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why write tv or film fanfic? - Writing Fan Fiction: What's YOUR excuse?
Investigating the Fan Fiction Phenomenon
why write tv or film fanfic?

 I'm interested in why people write fanfiction based on tv shows or films, as opposed to prose fiction i.e. novels/short stories. Is the process of writing about someone who is embodied for us on screen any different from writing about a character who we have to imagine/visualise for ourselves? Is anything lost in translation when we try to describe in writing how someone sounds, their physical charactersitics and so on, or is this part of the appeal? Why do we want to write down our thoughts and responses to characters and plot lines that we encounter in a primarily visual medium?

Any thoughts on this?

12 comments // Questions/Comments
a_blackpanther From: a_blackpanther Date: 25th July 2008 20:54 (UTC) (LINK)
I think it has more to do with the ongoing format of tv shows (and movies, with their sequels & prequels). But arguably, TV shows have the most fanfic. It's easier to take tv characters and make them go somewhere else, explore things the cannon doesn't.

Books are standalone stories, sometime spanning long periods of time - even lifetimes. The characters grow and develop, and reach their end there. There is no need for expansion.
suryaofvulcan From: suryaofvulcan Date: 26th July 2008 19:52 (UTC) (LINK)
I'm interested in why people write fanfiction based on tv shows or films, as opposed to prose fiction i.e. novels/short stories.

Is the process of writing about someone who is embodied for us on screen any different from writing about a character who we have to imagine/visualise for ourselves?

I don’t think it’s fundamentally different, because usually we’re writing about what the characters are doing and feeling, not what they look like.

Is anything lost in translation when we try to describe in writing how someone sounds, their physical charactersitics and so on, or is this part of the appeal?

It depends entirely on the skill of the writer. And for visual media, we don’t really need to describe the characters very often - fandom knows what they look like. So only characteristic mannerisms or expressions need to be described, and even then, not in detail. It’s actually a useful shorthand. Accents and speech patterns are more problematic. There’s a fine line between giving a flavour of an accent in written dialogue and overdoing it.

Why do we want to write down our thoughts and responses to characters and plot lines that we encounter in a primarily visual medium?

I think people with a tendency to write fanfic will do so regardless of the medium of the original canon. I think it’s simply a compulsion to take the characters further than - or in a different direction from - the original creators of the series/films/books.

I see fanfic as an extension of the make-believe games we all played as children. We took various ‘canon’ sources and then made up and acted out scenarios based on them - family situations became ’Mums and Dads’, a stay in hospital became ’Doctors’. We played adventure games based on books like the Famous Five novels and Swallows and Amazons, or on movies like The Railway Children and Star Wars - sometimes inserting ourselves into the roles of the canon characters and placing them in new situations. Those of us from the TV generation also did it with TV series like Star Trek and Zorro. We played at ‘Cops and Robbers’ and ‘Cowboys and Indians’ - where did we get the models for those games other than TV, movies and books?

As we get older of course it becomes harder to find situations where ‘make-believe’ is socially acceptable - people who dress up as their favourite characters tend to get funny looks in the supermarket. Some people are content to passively consume the imaginative efforts of others - or at least keep their imagining of what happened to the characters after the film/book/episode ends to themselves. Some become actors or participate in amateur dramatics. Some play role-playing games or join historical re-enactment groups. And some dress up as Klingons and go camping. But all of those involve finding a group of like-minded individuals with whom to enjoy your chosen activity, whereas writing fanfic is probably the easiest type of fannish activity to get involved in. It’s is something you can do on your own, and you don’t need any fancy equipment - just a pen, paper, some time and your imagination.

thelauderdale From: thelauderdale Date: 27th July 2008 14:17 (UTC) (LINK)
I think it is, in part, the communal aspect. There are more books, reading is a more solitary experience, and each person is often reading a different book. More people watch television and more people watch the same television program or movie: this means that more people write fiction based on a given show or movie, ergo it becomes more tempting to write about and display knowing others will see it.

As opposed to, say, if I wrote fanfiction about the book The Mouse and His Child. There are other reasons that would fail too, but I would also have to understand that there are a smaller number of readers who would know the source material.

