A Random Evil

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Title: A Random Evil
Creator: fernwithy
Date(s): September 14, 2005
Medium: LiveJournal post
Fandom: focus on Harry Potter
External Links: A Random Evil; archive link page 1; archive link page 2
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

A Random Evil is a 2005 essay by fernwithy.

The essay has 61 comments.

Regarding the title of the post: "Wow. So people think the anagrammatic point of 'Romilda Vane' is 'I'm A Dan Lover.' Okay. I guess the letters work. But I kind of suspect, if there's any anagram point to it at all, it's 'A Random Evil,' which fits what she does. I mean, yes, she fangirls Harry (who is not Dan), but her function in the plot is to accidentally make Ron crazy, leading to his poisoning. A totally random bit of evil. I'm just sayin'."

Some Topic Discussed

Excerpts from the Essay

I have to say, I'm wondering about accusations that a bit of canon (in any fandom) "reads like fanfic." I know that the insult means, "It reads like fanfic that I don't like," but I have to wonder at the concept of the thing, really. Fanfic writing and canon writing are, well, writing. They come from the same place. We write about what interests us, JKR writes about waht interests her. Sometimes they coincide. Sometimes they don't. There's not some mystically different approach that one takes when writing canon (known among we mere mortals as "original fiction"), except for the fact that the canon writer is creating the original scenarios as well as speculating on them. (And yes, you speculate in original fiction as well as in fanfic. You have to. I came up with a scenario I liked in The Gods in Time, but speculating on it didn't interest me much, so the story fizzled out. I just didn't have anything to say after the initial set-up, even though I liked my guys.) So yes--of course some canon is going to read like fanfic, because at some point, some fan writer is going to have speculated on something that the canon author was also interested in speculating on.

The use of "It's like fanfic" as a criticism strikes me as particularly puzzling when it comes from fanfic writers, who know the process of writing (and even know that there are times you just push through a plot point because it has to be done). Canon writers are just the writers who happen to write canon. They're people. They go through the same writing process as everyone else.

Excerpts from Comments

sophonax: The main distinction I make between something that "reads like" fanfic and something that has a proper canon feel to it is the kind of story that's being told, not the style of prose. Fanfic, to me, generally feels like filling-in-the-cracks type of stuff that goes on outside a main story--when well done, of course, it can feel like its own main story that everything else is centered on, but it's fundamentally peripheral. I can't imagine anyone thinking that, say, the next installment of HP (for any temporal value of "next") feels like fanfic, because it's so clearly continuing to tell the main story that the first books started.
persephone_kore: I can't imagine anyone thinking that, say, the next installment of HP (for any temporal value of "next") feels like fanfic, because it's so clearly continuing to tell the main story that the first books started.

Not by your definition, no... but what about all the people who write (or used to write) and read fanfics that are supposed to be continuations of the main story? Not always even intended as actual predictions, much less accurate... but I'm pretty sure there were a ton of fifth-year fics (not sure about sixth-year or seventh-year), not all of which exactly retained the focus on Harry vs. Voldemort (which, to be fair, the real books have sometimes appeared to digress from for a while) or even on Harry, and not all of which retained such properties of canon as primarily-Harry-POV, style, etc. -- but many of which at least gave it a shot. I doubt "like fanfic" automatically means "fundamentally peripheral" to such people.

A lot of other people avoid anything of the sort like the plague, of course. :)
toastedcheese: Thank you for making the "fanfic" comment. People said the same thing about OOTP, and they're saying it now, simply because (I suspect) they can't quite accept that canon changes and grows, and the new material feels foreign to them. What, dare I ask, would real canon read like, according to these people? Beyond being good and convincing and obviously Jo's, would it emit some kind of otherworldly JKR glow? Are there mystical canonical experiences I've been missing out on?
duncatra: I see 'like fanfic' as maybe going a little too far in terms of giving the fans what they think they want. There are things one expects in fanfic - like 'shipper fic - that maybe aren't incredibly suited to canon. A good story is a good story, but sometimes fan service ends up going overboard. It's like if Rowling decides that the seventh HP book will suddenly became about nothing but everyone's sex lives.

The X-Files did that every once and a while with Mulder and Scully - there were several episodes that were so shipper-heavy, even in the early seasons, that you didn't have to know about the fandom to get the anvils. Xena did quite a bit of that too, with all those episodes that were set in the 'present day,' mostly dealing with reincarnations of the main characters, but the worst was one where you literally had modern-day Xena fangirls somehow bring the characters into the present day.

