BNFs and the prevalence of epics?

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Title: BNFs and the prevalence of epics?
Creator: dragonscholar and commenters
Date(s): July 16, 2007
Medium: online
External Links: BNFs and the prevalence of epics?; Archive
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BNFs and the prevalence of epics? is a post by dragonscholar at Fanthropology.

The post has 44 comments.

Some Topics Discussed

The Post

About once a quarter, some conversation between my long-term fan friends and I leads to the claim that there's just not enough epic fanfic being produced. You know the drill - it's all drabbles or shortfics, etc. We've discussed it here quite a few times. Working from the assumption that this claim is true (that the percentage of large-scale fanficion has decreased as part of the overall percentage of fanfiction), something struck me that I want to toss out as a theory: We've also discussed the BNF phenomena in the internet age - and indeed how the internet can lead to quick fame and awareness. I've even proposed that having BNFs for some fandom is a kind of norming - BNFs provide the need for a standard/icon for some communities. And that made me wonder - if a fanfiction becomes popular, if an author becomes a big name, can it discourage people from writing and creating more? Someone can come on the scene, become famous, become "defining" for a particular fan group or community rather quickly. If the internet age speeds the ability for someone to become famous and perhaps defining for their community, does that actually end up discouraging people from writing since they can't live up to the people who are famous, or feel their work won't be paid attention to? Discuss.

