In my last update, “WordPress Necromancy,” I mentioned that I’ve spent a lot of time this past year writing fanfiction. And I have. I’ve also spent a good amount of time reading fanfiction. Why would I subject myself to such horrors, you ask? Because some fanfiction is actually good, believe it or not. A few are actually great. Blows the mind, doesn’t it?
More often, of course, fanfiction outright sucks or lands squarely in that “meh” domain that isn’t worth mentioning one way or another. But that actually has less to do with it being fanfiction than it has to do with the open-to-the-public nature of the thing; as there are no editors, agents, or publishers sifting through the work and deciding which authors are and are not worth investing in, there’s nothing to stop the sewage from being posted. Hence, the vast majority of the content on FanFiction.Net is either bad… or horribad.
That shouldn’t even need stating, really. It’s as much a fact of nature at this point as “the sky is blue” and “grass is green” and “Lewis will most likely forget trash day this week.” What I want to talk about isn’t how most of it sucks; I want to talk about the way authors react when told they’ve done something wrong with their work.
You see, I recently read a crossover story that looked mildly interesting at first blush, and in fact started out relatively well. It even has decent writing quality, which is usually… usually, not always… a sign that the writer knows what he or she is doing. It was a crossover story in which Harry Potter, being stressed out by his vital role in the ongoing war against Lord Voldemort, is visited by three Legendary Pokémon (namely: Mew, Celebi, and Jirachi) and given the opportunity to take a vacation of sorts in another world. He is thus transported to the Pokémon universe and the rest is history. Sounds trite? Maybe it does, but it was still going pretty well until Giovanni entered the picture.
I have no intention of naming names or linking directly to the story in question, but here’s the long and short of what sparked this article. The writer of this crossover introduced Giovanni into the story… who, canonically, is the leader of the organization known as Team Rocket. Keep in mind that this fiction apparently goes by anime canon, in which Giovanni (on those occasions on which he appears) is not at all portrayed in a positive light. In this story, Harry encounters Giovanni taking a random walk in the woods, within walking distance of Pallet Town, no less, who has sprained his ankle. Giovanni is a polite man, who has a sudden “Eureka” moment upon Harry’s suggestion that Team Rocket only steal (or “rescue”) Pokémon who have been abused by their owners rather than ones who are already loyal to loving trainers. Oh, and did I mention that Giovanni, even before his debut in this story, was apparently good friends with Ash Ketchum’s mother and Professor Oak? Check that: the leader of a criminal organization whose trademark is Pokémon theft… is friends with Professor Oak and Ash Ketchum’s bloody mom.
It’s flat, blatantly out-of-character, totally random, and more to the point, it has no redeeming qualities to it whatsoever. This kind of thing happens quite a lot in fanfiction, actually. Often, it stems from a particular writer wanting to emphasize a character’s redeeming qualities (or qualities they errantly think are there, if none actually exist) and instead forgetting to include the other ones. The result is not only as flat and unappetizing as that bottle of soda my brother left open on his desk for three days, it’s also not the character it was supposed to be anymore.
Now, I, in my infinite wisdom, took the overall decent writing quality of the story as a sign that the writer took their work at least seriously enough to appreciate constructive criticism. So I reviewed it, and said pretty much what I’ve already stated here. My response amounted to “I appreciate constructive criticism, but it’s my story so you can take your constructive criticism and stuff it up your arse.” The writer wasn’t so blunt in their wording, of course, but the point seemed to be that despite my complaint being legitimate, somehow the mere concept of “fanfiction” makes stories immune to criticisms involving character development quality, because the word “fanfiction” apparently means the writer isn’t obliged to take their work seriously. (Um, really?) Oh, and the usual FF.net mantra of “Don’t like, don’t READ!” (More on my passionate hatred of that mantra in a bit…)
I wasn’t quite sure I was dealing with a sore loser at this point, so in my (ahem) infinite wisdom, I decided to reply to this PM. I told the writer that it’s all well and good if you want to write a character that isn’t Giovanni, so long as you write a character that actually isn’t Giovanni. Hey, I think it makes sense. I also pointed out that even if this randomly Super!Good!Giovanni character weren’t totally out of sync with anything and everything Giovanni stands for, flat and one-dimensional characters are still flat and one-dimensional… which, readers, is never a good thing unless done for comedic value, which this clearly wasn’t. In my review, I had even provided a decent alternative suggestion to Super!Good!Giovanni… a redemption angle. You know, where the canon Evil!Giovanni actually develops into a good character through some believable sequence of events that change his outlook?
The writer then proceeded to block me, which at this moment is mildly annoying because it means I can’t go back and re-read the PMs themselves to make sure I’m portraying them fairly. But more importantly, the fact that I hadn’t said anything offensive in my review or response (I actually made a point to be as polite as I could) and still got blocked pretty much confirmed the type of writer I was dealing with. Which is a pitty, because the writing quality actually was pretty good and that’s a rare, precious commodity on that site (most stories are either grammatically butchered, formatting nightmares, or grammatically butchered formatting nightmares).
I suppose what I really want to say by all of this is that even if you’re not in it for “keeps,” as it were, fanfiction isn’t somehow magically immune to the standards that original fiction is measured against. Flat and one-dimensional characters are still flat and one-dimensional. Bad writing is still bad writing. And saying “I appreciate constructive criticism” when you really don’t only makes you look like a berk, so… fanfiction writers, if any of you are reading this, please do not follow this nameless author’s example. Take your reviews with grace, dammit. And for God’s sake, don’t tell me you don’t care what your reviewers think. You’re publishing your story on the Internet for the sole purpose of having it read by people other than yourself, so of course you care what others think. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t care about the positive reviews, either.
Closing Tangent: A prevelant sort of mantra on FanFiction.Net is the concept of “don’t like, don’t read,” which seems to be a ward against reviews that don’t agree with “love teh story, update soon!!!1!one!” Basically, it’s a supposedly nice way of saying, “If you don’t like the garbage I put out, keep it to yourself, because I’m too emotionally delicate to take criticism.” Some might say they only say it because they don’t want to be flamed, but the umbrella’s just too wide to limit itself to just one type of negative review. My real beef with this mantra is the sheer impossibility of it: how does one know if they like a story, without first reading it? “Don’t like, don’t read,” you say? How about, “Don’t read, don’t like?” Because that’s my policy toward pretty much everything that wastes summary space on something like “don’t like, don’t read…” I just don’t read it at all, and thus don’t give myself the chance to like it in the first place. It’s the only logical way to follow the author’s instructions, after all!
Edit: The author apparently has a brother, who thinks I owe his sister an apology for hurting her sensitive feelings. He also blocked me before I even had a chance to read his PM. So, um… how does he expect me to give any sort of apology, even if I felt I had done something wrong? Again, I’m not naming names, but… seriously, dude. Common sense. Go out and buy some.