Wednesday Writer’s Corner

When I first started this series, I thought I was going to have trouble coming up with eight different aspects of fanfiction to talk about, when as usual, my real problem was learning to shut up. Now here I am, on the seventh of eight posts, and since the last one is mentally reserved for something else, I guess I’ve run out of wiggle room. It’s time to pull out the old soap box…

Good thing I always carry one of these things around with me.

…and lay some uncomfortable truths down.

Look, fanfiction is fun, fanfiction is awesome. I write fanfiction and apparently, so do most of my writer-friends. In fact, in answer to my casual poll, more than half of pretty much everyone I personally know have admitted to writing fanfic or drawing fanart at one point in their lives (usually overlapping their ‘horny adolescent emo’ phase), so either I run in some wild circles (always a possibility) or it’s a lot more common than the ‘fringe’ society it is purported to be. Gee, it’s almost like people make fun of it and make others feel embarrassed to be part of it.

Whatever, that’s a subject for another day. Today, I’m going to try and stay focused. So, as I was saying, fanfiction is fun and I personally believe that fanworks enrich a fandom by allowing the fans to feel as though they are a real part of the source universe. I could even go as far as to say that I consider certain fandoms to be a community in the true sense of the word. Having said that, and with all apologies to Mr. Spock, the needs (and feelings) of the many do not outweigh those of the Few or the One, by which I mean behind every good game or book or movie, there is a Creator, and that Creator possesses the absolute right to determine what is done to his, her or their creative property.

So let’s ask the real question here: Is fanfiction even legal? Well, yes and no. Great answer, huh? You want a better one? You can start here. That’s Sections 101-111 of the U.S. Copyright Law and I’ma tell you right now, it’s a dry read. Bearing in mind that I am not a lawyer, let me break it down for you.

The copyright owner for any one particular work has the exclusive right to create derivative works (meaning any work that draws upon any established character, setting or situation exclusive to the owner’s original work; in other words, all fanworks), or to approve or endorse the derivative works created by others, OR to condone those works or prohibit others from making them available. That is their right and ONLY their right, and no, just crediting the source in your fanwork or acknowledging that you, a humble fan, are using characters from, for example, Harry Potter without J.K. Rowling’s permission does not release you from the possibility of legal ramifications if she stumbles upon your 140 chapter opus, The Boy Who Banged, and decides to sue you so hard your hair spontaneously catches fire. If anything, it worsens your legal position considerably, since you admitted you know what you were doing was wrong. And no, just because other people write worse stuff does not mean you get a pass. The “But you let HIM do it!” defense didn’t work on my mom, it didn’t work on that cop last week and it will not work in any court of copyright law.

But is there a right way to write fanfiction? Let’s talk about that.

 

Fans Who Fic

Part Seven

Covering Your Ass: What Everyone Should Know About Copyright Abuse and the Fair Use Law

 

Copyright protections are, and should be, absolute, but there are a few ways for fans to wiggle around them.

First and foremost, not every character or franchise is protected at all. Copyrights expire (in the case of written works, the author holds the copyrights for as long as they live, plus something like a hundred years after they die, AND they can give their copyright over to the control of their family or estate, and so extend the lifetime of the copyright), and certain works are already in the public domain and available for anyone to use.

HOWEVER! Be aware that there’s not always just the original work’s copyright to think about but also derivative works and their copyrights. A great example of this is that of Frankenstein’s monster. That book is in the public domain, so anyone can use Frankenstein or the monster. Great, right? But beware, because there is a very real and legal-binding difference between Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (in public domain) and Universal Studio’s Frankenstein (still copyright protected). How the hell can they do that? Because Mary Shelley came up with the concept, but did not describe the monster beyond a few broad strokes, nothing so distinctive as to create a recognizable character. ‘Reanimated dead dude’ is just not specific enough to be protected, even when her book’s copyright was active. However, this…

…is, and believe me, Universal is serious about keeping their monsters on lock. Are there unauthorized Frankys out there, flattops, groans, bolts and all? A few, but I think you’ll find that of them fall squarely under the protection of Parody/Satire.

This is the first and probably best-known loophole in the copyright law, and come to think of it, it might be why so many fanfics tend to be aggressively goofy. If so, this is where I should really point out that making fun of something doesn’t automatically make it a parody or satirical. The actual definition of ‘parody’ is pretty ambiguous from a legal standpoint, but its main points seem to how the original content is used and whether the transformed work can be seen as injurious to the original content.

Example. Some years ago (quick Google search), in 2003, the webcomic Penny Arcade responded to American McGee’s gritty version of Alice in Wonderland by making a fake promo poster for American McGee’s Strawberry Shortcake. They were promptly hit with a takedown order by American Greetings, who owned Strawberry Shortcakes content copyright. The good folks behind Penny Arcade complied because (and I’m paraphrasing what I remember of the statement because I’m too lazy to go into the next room and look at the book and too lazy to look it up online) on second look, they realized they had been cutting into Strawberry Shortcake in order to parody American McGee. And sure, they later cut into American Greetings on purpose, but in that circumstance, they knew they were wrong and they did the right thing for the right, rather than just the legal, reasons.

Integrity. Like you need another reason to love Penny Arcade.

I used the Harry Potter example in the intro to this post because it’s such a perfect example of the tricky situation surrounding creator approval. J.K. Rowling’s position on fanworks is largely considered favorable. She COULD refuse to allow any commercial entity to sell any beverage called Butterbeer, for example, but CHOOSES to let the butterbeer flow (provided you do not copy the official label of the butterbeer sold at Universal Studios’ Potterworld). She likes fanworks. She says it’s flattering. But she has made several statements to the effect that she does not like the smutty stuff. I don’t know if she’s ever disliked something to the point of demanding a take-down (the sheer volume of slash fic out there involving the Potterverse would suggest otherwise), but it’s worth mentioning.

I learned this with a simple Google search, which is something I highly recommend anyone do before they make their fanworks available. It’s just common sense, especially as there are creators out there with a take-no-prisoners attitude (and I repeat, they have EVERY RIGHT to do so). People have been taken to court before, although it’s usually companies squabbling with other companies when it happens (DC and Marvel have a long history of ‘borrowing’ ideas from one another), and it usually devolves into a costly debate on what Fair Use means, and I’ll tell you right now, it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

How can I say that with such certainty? Because the Fair Use Act was written to be deliberately vague. It’s actually easier to define what it DOESN’T protect.

Fair Use does not allow for any derivative work to be used for commercial purposes or for profit. In its most basic definition, this means you’re not allowed to sell your fanfiction, but there’s a lot of grey in that area. When my mom wrote Star Wars fanfiction back in the day, there was no internet, so every book meant printing out about 100 pages, plus shipping it to those who wanted to read it, and you know, hiring an illustrator and binding it with a cover at the local Kinkos. These costs added up, so before she got too far along, she contacted the Lucasfilm lawyers for permission to distribute and to sell but not commercially and not to make a profit. And Lucasfilm, who have a reputation for hardassery as far as copyright goes, agreed. So you never know.

