My latest fic, by the way, is turning out to be quite a bit larger than I originally thought it might - it's a character study of Kara, basically, and as I remarked to gizzi1213 over IM last night, once I got going on it I figured out I have a lot to say. The fic is not, however, driving me as crazy as The Monstrosity did. The Monstrosity was supposed to be PWP, and as you'll know if you read it, it basically went as far as possible in the other direction. This character study, although it's huge and will in all probability be multi-chapter, is so far sticking to its outline pretty nicely. For a change. And I'm having a ton of fun with it, besides!
Also, somehow in the last three weeks or so jedionpaper has ended up with 28 watchers. I'm flattered, believe me, but rather mystified. Deep down in my subconscious I have this idea that pretty much everything I churn out on a regular basis is crap, and therefore no one but myself is ever likely to be interested in it. This is a trap that all writers fall into at some point, the belief that they really have no business putting finger to keyboard and that all writing utensils would do better removed from their immediate reach. The saying that we're our own worst critics definitely holds true. However, I haven't yet figured out how not to be my own worst critic, and at the end of the day I don't think I'd want to. It keeps me honest, keeps me questioning myself as a writer and striving to be the best one that I can be. Which, my subconscious insists, is really not a very good one.
And whaddaya know, that's almost a perfect segueway into this writing meme I swiped from emavalexis! Go me!
1) Are you currently obliged to do any forms of writing other than fanfiction (such as academic papers, professional writing, etc) / have you ever done so? If yes, what kind? How does the experience differ and do you take a different approach to this writing? Do you emphasise different things between the opposing kinds of writing?
It's rather difficult to get through four years of journalism school, plus minors in history and political science, plus working at a community newspaper, without doing academic papers and professional writing assignments. In fact I'd venture to say it's damned near impossible. Short, non-sarcastic answer: yes, I definitely have to do some forms of writing other than fanfiction. There's my academic papers, of course, but there's also the articles I did towards my journalism degree and the articles I still do at work.
I would say a different approach has to be taken to those, simply because they are meant for a professional setting, a setting in which I'm either being graded or paid for my work. Don't take this to mean that different effort levels are involved, though. I am, to a large degree, speaking of tone and subject matter and research as opposed to effort. I put the same amount of effort into all my writing projects. So what this means is that when you read a fic by me, you're getting the same amount of thought and anguish and headdesking and editing you'd get if you were reading an academic paper. This is partly because I believe that if it's easy to write, there's something wrong. It's also partly because I have to work hard at everything I write due to various learning/comprehension disabilities. Full disclosure: I'm dyslexic, although mildly, and I also have dysgraphia, which is a fancy-shmancy way of saying that it's difficult for me to transfer the words or ideas I see in my head to a piece of paper or a screen. By and large, though, you will not hear me talk about either of those things often, because I don't want anyone's opinion of me or my writing to be influenced in any way. Nevertheless, I persist in writing and editing my work because I'm a writer and I love to write, even though some days I think banging my head against a brick wall would be more conducive to my sanity than to continue writing. And luckily I have a very understanding best friend/beta reader who helps to catch all my mistakes and clean me up before I present myself to the public. XD
2) Were you ever given explicit instruction in writing? (For argument's sake, I'll include writing pedagogy classes at university etc) Were these lessons at all useful and, if so, do you apply any of them to your fanfiction writing?
I was, in high school, and it was only through that instruction that the above difficulties were discovered. I went to a special "arts" high school where you could choose one of five specific arts areas in which to be educated - drama, visual art, dance, drama, music or literary - along with your regular required-for-graduation courses like math and science. I applied for and got into Lit (as we graduates affectionately know it) and I can honestly say that except for an additional writing class in university, Lit has been one of the most profound influences on me as a writer. Basically, that class taught me how to write and shaped many of my ideas and feelings as a writer to this day. The lessons of Lit certainly carry through, particularly the one about continuing to improve as a writer. I honestly think I am continuing to improve, at least judging by the fact that I can barely stand to look at stuff I wrote even a year ago now. And when I go back and open up something I was working on even yesterday, such as my character study, and re-read what I've written, I always find things to touch up and change. My stuff isn't ever truly finished - it's just at some point I get tired of looking at it and decide to toss it up here for y'all to see. Heh.
3) What initially drew you to writing fanfiction, and what has kept you involved?
