Crimes of the Heart: Why Fan Fiction Sucks

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Title: Crimes of the Heart: Why Fan Fiction Sucks
Creator: Steve Darlington
Date(s): January 15, 2002
Medium: online
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External Links: Crimes of the Heart: Why Fan Fiction Sucks
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Crimes of the Heart: Why Fan Fiction Sucks is a 2002 essay by Steve Darlington.

It was published at the site: "Fandom Life."

The main thrust of the article is that most fanfiction is terrible for the usual reasons, except for the fanfiction Darlington himself writes. It is the usual, unimaginative, clueless male rant.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta and Slash Meta.

Some Quotes

  • "So call it porn. And if you're writing that much damn porn, change the names from Dawson and Joey to Bob and Lu-Ann and sell it all to Playboy. Then you'll get some money and can go out and perhaps have sex with a real person."
  • "While male trekkies are lusting over fake nudes of Roxanna Biggs-Dawson, female trekkies are writing novels about Chakotay taking Tom from behind. You decide which is more pathetic."
  • "If you really want to be the hero of Farscape, go and play the roleplaying game. That's what they invented them for, after all."
  • "[Follow my rules] and you might just be able to write Unlicensed Fiction, instead of fan fiction. It might not be good, but it won't make people want to gouge out their own eyes out with their great grandmother's butt-plug."

"The Crimes"

  • Crime Number One: Failure to Communicate
  • Crime Number Two: Failure to Include Content
  • Crime Number Three: Failure to Include Plot
  • Crime Number Four: Failure to Not Include Sex
  • Crime Number Five: Failure to Not Include Sexual "Deviancy"
  • Crime Number Six: Failure to Not Do Crossovers
  • Crime Number Seven: Failure to Keep Yourself Out of the Story
  • Crime Number Eight: Failure to Duplicate the Source
  • Crime Number Nine: Failure to Be Well Written
  • Crime Number Ten: Failure to Have a Clue

Excerpts

Crimes of the Heart: Why Fan Fiction Sucks

I write fan fiction. I admit it.

Yes, despite the fact that this is the equivalent of admitting to having a flesh-eating virus or liking Jar Jar, there it is. I write fan fiction.

And no, it doesn't suck. I swear.

But you could be forgiven for thinking it would suck, and suck very very badly. Fan fiction has a well-indentured reputation for sucking very very badly, mostly because it is, without exception, seriously fucking awful in every possible way.

But Lord help me, it doesn't have to be that way.

That is to say, just because you write a piece of fiction, set in a pre-existing licensed universe and don't get paid for doing so, and then stick said story on the net or in your local newsletter, this does not mean your story needs to be so bad it makes people eat their own spleens (or those of nearby friends) to distract them from the pain. Nor does the idea, in itself, of writing said story need to be so vastly retarded in conception that it not only calls into question the intelligence of the human race, but of all other species on the planet, just by association. Indeed, your story could so very very easily be of a vaguely publishable level of quality and close enough to the original that should it be published, it could perhaps earn you money. And yet very few of this latter type actually exist, while untold millions of the spleen-eating vareity invade our air-space with every passing day. Two football fields of the Amazon forest disappears every second, and are replaced by two football fields worth of bad fan fiction on the net.

The truth is, we need really two different terms here. We need a new term for the second option I mentioned above - "piece of fiction, pre-existing universe, accurately emulated, well written, no pay/unpublished", which can then be forever seen as separate from stories where Kirk and Picard travel through time to have sex with the Muppets. I'm going to call this new, not-sucking classification "Unlicensed Fiction" because it points to the fact that fan fiction is basically a copyright infringement and you could be thrown in jail and be forced to share a beautiful moment of sexual awakening with Guido every single night for the rest of your life your crimes against humanity (which would be justice for many fan fiction writers) but more because it sounds a little sexy and dangerous. "What do you write?" purrs the sexy not-a-bot-at-all across the chat room at me. "Why, unlicensed fiction, m'dear" I reply, one eyebrow raised mysteriously, as if to hint that it is only a matter of seconds before the Lucasfilm agents burst through the door, haul me away and pay me millions to write Episode 3. Because I could, y'know. I really could.

The second thing we need is a list of rules, so we can tell Unlicensed Fiction from fan fiction. Now, you may think you can tell the difference, and granted, Mulder and Scully doing S&M on the Tardis is a fairly clear give away. Still, rules provide a quick and easy to make the distinction, and can be easily referenced for young students trying their hand at this artform. Plus, I think they're sexy. No, not the new students, rules.

Crime Number Four: Failure to Not Include Sex.

Let's get something straight. I will certainly admit that I, myself, have, at times, entertained thoughts about various members of the Buffy cast doing things to each other that not even Fox would televise. I'd wager a lot of us out there have done similarly, and a fair number also wouldn't mind reading about it on occasion. The popularity of videos like Sex Trek 2: The Search for Something Rhyming With Spock clearly testifies to this. But if you are writing whole novels full of these things, taking care and attention to keep the characters realistic and the drama evolving as you do, then I must tell you, in the nicest possible way, that what you are doing is wrong. Stop it now. Jesus can see what you are doing and you're going to Hell for it.