Some of the XF ones have aged pretty well - the episode where Mulder and Scully pretend to be married used a fanfic staple, but it was still a good XF episode, even though it annoyed me at the time. But the Xena fangirls? If that's not fanfic, I don't know what is.
fernwithy: There were some moments in Xena that were definitely fan influenced--to the detriment of the show, as it became a severe angst-fest--but I wouldn't say "like fanfic." (It did it's best fanficcy show in "The Quill is Mightier..." imho).
violet azure: I've always taken the comment of canon feeling like a fanfic to pertain more to the canon author's writing style more so than JKR, or another canon author, not writing what I wanted to happen so therefore I don't like the canon author's new stuff. As much as I love JKR and the Harry Potter books, JKR has her strengths and weaknesses. She's quite excellent at plotting and at inserting humor and at creating new and wonderful things, but I sometimes find her prose a little weak. She made a huge leap forward with HBP ("several sunlit days" and "like a rope, like a fiery snake" were some of my favorite lines) but she's not a typical "novelist". A Harry Potter book by JKR will never be written like "The Corrections" or like a book by Margaret Atwood. However, there are some fanfic authors whose strengths are JKR's weaknesses and vice versa. I tend to like a lot of fanfic authors who have a very "prosy" style and are writing fanfiction as seriously as they would an original novel. I respect that. I don't mind as much if they don't create new inventions or have an ultra-twisty plot and when I go from reading about HP characters written in a style that's quite good to JKR's style, it can be a little jarring.

Also, I don't know about other fandoms, but JKR herself does a lot of things fanfic authors get flamed for. Her books have *a lot* of Flints: the James/Lily wand order in GoF, the ages of the Weasleys, Marcus Flint convieniently repeating a year, dates in the books not matching up with dates in real life like when Sept. 1 is always magically a Monday. You hold the author to a higher standard because s/he created the world. JKR also glosses over some things in the books and I'm really glad that she takes the time to answer questions on her website. I don't like it when people are like, "Oh, JKR made Harry and Ginny get together instead of Ginny with Draco. Her book is so typical of fanfic and I love Draco and Boo-Hoo I'm going to keep writing Draco as sexy and hawt and he's going to get together with Ginny, who still acts like an innoscent little girl from CoS."

That kind of whining I can't stand, but I do understand where some of the "canon feels like fanfic" comes from. At least with JKR, we've come to expect the unexpected from her. The first 4 books had such amazing plot twists and I had to go back and re-read everything for clues. Books 5 and 6 have been radically different narrative styles compared to the first 4 books. They're more linear, less red herrings and there are less "surprises" at the end, which is how a lot of fanfic authors write. Fanfic writers have been "predicting" for certain couples to get together and have been "predicting" certain events and they tend to be over used. The whole "Harry-breaks-up-with-Ginny-to-protect-her-from-Voldemort" story has been written in fandom since GoF so when it happened in HBP, no one was really surprised and that's always been JKR's greatest strength as an author: to keep her audience guessing. Very few fanfic authors come up with truly original plots and instead focus on characterization and writing style, sooooo when JKR, who we expect to give us a great plot twist, doesn't deliver, we're more likely to critically examine her style and characterization and say, "Oh, I read a fanfic with Harry and Ginny getting together and it was much better than what JKR wrote." Yes, but that's all the fanfic author wrote. JKR has much bigger plans for Harry. Still, I would probably read that woman's grocery list.
fernwithy: I guess I never really thought of the main arcs of the story as being particularly surprising or unpredictable--Ginny/Harry was a pretty obvious pairing intention, so a lot of fanfic authors picked up on it. R/T was less obvious, but a lot of us still saw it coming. R/Hr... doesn't really need much explanation! Had she failed to follow through on any of her set up ships--or other points she has set up in canon--that would be bad writing. We're at the seventh book--everything should be set up by now, all the fuses contentedly burning, and the fireworks should go off as scheduled...

Her books have *a lot* of Flints: the James/Lily wand order in GoF, the ages of the Weasleys, Marcus Flint convieniently repeating a year, dates in the books not matching up with dates in real life like when Sept. 1 is always magically a Monday. You hold the author to a higher standard because s/he created the world.

