Fan Fic or Pro Fic

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Title: Fan Fic or Pro Fic
Creator: members of ASC
Date(s): began December 1, 1998
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Trek
Topic: fan fiction, John Ordover, going pro
External Links: first page of comments are here
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In 1998, there were many discussions on ASC about the value of fanfiction, how it compared to pro fic, and why fans wrote. John Ordover, employee of Pocket Books, joined in as he often did, and as a result, the post took on much more heat than probably would have otherwise.

"Fan Fic or Pro Fic" was begun by CDS in response to a quote by John Ordover in a recently-published "Entertainment Weekly" article: "Most fanfic authors write for one reason: feedback. But there are those who, dreaming of going legit, submit their work to publishers or to their favorite television shows. There efforts aren't well received. "we get tons of terrible stuff," says John Ordover, editor of Pocket Books' lucrative Star Trek novelization series. "Fan writing is not the farm team for the legit novels, and should be abandoned at once by anyone who wants to be a pro writer of any kind." [1]

"Fan Fic or Pro Fic" ended up covering five pages of comments.

Some Excerpts

  • CDS; "I guess I can see where Ordover is coming from--after all, this is guy who must deal with hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts every year from hopeful, but unprofessional writers. After awhile of hearing countless amateurish pitches, he's problably become somewhat armored. Personally, I enjoy fan-fic for the "outlaw" element to it--the possibilities of breaking the boundries of TV. My Dispatches series chronicalling the Dominion War is an example of this--I get to show what happens outside of our own characters' limited world. I do this as a hobby, and as a break from my usual writing which is crime fiction. Keeps the blade honed and keeps me from burning out on cops and robbers."
  • Sydvick: "Fanfic is an uncontrolled, unmonitored, mediaum where people tell you right away what they like and don't like. Profic involves people telling yop whether what you write will make money and if it scratches their itch. Fanfic readers tell you if you messed up, Profic editors send your stuff back with a stock letter. I have learned loads on how to write from fanfic. Profic would not have taught me a darn thing except how to take rejection. Yeah for fanfic."
  • raku: "I asked ORDOVER at one point why it was a mistake to write fanfic thinking to jump to other fic. He noted several points that Joyce and others have just made on this thread. But he also noted that one trick to general pro writing (in his opinion; talk to more than one editor and you'll get more views) was that it's important in the opening lines of a story to be able to do a lot--draw characters, place the story, create a believable world, etc.--and (again in his opinion) fanfic generally did not teach you to do those things because you were working with characters and so forth that had already been drawn by others. To some extent this is true. But I think that for those writers who stretch the characters, who tinker with them, the settings, etc.--then fanfic in those circumstances can be quite useful toward honing writing skills."
  • Joyce Harmon: "You think that [John Ordover is] being a jerk? How so? From my reading of the SimonSays site, they only look at solicited, agented submissions, and even then receive hundreds of unsolicited submissions every year (which are returned unread). Ordover says that on his schedule he has room for at most one assignment per year for a writer new to him, that is, a writer he hasn't worked with before, probably with other professional credits. But surely if they were known to read unsolicited submissions, those hundreds a year would become thousands. Thousands of submissions for the one annual slot? I would think it would be a sign of jerkiness to get people's hopes up for that one slot per year. I'll tell you who I think are jerks, and that's the folks from the Trek script office, who give those workshops on scriptwriting at conventions. Yes, the workshop probably gives useful information on scriptwriting that would be applicable to other shows, but my impression is that most of the people taking the workshop have one goal and only one goal, and that is to write for Trek. But when you consider that this is DS9's last season, and they are no longer accepting scripts, and Voyager has at most two more seasons to go, but has a backlog of unsolicited submissions that will probably take them up to the end of their run to read -- there's no *way* a person could take the workshop, write a knock-em-dead script, submit it to Voyager, and have it *read* in time for them to get a pitch and possible script assignment. But, as of a couple months ago, those folks were still giving the workshops, at $50 a head, and that's something I consider cynically exploitative."
  • Laura Jacquez Valentine: "Fanfic very rarely teaches you character creation or worldbuilding. It *can* teach you to stay *in* character...but, frankly, most fanfic I've read with original characters has annoyed me more often than not--because it's written by folks who couldn't create characters to save their lives. Macedon's Jeu-Parti and Wisdom & Beauty were notable exceptions, but Joe is an exceptional kind of guy."