Not for profit also means you aren’t allowed to apply protected content to any existing commercial enterprise, such as using, say, Bugs Bunny as the mascot for your exterminating business, even if you change his fur to brown and dress him in coveralls. If it’s still obviously Bugs Bunny, it’s not Fair Use. On the other hand, some authors and a growing number of studios consider fanfiction to be a form of promotion and not only allow it to be distributed, but allow you to sell it. Kindleworlds has a short (but growing!) list of these ‘Approved For Fanwork’ titles. HOWEVER! If the copyright holder objects to the content of your GI Joe fanfiction, they can still demand you take it down, even while other authors are allowed to go on selling theirs, EVEN if you consider your content to be less controversial. Again, the “You let HIM do it” defense does not fly in court.

The essential nature of the original content is also considered. When adult content finds its way into fanworks based on source material intended for very young audiences, it can be that much harder to claim Fair Use as a defense. In fact, the author of such a work may easily find themselves in violation of some other laws, such as the distribution of pornography that portrays pedophilia or bestiality.

 

Or both.

Additionally, Fair Use does not allow for basic reworkings of original content. In other words, you can’t novelize your favorite episode of Gravity Falls and call it fanfiction (I mean, you probably could; the creator of Gravity Falls is infamously tolerant of fanworks, but as a legal point, you can’t), and you can’t “MiSTie,” meaning copy an original work and just throw in your own commentary. In order to even be considered as protected by Fair Use, you must transform the source into something original.

You can do this a number of ways, but the easiest is simply to strip away the recognizable features of the source until you arrive at the base elements. You can’t write about a boy named Harry Potter with a lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead who was kept under the stairs until he was admitted to a magical school called Hogwarts; You can write about a boy named Tip Taylor with one white eye who was kept in the attic until he was admitted to a magical school called Whispergraves. Concepts cannot be copywritten. Plots cannot be copywritten. Personalities cannot be copywritten. Of course, all these things together may still be judged as plagarism, particularly if young Tip up there has two friends named Roland Ottery, who is poor and has a big, boisterous family, and Helen Ranger, who is the daughter of two non-magical Mumbles and is super into books, and your first ‘original’ work is titled Tip Taylor and the Magician’s Marble. Seriously, the law is vague for a reason and that reason is that so a judge can use her common sense and slam the gavel on your sneaky ass if you try to steal someone else’s work.

It is the decision of this court that you quit your bullshit and you are hereby sentenced to have some sense slapped into you. Bailiff!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can’t claim Fair Use if the copyright holder can successfully argue that your fanwork has the potential to affect the value of the source material or any future works. That can be tricky to prove, but it can be even trickier to disprove.

Oh, and so-called ‘celebrity fanfics?’ That’s not remotely protected by Fair Use (and not always protected by the Parody defense). Writing about a real person, especially if you go for the shock/smut audience, is straight-up slander and any of these people (who, being celebrities, are likely to have more money for lawyers than you) can sue the hairs right off your ass if you do it.

It’s worth pointing out that copyright protections and permissions vary from country to country, and in today’s global internet society, many people are hesitant to pursue legal action where the lines blur, but ‘hesitant to pursue legal action’ does not mean ‘totally cool yo’, so don’t rely a measly ocean to save you when you publish Mickey: The Mouse, the Man, the Nymphomaniac. Disney will airlift your ass out of Antarctica if they have to and while you are being roasted by their lawyers, they will be building a rocket in the Tomorrowland pavilion so they can fire your fresh ashes into space.

The long and short of it is this: The only real protection that fanworks have is the tolerance of the creators whose work we fans are infringing upon, so if there is one rule, it is BE RESPECTFUL.

Find out what the creator’s actual stance on fanfiction is. Do not rely upon the “But you let HIM do it” defense. A few seconds on Google is a small price to pay to prevent a cease-and-desist order (or worse, a summons).  When in doubt, it can’t hurt to try and contact the creator and ask. Most of them are sensible people and would also much rather simply say, “Yeah, that’s fine,” or “As long as there’s no explicit content, please,” than get lawyers involved. However, once you go this route, you’d better be prepared to abide by their decision, even (and especially) if their answer is “No.” You do not want to put a Creator in a situation where they think the matter’s settled, only to have their PR Agent burst into their office a year later with the crazy eyes going, yelling, “Have you SEEN The Sexy Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: Gotta Cum Fast, Volume 69, The Sexxening?”

Come on now. Why is “sexy sonic the hedgehog” even a thing? I am so on a watchlist…

Be aware that many creators are perfectly okay with fanfiction that is posted on fanfiction sites, such as Wattpad or Ao3 or ff.net, but do NOT want it made generally available, such as on Amazon, EVEN IF YOU ARE ‘SELLING’ IT FOR FREE.

If the creator is not okay with selling fanfiction (or is not okay with the content of your not-for-profit fanfiction), you must respect that. This doesn’t mean stop writing and burn all copies, but it does mean make sure that you sever all identity markers with the source material if you’re going to continue to make it available.

Above all, remember that copyright law does not exist to screw fans out of creative expression. It exists to protect the integrity of a creator’s work, which is something that everyone who has ever written some variation of “…Summer Windborne Lovepony is MY OWN OC and you CANNOT USE HER WITHOUT MY PERMISSION1!!!11” should appreciate.

Good fanfiction is, at its heart, a labor of love. I believe that. But bad fanfiction is…well, bad, and I can completely understand why a creator would want to reserve the right not to have their name (and professional reputation) attached to a viral shitsterpiece.

…and on a completely unrelated and non-hypocritical note, be sure to check out the new chapter of my FNAF fanfic! Updates every Saturday (or until Scott Cawthon tells me to stop).

 

 

Advertisements

Serial Saturday Update

Well, I just got the new chapter of my FNAFic, Everything Is All Right, Part Four: Children of Mammon uploaded and my sister, Cris, has invited me out for celebratory pancakes, so I’ma make this quick, ya’ll. Pancakes is awesome. So if you’re reading along, head on over to fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org, and if not, please enjoy this snippet and maybe you will change your mind!

Pancakes ho!

Ana dreamed again of the maze in the ceiling, but it was smaller, close around her and cluttered with animatronic limbs wrapped in moldy clothes and stuffed with rats and wires. The air she fought to breathe was hot and thick, a poison brume. She crawled on her belly, her head bumping the top of the maze with each frantic lunge forward, but gained little ground. The maze had her and it meant to keep her. Her boots found no traction on metal walls made slick with blood. She struggled onward, as all trapped things struggle, without hope of escape. She was not alone up here. The sounds that followed her in the darkness were at times the ticking of a clock and at other times the whine and wheeze of old servos and gears.

Ana looked back and even though the maze was lightless, she could see it, the thing her aunt had become, the thing she had perhaps always been. That white face, laughing and weeping together, black sockets for eyes, spiders spilling from the trapdoor of its gaping mouth—the Puppet. Long bone-white arms blistered with iridescent scales, straggles of blonde hair and dusty cobwebs hanging before her like a bridal veil—the Mermaid. Then it spoke, although the mouth didn’t move, and in spite of the low scratch of static that came with it, the voice was familiar—Aunt Easter.

“Just a little further, Honeybunny,” this nightmare amalgamation crooned. “You’re almost there.”

Ana scrambled away, slapping and clawing at the bloody walls of the maze in a futile search for a handhold, but the nearest corner wall that might offer some leverage was just out of reach, as it had been since the start of this dream.

“We missed you,” Aunt Easter said and her voice was just the same—light and laughing, young and pretty—while the hand that reached out to clutch at Ana’s ankle was white as bone, torn open to expose her inner framework and stained padding. “We’ve all been waiting for you.”