Actually, I kind of think it's the opposite. Because JKR is involved with creating the macro, she's a lot more likely than a fan writer to have goofs like Flint's repeat year and missed dates. She's creating from scratch, without several points to refer to that a fanfic writer starts with. Her editor should have caught Flint and someone should have said, "Er, Jo...?" on the September 1 thing, but that's the kind of mistake that tends to get made when taking the first, initial swipe at something, where it's more important to get all the main elements of the story in and the details kind of get glommed on, with the thought that they can always be fixed later. Then, later, you forget about them. Fan writers, on the other hand, have the printed copy in front of them all at once, and have absorbed it in a lot less time than it took JKR to create it. I started reading HP with GoF, and I read all four of the first books in the space of a week. It was easy to spot little inconsistencies. But JKR had been working on them for years by then. I mean, when she was writing HBP, it's what... ten, eleven years since PS/SS? For me, that's like trying to remember all the details of a fic I wrote at twenty-four about Al Calavicci in the orphanage--I think one of the priests was called Brusero and I'm absolutely positive that Al was playing chess against himself, but I don't remember which girl I had him sneak off with or what street in Chicago I put the orphanage on. I could go back and check, of course, but if I were under pressue and writing quickly... not so much. I actually did have to go back and check to see what I'd described Sanjiv as looking like, because in the course of a short scene (which I cut) I described his hair wrong. Something happened to to click in my head about it, but if it hadn't, I'd have ended up with Flint on my OC, because I wouldn't have thought to check. I did get one when I forgot to have Remus undress before transformation, and I never would have thought twice about it if a reader hadn't pointed it out... an advantage that fanfic writers have all over canon writers.
a t rain: Well, I think a lot of fanfic has a definite aesthetic that gives it a very different feel from anything in the HP books. In general, fanfic develops romantic relationships in exhaustive detail and tends to undervalue platonic ones, focuses heavily on characters' emotions and internal development rather than external conflicts, privileges darkness and seriousness over humor, etc. (There are, mercifully, plenty of exceptions, but the type of stories that get admired and imitated most often is reasonably consistent.) The puzzling part, for me, is that many of the people who are complaining that HBP was "like fanfic" really seem to mean that it wasn't enough like fanfic when you try to pin them down to specific examples. The claims that Harry didn't spend enough time mourning Sirius and that the romantic pairings were insufficiently foreshadowed and developed, for instance, strike me as attempts to apply fanfic standards to canon. (Also, I suspect that the real problem many of these people have with the canon pairings is that they were played for comic relief, while romance is Deadly Serious Business in fanfic.)
olympe_maxime: Your observation that canon writers are also mere mortals was a minor a-ha moment for me. Not that I don't know it, but you know how it is. I've written just one novel in my life (a Nanowrimo one, so it sucks), and I tend to automatically think of real novelists as demigods. And as someone who has actually accused HBP of being "like fanfic", I'll admit that the demigod syndrome was part of the reason why I said that.

But that's not all of it.

Now, one of the driving mysteries of the 6th book was the identity of the HBP, and this plot thread was exactly like fan-fiction because of its role in the overall plot.

Canon exists to tell a good story, and that's it. Fan fiction exists to speculate about the mysteries and characters in canon. This plot thread was very like fanfic, because it was an exercise in pure speculation about a canon character, as the identity of the HBP had nothing whatsoever to do with anything. It kept the story moving on the basis of a fan's interest in figuring out the identity of the Prince, which is supposed to be an end in itself. That's OK in fanfic (could actually be good if it's a well-done one-shot), but not in canon.

... (wanted to add thoughts on shipping)...

I disagree with people who say that HBP was like fanfic because of all the shipping in it. Romance was a legitimate, and major, plot thread in this book, that's all. It was given a nice arc of its own and a good conclusion when McGonagall quotes Dumbledore with the "more love in the world" line.