Excerpts from Comments

  • comment by memoriamvictus ("Honestly, I've always suspected it's the other way around, at least in Livejournal fandom. It can be a bit tricky to keep track of and navigate through longer works, particularly if there's a long period of time between updates, and many readers just aren't that motivated if the author doesn't make every effort to keep things accessible. Whereas if you can produce a fairly steady stream of new, easily digestible works such as drabbles, it's a lot easier to keep your name in front of your potential readership, and thus attract an audience.")
  • comment by dreamflower02 ("I can speak only for my own fandom, but I have noticed that most of those perceived as BNFs *are* the authors of epics. Yet there are some who have written epics that are even better who seem to get little recognition. I know three people--two on my flist, and one who has her own website--who get far less notice than they deserve for some really *brilliant* fic, while certain "BNF"s who wrote popular epics and seldom write any longer, still maintain their BNF status. I think the lack of epics is not that they are discouraged by someone who is perceived as having written "the best" so why try? as they are eager to post and eager for feedback, and ficlets, vignettes and drabbles can certainly be posted much more quickly than a 185 Chapter WIP.")
  • comment by mab browne ("This topic ties right into a fannish neurosis of mine :-), and my opinions are strictly my own. My fandom is 'The Sentinel'. Awareness of stories by BNF writers didn't stop me from writing, but it was discouraging at times to have people say, wherever, that there are no good stories any more and isn't it a shame that so and so who wrote five years ago doesn't write TS fic anymore. In my experience it's not writers, either old or new, who have commented on how there are no more good stories anymore, but readers. TS is a small, older fandom now, and the regard for BNFs is perhaps also tied into the memory of a golden age, when TS was one of the happening things, as it were. I have seen comments from some people who have said that they found the body of good stories a little scary, and I found it so myself. However, I still write, whether I measure up to 'classic' TS fic or not, and so do various talented people currently active in the fandom. The issues of who regards older writers more highly may also be part of the move of fannish culture from and between lists and live journal. I guess the short answer to the topic question is 'it can, but it doesn't have to. *g*'... I don't really agree that there are no more good stories anymore, and not just because I write for the fandom - lots of slash. *g* But as TS has become an older fandom, there is maybe a tendency for people to not be able to avoid repeating themes, or else turn to AUs, which not everybody enjoys, in that search for something that somebody else hasn't done before. Some readers don't mind seeing the same theme done well, or even mediumly well, other people want something new. Who is saying it - well, actually, not that many people, which is maybe where the fannish neurosis comes in *g*. However it has been a minor but definitely recurring theme in some TS communities.")
  • comment by phoebesmum ("Oooooh, that strikes a chord! The number of times, when a big-name SN fan posts a story, that the feedback will include "Oh, I've missed reading about these guys!" or something along those lines. It's actually quite hard to be grown-up about it and laugh it off. But I suppose one can't actively force people to read, let alone feedback, so it's either laugh it off or grow bitter and twisted. I tend to incline toward the latter, actually ...")
  • comment by yourlibrarian ("I'm not sure that the BNF factor has as much to do with it as the age of the fandom, or perhaps more to the point that the two are related. Because I actually think that well-known takes on a ship or certain novel story types tend to spur more fic writing than less, because people feed off of one another's stories. I do think there's probably a decline in epic fic writing, a lot of which has to do with the immediacy of posting and shorter writing formats being enabled by platforms such as LJ. But I think it's also that at the beginning of fandoms there is a lot of fertile ground to explore in a fandom's canon that allows for longer stories to be written. Over time the long fic becomes less frequent, especially the stuff that is well done and tends to become well known.")
  • comment by starwatcher307 ("I think there are many factors why fewer epic-size fics are being written. (If that's true, and not a matter of remembering the longer stories of yesteryear because they were longer, and forgetting the shorter ones. See a breakdown of one author below.)")
  • also by starwatcher307 ("2) As yourlibrarian said, at the beginning of fandoms there is a lot of fertile ground to explore in a fandom's canon that allows for longer stories to be written. Earlier in a fandom's history, there may be more of an intrinsic need for an author to cross all the T's and dot all the I's; she feels it important to delve into the "whys and wherefores" of the story, instead of going for "just the action"—which will inevitably make a story longer. 3) Later in a fandom's history, there is a huge foundation of shared knowledge and information about the characters. By working with that shared knowledge-base, a shorter story—one designed to explore one facet of a question, or elicit one punch of emotion—will "work". Thus, when long explanations (early days) are not needed, the shorter, 'bang!' stories (later days) can develop a niche. 4) I think people may be more fragmented today, as regards the Internet, than they were even ten years ago. If you have three mailing lists and a forum to keep up with, and two fandoms you follow, it's not too hard to juggle all the balls. But if you're following three, four, or five fandoms, AND keeping up with mailing lists AND keeping up with Live Journal and all your friends there... finding the time to write an epic story is difficult. In a schedule like that, it's much easier to develop a short story... I suspect that there have always been more short stories than epic-length stories; we're just remembering earlier days in fandom through rose-colored glasses. I believe that there are many factors that work to encourage more short stories, and the short stories are more noticeable (by sheer numbers) than the epic-length stories. But I don't believe that epic-length stories are dying out; it just takes longer for the authors to write them and post to the fandom.")
  • comment by dreamflower02 ("To me, there seem to be two kinds of BNFs--those who wrote or are writing, immensely long WIPs that attract a lot of attention for some reason or another. Many of these people have not written in a good long while, yet still their names seem to be recognized right away, or are the first writers people think to recommend when pointing newbies at fics. The other kind of BNF is the sort of person who doesn't necessarily write much, but who is respected for working at reccing fics and beta-ing, and so forth.")