Ana kicked away and fled, inch by excruciating inch, gasping for breath and choking on the little she found.

“We had a deal,” Aunt Easter called, coaxing, pleading. “We can be a family now!”

“No!” Ana rasped, kicking blindly as she pulled herself away. She hit something. She felt the impact, heard the cry. She kicked again and again and again, until the sound of her aunt’s moans silenced and all she could hear was the wet crunch of meat and bone, and still she kicked, rasping, “No! No! No!”

“That’s my girl,” a purple voice whispered, breathing out of every part of the maze at once.

Ana looked up and suddenly the maze was gone, but she was just as trapped lying on Aunt Easter’s bed in the purple room with Erik Metzger’s arms around her. His glasses caught the sun streaming through the window, filling his eyes with burning light. His shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his bare chest, smooth as sculpted plastic. She could feel his inhuman heat, hear the tick of gears and wheeze of fans. He smiled; there was a second set of metal teeth behind his perfect white ones. “My, my,” he said, pulling her closer. “How you’ve grown.”

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday

Today is Day Three of the 100k/100 Days Author Challenge and no, writing this blog does not count toward my 1000 word quota. I’ve got to admit, I was tempted to call it a completed series and just hope no one remembered I promised eight posts, but on the other hand, last week’s lesson on Mary Sue was so cathartic that I can’t resist the opportunity to vent again and pass it off as instructional. And if there is one topic about which I could happily rant for hours, it is today’s.

Fans Who Fic
Part Six
Going Dark: Adult Content in Fanfiction

This is one of the Unforgivable Sins and the reason fanfiction as a whole has such a bad rep. And no, of course I don’t think that’s fair. For me, the difference between liking a thing and being a fan of it is the difference between a story I can appreciate and one to which I can relate. And speaking just for myself, I have a hell of a hard time relating to a world in which no one cusses, dies or has sex.

Yep. Buckle in, I’m going to be defending this.

Not every story needs these elements and honestly, if they’re not needed and shoehorned in just for shock value, an otherwise good story can be ruined. And yes, I’m aware that I’m saying that as someone who’s dropped the F-Bomb over a thousand times (so far!) in my series about animal-shaped robots at a kid’s pizza parlor. On the other side of that same coin, if those elements are appropriate and never delivered, their absence can be just as distracting. We’ve all seen that PG-rated movie that should have been an R, and vice versa. The threshold may be a subjective one, but it’s still very real.

I’ve just spent the last five minutes staring at my keyboard, trying to figure out just where that threshold is for me and damned if I can. It’s not simply a matter of the source material’s general audience. I’ve read (and written) R-rated fanfiction based on kid’s cartoons that I thought was awesome and I’ve read (and written) R-rated fanfiction based on much more adult works where the extra adult content made the story almost physically painful to read. To me, there’s nothing inherently taboo about having A cartoon character swear or strip, just not EVERY cartoon character. I can only speak for myself, of course, but it’s my opinion that even though a show (or book or game or whatever) doesn’t depict or even hint at sex or violence, the world it exists in still might.

Then again, I guess the argument could be made that since the characters in, for example, My Little Pony have genders, there must be pony sex happening somewhere, but there’s not a lick of violence, so by my own rules, sexytimes is technically okay but Cupcakes is not.

And I don’t know about you, but this is never okay for me.

I’m well aware that my own personal threshold for what’s gratuitous is probably set quite a bit higher than other people’s. And I’ve admitted I cuss up a storm in my FNAF fanfic and there will be sex eventually, so maybe I’m not the person who should be talking about where that line ought to be drawn. After all, I only seem to be able to recognize it in other people’s work. Fortunately, I know a guy who is capable of pointing the finger at himself and he has graciously agreed to share a few thoughts, although he has asked that I don’t use his real name in this post so as not to have his present writing career associated with his former fanfiction. I respect that, so for the remainder of this post, we’ll call him Nebuchadnezzar. That’s an awesome name and doesn’t get used enough.

Okay, Nebuchadnezzar, take the floor!

I was about twelve when I first got into Harry Potter, around the time The Half-Blood Prince (book) came out. I was not big into fantasy or magic. I wasn’t much of a reader at all (I’m dyslexic). To be honest, I only started reading it because it was all my friends were talking about. I was not a popular kid and to feel excluded from the only people who I felt accepted by made me feel devastated to a degree that only kids can feel. So I begged my mother to buy me the books.

I thought it would be a much harder sell than it was. There was some controversy in our small community at the time over the whole magic=Satan thing, but as I say, I wasn’t much of a reader and the fact that these were books I was actually begging for must have tipped her moral scales. I sat down to read that first book, grimly determined to get through it and find something about it that would allow me to reconnect with my friends. I didn’t really expect to like it. Books were homework to me, a chore. To my complete surprise, I was utterly hooked. I read the whole thing in a single weekend, which for me (dyslexic) was a monumental achievement. I talked about it over meals and in the car. The night I finally finished it, my mother asked me what I was going to do next and I told her I was going to read it again. I heard her talking to my father that night and crying. The next day when I came home from school, I found all the (then) available HP books waiting on the kitchen table. I read them all and for the first time understood all those posters of the kid reading while whole worlds are spinning around his head.

I was unaware of fanfiction in those days. The frustration of waiting for the next book was something I had never known, but I had no choice but to wait. Remember that while the books were being written, the movies were also being made, so even after I closed the cover on The Deathly Hallows, I still had several years of HP to look forward to. But no new books, no new stories.

I found myself making up new adventures for Harry and his friends, in which they often came to America for vague reasons never fully explained, and over time, I visualized the recurring character of a young boy, raised by Muggles, who falls in with them and soon discovers he is also a powerful wizard, perhaps the most powerful wizard ever, although he can’t control his magic and naturally, Voldemort wants to turn him to the dark side so that he can become the most powerful Death Eater of his army and so on and so on.

I began to tell my friends these stories, usually prefaced by, “I had the weirdest dream last night…” so they wouldn’t think I was sitting around, just obsessing over Harry Potter. Encouraged by my friends, I began to write some of these stories down and then to expand on them. One of my friends showed a story to one of his friends, who told my friend about fanfiction.net, who told me. I had no intention of putting my own stories out there initially, but I was curious to read what other people were doing to Harry and his friends, so I did as suggested and checked it out.

“Ohhhhh, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found yooooooou!”

In my defense, I would like to remind you that I was fifteen or so at the time and had not come out to anyone (not that I surprised anyone when I did). When it came to sex, I talked myself up around my friends and did some obligatory ogling at the ‘It’ girls in my school, but I knew I was gay and was beginning to be afraid that when I wrote my silly stories about Harry kissing Ginny or Ron kissing Hermione, my friends were going to notice it was always the ‘kissing Harry’ or ‘kissing Ron’ part that I was really focused on. Suddenly here before me was a wealth of unapologetic gayboy HP adventures and other people were reading them and saying things like, “This is great!” instead of homophobic slurs and mockery. I hadn’t exactly fallen out of my HP fixation, but that night, it doubled down hard.

I made a ff.net account that night. I made two, actually. One I could tell my friends about and where I would eventually post all my ‘old’ stories and a handful of new ones, and another secret account where I began to publish what I then considered my ‘real’ stories. I think of them now as my ‘Handjob Harry’ series. No, I will not give you the links.