There's no reason why romance should not have been a big plotline in this book. It's certainly been built up to, what with all the tension between Ron and Hermione, and Ginny's crush in the first book, etc. That has not only clued us into what pairings to expect, but also that romance is not absent in Rowling's world. I think it's unfair to yell 'foul' at it becoming a major plotline instead of remaining an afterthought, simply because fandom has overdone the romance thing. Rowling, in keeping with the tone of the previous books, kept the romance decidedly clean, subtle and behind the scenes, except for when the plot required it to be open - and she always had a good reason (to wake Harry up properly to his feelings for Ginny, or to show the whole Lav-lav + Won-Won debacle).
lizbee: What worries me is that one person told me that my fics were "like canon". Now they're complaining, endlessly, that HBP is "like fanfic". I really don't know what to say to that; it's an entirely meaningless complaint.
tiferet: No, it isn't; people who liked HBP just don't like hearing it. HBP reads 'like fanfic' in the sense that even the very best fanfic ever sounds different from what the canonical author does--and the best fics acknowledge that and work with it instead of trying to ape the canonical author.

People who didn't like HBP and people who did like HBP, whether or not it had to do with shipping, were picking up on two different aspects of the text. The people who really, really hated HBP loved the first five books because of the unreliability of the narrators and the ambiguities of the text. Which Rowling is now saying she never intended to put there (well, actually she seems to think they're NOT there, even though she seems to have worked very hard on putting them in before). Now that the text is no longer at all ambiguous (except perhaps for Snape and Draco, but I really haven't much hope for them given the things she says in interviews--Snape will turn out to have been Bumblebore's pawn, yawn, and Draco will get shafted, and if I expect that then I might get a pleasant surprise) and everyone who ever thought it was has been vilified as a high priest/ess of wank on FW, a lot of people are saying, well, this reads like fanfic.

Because it does. It reads like someone on SQ wrote it, and not just because of the ships, but because of the lack of ambiguity. My loathing for this book is incredible, mostly because I loved the first four books so much. It was a huge disappointment....

I think I thought that because there were so many hints tossed in here and there which referred to real-world historical events and people not everyone knows about, and broader issues such as habitat destruction (I really loved that OOTP dealt with this and showed it as a root cause of the species tensions plus the blood prejudices--my beef about OOTP was that the last third of the book needed editing for clarity and that the plot could easily have been amended to produce the same results without everyone concerned having to make such VERY idiotic mistakes), that when the ambiguities were resolved, they'd be resolved in a well, less simplistic manner.


I'll probably like Book Seven, because I'm not expecting anything. HBP was the first book by Rowling that I have had to take breaks from, put down, and slog through in order to get to the end so I wouldn't be spoilt any more than I already was before finishing. It gave me a headache; I didn't think that it would ever be possible for me to loathe Dumbledore more but she managed it; and when I finished it I was really, truly depressed for a couple of days because it was such an incredible let-down.

Yes, the shipping is realistic, but the characters have turned into the sort of normal kids I always loathed and you know what, just because it's typical doesn't mean it's good. Of course we've beathen this horse to death, so, sigh. :D I always love talking with you.
cmere: Here from the Snitch, and I tend to agree. I said it felt like a fanfic at times, because some fanfic 'cliches' were present--when Harry walked in on Draco crying in the bathroom and then they fought, they were but one step away from the hatesex :) But yes, it's all writing and it all takes work, and people should acknowledge that.
penny sieve: Here by way of the daily snitch and just wanted to say this: I cannot figure out how someone can call the original author's work to be like fan-fiction. This is her world and her universe, her characters and events that she has created. The characters have evolved over the years, she's added new perspectives and new events and new ideas, but the fact is that she has created them from scratch.

A fan-fiction is exactly that - a fiction written by a fan of the original author. These authors have taken the characters, events and ideas of the original author and given them their own interpretations or have expanded on a particular plot point written by the original author.

I think it's simply ridiculous to say the original author's work, whether one like it or not, reads like fan-fiction.
unloveablehands: I think another aspect of this, I say, coming as not really terribly involved in HP fandom but in various others, aside from the previously mentioned that the focus is different in what people expect from fanfic or canon, is that there's... there are things people want to read about in fanfiction that they wouldn't want to happen "for real." Some 'ships are like this, various deathfics are like this, angst/dark fics. There are things that are fun to read in fanfiction (That one might actual seek out in fanfiction, even) that one wouldn't want to read in the actual canon. The appreciation is different when you know that what happens in a fanfiction story "didn't really happen" in canon to those characters. The characters and istuations remain untouched by the fanfiction, but when those same things play out in canon, they're irreversible, they have changed, the canon is different.
skelkins: I think that often (although by no means always) the complaint "it reads like fanfic" can be adequately translated as:

"This is the first new canon to come out since I joined the fandom and started reading fanfic."