More importantly, don't call it fan fiction. The sobriquet smut-fiction is occasionally used, but typically only for the most explicit material. Don't kid yourself. If your piece of Buffy fiction involves words or body parts they're not even allowed to feature on hard-hitting, gritty crime dramas, it is not fan fiction. In fact, if it includes any gratuitous sex whatsoever, then it has ceased being an approximation of the original, unless the original is normally only purchased from specialist magazines tailored to the real connoisseur

It's porn. So call it porn. And if you're writing that much damn porn, change the names from Dawson and Joey to Bob and Lu-Ann and sell it all to Playboy. Then you'll get some money and can go out and perhaps have sex with a real person.

Crime Number Five: Failure to Not Include Sexual "Deviancy"

I put "deviancy" in inverted commas, because, hey, if you enjoy putting small marsupials on the moist side of your favourite sphincter, who am I to judge. I'm talking deviancy in terms of deviant for that character, for that setting. Which usually boils down to people being gay despite all evidence to the contrary. There is also the issue of characters suddenly being into cross-dressing, S&M, dominatoin, incest, beastiality, watersports, necrophilia or scotch-tape fetishism, but I'm willing to admit that if the cast of a TV show were into those things, we wouldn't know either way. Unless, of course, it was a TV show made by David E. Kelly.

This crime deserves its own section not least because of the unbelievable proliferation of works of this nature. There are a lot more - by a factor of at least ten - stories on the net about Picard and Riker having sex then there are about Troi and Riker having sex, and in fact, also far more than there are about Troi and Crusher having sex. So while male trekkies are lusting over fake nudes of Roxanna Biggs-Dawson, female trekkies are writing novels about Chakotay taking Tom from behind. You decide which is more pathetic.

The truly frightening thing about homo-erotic fan fiction (or slash) is, like all fan fiction, not its prevalence, but the seriousness with which it is written. This is why this crime gets its own treatment: very often the homo-erotic stuff involves no sex whatsoever - it's pure romance and gender-identity angst. There are serious, heart-wrenching stories out there about what would happen if Qui-Gon got a bit tipsy one night and made a pass at Obi-Wan. Will he bow to his master's wishes, or choose his own destiny? What does his heart tell him?

A fan fiction writer I know once told me that she cannot see two male characters arguing without imagining them making out. Thus we can see the thin line between delusional insanity and fan fiction writing is that delusionally insane people don't post their rantings on the internet. Unless you count Jack Chick. And the TimeCube guy. OK, well maybe the distinction isn't really that clear after all.

Crime Number Seven: Failure to Keep Yourself Out of the Story

Oh God, now this is a crime for which no penalty is too severe. The only thing worse than suffering through a self-indulgent piece of fan fiction is suffering through a piece of self-gratulatory fan fiction, where the author is the star, and invariably also the hero above all others. It's hard to know which is worse - when the avatar character is far too realistic or when he's impossibly godlike and untouchable. Either way, we're provided with far too much insight into the author's personal problems. Truly, no other art form comes so close to masturbation without actually requiring tissues.

If you really want to be the hero of Farscape, go and play the roleplaying game. That's what they invented them for, after all. Alas, too many do so and then turn right back around and write novels about their characters. Bastards. At least fan fiction freaks cut out the middle man and thus are slightly more obvious in the execution. Which makes it easier for them to be identified, rounded into cages and given self-esteem boosting drugs the size of man-hole covers before being released back into the gene pool. Not that I have anything against people with poor self-esteem - it's just that, like the delusional maniacs, I wish they wouldn't be so keen to share with everyone.

Crime Number Ten: Failure to Have a Clue

If there's one thing the human race is good at - every single one of us -it's wasting time doing pointless things. And us geeks tend to do this better than the rest. So understand that I am fully aware of from where I speak on this issue (ie from the position of a man who pretends to be an elf twice a week and still watches MacGyver). However, I still think I am on sound footing when I say the following:

If, at a point in your life, you look around and discover you have written over a hundred pieces of erotic S&M fiction about THE FUCKING TRANSFORMERS then you should probably take a good, hard look at yourself. You know, maybe you gave up on sanity too soon. Why not give it another try?

As for the rest of you, keep all these rules and you might just be able to write Unlicensed Fiction, instead of fan fiction. It might not be good, but it won't make people want to gouge out their own eyes out with their great grandmother's butt-plug. And the more good Unlicensed Fiction out there, the better, because it lifts the stigma off all of us. And thus makes me look even more professional and even more sexier, and brings those Lucasfilm agents closer and closer to my door. Soon, soon they will bring me into their inner sanctum….and this time, not just to apply the electrodes to my nipples for writing that story about Aurra Sing on my website…I swear officer, I thought she was public domain!

Good night, and write well

Fan Comments

[A] masterful essay. [1]
It's called Crimes of the Heart: Why Fan Fiction Sucks. It covers fan fiction in general, not any particular subset such as anime, but I've read it and find it interesting enough to let the list know about it. Despite the title it is not a condemnation of fan fiction: Steve writes Buffy the Vampire Slayer fics, so he has some experience and insight. [2]
A point-by-point list of some of the more disappointing trends some fanfiction writers make the mistake of perpetuating. Can I get an "Amen"? [3]

References

  1. Re: (HP) That "shliiuuck" sound you hear..., Kevin Mowery (January 2002)
  2. FFML Article Link Crimes of the Heart: Why Fan Fiction Sucks (2002)
  3. Weird Links of the Whenever (TM) 4 (2008)