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Submitted on
August 9, 2012


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I'm not exactly sure why there appears to be such a warzone where characters are concerned.  Maybe it's just because I don't swim in the soup of fandom or fanfiction (and in a roleplay sense, have only returned recently), but I guess I just find the whole thing entirely baffling.  Roleplay and fanfiction become these massive tiers of Serious Business that are destructive to the creative process. They stagnate and shame while simultaneously churning out high emotion, all the while distracting anyone who wants to learn from shit that will actually be useful to them if they want to write.

I feel the need to give a disclaimer that A) I think fandoms can be incredibly stupid even at their best, B) fanfiction that is "not horribly written" is usually being labeled as such by people who don't and can't know better because their point of reference and experiences are so lacking, and C) even as a writer, I don't understand how character becomes such Serious Business.

I suspect in part it's due to so many youngsters on this site searching for a sense of identity, and things like roleplay and fanfiction allow exploration of other identities. In a sense, we can see what it's like to be someone else and if we like it or not. But I think the big disconnect, especially when it comes to being a good writer, comes from when there are no repercussions in the world the character inhabits. If the rule becomes "My character, in character, right or wrong", this threatens everything and eclipses a fundamental element in character: growth.

I role-played a lot when I was younger, and found it to be one of the best things a young writer can do to explore character.  But roleplay taught me how to have characters that deferred to power (which translates to deferring to plot) and deferred to other characters (which translates to character arc or growth), two things that you absolutely have to understand and grasp in order to write a good story. If you have characters that never suffer setbacks, disappointments, challenges to their worldviews and preconceptions, or what have you, you're on a one way track to disappointing your reader. I was very lucky as a teen to have a roleplay group made up of people who wanted to be actors, and understood that the first rule of improv is the first rule of the creative process "Say yes."

Say yes to tension, say yes to your character being pushed around, being in the wrong, being unfair, humiliated, defied, and denied. Say yes to struggle, to difficulty, to being cruel, to being sorry, to bad ideas, stupid mistakes, and apologies. Say yes to the character hurting and being hurt, say yes to growth, to driving your character beyond their capacities. If you can't say yes to these things happening in roleplay or in fanfiction: you are wasting your time. You will never write convincing, sympathetic characters.

And maybe that's another point of disconnect: the reader is all that matters in writing.  In fanfiction, that should be the rule, but it rarely is. And most writing suffers for it, either because the "My character, in character, right or wrong" terrifies anyone who might want to write that character (how many flame wars in fanfic communities start because Sonic was OOC?) In roleplay, too often social rules get in the way, and it becomes a contest of whose character can posture the most  Ultimately,  "getting a character right" means that you check off the requisite boxes to make sure you get the character's so-called details right. Which is not as important as "characterizing": making sure your reader gives a shit. Your OC and your ego do not matter in writing. I always approach things from the point of "How can this character win over a reader? How can they still be sympathetic even though he/she is doing bad, selfish things? How can they be hurt and learn from that hurt?"  I have to wonder what the thought process for others is. It must be like "How can I look the most awesome? How can my character come across as the coolest guy ever? How can I posture better than my roleplaying partners or that idiot who wrote that fanfiction that portrayed Link so bad?"

I mean, for starters, for all the screaming about not stealing characters, no one blinks at stealing a copywritten character. I think I saw a stamp that was like "All fan characters are original characters!" and it was like "You poor, deluded bastard." I take issue with the standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants problem inherent to fanfiction, but I've already ranted about that. I will say that fanfiction tends to cripple character as an element, either because it offers a colorful candy shell for the less confident to convince themselves that their ideas don't suck, or because the fandom as a whole wants more of what was in the video game, movie, TV show, or book and doesn't want to see any originality outside of that. (Or an extremely limited amount of originality, hence my use of the term 'crippling'.) This comes back to "My character, in character, right or wrong", which falsely expostulates that it is more important that a character be "true" or "pure' rather than make a journey.

Playing around in someone else's world is sort of a grey area, but that brings me to what I cannot understand. If you're writing in someone else's literary world to learn how to write: stop it. Make your own world and learn how to convey its rules; stop leaning on the collective consciousness of a fandom. You're better off, just trust me on that, and better you start early.