The act of reading or writing fanfic, by its very nature, weakens the reader's sense of division between the role of the reader and that of the author. It demystifies the authorial role. So I think it's actually quite common - especially in fandoms like SW or HP, where there are long waits between canon installments - for people to have an almost startled reaction to the first book to come out since they joined the fandom. It's a kind of startled "Whoah, the author is doing all the same things I did when I tried to write my canon-accurate fic! She's...she's just another human writer!" response.

I also think that to some extent, the sort of active speculation about future canon that people do in fandom can have a disillusioning effect on readers. In order to speculate about future plot developments in a serial, the fan must consider all of the indicated possibilities, and then choose one over all the others on the grounds of plausibility, enjoyability, complexity, consistency, etc. It sets up a kind of competition between author and reader, and by doing so, destabilizes the concept of authorial hegemony. Again, it's basically a revelation of "hey, the author's doing the same things we do!" which in turn gets expressed as "she's just another fan; ergo, her work reads like fanfic."

And of course, should the author choose a plot development which the fan had considered as speculation but then rejected on the grounds that it would be fictively inferior then it can quickly lead to disillusionment: the "the author made a bad choice/I could write these books much better than she could!" position. I think that accounts for some of what we're seeing in this recent unpleasantness. I believe that it may be to some extent intrinsic to the very nature of fandom engagement to disillusion its participants in certain ways about the original source material. Some people actively enjoy this process; some do not, but suffer in silence; and some, alas, wank about it.
inalasahl: For myself, when I say something is "like fanfic," the rest of that sentence is not "that I don't like." It's "because it's self-indulgent." There are a whole host of things that one can do in fanfic, because it'll entertain oneself or one's friends that simply aren't appropriate in profic. To take an extreme example, I don't have a problem with a fanfic author playing "let's pretend Sirius didn't die in book five," but I'd have a huge problem with J.K. Rowling doing that. On the more realistic side of things, I'm fine with a fanfic author who spends two pages describing Draco's angst over choosing what to wear in the morning. That can be a fun *wink wink nudge nudge* meta commentary on Draco fanon. But J.K. Rowling shouldn't spend a chapter on Draco getting dressed in order to make a comment about Draco fans. And when I see a profic author including something or someone that doesn't serve the story that's being told, but is there solely as an in-joke or a commentary, I cry "like fanfic."
ferwithy: For myself, when I say something is "like fanfic," the rest of that sentence is not "that I don't like." It's "because it's self-indulgent."

But fanfic really shouldn't be self-indulgent, either (at least no moreso than any other writing)--there's no real excuse for it. Something that's written should always be polished and exhibit some excuse for being there. I think it's kind of insulting to fanfic to think of it as nothing but self-indulgent writing.

Which is kind of what I meant by the post--it's not "Is this or that piece of canon really like fanfic?" but why in the name of all that's canon do fanfic writers have such a low opinion of fanfic?
olympe_maxime: Fern, when fanfic writers say canon is like fanfic, they mean it as a slur, not because there's something wrong with fanfic, but because fanfic and canon are intrinsically different, and it's bad canon when canon does what fanfic is supposed to do (though, the inverse is not true).

Take Shifts as an example. It was a wonderful example of a fanfic - it filled in the cracks of canon, it was marvellously written, it was a well-thought-out look into the lives of much-loved canon characters. But that's it. In canon itself, Shifts has no place, because canon is telling a different story.

What happened in HBP was that canon decided to do the "filling in the cracks of characters" thing without it having anything to do with the story at hand, which made it just like fan fiction.

Fanfic is brilliant, and I have no less respect for certain fanfic authors (you're among them) than I do for JKR. But in HBP, JKR seems to have lost sight of the story.

I don't doubt that Snape being the HBP will have some major significance in book 7, but the mystery was there in book 6, and it was a cheat when that plotline turned out to be superfluous in that book. It is as if we found out in Book 3 that Peter Pettigrew was posing as Ron's rat without finding out any of his history as Harry's father's friend. In a fanfic that focused on discovering the identity of Pettigrew without focusing on Harry's story, that would have been OK. But not in canon.

Hope I'm making sense.
philly2009: Here from Metafandom

Which is kind of what I meant by the post--it's not "Is this or that piece of canon really like fanfic?" but why in the name of all that's canon do fanfic writers have such a low opinion of fanfic?

