Thoughts on Fanfiction, and FF.net

ON FAN FICTION IN GENERAL

It’s been said a thousand times that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. There is most likely a certain truth to that, but I prefer to think of imitation as the lazy bastard child of invention and frustration.

There has never, ever been a fan fiction written that didn’t pursue one of three goals

  • To correct something in the canon work
  • To explore a scenario the canon work did not cover
  • To build upon a canon world or canon characters beyond the scope of canon

All of these are, yes, imitation — but they also require creativity. A large failing of many fan fictions is that they cleave too closely to the first idea while not incorporating the second or third. This is not a criticism in terms of talent or skill — I am sure many such works surpass my own by a large margin. Rather, it’s a failing of vista, of purpose. The ‘fix-fic’ is so uqibitious  that it literally becomes unambitious.

As an example, take two scenarios from my favorite fandoms : Mass Effect and Naruto. The primary perceived ‘problem’ with ME is that the ending sucked. People had certain expectations that were not met. You take a character, make them a Mary/Gary Sue through three games, have them shrug off being blown up by everything from rocket launchers to falling through an atmosphere, to get up stronger than ever, overcome stupid odds, take out a power and intelligence broker who has been untouchable for years, blow up Reapers on foot, solve everyone’s problems … then have him die in a philsophical no-choice dilemma revolving around the nature of synthetics and organics using a completely unannounced and unshadowed deus ex machina that was badly written.

People want to fix the ending without realizing the ending isn’t the problem. If Shepard had not always won outright and conquered everything through all three games, if Shepard had been dealing with the clash of synthetic and organic REPEATEDLY and as a CORE ELEMENT through all three games, if Shepard had to make HARD choices with actual effects visible through all three games along this line … then the ending would have been sublime. Alternatively, if Shepard had not been such a fucking Mary/Gary Sue through all three games, and if the Rule of Cool could have taken a backseat to actual development of the world around them, it wouldn’t seem as if Shepard had to do everything and be stuck with All I Do is Win syndrome, and the failure to come to some level of closure with ending would have been okay. Most importantly however, the ultimate villians were an always moving, never defined and blurry target that Shepard never got to face directly, instead literally always fighting a proxy.

Fixing this is not merely replacing the ending with some other deus ex machina. Based on the technology and what has happened, there is no way organic life can win against the Reapers. And the Catalyst allowing Shepard to shut them down without providing an actual answer to his programming imperative simply because he was able to talk to him also does not make sense. People hate the ending because it doesn’t follow the narrative without realizing that a flawed narrative CANNOT have anything but flawed endings.

To “correct” this actually requires delving into the world and answering all the questions the game raises in a non-bullshit manner. Doing anything else ends up with merely ignoring the problems and providing an ending that is as unrealistic as everything else in ME.

Which works for some, for ME is a Heroic Space Opera Fantasy with Rule of Cool writ large. Many of the most successful fictions in ME follow this slavishly. But it tells me something when, out of the top five ME stories, one is all about OC’s, one is a SI, one has pretty much completely ignored the canon story for a completely new one, and the other two are pretty much wish-fullfillment romance-kink stories with no real challenges to canon.

I am not bashing any of these stories. I certainly do not think mine is any better, although I can say with some pride that having a story in the top 25 out of 15,000 stories allows me to say I’m  a fuck of a lot better than some people. I am going to go out on a limb and say that too many ME stories cripple themselves thematically by clinging to the frameworks of a canon that contradicts itself, ignores it’s own lore, counters it’s own themes, and champions blatant unrealism rather than solving it’s own issues.

You can’t fix that without investing deeply in making the universe actually work instead of being a shiny backdrop. You can’t fix it without taking the shitty canon story and beating it into something where, when you pull something out in the third arc, people can go back to your VERY FIRST story and go ‘oh shiat he had that planned from then’ and see all along the way how it came to be. Most of all, you cannot ‘fix’ ME by keeping mostly canon and changing the ending because we know full well the ending written and much of ME 3 was cut and replaced and whatever themes were being built up were simply ignored past that point, and there is a razor sharp disconnect there.

It’s visible in the Haestrom mission most clearly, but you can see it elsewhere, in the asari who are supposedly strong and yet can’t even defend their own planet when the turians did and salarians did. You can see it in the scene where admirals are asking Shepard what to do now when Reapers are landing instead of debriefing him like any actual military would do long before that point. You can see it in the psychotic nature of the quarian fleet politics that are 180 from ME2.