If you're playing around to explore character, as any decent roleplayer should, than remember the golden rule of role-play: it's a freaking game. Awesome or idiotic, at the end of the day, you've got a roleplay post to show for it. Your roleplay character is no more important than a character in a book. They're simply efforts at expression and communication. If your character is bad at expression or communication, they should suffer the slings and arrows inherent to that. Don't real people suffer them in Real Life? Don't you think that makes them sympathetic to a reader who knows that selfsame suffering? Good roleplay drives a character to explore what will make them break and rebuild. (I also don't understand how it's okay to write about Harry Potter's eighth adventure or roleplay in Tolkien's world, but if people steal your theft, you're going to flip your lid.)

Maybe for some it's identity theft. I guess that's about the only way I can explain it. Most teenagers are searching for identities. People using character as a coping mechanism will shoot you in the face, and since most of them around here are angsty teens in the first place … they're probably coping. I guess I'm just astonished at the length people will go to assert their right to be unoriginal power-players, which serves as a direct counterpoint to the fervor with which they will go after someone else for being unoriginal or a power player.

Perhaps most of all, this definition distorts the purpose of good character so badly I'd be hard pressed to articulate it. (I'm kind of all over the place with this entry, in case you haven't noticed.) Character is not something you use to tell the world how great you are. When that happens, you get crappy story and probably accusations of either Mary Sueism or of soapboxing on an issue. Character is not gold to be hoarded by you, in order for you to say "I did it!  I made it!  It's all mine and you can't have it!" Character is something meant to be shared with others. Characters inhabit psychological and mythological archetypes in order to teach. Character is not something meant to be immovable or uncompromising. Character is more than the sum of its parts: not a collection of idiosyncrasies like collecting toast and kittens, and god help you if the character isn't collecting toast and kittens every time they show up. At its heart character is story and struggle, and struggle is more important than whether the character says or does the "right" thing in the "My character, in character, right or wrong" rule.

And ultimately, character is unique. No amount of theft changes that. No one can write Harry Potter like Rowling did. He's hers, and he can never be taken from her. God knows there are enough fanfic writers out there who have tried. The person "stealing" your totally awesome character can't steal the experiences that you've breathed into them. Your STRUGGLE. Your viewpoint is (one hopes) entirely unique. The story you tell will be yours and yours alone, should you ever get around to writing it.

Whether it'll be any good, or a story worth the telling is something entirely different.
  • Mood: Confused
  • Listening to: Savior - Rise Against
  • Reading: Fear
  • Playing: `
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Chibimita Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2014  Student General Artist
So, fanfictions is tool, used wrong very often by immature beings who have no clue.
Droemar Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2014
I'd say that's pretty accurate!
Bunni89 Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Haha, from the title I thought this was gonna be about people who can't stop making a million original characters.
...noone shares my pain.
Back on topic, I just cannot understand people who think like this. It really seems to be part of the fanchar mindset, since I used to be pretty pissy and awkward back when I actually used to make them instead of my own stuff. Luckily I grew out of it by the time I was 13!
It's a total mess cos bad fancharacters always end up either so frighteningly unoriginal that its no wonder there's a million similar ones, or so offtopic that there wasn't any point even making them a fanchar. (I always seethe when I see someone with a good idea that entirely rewrites the rules of Naruto or whatever, and is going to waste because the creator can't be bothered to actually write thier OWN story. Someone who's Harry Potter's secret twin who somehow has a giant robot is just nonsensical and shows a disregard for the original universe- a new story about some giant robot guy would be much better.)
In any case no idea is completely original and whether people like them all depends on the quality of their personality and story rather than the concept itself. *sigh*
DasTenna Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
" The story you tell will be yours and yours alone, should you ever get around to writing it. Whether it'll be any good, or a story worth the telling is something entirely different."