I have often heard fanfic described as a way of not only filling in the blanks of canon, but of pointing out the things you find wrong with canon and "fixing" them, in a way. Yes, in some ways fanfic is often very self-indulgent, whether it should be or not. But it's not so much about having a low opinion of fanfic, it's about knowing consciously that fanfic is for the fans. Fans that want to play around with this world, be self-indulgent and "fix" things.

When the author begins doing it with her own world, it gets wonky. I think inalasahi made a good point about fanfic being able to reflect meta and wink at fellow meta-ists. When JKR begins doing it herself (with things such as "Witherwings", the Harry/Luna date, Romilda Vane -- things that serve no real purpose to the overall plot or even to deeper characterization, but are merely there as a fun nudge toward friends/fans), the distinction between the writing of canon and fanfic basically becomes nonexistent. Canon shouldn't be self-indulgent either, for even more reasons that fanfic should not.
inalasahl: But fanfic really shouldn't be self-indulgent, either (at least no moreso than any other writing)--there's no real excuse for it. Something that's written should always be polished and exhibit some excuse for being there.

Nor do I think a piece of work being polished and having an excuse for being there prohibits it being self-indulgent. I'm not using self-indulgent as an insult. Perhaps it sounds like fanfic writers have a low opinion of fanfic to you, because you're hearing these comments in ways they aren't meant.

Truthfully, I'm not hugely into HP fandom, though I've read all the books, but I know that my primary fandoms are littered with stories where Character X is alive, or Character Y's canon relationship is ended with a tossed-off line and then the story moves on to a new pairing. There are fix-its, and stories told from other character's points of view. There are missing scenes and PWPs.

At it's most self-indulgent, there are fics written with in-jokes and nods to certain segments of fandom. That doesn't make them bad fanfic, or even bad writing. These stories can still wring my heart dry, make me think, touch my soul or curl my toes.

But J.K. Rowling and other profic writers shouldn't do that, in my opinion. What makes good fanfic makes bad profic.
kyuuketsukirui: The way I saw "it's like fanfic" used in the days after HBP's release were by people implying that JKR had read too much fanfic and was copying.
violet azure: It's not so much that I minded all the shipping, I knew it was coming (except for R/T but mostly because I thought Lupin was going to die in Book 7. I don't think JKR will give him true love and then kill either one off in the next book.) and I couldn't wait to see how R/H, H/G and B/F were all going to get together. Where the "it feels like fanfiction" comes in is that certain aspects of *how* the relationships unfolded were already written in fandom a fairly long time ago, so parts of it didn't feel new or fresh when reading HBP.

For example, fanfics had Ginny playing Quidditch and that being a catalyst in Ginny and Harry getting together. This scenario has been in play since GoF *before it was even canon that Ginny would even play Quidditch* so when Harry kissed Ginny after Gryffindor won the cup in HBP, it felt familiar. R/H felt a little fresher because there were fewer fanfics where Ron gets some action from Lavender; usually his first kiss is with Hermione and somehow the twins are involved in setting them up. However the "jealous of Krum" storyline came into play, which figures heavily in fanfiction. Yes, JKR has made it a point in books 4-6 and it would have been weird if Ron was all of a sudden comfortable with Krum and Hermione being penpals but other things just don't gel. For example, Ron seems to have a lot of performance anxiety when it comes to Quidditch and yet his first kiss is in front of the entire common room?

Also, Harry's argument with himself about his feelings for Ginny [She's Ron's sister! I don't care!] is a device used in corny romantic comedies. I think we even discussed inner monologues on the Pensieve and most people seemed to think ones along the lines of {I like her! But there's conflict! But I really like her! Don't forget the conflict!) are examples of weak writing and fans of JKR feel that she's "better" than that.

Draco trying to breach the Apparation wards at Hogwarts is another common plot device in fanfiction. As soon as I read "Draco's Detour" I was thinking, "Death Eaters are going to arrive at Hogwarts by the end of the book. Hmmm, thought that was going to happen in Book 7." True, the Vanishing Cabinets were a cool twist and it was cool that they were mentioned in previous books, but enough fanfiction authors have grappled with this question so that Vanishing Cabinet just seemed like another explanation that was equally good as what other people have come up with.