[pretty sure I’ve read them, Nebs, but you go on–RLee]

For someone without many friends, having even a couple dozen views and a review section full of enthusiastic praise from strangers was a rush. They said they wanted more, so I gave them more. I wrote feverishly. Handjobs turned into blowjobs and eventually turned into my idea of sex.

I quickly became aware of the fanfic writer stereotype as an emo twelve-year-old destined to be a virgin well into his forties, and to prove I was mature enough to be writing mature content, I made sure I wrote like a mature adult. Example: “Fuck, that feels good,” (my OC) moaned as Draco groped his buttocks sensuously. Draco groped harder, grinning, “Fuck yeah you know it does.”

Feel free to cringe.

All in all, I must have written a hundred stories. I took a lot of them down since if anyone ever said anything remotely negative, I took it to mean the story was worthless and deleted it. Since I wrote most of these stories in ff.net and had no other copies, they are now erased from the universe. I’d feel worse about this, but they really were awful. I wish I could bring myself to take the rest down, but as silly as it may sound, they represent me at a time of my life when I sincerely felt as thought I had no representation in the world and no one who understood me as well as my friends in the HP slash-fiction community. In that sense, even though I’ve officially disowned them, there’s still a part of me that loves those silly little stories and hopes somewhere out there, someone read them and saw just a little bit of himself in them.

You asked me to write about adult themes in fanfiction and I realize I’ve put a more positive spin on it than you probably intended.

[I intended you to share your experience and that’s exactly what you did. Thanks, Nebs–RLee]

It may seem hypocritical to say so now, but I think you’re right when you say some stories shouldn’t have the adult themes that are written into them. I’m just not sure it’s a source-issue, as you say. In my opinion, it comes down to the intent of the author. I can’t really regret the sex scenes in my HP fics, as cringey as they are, because they came from a real place. I don’t regret the violence either, because that’s always been very much a part of that universe, even if Rowling chose to tone it out or let it happen off-screen. But the swearing bothers me, because the only purpose it served was to convince the reader that I was an adult and not some teenaged emo edgelord, which of course I was.

There’s your threshold. Sincerity vs. Shock Value. It’s the same as when you talk about the difference between ‘good’ bad movies like Deep Rising and ‘stupid’ bad movies like Human Centipede III. They’re both bad, but one of them is sincerely trying to make a movie and the other one is just trying to get other people to talk about it.

A big hand for Nebuchadnezzar, everyone! That was awesome!

That does put it in perspective for me. When I look at my early works–Heat and Olivia, especially–I see a writer who was trying too hard to create ‘erotica’ as defined by a third-party. I’m not embarrassed by them, but they’re sure not as good as they could be. After my publisher and I parted ways and I stopped thinking about how many sex scenes I needed to hammer into a book of so many pages, I got much better at telling the story. By the time I arrived at this point in my life, my thinking had evolved. In books as in life, sex is better when you let it happen, not make it happen.

Having said that, I’m aware that the simple fact that there is sex in my present series is not the whole problem. There is a belief in the FNAF fandom, commonly held to be canonical, that the animatronics are possessed by the spirits of murdered children and therefore shipping them is tantamount to pedophilia. And I would have to agree if I believed that to be the case. I don’t. In the games, it is never expressly stated that the animatronics are ‘possessed’ at all. The closest we get to anything of the sort is a mini-game called Give Life that shows some 8-bit blobs (supposedly the dead children) being ‘crowned’ with the heads of animatronics, and another mini-game wherein a pixelated Purple Guy runs from some pixelated ghosts after chopping up the old animatronics.

Now the mini-games throughout the series are not a reliable source of lore, as far as I’m concerned. I view them more as a portrayal of the ‘urban legend’ that has sprung up around Fazbears, but even if they were canon, what do they canonically show? That kids were stuffed into animatronics and that Purps had a major freakout in which he may have seen actual ghosts or only imagined them on account of, you know, being a psychopath who murders children. There is nothing that definitively states the animatronics are haunted by any actual human spirit, let alone a child, but–and here let me emphasize this point–even if they were, it’s been decades. Let me skip ahead a bit and offer up this snippet from Part IV of the series:

***

“But you’re not…I mean…” Horror like nothing she’d ever known—and she’d known so much of it here—swelled up in her throat and came out as a broken, “You’re not kids are you? Are you? Please tell me you’re not a child?”

Foxy snorted through his speakers and folded his arms. “I came alive in ’66, lass. I’m older than ye by a yardarm.”

Relief crashed down like a wave and washed out, leaving her with a small, shaky smile that slowly grew into a blush.

“We don’t know who we used to be,” said Freddy. “I can’t swear we weren’t children when we were taken, but it’s been fifty years since then. Age isn’t something you only have in a body. It’s time and experience…and you aren’t even listening,” he concluded, dropping his plastic eyebrows in a stone-faced scowl.

Ana’s hand fluttered up as if it could rub away the blush she knew she was showing. “I love it when you talk like a pirate,” she mumbled, still smiling that idiot smile.

Foxy snapped his eyepatch down at once. “Arr.”

“Well, how do you know, though?” she asked quickly, turning back to the relative safety of Freddy’s face. “How do you know you were anyone at all? If you don’t remember—”

“Because we know how we were built,” Freddy said, speaking gently, but firmly. “We saw him build others. We saw how they were brought to life. And it took other lives.”

***

In my head-canon, these are not kids. Other fans may not agree with this viewpoint, but I stand by it and moreover, I will continue to stand by it when Bonnie and Ana get around to the hardcore canoodling, if called upon to do so in the comment section. I say this now not because I’m especially sensitive on the subject–I’m not–but simply to show that I have thought about it and it was very much a deliberate part of the writing process.

As for the rest of it, violence was very much a part of the source material, even if it wasn’t graphically portrayed. And believe it or not, as much as my characters swear, they swore a LOT more before I edited. Profanity is like any other word in a novel; it has to earn its place and where it does not set a mood, define a character or advance the plot, I take it out. I’m aware that the darker themes of EIAR, especially those involving the abuse of children, are disturbing to some readers, but I believe they are appropriate to the material and I don’t believe I use them just to get a reaction.

There is a place for adult themes in fanfiction and it’s the same place it occupies in any other genre. Writing is, at its simplest definition, the act of using words to elicit an emotional reaction. Sex, gore, obscenity: writers use these things to provoke a response because they’re easy and effective…kind of like jumpscares in horror movies and games. And just like jumpscares, they can be done right and done wrong. There’s plenty of people out there who don’t think I do it right. That’s fine. The line is deeply personal, especially when it comes to anything that taps into that childhood nostalgia. So I can tell you to approach mature themes judiciously and edit critically, but I can’t promise you won’t still get flamed for it. Does that mean you should stop? No. If you believe in it, you should never stop. Corny, but true. Should you believe that strongly in your 69-chapter Smurfs/Avatar crossover, Big Blue Blood Orgy, guest-starring several pokemon, Sonic the Hedgehog and the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street?

Where did that even come from? What’s wrong with me?

Yes. If that’s your thing and you are sincerely into that thing, then you write that thing. But then get therapy, because damn, no one should be into that thing.