It's funny because I started out as a fanfiction writer, moved to original fiction during my Lit years and I'm now right back where I started (albeit writing at a much higher level). What initially drew me to fanfiction was watching one of my favourite TV shows at age eleven and realizing, after the credits rolled, "Hey, that story isn't finished yet!" So I wrote my own sequel, and the rest, as the old cliché goes, is history. That's still what drives me to write fanfic today, by the way - the sense that the story we see in canon isn't yet finished, that there is more to be added and explained and explored. And not even necessarily through an alternate universe, although goodness knows one of my roaring stock-in-trades happens to be AU stuff. Nope, one of my favourite things to do is take canon moments and delve "behind the scenes," as it were, to get a sense of what the characters were actually thinking or maybe something that happened off-screen that we didn't see but still contributed mightily to character development or to a specific event.
Connections to characters keep me going as well, and that's why one of the primary focuses in my fic is always the characters. Those of you who know me well also know that I have a tendency to pick out one particular character from a movie or show and obsess over that character, picking apart their psyche and figuring out exactly what makes them tick. Bonus points if it's a character not focused on as intensely in canon. For Star Wars that character is Padmé Amidala, and in Battlestar Galactica it's Kara Thrace. Go through each and every fic I've written for those two fandoms and odds are, Padmé or Kara will play a significant if not a starring role. It's not that I'm trying to exclude the other characters, or claim that they are less important, because by and large, they aren't. It's simply that Padmé and Kara are the conduits through which I view those fandoms (or, as Katie put it once, they're "my girls.")
4) What is the most important element when you write a fic? (the idea behind the story, canoniscity, character development / sounding like the characters as according to canon, developing a new, unexplored POV).
Y'know, I'd have to say all of those elements are pretty important to me. Any fic has to start off with a good solid idea. Often that idea comes in the form of a question I've asked myself. TIS, for instance, was generated almost entirely by me asking, "How would things be different if Padmé and Obi-Wan were in love with each other?" My current character study came about through a discussion I had with my boyfriend about how Kara would react to being physically incapacitated and therefore, dependent on someone else. The idea spurs me on to write, to dust off my muses and start questioning them.
Obviously, canon is also important even when I'm dealing in a concept that is ostensibly AU. I know some people like to write fics where canon has little or no bearing on what happens, and that's their prerogative, but it's not my cup of tea either to write or to read. To me, if you're paying absolutely no attention to canon, it's not fanfiction. You just happen to be using somebody else's characters and writing original fiction about them. All my fics, with the exception of one Obidala that I really didn't end up liking all that much, have a very firm basis in canon. They may be deviating from canonical events, but they are still rooted in canon and canon has a definite influence on what happens.
Character development and character verisimilitude are, perhaps, what I care about and pay attention to the most in my fanfiction. It is absolutely, utterly, vitally important to me that I get the characters right. If I don't, or if I feel I don't, then nine times out of ten I will either stop writing or rip up the whole thing and start over again. Even if the fic is AU and even if the characters act in ways they might not necessarily in canon, it has to be believable or it doesn't work for me as an author. What's essential is that they maintain their personalities and ways of being even when they are in situations that canon hasn't thought of. So, for instance, if I'm writing Obidala, Obi-Wan still has to be a Jedi who follows the Code to the best of his ability and who is uncomfortable with the idea of romantic love. Padmé still has to be a Senator who is dedicated above all to duty and who places her professional life above her personal concerns. When I write Battlestar Galactica Lee still has to be obsessed with following rules and as uptight as he is in canon. Kara still has to be the wildcard who doesn't let anybody get too close to her.
I've already talked a little about new and unexplored points of view, so for now I'll just add this. One could never mistake Kara for an "unexplored point of view" simply because she's one of the most popular characters in BSG fandom. But Padmé is a different kettle of fish entirely. We just don't know very much about her - at least in comparison to what we've heard about SW characters such as Anakin and Obi-Wan. And while I do occasionally get up on my high horse and rant about this, on the whole I think it's rather fun that so much about Padmé is up in the air. It certainly widens the potential for fanfiction by a huge margin, and it moves lots of stuff out of the "AU" column and into the "speculative" column. That's part of the reason why I like writing about her, anyway, and I've heard others express similar opinions before.