Next, take Naruto. People try to fix Naruto in a large array of violently stupid ways. They add ridiculous bloodlines, or make him a hanyou, or give him some dojutsu, or change his father to Madara, or some other crazy shit. Or to make up for his lonliness, give him a huge harem of girls who are all fine sharing a 13 or 15 year old boy even though some are older.

We see lots of fixes to alter the shape of world without thinking, where somehow despite his early isolation and shunning and cruel treatment, Naruto is smooth and able to conduct diplomacy and be this super badass. There’s a story where Naruto actually fights a demon god in low orbit. Seriously.

I won’t even mention the slashfics that make no sense, Naru/Sasu or worse, Kaka/Naru.

The fundamental missing piece in the picture, of course, is that at some point Kishamoto lost his own vision and turned the entire thing into a weird, ninjabased parody of TTGL , with so many super powered characters pulling out super powered mega attacks that blow up entire mountain ranges that one has to wonder how the planet has survived thus far. I honestly think the ending to the series should have been Sasuke defeating Itachi, Naruto defeating Pain, and then Sasuke turning his back on the Uchiha hatred and returning home.

Literally everything past that point is such complete bullshit it’s not even worth talking about, and when it’s CANON, you cannot really blame fan fic writers for doing the same thing to Naruto except at an earlier age. And I don’t blame them.

The very, very best Naruto fan fics change canon and cling to what made the series a hit in the first place, while making you think about the nature of the Narutoverse. My own fumblings in this area are not worth reading, but there are many such as S’Tar’Kan who are masters at redefining the venue and canon without altering it into a shape no one can recognize. Lucilla’s masterful Without Naruto is another simple effort that shows just how powerful simple changes can be.

Saying all of the above to say the following:

It is simple to suggest that fan fiction is merely imitation, but the best fan fiction actually moves beyond the limits of canon to improve the work it imitates. That is creativity, not slavish imitation.

I’m sure there are those who feel otherwise…but one cannot argue that there isn’t a single ‘top fic’ for any genre that limits itself to a fix-fic format.

On Fanfiction.net and Idiots

I am beginning to wonder about the very nature of FF.net, enough so that I’ve backed up all my works offline in case any of them are deleted. I do not believe I have violate any TOS or guidelines, and the few times I’ve been notified that I had I immediately addressed the issue.

However, there is an alarming number of groups and people on FF.net who appearantly solely exist to police others rather than generate content. I dealt with people of this nature when I was on Wikipedia, and I quickly grew to dislike them, as this kind of person switfly evolves from trying to be helpful to believing they worthy to talk down to or insult others.

The most benign of these types, the ones like the Copyright Infringment people, Eliminator, and Critics United, are often seen as harmless by those who are not immature 11-year olds with the vocabulary of a IM chat system and the writing ability of a wet sock. With clearly defined rules and member systems, they feel they provide valuable services and clean up FF.net to make it better for everyone. However, the number of malicious copy cats, trolls, hangers-on, drama mongers, and flame warriors attracted to such activity has merely worsened the site rather than improved it.

More aggressive types like the Fox Familiar are also likely telling themselves they are improving the site. Unfortunately, no matter how polite or impolite a review is, ultimately there will be people who post things someone doesn’t like. The problem here is, again, drama that does not solve the core problems nor reduces larger issues in the actual creation of ff.net content are addressed, instead being reduced to personal conflicts which rapidly devolve into childish insults.

Neither of these type of groups considers (or, I suspect, cares) about the larger impact their acts have on both FF.net writers and those who see their actions. It’s not that the copy-vio groups don’t do good work, it’s that ultimately their work is futile. If the FF.net admins only go by submissions, then they have to either trust the submitters or review every submission, and the more groups that are doing this for the right reasons, the more groups that are submitting things just to get back at people for bad reviews or personal issues or just to be trolls.

Likewise, even if the Fox Familiar (who I still have problems believing is female, given the writing style and psychological approaches used) was 100% correct on what they were saying … the very nature of the approach only ensure that the very weakest, shyest and timid people would stop posting. In other words, instead of being able to converse and convince people to write something else besides {insert whatever pissed TFF off this week}, you’ve driven them off to write it elsewhere. Meanwhile, the people you can’t intimidate blow you off as a clown and a troll, even if you were right, and when other people see your profile they won’t bother to ask “Well, is this story actually that bad”, but rather “oh this guy is a troll ignore him”.

Counterproductive actions on the part of those claiming to improve FF.net are only part of the problem. The biggest concern is that as time goes forward and more and more people post, the percentage of works that are garbage rises.

There are 15,500 or so ME stories and 1200 crossover stories. There are 367,000 Naruto stories and over 12,000 crossovers.