Written works like, say, Harry Potter> or LOTR have infinitely huger reader bases, putting them on par with or surpassing many films and television shows - but note too that these books have film products associated with them, increasing their popularity and the likelihood of writing about them.
deird1 From: deird1 Date: 27th July 2008 23:18 (UTC) (LINK)
For me I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it is a different medium.

If I was writing Harry Potter fic, I'd really want my narrative style to sound like Rowling's - because otherwise, it wouldn't sound right. Just like if I was trying to make a Buffy fanvid using my friends as actors.
Changing the medium takes away that problem.

Plus, an awful lot of my writing is about events already seen in canon. If I was writing about, say, Harry and Ron fighting the troll in the girls toilets, then about half my story would be copied directly from the text (through being dialogue, or whatever), and the rest would suffer by comparison to the original.
Whereas if I write about Xander and Willow fluking in formal wear, it's going to be significantly different from what was shown on the screen. Even if I have the exact dialogue from the show, just adding in "he asked wearily" or "her voice dripping with sarcasm" has already made the whole thing stylistically different.

And finally...
Novels tend to include thought processes. Tv shows don't.
If I write a Harry Potter fic, it limits how much I can write about Harry having a crush on Cho Chang, because the books have already described it from his perspective.
But if I'm writing about Tara falling in love with Willow, I've got a lot more room to play with - because we've never actually seen inside Tara's head.
eowyn_315 From: eowyn_315 Date: 29th July 2008 17:07 (UTC) (LINK)
I totally agree! In fact, the issue of narrative style is one of the things that keeps me from even reading novel-based fanfic, let alone writing it. It's a lot harder to mimic the tone of a novel than it is to capture the feel of a TV show, and 99% of the time, it's not going to sound right. Maybe there are some brilliant writers out there who can perfectly mimic an author, but it's rare, and reading fanfic of a novel that doesn't sound like the novel will totally throw me out of the story.

I hadn't thought much about your other reasons, but they make a lot of sense as well.
laivine From: laivine Date: 28th July 2008 04:24 (UTC) (LINK)
For me, I write fanfic to luxuriate in the world of my show, to have control over delicate nuance and the ability to say...I love when my show does this or when this character appears to really be an asshole, but only gives these slight visual cues to imply that he's not...and I can take that moment and imagine the thousand and one motiations, sources, potential meanings that the show can't stop and make material. But I also skew far away from the events of the show. I don't find playing with the toys in the sandbox quite as fun as taking the toys to my own beach, unlimited by space or the rules that both the medium and the fact that shows are produced as a business create.

So it's having this thing that I feel like I know firmly in my mind, a characterization, a smart-mouth way of talking, a setting that has, I guess...a canon of story that has weight, presence, but an open quality. Like I still am playing in the realm of possibility, even if it's this epic, trippy, psychoanalytical, unairable investigation...the door is still open for me to do that.
blackjackrocket From: blackjackrocket Date: 28th July 2008 05:05 (UTC) (LINK)
For the same reasons we write fanfics of any medium--because the world/story/characters/etc fascinates us.

I'm interested in what sorts of texts you read where the characters aren't described to some degree, though. You speak of visual media as though it's the only way to know what a character would look like or otherwise what their physical characteristics are.

Anyway, I write TV/Movie to fill in the gaps. What happened to such-and-such character after the cameras went off? What happened between episode 67 and episode 90 (to pick random numbers)?
beccaelizabeth From: beccaelizabeth Date: 28th July 2008 12:05 (UTC) (LINK)
lurker pyramid effect.
participation inequality
"In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action."
If your online community is 100 people then only 1 of them will be talking.
That 1 will get bored and wander off, and the comm will go quiet.
So you need 200 just to get 2 people talking to each other.
If you're looking to have enough of a fanfic community that it feels worthwhile to write up stories and share them, you need way more than that. Thousands.
Now books do get thousands of readers, but what percentage of them are interested in forming an online community? I don't have that data.
But Torchwood, a show with ratings that go up to 4 million viewers, has in its largest LJ comm about 4000 readers. Lurker pyramid says that's a 40 person conversation, which keeps it pretty lively. But they're not all posting fic.