I think the whole problem of "canon reads like fandom" is that we've come to expect more from JKR because she's blown our minds (or at least mine) for the first 4 books. When we found out Scabbers was Peter Pettigrew—OMG!!!! When I read that Moody was a fake—shocked!! It was Ginny who was opening the Chamber—no way!!! Quirrel was evil—but, but...oh, I see!With the first 4 books when I reached that climactic moment I was so impressed at how this author had set everything up that with each book I immediately flipped to the first page and began reading it for a second and a third time to see what I had missed, especially since I'm the type of person who watches mysteries and 10 min in I usually know who did it.

My point is that when I read fanfic, very little surprises me but I enjoy spending time getting to know characters better or visiting with ones that JKR just doesn't have time to develop. Fanfic authors fill a void that the author just doesn't have time or space for. Once in a while I stumble across a fanfic that is really well plotted and has some new ideas, like the "Darkness and Light" trilogy or "After the End." When I read canon, I expect a complicated, mind-blowing, entertaining yarn. A real page-turned. Sure, I liked HBP and to a lesser degree OotP, but I didn't squeal and start re-reading immediately. "Oh, Draco's a Death Eater and he's 90% evil...yawn." "Umbridge didn't have a redeeming bone in her body, she was evil from start to finish and...she sent the Dementors after Harry...OK, but hardly squeal-worthy." In a way, I feel like Books 1-4 were like movies that you *have* to see on the big screen and you don't mind paying $10 a ticket to see. Books 5 and 6 feel more like, "Catch a matinee" or "Wait for it on video" because through fanfiction, I've "seen it before."
stakebait: I don't necessarily use it as an insult, or to mean fanfic I don't like. I think Swordspoint, which is one of my favorite novels *ever*, reads like fanfic in some ways.

What I tend to mean by it is mostly that the text in question tends to prioritize/on-stage the emotional relationships and the talking, and de-prioritize/off-stage the action. That, to me, reads like fanfic, because most of the fanfic I read is filling in and fleshing out emotional stuff around canon that provides plenty of action. That's not a negative, but it's different from either a) prioritizing the action or b) not having any action, the relationships *are* the plot.

Similarly, a pro-work that's about re-envisioning a pre-existing story from the point of view of the villain/minor character, or taking something in mythic or archtypal mode and bringing it "down to earth" by giving the characters a more modern interiority feels like fanfic to me. John Gardner's Grendel or Wicked or that song about how tough it is to be Superman, for example.

Of course, it can also be used to mean "has some of the flaws that are common in fanfic", such as too much wish fullfillment in one way or another, problems solved too easily instead of being used to drive the plot. But I don't think it has to be.
melannen: I don't necessarily take 'reads like fanfic' as an insult, exactly, although it often does indicate (for me, anyway) a certain amount of disappointment in the source text ... because canon *is* supposed to be different. To me, I think part of it is that fanfic tends to have a certain emotional feel to it. Maybe one way to define the difference is that fanfic (like many literary novels) tends to use plot mainly as a way to explore character or romance, while in a genre novel (or show) I expect character to be somewhat subordinate to plot. Not that characterization isn't important in canon, but. In fanfic, the point of a Quidditch game can be to get Harry and Ginny together, or to show Harry's growing obsession with Draco's odd behavior, but in canon I kind of expect it to advance the story, give us some useful clues about who's working for Voldemort or an excuse for Harry to be out of commission or tell us what Hagrid is hiding in the forest, or something like that.
i smile: There's a whole different set of skills you use when you write fanfic versus when you write original fic, though. (Or maybe just when I write them?)

I've said, or at least thought, that some of HBP read like fanfic. It wasn't necessarily an insult, and it certainly didn't mean "like fanfic that I don't like," because I would have read those bits & enjoyed them if it were fanfic. It also didn't mean that there was "too much shipping", for the reasons that olympe_maxime stated. It meant, to me, that it had a feel & style to it that seemed different from the previous books, but similar to fic that I've read.

Sometimes I see original fiction that makes me think, "Was this person a fan once? Is he still? Does he write fanfic?" There's just this--style. Not that canon has to stop sounding like Rowling wrote it; more like it starts sounding like Rowling was ficcing. (A lot of fanfic authors, after all, have their own styles--but a great deal of their stories would be recognisable as fic even if there was more exposition and you didn't know the canon, or know that there was canon.) I think this is what makes things like RPS, which is just one step away from original fiction, still recognisable as fanfiction....