Over 250,000 of these stories have less than 5k words, and over 50,000 have 3 or less reviews. That is a staggering amount of absolute garbage. I call it garbage because the one story I consider a failure was 9k words and only 2 reviews. If it can’t attract any interest, it’s a failure.

Go do a filter on stories and pick out the ones at the bottom of the barrel and see what you find. Then look at the middle of the pack ones.

What you eventually come to is that most of the stories with less than 10,000 words and 20 reviews just aren’t good, period. I’ve written a story with less than 2,000 words and it has 15 reviews. And yet when I see a story with ten times the word count and barely the same number (or even less) reviews, I don’t sit here and tell myself to “give it a chance, it might be good”.

Eventually, the site will be swamped with the aftereffects of Poe’s Law. And that is a sad thing, for there are probably a lot of good short fics out there lost in the static-tides of badfic, shitfic, and crapfic.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Fanfiction, and FF.net”

  1. You now, as applicable as Poe’s Law is to such toxic environments as FF.net, you can’t discredit the importance of Sturgeon’s Law as well.

    90% of everything is garbage. Thus, 10% is not.

    If it’s good (or blatant wish fulfillment), people will read it. If it’s not, they won’t. I agree with you on how most ‘fix-it’ fics made my head hurt, because they COULD be doing so much more, but I just don’t read them. You have to consider who the people are that are reading your work consistently. These are the kind of people who, more likely than not, just don’t give a shit about fics that don’t even try to do something interesting or new.

    Seriously, why do you even care? I’m not trying to be antagonistic, but who gives a fuck? You’ve got better things to do with your time, man. People write shit. You write shit, I write shit, everyone writes shit. FF.net is just the most well known place to display stuff, assuming tumblr doesn’t actually count. Your readers probably don’t really think of it as anything else than an archive of lots and lots of words, most of them shitty.

    If it really bothers you that much, check out archiveofourown.org. As the title suggests, it was created to give writers of ‘transformative fanworks’ (fancy word for fanfiction, may actually be the legal term) more freedom and security from all of that FF.net bullshit. It does not have censors, and the site design is actually really awesome. It’s 10,000x more effective than FF.net, but naturally it’s not nearly as well known. I post all of my stuff there, and on FF.net. Sure, FF.net gets far more traffic, but I always feel more at home when reading and browsing Ao3.

    Just something to think about.

  2. I guess I have my own reasons for my beliefs, but the largest of them is fairly simple and consistent.

    I want the good to be celebrated, on it’s own merits. There are some stories on FF.net (and , I suspect, on this archive place you mention) that gain lots of attention and praise that simply isn’t merited, but is granted nonetheless by those people who turn right around and disagree with anything that doesn’t fit their narrow categories.

    Take for example what you write. I think it’s original and brilliant, in particular Flock of Vandals, which is nothing like anything else. It has 41 reviews. There is a pile of garbage on FF.net (I won’t name it) but it has about the same word count. Flat dialogue, bad characterization, very little intelligible plot, Self-Insert, bad descriptions. And yet it has over 250 reviews.

    Why? Who knows.

    I write to attempt to create something atop of something, just like you do. It … disappoints me. So I rant.

    1. Oh stahp with the flattery, I’m just trying to entertain myself. If other people enjoy it, that’s just a bonus.

      Well, everyone’s got a right to rant on crap, especially when it’s as something as disappointing as shit being praised as gold. I mean, it happens that way in television, film and books too. All the time.

      Why would it be any different here? Also, do you WANT the people who couldn’t recognize good writing if it ran them over with a Satocycle—HRmpghs excuse me—a motorcycle to review your stuff? I honestly don’t. I know that seems a little much, but it’s not like they have anything constructive to say.

      Praise is not helpful after a certain point, as I’m sure you know. After you internalize that, yes, there is definitely something in this story that is actually good and worth pursuing, it’s almost useless besides the warm fuzzy feeling it gives you. I’ve gotten about 3 reviews out of those 41 that were actually constructive. I value those above all the others.

      Those other authors don’t, most likely. If they have received any criticism at all, they’ve ignored it or were just unable to improve. They suck.

      Like I said before, good people will read and praise good writing. Stupid people will read and praise bad writing, because frankly they have no idea what the difference is. They’re the lowest common denominator.

      Let’s say, for sake of argument, that one of these shitty stories you’re talking about could be equated to “Two and a Half Men”. It’s not funny. It’s never been funny. Yet for nearly a decade it was the most watched comedy on television.

      If they’re that giant piece of horseshit, then I guess you’d be, considering the sheer thickness of the lore you spew everywhere, “Game of Thrones”. Just for the sake of argument.