Serial Saturday Update

Wish me luck, ya’ll! (We’ve established that ya’ll is acceptable, since I live in the Midwest, right?) I signed up (by which I mean my sister, Cris, signed me up and told me afterwards) for the 100 day Author’s Challenge in the hopes that it will give me the competitive streak I need to get Part IV of my FNAF fanfic series finished before Part III concludes. The goal is to write 1000 words each day for 100 days, so I will be adjusting my WIP widget up there in the upper right-hand corner of the screen accordingly. I seriously doubt there’s 100k words left in Part IV, but if not, I’ll get a great head start on Part V! So, once again, wish me luck, ya’ll!

I start Monday, officially, so for tonight, ya’ll (the more I say that, the less confident I am that I’m using it correctly) can support the new chapter of Children of Mammon, up on fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org! I know that a lot of you are probably getting tired of me urging thus-far-disinterested parties to give it a chance, but honestly, every single Saturday, I get messages from readers who finally broke down and started reading, and as long as that keeps happening, I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep saying stuff like, “If you’re still undecided, maybe this excerpt will change your mind!” Because you never know…maybe it will?

Foxy was made to be a pirate and over the years, he had found that the pirate attitude had a lot of useful applications in his day to day life. For example, a proper pirate never left his cabin without a cutlass on his hip and he didn’t just draw it for a serious fight. Roar through town with your blades out at every opportunity was the pirate way. Can’t catch the waiter’s eye to pay your check? Wave a cutlass. Forgot your keys and the missus locked the door? Open it with your cutlass. Can’t decide whose turn it is to carve the turkey at Thanksgiving? The honor goes to the bloke who brought the cutlass.

In short, the more the enemy saw you as a cutlass-waving brute, the less effectively she was able to defend against the hidden dagger, which in this case was Foxy’s rarely-wielded yet finely-honed power of persuasion. Another duel, one fought with words instead of swords. And if that didn’t work, he’d bring out the swords again. That had been fun.

So Foxy played out his last hours, telling all his old stories and singing all his old songs, while mentally rehearsing quite a different role. At long last, the more conventional fireworks started going off outside, the usual harbinger of the end of Ana’s work-day. This time, she kept going, using up every ray of sunlight while she had it, although she cut back on the hammering.

Restless as he was, Foxy found himself wondering what she looked like up there…sunlight all glowing red and gold in her dark hair…sweat making her skin shiny and her clothes sticky-tight…

It didn’t make the time go by any faster, but it passed a damn sight pleasanter.

The sun went down. The restaurant closed. Foxy stood in the bow of his ship for fifty-eight minutes more and listened to boots thumping back and forth on the roof. At ten, Foxy’s joints unlocked, but Ana, bless her steadfast little heart, kept working, so Foxy settled himself in the bow of his ship to wait.

The silence snuck up on him. It occurred to him only after he’d heard it, or hadn’t heard it, for a while that Ana might be done working at last. Foxy sat up at once, only to settle reluctantly back again. Wouldn’t do to have her walk in and find him listening for her at the door. Disinterest could be a potent lure. He’d learned that watching the Purple Man, but that didn’t make it less true.

And before much longer, the door to the East Hall creaked open.

Foxy rotated an ear in that direction, but didn’t hear Freddy’s footsteps. “WHO GOES THERE?” he called, smiling because he already knew.

“It’s me,” said Ana.

“Expected ye sooner.”

“Oh, am I keeping you up past your bedtime, Captain?”

“Might b-b-be I’m keeping ye up past yers.”

“Let me worry about that. We had a deal, you and me. You owe me some answers. But we need to make it quick,” she said, pulling the curtain open and climbing onto the stage. “Bonnie thinks I’m in the shower. Where are you?”

“On d-d-deck. Come aboard.”

She didn’t move, not right away, but after a moment or two, he heard her mutter, “Better than his cabin,” and then he heard her on the gangplank. Not the thump of her boots, though; the pad-pad-pad of little bare feet. She’d had the shower first, he thought, and turned his head just as she stepped onto the deck, her wet hair hanging loose all down her back and past her hips, wearing a shirt with a bat clutching a bottle of rum on it and some underbritches cut high on the thigh and not a blessed thing more.

“My eyes are up here, Captain,” she said dryly.

“Hold-d-d the rigging, luv, I’m getting there.”

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday

I prevented last week’s post from turning into a rant on Mary Sues by the skin of my teeth, and I have been chomping at the bit (is that mixing my metaphors? They’re both tooth-related) ever since to write this one and really devote myself to the rant. Although I usually attempt to ease myself into the post with a humorous intro, this week, I’m gonna cannonball right in the deep end (now I’m mixing them) and get to it. So without further ado, it’s time for—

Fans Who Fic

Part Five

The Curse of Mary Sue

So what is a Mary Sue? The male variant is called Gary Stu or Marty Stu, although my mom called him a Marty Steve, mostly because there was a guy in her Star Trek LARP-ing group named Steve and his fanfiction was legendarily awful, thanks to overpowered OCs. But I digress. I think most of us can recognize one when reading easier than we can explain what makes one, but I’ll try.

A Mary Sue is a fictional character, most often associated with fanfiction although her perfect head can pop up in any medium, who serves as a kind of self-insert wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. In fantasy otherworld stories, they are often inexplicably from modern-day Earth, and just magically teleported to the hero’s world, where everyone who meets her instantly loves her and wants to protect her.

The theme of rescue/nurture as a means of character introduction is stupidly common, with Mary either being ‘saved’ by the hero or Mary nursing the wounded hero back to health, pretty much just so they can be alone together with one of them in a state of semi-undress, on a bed, with lots of staring into one another’s eyes, and sexual tension simmering beneath the surface of vulnerability. Without the hero, Mary would die. Without Mary, the hero would die.

Their actions within the story’s frame are usually portrayed as pivotal, yet are little more than narrative devices to push Mary Sue and the canon characters together. For example, Mary is The Chosen One of prophecy, or has vague information desperately needed by the villain but which she herself may not consciously know, or she has some world-ending power that she can’t yet control. Pretty much the point of the story is Mary has to go somewhere or do something that is only tacitly addressed at the end of the book because the REAL point was to have Mary wander around being incredibly powerful and desirable and also lost and unhappy except in the hero’s arms.

Mary is beautiful, although she’s usually totally unaware of how gorgeous she is. The hero is instantly drawn to her, the villain is obsessed with her, and pretty much everyone she meets rotates around her in a cloud of mingled loyalty and concern. She’s often an orphan or has an abusive home life (from which the hero rescues her). If she does have a loving parent, God help them, because they’re only there so they can dramatically die. She’s brilliant, absolutely the best at everything she does, except those things that are just so hard for her that the hero has to do them for her. If she has flaws at all, it’s usually charming clumsiness, charming forgetfulness, or bad luck taken to a charming extreme, but most often, her ‘flaws’ are the mean girls who she’s nothing like who instantly hate her and want to ruin her life.

In the unlikely event that they are not portrayed as uber blackbelt badasses from the start, they are shown as strong-willed, yet ultra-compassionate, so pure of heart that the hero is drawn to her instantly. They rarely have to deal with real-world consequences of their well-intentioned actions and are often given way more respect and attention than they earn. Every little thing that Mary does is painted with a halo. Something as simple as throwing a backyard barbeque is portrayed as an act of courage and is both rewarded and punished far out of proportion to the deed. She will sacrifice everything she has by the end of the book, necessitating that the hero swoop in and save her in a showy demonstration of his equally over-the-top love and devotion.