But even characterisation & plotting are different, it seems to me. There's a huge difference in the way you'd set up characterisation for a character in an original story compared to the way you'd set it up for a fanfiction character; plots are the same way. There are some things you just can't do. In your own fiction, you can make a character fit a plot point you want to explore, change the way people react to him, change what's happening to him, etc. You have to be internally consistent, and your characterisation has to make sense, but you have a lot more room than you do in fanfiction.

I guess I just don't see them as the same sort of writing (and non-fiction writing--and academic essays, and newspaper articles, and legal briefs & science reports--are different from both, also). I've known people who were good at one but awful at the other, and people who were good at both, and people who were good at neither. It seems sort of like translation & interpretation from one language to another--they're doing basically the same thing, but to slightly different ends and in a slightly different manner.

But looking at other comments you've made, I think we probably have a different view of what makes good fanfiction, even aside from the style I think is there & you don't. I don't think fic has to fit into canon; I don't really understand the win/lose view of shipping that a lot of the Hermione/Harry and Hermione/Ron shippers have, because I'm not trying to predict what Rowling will do in her next book, when I write. I'm not trying to write lost scenes from canon. I don't really seek them out very often, either; I'll see what Rowling's planned when I read her next book, after all. I want the things I write and read to be possible--but I mean, by that, "possible in the HP world if that world were real" more than I mean "possible in the books that Rowling is writing."
xzombiexkittenx: I dunno. I always said HP the last reads "like bad fanfic" but the problem is that saying "bad fanfic" brings to mind bad!fic or sue!fic or really really REALLY shitty fanfic.net crap. What I mean, and I think what most people are referring to is fanfic that's just not quite as good as published stuff. That's not to say that some fanfic isn't better than published stuff, but it's sort of level of quality that we'll overlook in fanfic because no one is getting paid to write it.
elspethdixon: Am I the only person in fandom who uses the phrase “reads like fanfiction” as a compliment? As in “contains all of the same elements I love in really well-done fanfiction?”

When I refer to a novel as “reading like fanfiction,” I usually mean that it devotes a great deal of time to character development and the relationships between the main characters, has more than a touch of melodrama, and provides emotionally satisfying closure at the end-—something some modern “literary” novels seem to be afraid to do, as if leaving your readers happy is somehow an unworthy goal. Plot threads are wrapped up, messy emotional conflicts are resolved, and people die in a satisfyingly dramatic way, usually after an angsty death bed scene or while cradled in their lovers/best friend's arms. There’s also usually a sense that the author enjoyed the writing and the characters—-lingered over certain scenes and descriptions, maybe, or added some gratuitous-but-fun bits of drama, hurt/comfort, over-the-top villains, etc. Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series is a prime example (hurt/comfort and tangled relationships all over the place, plus canonical femmeslash), as are C. S. Friedman’s Dark Sun books, Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series, and pretty much anything by Mercedes Lackey (though her stuff is somewhat Mary Sue-driven). And, hell, the entire Aubrey/Maturin series and just about everything by Dickens.

For a non-textual example, Starsky and Hutch (the series, not the recent movie) differed from the slash fanfiction written about it only in that the title characters didn’t actually make out on screen (much). That episode where Hutch was kidnapped and forcibly addicted to heroin? Pure fanfiction. Also emotionally wrenching and deeply fun to watch. Not to mention the episode where Starsky is poisoned and they have, like, twenty-four hours to track down the guy who did it, or the episode where Stasky is kidnapped by an evil cult, or… *trails off before she starts detailing the entire series*

Of course, I’ve also accused authors of writing “like bad fanfiction,”—Fiona Patton’s books, for example, have a lot of the pitfalls of overly formulaic slash, such as repeatedly referring to characters by their hair/eye color, or with phrases like, “the taller man,” “the shorter man,” “the younger man,” etc.

Of course, I’m an atypical example in that I see essentially zero difference between well-written fanfiction and published fiction. I expect both to be entertaining and to give me well-written prose, good and consistent characterisation, and a plot relatively free from holes, and don’t see one as being any more worthy or literary than the other. The only real difference is that one of them is making the author (or some corporate entity) money, and one isn’t. Someone writing their own sequel to Half Blood Prince is no different when you get right down to it than Virgil writing his own sequel to The Iliad. Unless the fact that he did it two thousand years ago magically makes it not count.