      It’s not TV, it’s HBO!

      Both shows have their own, massive following, but in different ways. CBS’s trainwreck of shitty, lazy writing is perfect for the single most broad audience imaginable. Game of Thrones is for the people with at least half of a brain.

      Know what? The people who watch Game of Thrones go on to want to watch things that are just as smart, if not smarter, than that!

      I’m gonna be totally honest and say that one of the first long fics I read was a SI. It was years ago, and I very much enjoyed it. I now realize it was so terrible that it needs an acid bath. But I moved up from there, didn’t I?

      People like what they’ve seen before. It’s one of the oldest rules of TV. It is, mostly, still true. But as I’m sure you can tell, many people get bored of what they’ve seen before, and they’re the ones who are worth writing for, if you have to write for anyone but yourself. Their praise means more than anything else the ‘competition’ can say, and they’re criticism means 100x more than that.

      Okay, I don’t remember where I was trying to go with this besides “Don’t worry, be happy” and “Stupid is as stupid does.” So, uhm, those things.

  3. Personally I see canon as a sandbox with a little but (depending on which fiction) epic castle and the writer is free to tear down said castle and make something even bigger and better. After I got my first kick of fanfiction and had read a couple of ME1-ME3 fic’s I started searching for more AU story’s, this is why I love well done crossovers.

    I personally think these’s are the uncut diamonds of the lot, just something defining that is changed in the world. Shepard is literally a high function psychopath for instance.

    So long a story has something defining I will probably read it.

    Unfortunately like you said most of the stuff is garbage. All of the game dialogue’s with some minor padding, same choices. But I believe that comes with the territory if you would ask any of my friends (before I was reading fan fiction) if fan fiction in general was any good you would get a big sounding no.

    You’re description of a fix it fic is a lot broader then the average writer would dare tackle, but I agree and disagree.

    On the 1 hand a world doesn’t need to be 100% logical and not flawed (i’m saying you did) and simply said if I took a real hard look at every fiction I watch/read I would drive myself crazy with the mistake I would find. But the flaws are there of course and I don’t think they necessarily need to be addressed but the ending was just so directly unsatisfying . You felt cheated because it pure lack backing it had on so many angle’s. Lets not even begin to dissect what actually happened because simply said I was mad for over a month about it.

    As for reviews. I actually look at them before positing my own review just so I may get a new insight and say something in support or against certain reviews. But for the most part it is “great work I look forward to the next chapter”

    I will admit I am one these people when i don’t have the time to post something constructive and or just don’t have anything to say.

    But I think you should also think about the author’s end. If a author doesn’t give a single inclination to my big ass reviews I am not going to put in the effort to produce a new one like that.

  4. In defense of the Bad: My thoughts on Fan Fiction.

    My thoughts on Fan Fiction are that it is a form of entertainment. That’s all it really is. I read stories to be entertained. I read your stories because they are some of the best stories I have ever read. Period. Published literature or internet posting, your stories LogicalPremise are just fantastic. As good a writer as you are, I can understand how angry you must be at so many of the inept and just generally not very good writers such as myself.

    Still, just because someone is a bad or just not very good writer mean they should just stop writing? Just because they don’t get very many reviews despite multiple chapters and a lengthy word count in their story? In my opinion, I don’t think so.

    I have published 3 stories, two of which were one-shots. The least reviewed of them only got 2 reviews, one of them was oddly enough you. The other stories did get some attention, but not too much. The one that got the most attention and reviewed by the largest number of people was the only one that had main ME characters in it. The others were reviewed mainly by an author who was very helpful and kind enough to stick around and read my dribble.

    The only reason they did that though was probably because they were good enough to send me a PM thanking me for favoriting their work and took the time to read what little I had published at the time. Why they stuck around I don’t know, but I am very grateful for them and do my best to write very long and supportive and analytical reviews to their work.

    Now, back to the matter at hand, should I have stopped writing when my first few chapters largely went unnoticed by the readers? No. I didn’t write my stories for the entertainment of others, I wrote it for myself and my own amusement.

    Sure, I would love to be able to write stories one tenth as good as yours and have many people review my work, but I never started writing for that, I started writing for fun. That is the main reason I stuck around on the site: I like the stories. They are fun to read.

    I first started reading fan fiction when ME3 landed and I realized how bad the endings were. I read so many stories that had a better ending then the games did. I stuck around because stories were still being written that were worth reading. Because it was FUN. That’s not me cheapening the writing, the writers, or anything else. When I say it is fun I mean it as a compliment. That it is engaging and entertaining.

