Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Challenges, Fanon, and Injokes

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Title: Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Challenges, Fanon, and Injokes
Creator: Celli
Date(s): 2008 or 2009?
Medium: online
Fandom: multi
External Links: Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Challenges, Fanon, and Injokes, Archived version
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Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Challenges, Fanon, and Injokes is an essay by Celli and one of the "lectures" at Fanfic 101.

From the Essay

How do you get your ideas?

Some of my friends say that the idea arrives fully formed in their head and it's just a matter of tweaking it and adding the punctuation.

I get the majority of my ideas when someone tells me I can't do something. If you want to see me dive into a story idea, tell me it's impossible. Ask my friend Thorne, who mentioned the difficulty of writing "Alias" slash and six weeks later was presented with a Vaughn/Weiss fic for her birthday.

For many people, the idea of a formula--you have to do this, but you can't do that--is too confining. But for others, it gives them something to work with. For example, romances are boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, right? But that same formula gives us both Pretty Woman and Good Will Hunting.

Another fic commonality is fanon. How do I explain fanon to you...? Well, canon is something that is set in a particular universe. Vaughn's father was a CIA agent, Mulder drops his gun a lot, Dawn is both a mystical energy thingy and an irritating teenager--all those are canon in their respective universes. If you're going to write a fanfic for "Alias," "The X-Files," or "Buffy," you'd better take canon into consideration. If you're going to ignore one or more canon element, you're writing an AU (see Lizbet's lecture on that for more detail). By the way, something said on the website for a show, or in a tie-in novel, is secondary canon at best. The show's writers will often ignore that info when writing scripts, so fans will also ignore it when writing fic.

Fanon is something that is never directly mentioned on the show, but used in fanfic and fan discussion so much it takes on a life of its own and is often confused with canon by newcomers to the fandom. Some examples:

"The Sentinel": Jim calling Blair 'Big Guy.'
"The X-Files": Scully using strawberry shampoo.
"The West Wing": Josh's obsession with his SAT scores (mentioned only once and in passing).
"Star Trek": Uhura's first name (mentioned only in novels).
"Stargate SG-1": O'Neill's hockey obsession (mentioned only a couple of times, briefly, but the actor is a hockey fan).

When it comes to fanon, you have two choices. You can use it, which has the benefit of making your work blend in with the many other fics out there that use fanon. Some authors even create their own fanon, even though the stories they carry tidbits to may not be directly related. In labyrinthine's** "Alias" stories, for example, Vaughn has an Ethan Allen sofa. In canon, we've never seen his home.

Or you can choose to go strictly with canon and strike out on your own. This may cause some confusion--especially in established fandoms where fanon is common--but gives you the benefit of fewer facts weighing you down. Neither way is better than the other. It's a matter of what you prefer.

My last topic today: injokes. Now, this crosses over a bit with the fanon discussion above. Many fanfic authors choose to make reference in their stories to other movies the actors have been in, other stories they've read (which is how fanon comes into existence), jokes among friends...

Now, the end result of all this can be--should be--an entertaining story that everyone likes to read, and those 'in' on the facts find especially amusing. The problem occurs when people who don't know the injoke can't appreciate the story on its own. If you find yourself having to explain it to non-insiders just so they can read the story--or, on the other hand, if the injokes are so obvious that your readers stop to notice them instead of getting a quiet chuckle as they continue with the story--then you're telling a joke at the expense of your story, and that's the last thing you want to do.

How do you avoid either of the above pitfalls? Ask someone. Find a beta who gets the joke and another that doesn't, and say, "Hey, on page three--does that fit with the rest of the story?" If the answer is no, then you can change it before it goes to the general public.
One last note about all these things: challenges and fanon and injokes and whatnot are all tools that you can choose to utilize--or not--for your stories. I like them because they make me feel like part of the fanfic writing community. But don't feel that you're required to use them. Like so many other things we've talked about (music, POV, etc), do it because it's right for your story, not because it's what "everybody else" is doing. Even if "everybody else" includes your Fanfic 101 professors. :)