can, indeed, exist and do exist, if one can just look in the right places. And, contrary to what people may say, staying "canonical" neither hinders or hampers the creative process. In fact, it takes more creative effort and more cerebral thought to be able to bend the rules rather than break them, to be able to think outside the box rather than break the box. I admit it is difficult but the rewards, I feel, are greater. But I don't write this way simply because I can. I write this way simply because I must. I write this way simply because I'm compelled to.
And yet I am a pragmatist, through and through: I never claim to be a good writer, but I'd like to consider myself to be a capable one. I know I never will be the best of the best, but I know can be the best I can be and I know I will constantly push myself to be better than I am. Perhaps it's vanity. Perhaps it's the aesthete inside me. I'm uncertain what it is. But I'm not after fame or fortune. I don't want special treatment, nor am I asking for it. As nice as it would be, I don't write for profit. I simply would like to know if there's an audience for my type of work. I'd like to know if people like it. I'd like to know if my best was (and is) good enough. However, you write and write and write and write, but you are never read, so what's the point of writing at all? You never get any comments, you never get any favourites, you never get any reviews, and when you do, they're never helpful, so why publish them at all? You ask for critiques and never get them, so why ask at all? Because quitting isn't an option.
To achieve any sort of acknowledgment or recognition, you have to pander to the public, you have to beg and hustle, you have to yield to conformity, follow the fashions, and submit to natural order of the planet. You have to demoralize yourself. You have to lower your standards. You have to grit your teeth and smile, bare down and tolerate the humiliation, in order to get what you want. Because people don't want class or sophistication. They don't want intricate plotlines of structural climaxes and sociopolitical intrigue, nor do they want complex characters with emotional pathos and moral conflict, nor stories that take risks, challenge philosophies, and ask the questions that have no easy answers. That takes effort. It takes energy and thought. They want a button of instant gratification.
And, sadly, I can do none of this...
There's a drive inside me that forces me to create, visually and literarily, that cannot be stopped and cannot be hindered. Because I have a voice, damnit, and I'd like to know if it was heard, I'd like to know if I made a difference, and I'd like to know if people agree with it or disagree with it. I will not feel guilt in what I say because what I say I say with conviction: I will not safeguard my words, nor will censor them (even when people have tried and, oh, have they tried). I will not, nor will I ever, play it safe. I will not appease the masses by changing my ways because I am so set in them that I know no other way to express myself — not anyone else's way, but my own way — and I will not pander to the masses because it would be indignant of my nature to do so. The world will never change because I'm too far outside the confines of the box to change with it. I will not dull the senses by idealizing or romanticizing them, but simply tell you as it is, just the way I see it, by showing you every crack, every scar, every blemish, every smell, every stench, every thought, every deed, with as many words or as few words I deem fit, and leave to it to the reader to feel attraction or feel repulsion to them, and I would be happy with either because that reader reacted. It doesn't matter if the reaction was good or bad, moral or immoral, right or wrong, it's still a reaction and my words that caused that. I have learnt that I cater to a very small, but intimate, interest group — and that kind of immortal acceptance from fans is something I will never achieve because I've never been, and never will be, the typical fan myself. Nothing creative would generate from me if I weren't anything but myself. It's better for me to say than I tried to be different and unique, just as I am, and did my best than subjugate myself for being the same as everyone else with the least amount of effort. I will not be bullied by Philistines and Babbitts!
I am cursed to toil away in obscurity for all eternity and that the amount of work I put in does not equal (and will never equal) the amount an audience will give in return. I am grateful with what praise I have accumulated, what little I have, in my lifetime and I accept that, even in death, that I will never achieve greatness because that is simply how the world functions. Such is life. It's a vicious Sisyphean cycle of write, rinse, release, rant, headdesk, and repeat. So, I will always make it a habit to thank everyone who reads anything I do because, in the end, recognition does not come from talent, but dumb luck. If failure is the only option, then I will be safe in the knowledge that I, at least, tried and that I failed well — and failed my own way...