  • Unzadi/Anna: "I could not agree more on this one. While I do write fanfic, it's a revisionist fanfic. When E. Catherine Tobler and I write stories in our Tapestry Saga, good ol' Will Riker's world is vastly changed, with family *not* shoved in Paramount's closet of forgetfulness, and yes, even a longterm love interest who is not Deanna Troi. She's got her own thing going on with someone else. In creating the Tapestry universe, we've had to make up a large store of source material, including family trees, timelines, our own little minipedia (gee, didn't PD do that with his New Frontier series? Hmm??) All of these tactics are things we have to do when working on our professional stuff. Writing Trekfic has taught me to research, research, research. If there's going to be a deviation from the established norm (which, to some extent, includes all fiction) then it better darn well be backed up. The characters need a good reason to do what they do, and past worlds need building as well as future ones."
  • Alara Rogers: "Fanfic is a different genre than profic, and has different rules. Ordover is right in a certain sense; writing fanfic to learn how to write profic is like writing romances to learn how to write mysteries. *Some* general stuff crosses over, but mystery writing has some specific conventions and techniques and requirements that romances don't have. Profic offers the challenge of creating an entire new universe, with new characters, and making your readers care about them. In exchange it offers total creative freedom, and the potential to make money. Fanfic offers the challenge of being true to established characters, using a pre-existing continuity creatively. In exchange it offers an immediate hook to draw an audience, and the potential for instant feedback (on the net, anyway.) Fanfic is actually more analogous to television or comic book writing than it is to professional fantasy and SF. But it has greater editorial freedom, because there isn't *one* single established continuity you're working in-- every writer is their own spinoff of the universe. Either way, Ordover is completely right that fanfic does not hone certain skills the pro fic writer requires. The solution: if you wish to be a pro writer, but you enjoy fanfic, write both, and get friends who like your fanfic to beta read your profic for you."
  • Mary Rottler: "Most interesting dialogue. Somewhere in here I read that most fanfic writers write simply for the feedback--umm, not . . . if that were true I would have stopped twenty years ago. Lynn and I write fanfic because we have to for ourselves even if no one else ever reads it. It is delightful to have our characters come to life for a little while and to truly escape. I also absolutely know that it has been my experience with writing fanfic and working with good editors (such as Ann Zewen and Bev Volker) that have helped me not only to improve my writing skills but to gain self confidence in myself as a writer. This resulted in me being chosen for a dream position that required a large portion of my time writing combining my passion for nursing with my enjoyment of writing. I have since also been professionally published in a international nursing magazine and I know that would never have happened if not for my involvement with ST fanfic."
  • Kevin Johnson: "While I feel that Ordover might have been better off phrasing his comments a bit more politely, I do admire him for having the guts to ever post in this group, as. no matter what he says he will take heat for it."
  • Sydvick: "You know we need to emphasize one important point IMHO. Fanfic helped me learn basics, like where a comma really goes, versus, where I'd like to put it. It taught me semi-colons, colons, bowing to the will of a beta reader, word usage, sentence construction, flow, finishing something I start, and fixing what I messed up. Since I was writing something I loved, it was easier to do. Now I'm almost ready to break new trail. And most importantly, fanfic gives me people who honestly critique my work, and try not to kill me ego doing it. Some of us have to crawl before we walk. At least I did."
  • DataLaur: "[Tie-in novel and episodic television's rules are] precisely what I find most infuriating in Trek novels and eps. It's even worse than the restriction of not killing off main characters. The character has to be left fundamentally the same; lasting change is allowed to happen so rarely. Too many of the stories/eps put the characters through such upheaval that a real person would be permanently affected and yet, by the next ep... it's like the traumatic event never happened. This is why I decided to write fanfic rather than trying to work up something for profic (Star Trek or not). I want to write what *I* want, to deal with issues that *I* find interesting and important with characters I find intriguing -- and I don't have to consider what some publisher thinks is 'saleable'. In deliberately setting out to sell to the masses, I think one loses a significant amount of discretion. To make my point by picking on the unseen ST 9 -- who's gonna argue that the reason Picard gets a girlfriend is for lasting character development? Oh please! It's someone's dumb idea of saleability. I don't care about her 'cause she's not going to be around next film and Picard's going to be unchanged. The temporary love interest will be as gratuitous as Lily was in most of FC."