In short, she’s just the worst.

Now let’s take a look at some of the notes I took at the last writing convention I attended. The topic of the seminar was How To Write A Great Hero.

A hero should be attractive (not necessarily physically good-looking), fit, strong, sympathetic, kind, reasonable, loyal, self-controlled, intelligent, aware of his flaws, an active participant in his story, and always seeking to do better.

A hero should have a talent or power that others lack or be the best at something, more than anyone else around them. Naturally, he shouldn’t be the best at everything, but his inner circle should make up for whatever the hero lacks, and their talents should be an extension of the hero’s. Hermione may be smarter than Harry, but it’s Harry who decides when to use what she’s learned.

No hero is an island! Even the Lone Wolf type has contacts in powerful places loyal to the hero. In fact, every character within the hero’s inner circle And the hero is always faithful. If there is betrayal in the inner circle, it is always the hero’s friend at fault, never the hero. If the hero rejects his friends, it is always due to a misunderstanding or manipulation by a villain (Smeagol and the Ring twisting Frodo until he sent Sam away). In romance, the hero is always monogamous and faithful once he meets the heroine, regardless of his past attitudes.

A hero should be representative of humanity as a whole. If a mythic hero type, then be sure to show everyday struggles. If an everyday hero type, then be sure to show that he aspires to an ideal.

When creating flaws, be sure to keep your hero on the ‘right’ side of wrong. Know the difference between a commander and an asshole, stubbornness and stupidity. If a hero is arrogant, it should always be justified, because he really is the best (Sherlock Holmes never apologizes for his attitude nor should he; his contemporaries should be embarrassed to be ignorant in his presence). Avoid relying upon unsympathetic weaknesses such as substance abuse or sexual deviancy. Even a hero’s flaws should be strengths.

Yeah, that was my expression, too.

So…on one hand we have Mary Sue, who is good-looking and just the best and has lots of friends even if she’s an outsider and the whole story revolves around here and that’s bad. On the other hand, we have The Hero, who is attractive and the best and has powerful friends even if he’s an outsider and the whole story revolves around him and…that’s good?

Okay, look. Mary Sues DO exist and they ARE annoying, but I think a lot of characters, especially in fanfiction and particularly-especially if they’re female, get the Scarlet M sewn to their chest unfairly.

My advice? Be aware of the pitfalls—making OCs too perfect, too pretty, too reasonable, and too important—but also be aware that hyper-vigilance is just as much of a trap. Nothing ruins a good story like overthinking it. It’s okay for your hero to be the hingepin of a story. That’s what heroes are—the primary character. But if that’s their role, they need to earn it. That’s true of every book, but in fanfiction, with OC’s, it’s especially important. I’ve said before that OCs in the hero-role should not be considered a book-breaker just ‘cuz. We, the fans, are the outsider in every fandom. It’s a role to which we can all relate. In fandoms with an established episodic theme, there is nothing more natural than having a beautiful stranger appear out of nowhere and dominate that episode’s plot. It’s okay to do that in fanfiction. The problem is, you can’t just tell the reader, “This is the most interesting character;” You have to prove it.

So here we go, R Lee Smith’s Three Simple Rules for Avoiding the Mary Sue Label (Bearing In Mind That Literally Every Last One of My Female Heros Has Been Called A Mary Sue At Least Once, But I Don’t Agree So I’m Still Qualified To Set Guidelines, But Just, You Know, Be Aware):

First and foremost, remember this:

I apologize for the nightmares I just gave you, but it’s still the best advice. You are not perfect. No one is. And people who think they are, no matter how sincerely they are presented, just piss off everyone around them. It’s like a people-version of the uncanny valley; we can just sense that ‘that ain’t right’ and are repelled, no matter how well-intentioned the idea was. Real people have serious flaws. They are uncomfortable and off-putting, but they are necessary to the development of a character that feels real. Ignorance is what makes discovery thrilling; being lost is what makes coming home so sweet; risk of failure is what defines success. So yes, by all means, give your character strengths, but give her weaknesses as well and don’t sugar-coat them. Perfection is not something we necessarily want to see in a character.

This brings me to my second tip: Don’t focus too heavily on looks. Some of the most attractive people I’ve ever seen are not what anyone would call stunning beauties, and those that are often come down to one or two remarkable features that augments, rather than defines, whatever ‘it’ is that makes them attractive. In true Disney-fried fashion, it’s who they are, not how they look that really matters. Your OC can be pretty, but avoid making her the most beautiful woman the other characters have ever seen, and if you can’t avoid that, at least don’t make that a substitute for a personality! We are attracted to others based on their looks, and that’s fine, that’s only natural, but we fall in love with people. Think about what you find sexy and once you get past the purely physical traits like nice eyes, strong collarbones, dat booty…

…dexterous tentacles…

…you’ll probably find things like a sense of humor, stability, confidence, compassion or an air of command. Those are the things you want to focus on (but not all of them; see Rule Number One).

Thirdly, if you beat her up, let her wear the scars and make sure they leave a lasting mark. Time and again, you see the Cinderella-type, who, although impoverished and forced to endure grueling hardships, has soft hands, an unblemished complexion, and more astoundingly, can fit right in with the upper classes without effort or resentment (her purity and disingenuous ways are usually what attracts the jaded billionaire who falls in love with her). If the villain subjects her to torture, she bounces right back, with the only lasting effects being nightmares, easily soothed away in her lover’s arms. She can joke around in a firefight, make out over a twitching zombie’s severed arm, and generally skip unscathed through the very worst that Life can throw at her, emerging even stronger and more beautiful at the end. Yeah, great, but in the real world, actions have consequences and people hold grudges. If she gets hurt, it will take time to heal and the scars may not all be physical. If she used to be in the villain’s inner circle, she will not and may never be welcomed without suspicion by the good guys. If she slaps a guy—I cannot say this enough—she should not be surprised to get slapped back, and let me tell you, that’s going to hurt her a whole lot more than she hurt him. She needs to be aware of that before she throws that slap, and if she wasn’t, she needs to remember it afterwards. You can’t just go through life throwing slaps around willy-nilly.

In this country, we solve our problems with guns!

As a writer, it’s easy and often tempting to let my character ‘win’ at every conflict, but that is the very worst thing I could do. It is my responsibility to knock her down from time to time. Beat her up. Feed her insecurities. Lead her down dark paths and leave her to find her way out alone. When she makes mistakes, don’t clean them up for her or be too quick to pile on the forgiveness. Make her apologize. Make her suffer some consequences. Oh, and when she does everything right in spite of the odds, let her fail anyway. In books, as in life, it’s how we react when things don’t go our way that best show our characters.

And if you do all this and someone still calls your character a Mary Sue…well, so what? Can’t please ’em all.

Serial Saturday Update

It’s that time again! And here I am, still at my sister’s place. I nearly didn’t bring my laptop, either. Couldn’t think of any reason why I’d need it, since I had access to hers for writing, checking email and noodling around on games. And just between us, hers is a heck of a lot better than mine. But at the last minute, I decided that hot-seating her computer might strain the host-guest relationship, so I brought my laptop after all, which meant I inadvertently brought my story, which meant the latest chapter of my FNAFic series, Everything Is All Right, can go up on schedule and I still have not missed or been late even once since this project began!