If it takes 4 million readers to get a 40 person conversation... how many books get that? Really?
And even if they did, how many read it again the next week?

as to why we write them down... because we don't have a million to spend on filming it. though some people try anyway. and filming even a small scene takes more cooperation... which, if your active community numbers about 40, who might be anywhere in the world, be a bit tricky.

so the questions are interesting but I think the answers are more about critical mass and availability.
From: dropsofviolet Date: 28th July 2008 15:00 (UTC) (LINK)

via metafandom

I haven't read the other comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating.

I think part of the draw of writing fic for a visual medium is getting to imagine it in your head; everyone has almost the same jumping off point as well, which can make it easier to tell stories. I always try to run my visual medium fic dialogue through my head in the character's voice; it helps me feel the character more.
nerdork From: nerdork Date: 28th July 2008 21:21 (UTC) (LINK)
Here from metafandom. I think a lot of people write fanfiction because the shows/films/stories or characters in question intrigue them—it's not necessarily a case of people choosing TV/film fanfiction as opposed to fanfiction based on printed texts. Many people write both. However, just based on my experiences, there are some differences.

The shift in mediums can be freeing. If I were trying to write fanfiction based on a book or short story, I may feel self-conscious about my writing style and how it differs from the style of the original text's author. Even if I were deliberately changing the tone of the original—say, writing comedy fic based on a dramatic story—I might still feel somewhat bound by the "voice" of the original author because changing the tone is distinct from changing the way words are used to tell the story. If I chose to attempt to imitate the writing style of the original text, I might focus on how well I was succeeding; if I decided to stick to my own distinctive style, I would have to factor in how much that change shifted the feel of the story.

With TV- or film-based fic, that's not a concern. You're automatically changing the way the story is presented by switching from recorded performances to written text, and the choices you make regarding diction, POV, and tense use can all be part of how you're interpreting (or willfully subverting) the original work as you use it to create your own story. You still have to consider the way you use language, like you would when writing original fiction, but there are less built-in comparisons (both in your mind and in the minds of fanfic readers) between your style and the original authors'.

There are tons of other issues that some other commenters have touched on, and there are differences between TV and film fandoms, between any two specific fandoms, and even between individual writers. Film can in some ways be more like novels—more self-contained; more plot-centric (or at least having a stronger sense of cohesion) than television, which (even in the cases of book or film series) is naturally more episodic and can inspire people to write fanfiction for different reasons. There are dozens of exceptions to that last sentence, though, so it's difficult to elaborate without focusing on specifics.
viva_gloria From: viva_gloria Date: 29th July 2008 10:46 (UTC) (LINK)
Some interesting comments here!

I write both book-based and TV/film-based fic, and one aspect I've identified is that I pick up on body language and physical character from visual media. Jack Sparrow's gestures, John Sheppard's slouch, the way character A leans towards character B, the way character C indicates that they're nervous whilst spouting bravado ... That's something that isn't available (except when the author is specifically showing us a behaviour) in text.
mylalone From: mylalone Date: 6th August 2008 21:52 (UTC) (LINK)
I happen to think that it may be easier to write for them than for an original character. Because if it were original, you may have to go into more detail about what they look like, whereas if it's a fanfic, hopefully everyone knows what the character looks like so you won't have to go into too much detail.

The main problem I find is keeping them in-character. I have to constantly check and make sure that if this character where in this situation, that this is the way they'd handle it. It also can be hard to write the way they sound, in accent and in verbal rhythm.

And why I do it...I'd say because I just love to write, for one. It makes for great practice to borrow a few characters that I already know. Also whenever I set out to write one, I look for a question in the series or film that I'd want answered. For instance, for my Lion King fic Scurry Sniff Flinch I wanted to know who Timon's father was, and why his uncle Max was so eccentric, and the story sort of evolved from there.

I haven't actually written one for a live-action show or movie yet, but I assume it would be more of the same as with animated ones.

Thanks for posting this, it's a really great topic! I'm actually researching a paper right now on fanfiction, and this kind of helped me out (and distracted me a little. Oh well, back to writing...)
12 comments // Questions/Comments