  • Alara Rogers: "Like I said, fanfic can help in writing pro fic, but only to a point. *any* writing is good to get the craft of *writing* down. And Fanfic plots can be just as original as profic plots.But you can't expect that after you write a dozen fanfic stories you will *necessarily* be a good, publishable pro-capable author, *even* if you are a very good fanfic writer. At a certain skill level, the strengths and weaknesses of the two genres diverge, and writing one doesn't help much at writing the other. This is, BTW, in my opinion why so many pro Trek novels suck. The writers are great at writing original sf, but their *fanfic* skills are lousy. Their ability to correctly characterize characters that other people created is weak. the ability to write one thing well just doesn't mean you can write the other well too."
  • Sydvick: "This is an excellent point. I am a ego that wants to do what I want to do. Pro Fanfic, which is what Startrek Pro Novels are, require you to subjugate yourself to another's vision and characterization and to not have the characters do what they wouldn't do. That means that you actually have to know the characters well enough to judge that. Non trekkie writers suck at doing that by and large, though there are a few notable exceptions. So, when we trek fans read their dribble, we get mad because we keep saying, Spock wouldn't do that, Kirk wouldn't say that. Harlan Ellison still hasn't gotten over his inability to submit to the myth. And his choice was the wrong one for Kirk and Spock. So lets demand that all Trek novels be written by former Fanfic writers, or true Startrek Fans!!!! Yeah I like that. Unfortunately I am outta luck."
  • Joyce Harmon: "practice doesn't always make perfect. I'm not talking about Star Trek fandom here, but there are other fandoms where constructive criticism is considered verboten, and in these fandoms, writers can write for years, writing dozens of stories, and the last story they write will be just as poorly spelled, ungrammatical, poorly plotted, and out of character as the first. That's why I say that writers *usually* get better with practice -- some of them don't."
  • Alara Rogers: "I love works based on myth. And Macedon pointed out that historical fiction uses some of the same techniques that fanfic writing does as well. But what I'm basically saying is that there's fic that builds a world, and there's fic that uses a pre-existing world, and they present totally different sets of challenges. I think people are somehow misinterpreting me as being down on fanfic. I'm not. I love fanfic. *I* don't like to see fanfic as seen as pro fic's poorer cousin. Fanfic is a powerful and wonderful genre in its own right. But it isn't the *same* as the genre of totally original fiction. And learning to write one doesn't necessarily help you cross over."
  • Joyce Harmon: "I really don't think the weaknesses of the pro novels are so much the fault of the writers as it is the fault of the strictures they're working under. It's not simply that they can't wildly diverge from canon, but they can barely diverge at all, or invent even the most trivial bit of new information to flesh out the characters. For instance, the writer of a Trek novel can't say that a particular piece of music is Harry Kim's favorite clarinet piece -- canon has been silent on the issue, so the novel must be silent as well. When you can only characterize by using bits of information that other people have developed, over the seven year life of the series, and when in many instances, the characters' backgrounds and interests are so sketchily developed on the series, what can the writer do? Present an External Puzzle Problem story, and have the characters talking like they do on the show. No wonder the novels are so unsatisfying."
  • Mary Ellen Curtin: "I think you (and Ordover -- Hi John!) confuse the issues when you call both pro ST novels and pro sf "profic". They're really two different genres, with different weaknesses and strengths. Sydvick is right when s/he calls pro ST novels "pro fanfic". It's *not science fiction*, and that's why we get so frustrated when people say "why not write original sf instead" -- we're essentially being told to switch genres, as though I said "mystery novels sell much better than sf, you should write mysteries instead." Especially given that tie-ins sell better than sf, so we're essentially being told to lower our monetary sights. What ASC/EM has taught me is that this genre -- I'll follow "Locus" and say "tie-in fiction", or just "fan fiction" -- is much better than sf or in fact any other genre, including mainstream literature, for exploring character. Fan fiction is the only genre in which characters are the lynchpin of the consensus reality, in which the readers can legitimately say, "but this person wouldn't do that!" Fan fiction is to character as science fiction is to science. It is also IMO the supreme vehicle for expressing emotions fictionally, in part I suspect because it is much intensely visual than any other form of fiction. What makes the pro tie-in fiction so bad, generally speaking, is that the constraints of the genre (and every genre has constraints) are usually extended to full straightjacket. Characters are not allowed to develop, plots are not allowed to diverge, and the genre ends up strangled in its cradle. I know of only one pro tie-in that truly demonstrates what the genre can do. William Kotzwinkle's novelization of "E.T." shocked the book industry by being a realio trulio novel, with a distinctive style and characterization going well beyond the movie. And of course it also stayed on the bestseller lists for eons. But the industry has consistently shied away from learning from this experience."
  • Laura JV: "...rejections *hurt*, and fanfic doesn't reject. One of the reasons I do it, I know."

References

  1. the article is reposted here