If you knew me in person, that would seem a whole lot more impressive.

Anyway, I think my sister’s house has had a good effect on me. You know how it is. It’s not your fridge, it’s not your bed, it’s not your bathroom, plus there are kittens flopping in front of, next to and directly on top of you at all times, but there’s a comfortable blend of adventure and familiar to the general atmosphere. Good for agitating the little grey cells and all that. I’ve written two chapters here, which means I’m only 18 chapters behind and not 20.

Yes, I am still freaking out over that. But that’s my problem. All you, the reader, have to do is head on over to fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org and check out the new chapter! I left it on a bit of a cliffhanger last week, as you may recall, with Ana following Freddy into the dark, on her way to the basement, which, as we all used to know (and all children still do) is where the monsters live…

Out of the kitchen, down the hall, past the dogleg corridor that led to the locked manager’s office, Freddy led her through the building, and only when he opened the door to Pirate Cove did Ana get the first faint inkling of where he was taking her.

If Foxy was on stage, he said nothing. He must be used to hearing Freddy pass through. And that was fine. Once distracted, Freddy might ‘forget’ he’d ever agreed to take her to the basement and Ana wasn’t sure she had it in her to ask again. So she kept quiet, matching her footsteps to Freddy’s as she followed him into the Treasure Cave.

Ana had a decent sense of direction and as Foxy had observed earlier, there was only one way through the maze. She’d mapped the place out on her roombuilder before, and although she hadn’t exactly memorized the layout, she knew there were no secrets. Take away all these modular panels and it was just four long walls at right angles, no nooks, no crannies. Even the hidden Grotto wasn’t hidden all that well.

“HERE,” said Freddy, moving her ahead of him at a crossways and into a snaking corridor that narrowed at every bend until he was scraping the foam off the walls on both sides.

“This turns into a dead-end,” said Ana.

“I. KNOW. KEEP. GOING.”

“Go where?” she asked, her voice level but her heart beginning to pound. “It doesn’t go anywhere. It just quits.”

He put his hand on her shoulder and gently pushed. “KEEP. GOING.”

She walked, winding back and forth and around until the corridor ended. The fake rock surface had been flattened in a rough square and a suitably creepy skull shape carved into it to laugh at her failure to find her way through the painfully uncomplicated kiddie maze. Looking into its dusty eyes, Ana asked, “Now what?”

“MOVE. THE. WALL.”

“This isn’t a moveable panel,” said Ana, indicating the left-hand edge. “Look. There’s no lockplate. It doesn’t come off.”

“YES. IT. DOES.”

Dropping to one knee, she felt along the edges of the panel for the connecting clasp she could already see wasn’t there, then did it again, exploring every inch from the floor to the ceiling on both sides. Nothing. She pushed anyway, to no effect. The foam walls of the maze were all modular panels, but this one was flush up to the perimeter wall. It wouldn’t slide left or right, wouldn’t so much as wiggle.

“I don’t understand,” she said, keeping her eyes on her hands and pretending that itch between her shoulder-blades was just a trickle of sweat and not the anticipation of a huge fist crushing her spine in one punch. “It doesn’t move.”

Freddy reached over her shoulder and poked two fingers into the socket-eyes of the carved skull. Not far, not even up to the first knuckle, but further than the sockets were deep.

Freddy withdrew his arm. “YOU. HAVE. TO. DO. IT,” he said. “I. CAN’T. FEEL. I. MIGHT. BREAK. IT.”

Stunned, Ana looked more closely at the skull’s shallow sockets and saw only painted foam. But it didn’t feel like foam when she touched it. Plastic. Hard, textured. When she put a little force behind it, the sockets moved, depressing like the buttons they were. She pushed her thumbs into the skull’s eyes, all the way in.

They clicked, first one and then, with effort, the other.

“PUSH,” said Freddy.

She did, first with her arms, then setting her shoulder against the foam, heaving to very little progress until Freddy reached over her again and added his strength to hers. Disused mechanisms groaned, scraped, and finally began to move. The door rolled back into the wall with excruciating slowness, revealing the layers of the wall—foam, sheetrock, wooden stud, insulation, vinyl membrane, and at last, a thin concrete slip painted over rough rock. When the door cleared that, the guide-arms locked, fully extended. The room beyond was black and still. The air that blew out of it was cool, stinking of minerals and maybe old, dried death.

Ana breathed it in and when the taste had no more power over her, she set her shoulder against the door and heaved it to one side.

And there they were, three springtrap suits, side by side by side, silvered by dust, seeming to be connected somehow…were they holding hands?

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday

Now that my father and his beard are safely home, I decided the time was ripe to take a mini-vacation of my own, and so I am away this week, visiting my sister. (How many sisters does this person have, you may be asking. The answer is many. So many.) As a side-effect, I am also visiting two of the now grown-up kittens we rescued last Halloween: Jack Sepikitten and little Danny Sexkitten. Jack was stand-offish at first, but Danny recognized me right away and came hunching over, hissing and purring with pleasure.

Hmm. That may need explanation. See, when we rescued the kittens, their eyes weren’t open yet and both Jack and Danny, the smallest of the four, had eye infections that delayed their opening almost a week after the other two. So we humans were the first things they had ever seen and humans make lousy cats.

Also during this time and for about a month afterward, we kept them separated from the other cats of the household, in part because eye infections are crazy contagious and also because they were small and vulnerable and my sister’s cat, Bird, is a shameless bully whose favorite game is beating up my blind cat, Waffles. No way were we going to put the kittens at the mercy of that furry bitch. In essence, they had no visual basis for cat behavior during their most impressionable days.

So it was a month or more before we opened the doors between them and the kittens met the cats. As I say, Waffles is blind and although he wasn’t sure who they were, he also wasn’t sure they hadn’t always been there, so he was cool with them and they were cool with him. Bird was not invited to the kitten-meeting party at all. So it was my father’s cat, Socks, who came prancing down the hall to gain entry to the coveted back room only to come face to unexpected face with a whole conspiracy of strange cats.

Man, if that’s not the real word for a group of cats, it should be.

TIL a group of cats is called a ‘clowder’ or (more appropriately IMO) a ‘glaring’

Socks, as long-time readers may remember, was kept and perhaps born in a cat-hoarding situation and has been wary of strangers of all kinds ever since. Upon seeing the kittens, she arched her back instantly, hissed and sprinted away.

The kittens watched her go with the same wondering astonishment that is every kitten’s default setting. Then Jack turned to Mark and arched her back and hissed. He hissed. Soon they were all hissing happily. When Socks plucked up her courage and ventured back into the room, she was met by four hissing kittens. Jack arched so high, she actually rose up on her hind legs and went staggering over on two feet to say hello.

Suffice to say, Socks spent the remainder of the kittens’ time in our care in another part of the house.

My sister’s husband’s cat is neither as flighty as Socks nor as mean as Bird and has taught the kittens much about normal cat behavior, but it was strangely comforting to see that little back arch as Danny ran toward me and hear those bizarrely harmonious hisses and purrs as she rubbed her fuzzy chin on my wrist brace. It just goes to show that nonconformity isn’t necessarily confrontational and shouldn’t necessarily provoke adversity. A good life lesson and particularly apt when today’s post is…

Fans Who Fic

Part Four

Alternate Universes: Just Like The Real Thing, Only Everything’s Different!