    I’m not sure where this will go, so I will stop here for now. But I leave you with this question: Even if not one person is entertained by the story being posted, as long as the writer is enjoying the process of writing the story, isn’t it still worth posting?

  5. For me the disconnect begins at the very beginning of ME3.
    (And I keep refering to Ashley here, because I have not ever rescued Kaidan in seven ME1 playthroughs)

    Shepard is in a detention center (as seen by various writings on the wall) and she is brought to a courtroom. But except a bit of the conversation with Anderson (she blew up the Batarians and had her ship taken and the re-instatement), someline about trust with Ashley and Liara being close but Shepard was under housearrest anyway; this topic and the detention center and courtroom sites are not being adressed.

    There so many questions and plotholes in the beginning sequence. Is it a housearrest if she is in a detetion center? I think not. Why is the court not discussing her case at all, but bothers with strategic questions? Was it intended to have Anderson and Ashley as witnesses there?

    And that is why we need fanfiction. Even the bad ones. It is a form of discussion about the lore. That is why there a certain themes that are explored over and over again. And each fanfiction is another exploration of that theme or re-inforcement of that theme of another fanfiction. Some are badly written or not well thought out, but to me even the bad ones are valuable as they progress the fandom as a whole.

  6. Somehow I feel like an intruder, stumbling into a tightly-knit circle of writers here. At least, that’s the impression I got. Some of you I know as well as some of your work. Obviously, that’s the reason why I ended up here. Ended up here – sounds so harsh.

    And, nevertheless, here I am, feeling like a novice, at best.
    So, just a day ago I managed to pick myself up again after a long absence of incentive on my own part to continue my current fanfic, a kind-of AU version based on Dragon Age Origins. When I published the mentioned chapter, I looked over the statistics again, read through the reviews and I felt spurred at the knowledge that there are, at least some, people out there who like my story and enjoyed reading it as much as I (once more) enjoy writing it.

    Naturally, that was the moment when a nagging thought crossed my mind. A thought that has crossed my mind many times. Self-reflection turned to self-doubt in a matter of seconds. Why the fuck are so few people actually reading the work I poured so many hours in? Let alone take the time to write even a short review or PM me. It isn’t that hard or time-consuming. A review is to me like Red Bull is advertised. It gives me literary wings. It pushes me to go forward and bring my ideas out there for others to read, enjoy and criticise.
    But so few do, which is a shame. They probably just don’t give a shit about one meagre story. There are, after all, a staggering amount of others.

    Because, in my opinion, compared to many other fics out there, mine is better. Many fics simply get clicks, favs, follows and reviews on the basis of the prominence of the writer – which, in some cases, is deserved. In others, not – ludicrous wish-fulfilment, kink, smut, slash, or some kind of pairing. Whatever.
    Already having looked over your site in the past, I remembered this article/post you wrote, LogicalPremise.

    As I posted my newest chapter, this nagging thought once more drilled my mind till it bore a hole deep and wide enough that I might need months to crawl out of again and continue to write my story, I just had to go here and disagree with you on one simple point.

    “If it can’t attract any interest, it’s a failure.”

    I can’t believe that, for my own sake, I guess. I want to get better at writing. I don’t know, maybe my writing sucks and I’ve produced only literary miscarriages, how’d I be able to tell? Self-criticism is the hardest, in my opinion, and I’m especially terrible at it.

    Alas, if I stop writing I’ll never get better. No matter how many clicks, favs, follows or reviews I get. And I’ll take a bit more than a dozen reviews for a 50k story over none any day. No matter how frustrated I sometimes am at the lack of them.

    Puh. Just had to get this off my chest.

    That being said, I find your work very inspiring. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why I am currently outlining an AU Mass Effect fanfic.

    So thank you for all your hard work, keep it up.

    fjun.

  7. Just my 2c about the number of reviews on ff.net…

    IMO that’s decorrelated from story quality, for two reasons:

    1- Sometimes a guy leaves a one-line review per chapter, which artificially increases the review count
    2- Most people who like the story don’t review

    A much better metric would use the page views. For example, I have a story where almost everyone who gets past chapter 1 (ie, they accept the premise of the story) reads the rest to the end. So, I feel warm and fuzzy inside !…

    Seriously, ff.net could do a lot, but they won’t bother. Here’s my list :

    – allow to rate a story, and sort by rating
    – tell me at which chapter my readers gave up so I can fix it
    – improve the view analytics
    – add a “report spelling/typo” allowing to click on a specific word
    – allow anyone to comment on a paragraph

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