5) What is the most important element when you read a fic? (the idea behind the story, canoniscity, believable and recognizable characters and personalities from canon, an unusual or unique plot, plot-pacing and development)
Again, I would say all of the above have to apply, but particularly the parts about believable characters and character development. The fic doesn't necessarily have to have an unusual plot - I'm a firm believer in the idea that different authors bring different things to the same plot, and that often fresh and new perspectives can be gleaned from the usage of something that was previously thought to be a cliché - but the characters absolutely must be true to canon and believable. If Obi-Wan is going to fall in love with Padmé, you have to make me believe in that concept, make me believe that it is in fact realistic and could happen. And I'm one of the most ardent Obidala OTPers around! Same goes for other pairings. If you can make me believe that the pairing can work, more power to you, I say! But you must be able to make me believe that, or else I'll have great difficulty with the fic.
6) What would make you stop reading a story?
Well, by now you must be able to guess that characterization is pretty important to me. ;) Obviously if the characters aren't realistic and believable, I'll lose interest pretty quickly. I may not stop reading the story, but I will spend the rest of it muttering to myself about how the author really should've watched Star Wars (or whatever) before beginning to write. And you don't want me to mutter through your fic. Trust me. XD Also, sloppy spelling and/or grammar will turn me off right away, as will chatspeak, lack of paragraph breaks and fics WrItTeN lIkE tHiS. Asthetics do count - it's common courtesy, basically - and I'm unlikely to finish a fic if it hurts my eyes or gives me a migraine.
7) What were the qualities of the best fic(s) you've read? (as in, what made it your favourite fic?)
If the author is able to make an unrealistic situation seem totally realistic or most particularly if they are able to make me believe in the characters as real people, they will have done their job and earned my respect. The best fics make me think, make me laugh and make me see new aspects of the characters that I might not have noticed before.
8) Your perspective on the role/importance of invention in a fic? How is it best to integrate it into a fanfiction context?
The fic absolutely has to add something new to canon. But neither does that mean it should ignore canon altogether. As I've already noted, there is a fine line between interpreting canon events through your own lens, thereby bringing heretofor unseen qualities about those events and the characters to the surface, and actually tossing canon in the trash can completely just so you can get your favourite couple into bed with each other. The latter is not something that will earn you my respect, because although I enjoy my smut as much as the next Average Jane - and probably more, when it comes to Lee/Kara - it has to be believable smut. Oxymoron? Maybe. But as I said, if you do have to throw canon away for the sake of getting Obi-Wan and Padmé or Lee and Kara together, there might be a problem.
9) Your perspective on the role/importance of imitation in a fic? How is it best to integrate it into a fanfiction context?
I've also talked about this already - the fact that canon must be respected. So, in the interest of not abusing expired equines, I'll say that if you're just regurgitating canon word-for-word, you've got a problem there too! That's called plagiarism, and it's also called you'll have a pack of lawyers after you trying to sue your ass off. The whole reason that fanfiction is permitted by most canonical creators is because fanfic does in fact bring new things to canon - in other words, it's not just plain old copying. A lot of what I do with TIS is to work with canonical scenes and even dialogue, but they are always, always interpreted through the lens of what would happen if Obi-Wan and Padmé were in love with each other. And often, many scenes and dialogue do change, or can be seen in brand-new ways with brand-new levels of meaning. I integrate canon because I don't want to ignore it completely, but I interpret it differently.
10) Where do you think the balance lies between invention and imitation in fanfiction? Is one more important than the other, and should therefore be given greater emphasis? Is personal style just as or more important than something sounding like part of canon?
Bottom line: the two must be about equal. That's the point I've been trying to drive home through all of these questions, that so long as there is equal parts respect for canon and the interpretation of that canon through a fresh and different perspective, the fic is on the right track. I'm obsessive about interpretation and I realize this, but that's only because there's so many different ways of interpreting so many things and I am fascinated by that fact. (Sometime I'll have to post my Kara playlist and demonstrate to you guys how I have interpreted all but one of the songs on Annie Lennox's Songs of Mass Destruction album in a BSG context, but I digress.) Everyone brings their own personal style to fanfiction, for better or worse, and it is only through a good familiarity with canon and a healthy dose of contemplation that you can bring your own opinions through. That's what I strive for in my fics, and I want to stress that I am definitely still learning. But this is the overall goal for me, and the really good fanfiction writers that I read also share that goal whether they understand it or not.