Challenges (essay)

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Title: Challenges
Creator: Sue the Android
Date(s): early 2000s?
Medium: online
Fandom: multimedia
External Links: Challenges
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Challenges is an essay by Sue the Android.

It was posted at The Android's Dungeon.

"...if there is one thing I really can’t stand about present-day fandom it is the delinquent notion that there can be merit in any story written for such a trivial purpose."

Some Topics Discussed

  • challenges: fans should take their fiction and the reasons they write it more seriously
  • "1,500 words or less. This is not a story, because within that very small word count there is absolutely no room for anything to happen. It may possibly be a character piece, although I would seriously question whether any kind of worthwhile character development is possible in 1,500 words. In short, I see it as nothing but profligate squandering of time that could have been used for something else."
  • fanfiction is forever, and shouldn't be part of a throw-away culture
  • writing fiction for challenges doesn't honor the work

From the Essay

Before I go any further, I don’t want to be inundated with e-mails telling me Julie Thring’s ‘Elf Schnurk in the Kingdom of Throth’ was written in four minutes flat and contains the requisite hurricane, toothbrush and intimate sexual contact between a minimum of nine people. If you know of good fiction that grew out of a challenge then I’m happy for you and even happier for the writer; good stories can arise from very unpromising beginnings, just as a beautiful garden can flourish in adverse soil conditions, and any writer who can overcome difficulties to produce something valuable is worthy of respect. That doesn’t alter my main contention, however, which is that challenges are a stupid and egocentric waste of everyone’s efforts.

Consider then the object challenge; the situation is given to you - it may be, for the sake of argument, Jack and Daniel (from Stargate, guys!) on a rainy day. You then have to incorporate a bottle of whisky, a bunch of flowers and a hot bath, or any combination of elements which occur to the diseased brain of the challenger. At its very best all this kind of challenge can produce is half-a-dozen very similar stories, because unless Jack tramples the flowers into the hot bath and then inserts the bottle of whisky into Daniel’s fundament there really aren’t too many possible variations. And what, precisely, is the point of that? Six almost identical and mind-bogglingly trivial stories are not an asset to any fandom!

For me, the joy of writing consists in the very careful construction of a coherent plot and the closest possible adherence to the established characters - subject to the proviso that all fan fiction and particularly all slash fiction is by definition an alternate universe. My challenges arise from the characters and their situations - I don’t need some megalomaniac list editor telling me I must include an iguana, a powder-puff, a London bus and a bouncy castle! As far as rates of progress go - we are all different, but I would consider 10,000 words in a week to be high-pressure stuff. 1,500 words in an hour isn’t, in my opinion, writing; it’s typing. To be worth reading a story should take no less than a week to write; that allows for a cooling-off period after it’s ‘finished’, so that the writer can gain a little detachment and then decide whether after all it is fit to be unleashed upon the world. Incidentally it has taken me at least twice as long to write a 1500 word polemic as some story challenges allow for a full-fledged work of slash fiction. If we care about words, we should care how we use them – whatever the function we expect of them.

Present-day fan writers on the whole (and the exceptions are noble indeed!) exhibit a distressing tendency not to take themselves, their fandom, or their fiction seriously enough. They eschew such luxuries as research (even to the extent of fact-checking or consulting a dictionary) and some even have the nerve to present their ‘work’ as ‘drabbles’ or ‘ficlets’ which may be single paragraphs - often comprising only of dialogue. If you are ever tempted to write something like this, may I suggest that you try a little experiment? Let us say you have written Holmes and Watson having a conversation; change the names to Kirk and Spock or to Xander and Angel, and if the thing works just as well after the change then you can be sure of one thing; it’s CRAP. Throw it in the bin and write something which takes you longer and actually is about the characters you admire. In fact, fandom in general would be far better for more extensive employment of the good old ‘round filing tray; if a few more writers were a little more hesitant and far more self-critical, the whole standard of fan fiction would improve overnight. Alas, far too few seem to recognise the difference between what is good and what is merely competent, and mistake what is less than adequate for both. Yes, it's a hobby, yes it’s fun; but when all you produce is the literary equivalent of thistledown which can be blown away by the next light breeze, how can it possibly be satisfying?

So, in a nutshell, this is why you’ll never find me either issuing challenges or participating in them. They are, in my opinion, anathema to decent writing. They’re incredibly silly, and I wouldn’t even agree that they’re harmless since they engender a belief that they are actually producing fiction worth having. In our throw-away culture, surely a greater challenge is to produce something which will have value for more than the instant moment? Something which provokes a warmer response than a mere wry smile as it is tossed into the trash can of history? The aim of every fan writer should be to produce work which can still be read with pleasure in ten years’ time - by a core audience of Old Faithfuls, a constant stream of new readers, and most importantly of all by the author him- or herself. If you don’t set yourself that target, if you don’t even believe it is possible, then you need to re-examine your whole reason for writing as it is quite likely you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.

Don’t ever let anyone convince you that fan fiction is ephemeral, either; words on a page are forever. Stories are like children; if you wouldn’t have a baby just because some idiot challenged you to do it, don’t write a story for that reason either. Provide for its upbringing and its future, nurture it, give it the strength to face the world alone - and then sit back and take pride in it, because like a good parent you will have earned all the praise that comes your way.