HORK! You want ME to explain the difference between pro and fan writing??

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Title: HORK! You want ME to explain the difference between pro and fan writing?? (The title of this is the first line of the essay, and the one used here on Fanlore)
Creator: P.N. Elrod
Date(s): December 1991
Medium: print
Fandom: written for a Blake's 7 letterzine, but applicable to all fandoms
Topic:
External Links:
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HORK! You want ME to explain the difference between pro and fan writing?? are 1991 comments by P.N. Elrod.

They were published in the December 1991 issue of the Blake's 7 letterzine The Neutral Arbiter, and were in a response to another fan's question.

Elrod was both a pro writer of original vampire fiction (some with Blake's 7 fancasting and Blake's 7 avatars) as well as a writer, editor, and publisher of Blake's 7 zines.

Less than a year later after these comments, Elrod's views regarding fanworks took a sharp turn after the fall-out from some high profile controversies regarding the ethics and legalities of fanfiction, specifically the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy. Elrod is also one of a handful of pro authors who forbade/forbid fanfiction posted to Fanfiction.net based on their own characters and universes. See P.N. Elrod for more info on this fan's views on fanworks.

Some Topics Discussed

  • "Being willing to LISTEN to feedback is a sign of a pro. Being able to discern good advice from bad, is a sign of talent."
  • "Having a pro attitude is something ALL writers can assume. You either have it or not."
  • "Fanzines give you a place to learn how to work with an editor, and on a small scale, get an idea of how the rest of the publishing world works."
  • "I think the basic difference between a fan and a pro is that a "fan" wants to hear how great their stuff is and a "pro" only wants to make their stuff great. There are a LOT of fans out there with pro attitudes, and a lot of pros that should be in the food services industry."
  • if her contributions to fandom are diminished at times, it's because she has real life, more important things to get done: "I dearly love doing a fanzine, but when it comes down to the brass tacks of having to live in the real world, fannish activities have to come second to my work."

The Essay

[P.N. Elrod]:

HORK! You want ME to explain the difference between pro and fan writing?? I'll bet you're a lot of fun a panel discussions. Right, so C.K. [1] is committing fen heresy about wanting a story with a balance of plot, action, character, and all those other things. Well, that makes two of us, so those who object can get a rope or just not read my zines [2]

But fan and pro writers do have a lot in common. A fan gets egoboos from people who like what they've written, plus a trib copy, a pro gets egoboos, plus a check in the mail. Sometimes a fan gets invited to s-f conventions because of their writing, ditto for a pro. Both get recognition from their peers.

The pro publishing world has just as much dirty infighting, lasting friendships, and horrific screw-ups as fandom. They have their snobs and saints, brainless jerks and competent workers, egotistical stars and nice unknown. They have various genres and sub-genres to work with, each with its own rabid following, and editors who get to cope with all of them.

The main difference that comes to mind is attitude. HOW one approaches writing and publishing determines the real dividing line. Having a pro attitude is something ALL writers can assume. You either have it or not. You can recognize it in others or note its lack.

Being willing to LISTEN to feedback is a sign of a pro. Being able to discern good advice from bad, is a sign of talent.

Fan writing gets your stuff right in front of a highly critical and vocal audience. You immediately know what works and what doesn't and can cut out the dead wood. The writers and editors with a pro attitude have the guts to slice away, the ones grimly clinging to stuff that's rotten you soon learn to avoid.

Fanzines give you a place to learn how to work with an editor, and on a small scale, get an idea of how the rest of the publishing world works. I see fanzines as a jumping off point to pro sales; some don't have this view and are happy to be fanzine writers. If that's what they want, that's okay. The important thing is to like who you are and what you do and respect others for doing the same.

I think the basic difference between a fan and a pro is that a "fan" wants to hear how great their stuff is and a "pro" only wants to make their stuff great. There are a LOT of fans out there with pro attitudes, and a lot of pros that should be in the food services industry.

And one last word, this from my personal experience, being a pro means that your writing is your JOB as well as a source of pleasure. If my zines have an erratic publishing schedule, or I miss going to the conventions, it's because I have to meet other responsibilities. I dearly love doing a fanzine, but when it comes down to the brass tacks of having to live in the real world, fannish activities have to come second to my work.

I expect the rest of you are in a similar aquatic craft!

Fan Reaction

Explaining the differences between fan and pro writing could fill volumes, especially since there's a great deal of disagreement on the subject. I've read many a pro novel that sucked compared to some fan stories, and vice versa. So there's really no way to generalize, but the points you made are certainly valid ones as the question applies to the writers themselves. The actual work is harder to differentiate because of course the quality varies so widely. If I had to pinpoint the one most prevalent distinction, the one thing that brands a work fannish rather than pro, I'd have to say gushing. Yeah, gushing. Fan writer invariably bogs itself in either A) characters who sit and do noting but endlessly discuss their undying feelings for one another (if I want this, I'll watch General Hospital), and/or B) interminably boring narratives that drop entirely out of scene to impart pages of utterly useless information direction from writer to reader. This is also known as the "idiot lecture", or "not-the-whole-encyclopeida-Chekov!"[3]
I tend to agree with you about "fan writers" and "pro writers" -- but the difference between "fiction" and "fan fiction" is a somewhat different kettle of fish. At its best, "fan fiction" is far more interactive than normal fiction. Since the story is pitched to an audience well-versed in the source material, the fan writer can compose "variations on a theme" dependent on an extensive body of shared knowledge. In this way, fanfic is like the Sherlockian "apocryphal writings" or on a more grandiose level, like the classic plays of the Golden Age of Greece (when every tragedian did his own treatment of the Hippolytus myth). I love to write fanfiction precisely because of this sense of jumping into the middle of a conversation and saying, "No, I don't think you're quite right about Blake" or "I betcha I can make you believe the opposite of what you've been saying." As a matter of fact, the one sentence that's sure to inspire me is "It would be absolutely impossible to write a story in which..." Now, if I could only feel that way about regular f & sf, it would be almost like coining money. [4]

References

  1. ^ C.K. was a tribber to the letterzine, The Neutral Arbiter.
  2. ^ Avon On-Line (edited, wrote fanworks for), Blake's Barf Bag (edited, wrote filks for), Good Guys Wear Fangs (wrote fiction for), and The Machiavelli Factor (assisted in the second edition)
  3. ^ from a fan in The Neutral Arbiter #4 (1992)
  4. ^ from a fan in The Neutral Arbiter #4 (1992)

References