This is it, the one I’ve been dreading. How to stay objective? How to say something positive or at the very least constructively critical of that seamy underbelly of the fanfic set known as AU? I’m sure there are good ones out there, but I’ve never read one. Admittedly, I haven’t looked too hard either. I lack the fortitude to plow through “It’s Star Trek, only they’re teenagers and the Enterprise is their high school” or “It’s Harry Potter, only Hogwarts is a coffee shop and Ron, Harry and Hermoine are all baristas” or “It’s FNAF, only they’re all human and also teenagers and also girls, except Mike and he has to bang them all before 6 am.”

Or “It’s Twilight, only they’re not vampires and also incredibly into the author’s idea of BDSM”

One might argue that my own series, Everything Is All Right, is technically AU. In fact, I myself made that argument last week. To a purist, any story that deviates to any degree from canon lore or includes original characters could be considered Alternative. I personally don’t take it that far. Any fandom that allows for a serial storyline has already admitted plenty of one-off characters and situational plots, so one more isn’t going to break the world. The crew of the Serenity encountering a hot, sassy bounty hunter on her way to kick ass through a nest of reavers isn’t a Mary-Sueism as much as it is a rejected episode outline. In fact, having a main character fall in love with a beautiful stranger who dominates the plotline that week and is never seen again is pretty much half the episodes of all franchises ever.

Wow, this is turning into a Mary Sue post, so I’m going to delete the rest of that rant and save it for next week. These week, we’re talking about Alternate Universes, as I (loosely) define the term, which is less of a single definition and more of a spectrum. On one end, we have stories that may include new characters or substitute fan-theories for in-world facts or even moves characters into different roles or relationships, while at the other end there are stories where canon lore, characters and often physics do not apply. Between the two extremes are infinite universes where canon elements are either adopted or discarded as the author pleases. There are no rules. It’s pure anarchy. Dogs and cats, living together…mass hysteria!

However, even I don’t put every story that colors outside the known lines on the AU spectrum. It’s difficult to explain just what my criteria are. The best example I can give of the purely arbitrary line I’ve drawn is this: Any fanfic where the main characters demonstrate a…shall we say…shift in sexuality is what I’d consider an alternate storyline, since sexuality is on a spectrum all its own and I never assume I know the full history of any character’s relationships. However, certain ships and all Mpreg and Fempreg are AU. That still doesn’t automatically make them a bad story, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t have a hell of a handicap to overcome to win me over.

And as we all know, my approval is the standard by which all things should be measured.

However, since a spectrum is a difficult thing to sum up, I’ma go ahead and break it down into four sweeping generalizations.

Alternate Universe. When I see the AU tag, this is what I think of: The fandom I know and love, altered in some fundamental way that would make it impossible for the source material to have occurred at all. For example, Harry Potter, but without magic. The author might substitute technology, but even super-advanced technology cannot take the place of magic, since the idea of magic being a genetic trait in Rowling’s books was essential to the entire universe. Harry was not a kid with a magic wand; he was a wizard.

Alternate Reality. This is when the fundamental rules remain the same, but major plot points/character roles are changed. Rolling along (get it?) with the Harry Potter example, an AR story would be one in which Hermione was the Chosen One and the main character, while Harry was just another kid at school (or absent entirely).

Alternate Timeline. These stories can take place entirely within the established universe, but just at a different time. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them can be thought of as a Harry Potter AT, as can James Potter and the Cursed Child.

All Human. And this is my personal least-favorite of the fanfiction genres, the one that strips supernatural or otherwise non-human characters of their non-human qualities and presents them as just a bunch of boring people. Plenty of great stories are written about ordinary humans, but Harry Potter was not one of them. True, he has a lot of ordinary problems to which even a Muggle could relate, but his story needs magic to be told. It just doesn’t work without it.

Heck, now that I’m looking at it like this, I can use those four categories to break AUs down even further: ARs and ATs have at least the potential for good. AUs and AHs do not.

And yet, I feel obligated to remind the reader that my antipathy toward AUs is really more of a ‘me’-thing and I’m biased to boot. I don’t like them and the reason I don’t like them, in true Marvel Universe ideology, is because I don’t understand them. I don’t understand why they even exist. I especially don’t understand the thought processes of the people writing them. “I love this show! I love everything about it! I love it so much, I want there to be more stories so I can love them too! In fact, I want that so much, I’m going to write my own stories! But first, I’m going to change everything, until the characters and settings are utterly unrecognizable by anyone’s standards! Because I love this series! So much.”

I don’t get it.

So I don’t read it, which is the only reasonable response, in my opinion. You will never hear me say that AUs shouldn’t exist or that the people who write them should stop (or, given that this is the internet, kill themselves. No exaggeration, I’ve seen that in the comment section of fanfics before and it never fails to gobsmack me. Like, holy shit, people, grow a sense of proportion. It’s a story). But I don’t read them, so by my own rule, I’m not qualified to write about them.

Hmm, and yet I have all this white space to fill…

So okay. Just as an exercise, let me do my best to wipe away my prejudices, just for today, and try to come up with some positive things to say about AUs.

Hmm.

Hmmmmmm…

This is harder than I thought.

Go ahead and fix yourself a snack. This could take a while.

Well, okay, here’s one. They are easily the most creative form of fanfiction. In fact, I’ve read many where the author made up absolutely everything except the names and general descriptions of the characters. If it’s well-written, there’s no reason I can think of why the author shouldn’t change that too and then publish it. In fact, I think a lot of my irritation when reading certain stories stems from the fact that the author is using the fandom as training wheels. If your story is strong enough to support itself, then let it (I’m told this is called ‘filing off the serial numbers’ or ’50-Shading’). You’re only holding yourself back by forcing your story onto someone else’s universe.

Huh. That wasn’t so hard. That wasn’t so positive either, but baby steps, baby steps.

Since I brought up Mpreg/Fempreg earlier, let me take a moment to express my genuine appreciation for how well, how consistently and especially how normally unisexual reproduction is portrayed. I don’t particularly think it should be the whole plot of a story, but I don’t believe any romance should be the whole point of any story. The gender of the participants and the mechanics of their DNA-exchange hardly signify. Fanfiction is leaps and bounds beyond the mainstream when it comes to positive representation of LGBTQIA relationships. Honestly, while the part of me that took Biology in school finds Mpreg stories ridiculous, they still inspire me to experiment with what sex is and what sexy means.

Hmm, one more. Gotta round this out with the Rule of Three…

Okay, well, I’m sure this is going to sound insincere, given my initial stated aversion to flamefics and parodies, but I’ve found AUs to be the funniest fanfics. Granted, the comedy wasn’t always intentional, but as MST3K has proven time and time and time again, sometimes comedy is in the eye of the beholder. I got a little bitchy a few weeks ago when I talked about certain fanfic writers lacking respect for the source material, but I have since had a Snickers and now I can admit that a lot of the time, what an outsider might mistake for sneering contempt is just a little gentle teasing between friends. And not to make myself out to be a total hypocrite, but back in my Marvel comic collecting days, two of my sure-fire-buy-’em titles were What If? and What The? It doesn’t get any AU-er than that.

I guess if there’s one thing you–and I–should take away from today’s post, it’s that good stories can be anywhere. You should never judge a book by its cover or a fanfic by its tags.