  • comment by dragonscholar ("The issue of the shared body of knowledge is very intriguing. It's certainly one I'd never considered - and in a day where fandoms have wikis, perhaps even more relevant all the time.")
  • comment by starwatcher07 ("The body of material available for research into a fandom can be considerable -- episode guides and such. But I was thinking more of the writer being to make the subconscious assumption that her readers will recognize all her references. In The Sentinel, I can mention "Lash" or "Freeman" or "Orvelle" and be 99% sure that my readers know the character, episode, and what happened. I can spin off one of those episodes and explore the emotional fallout without writing a couple of pages to explain what went before, or write a "missing scene" of an episode and know that the readers can mentally insert it in the right place, and make sense of it. That's what I meant by shared body of knowledge, and I think it's that fandom-wide knowledge that makes short fics, drabbles, missing scenes, etc, possible. It's also the reason non-fans may find the fic of a particular fandom "flat"—they don't have the knowledge base to fill in the gaps to appreciate how "this" story resonates with the series. (I know there are some who fall in love with the fic first, then seek out more information about the fandom, but it's usually the other way around.)")
  • comment by cschick ("There comes another period, though, later in the fandom's history, when novel-length stories re-emerge. I've seen it in multiple fandoms: when the fandom starts cooling off, writers start focusing on longer works again. I suspect there are two reasons for this. When a fandom is "hot," turn-over is high. There's lots of fan fiction moving through. WHY spend months writing a long work that's barely going to get any more attention or time than a short work? Put out the short work, participate in the "hot" fandom immediately. But when the fandom cools off, longer works start getting their "fair due" again. Also, the authors who survive the "hot" period into the cool-down tend to be more of the personality that would be writing longer works.")
  • comment by phoebesmum ("I wonder if the reason for the prevalence of shorter fanfics is the ephemeral nature of LJ. In my experience - which I will grant you is in a very small fandom - you write something, you post it, whatever feedback you get comes in one or two short flurries, and after that the poor little fic is forgotten by all but its creator. That's dispiriting enough when it's something you only worked on for a week or so, but if it were a novel-length fic that'd taken half a year ... *shudders*")
  • comment by demeter94 ("When I was very new in fandom (The Sentinel), I was especially interested in long, epic stories. A friend of mine got me started on the fanfiction, which was great, because she pointed out all those marvelous fics to me. I needed some time to dare and 'come out' with my own fanfiction, but I don't think I felt discouraged to write longer stories. On the contrary, since I liked reading them so much, I wanted to deliver them, too. I guess it helps to know your place - I've always enjoyed writing, telling stories, but I also know there are writers in a different league from me. I'm fine with that.")
  • comment by morganmuffle ("HP is my primary fandom and I often wonder how much it skews peoples' perceptions of things like this because it's history has created some rather odd situations. When people talk about BNFs in the HP fandom they often mean the BNFs like Cassie and Heidi et al. who were around in the period between books 4 and 5. We had a VERY long time between those two books and various epic fics were written (or at least started) and various people rose to "BNF" status during that period and then OotP came out... and there were a lot of new fans but there was also a very odd feeling in the fandom as people struggled with whether to continue long fics and how to deal with new canon etc. and I think it did change the way the HP fandom worked. There are however epic fics in HP (though right now not so much because we're too close to new canon again) and new BNFs and to be honest those old BNFs are not exactly looked up to by fandom. People moan about how well known their fic is but really it was widely read because fandom was smaller and also because we all had aaaaages to read fic in that gap. If people are put off writing by BNFs then really that's very sad and also their own problem. BNFs don't ask for their status, it tends to get thrust upon them!")
  • comment by jalabert ("How timely! I was just discussing this issue with a friend this morning. I entered a challenge recently and mentioned to her that my story is twenty pages long so far. My friend wondered how many people would read it. Short stories definitely dominate the fandoms I've written in--Stargate: Atlantis, CSI: NY, and Criminal Minds. I have no problems with short stories--I've written several, although most of my stories exceed 100KB--but the reality is that there are lots of people who see something that has more than 10,000 words and/or multiple chapters and balk. People also balk at WIPs, understandably, as well as works by authors with whom they're unfamiliar. All of this conspires to discourage the writing of epics, I think--although it doesn't stop me. I write the story that needs to be told. But I do have serious doubts that many people read my work on LJ, which is, admittedly, a constant source of frustration. I've read enough discussions here and in metafandom to convince me that LJ contributes to the reading habits of my audience. The polls I've seen suggest that readers don't like long stories posted serially; they don't like to have to click to the next chapter (I always link them), they don't like WIPs... The list of peeves is daunting and seem to reflect a high level of intolerance/impatience with anything they deem too time-consuming or inconvenient. Add to that the fact that I write rare pairings, focus on characters of color, and tend toward complex plots, and the chances of my long stories being read on LJ sink even lower.")
  • comment by demeter94 ("I like to write long, so I have to admit that I find story-posting on LJ absolutely unnerving. For a long time, I didn't even have internet access at home, so I went for download sessions in internet cafés and libraries... Is it really that readers who want to have the stories in bigger chunks - or finished, even - intolerant? We write for ourselves in the first place, but when we publish on the net, I think we also want someone to read our work; and to see things from the reader's mind doesn't hurt. That doesn't mean anyone should change the story itself this or that way, or write long or short because of expectations. Easy access is a good thing though. WIPs on the net can be a frustrating experience for both writers and readers.")