What a dramatic end of a furious and splendid speech.
Those phrases (or is sentences the better expression?) are applicable. And thatīs exactly my dilemma. I KNOW that my stories (once created in my own worlds and away from just being X-Men- or Elfquest-ripoffīs) are my own creations. But I DOUBT that they are worth being published. I fear that nobody wants to read them. Well, guess Iīll never know if I donīt try, right? "Say yes." may as well be translated into "Just try!"
DasTenna Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2012
"Playing around in someone else's world is sort of a grey area, but that brings me to what I cannot understand. If you're writing in someone else's literary world to learn how to write: stop it. Make your own world and learn how to convey its rules; stop leaning on the collective consciousness of a fandom."

And thatīs exactly what most mainstream authors in the American comic book industry (I talk about Marvel and DC Comics, Disney, etc.) have to do: Writing stories about characters they didnīt invent, living and acting in worlds they didnīt construct. I would find it difficult, especially because there are so many story lines from decades ago a new author can never have an overview of. Nobody can know every detail unless they created that world themselves.
The reason why Watchmen worked out so great was because Alan Moore decided to create a own world for the story instead of using the Charlton Comics characters the story was meant for in first place.
CPA6982 Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2012
"Playing around in someone else's world is sort of a grey area, but that brings me to what I cannot understand. If you're writing in someone else's literary world to learn how to write: stop it. Make your own world and learn how to convey its rules; stop leaning on the collective consciousness of a fandom. You're better off, just trust me on that, and better you start early. "

That is pretty much the reason why I stopped writing fanfiction and go for a novel of my own. I'm happy I make this decision and I haven't look back ever since. :-)
mazzy713 Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2012  Student Digital Artist
I've never been a fan of fan fiction in all honesty. To me, I never liked the idea of reading, say, a "Harry potter" fan-fiction. It just isn't the same as reading Harry Potter. Sure, I can try to see it as good writing practice maybe, but like you said, I agree that people should just go out there and create there own stories, rather than just keep regurgitating old characters and morph them into something unrecognisable.
Arhasen Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow... I will need to read and muse upon this more. :)
3v1l73ddy Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2012  Student General Artist
I can’t say exactly whether or not I agree or disagree with you on this entry. I have read very few fan fictions and if it has copious amounts of bad spelling, grammar or character interpretation I don’t read it. I don’t know that that third point is too set in stone though, if the character does out of character acts in a way that is believable to the interpretation presented in that fan fiction and is written well then certainly I will read it. Unfortunately I do not consider fan fiction reading to be a particularly good use of time; even so I have read John Marsden’s Hamlet and enjoyed it quite a lot. As well as this I have read and watched Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton, Linda Woolverton and T.T. Sutherland (Tim Burton directed, Linda wrote the screenplay and T.T. adapted the movie into novel form) and am currently reading Alice in Zombieland by Lewis Caroll and Nickolas Cook. These are all fan fictions (at least to my knowledge of the definition of the phrase fan fiction) and yet I enjoyed reading them and would probably read them again (although with Zombieland I feel like I have already read it as it is basically Lewis Caroll’s original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with blood and dead things in place of the more innocent characters the original had).
As for roleplaying I have done very little of this due to the fact that the time when most people roleplay is the time I am tucked up in bed and by the time I get back during the day no one is online. During the short period where my ex-girlfriend told me to roleplay on a forum I had a lot of trouble with finding roleplays I wanted to be a part of. One of the things I noticed was that not very many people actually put effort into creating a unique and attractive character; they either stole a character, pretending it was completely different because they gave it a different name or they didn’t know the original character or used the image of an already created character put a personality to them that didn’t suit but gave them similar if not same names to the original saying that it was their character. What pissed me off as an artist was that people who provided images never provided ones which they actually drew, they always provided images of actors or anime characters and stole from an artist who worked hard on their character and butchered it. They are on there as writers and character is important, if you can’t draw then describe the character in a detailed manner, if you can’t do this then you shouldn’t be on there, if you’re on to learn more about character development and writing, try your hand at doing what I believe all authors should be brilliant at doing; bringing a character to life within someone’s mind through the use of words. I never liked the idea of Kingdom Hearts roleplays or Warriors roleplays or Lord of the Rings roleplays etc. Because it meant you were taking the lazy route and using a character from someone else’s dreams and like before, butchering them. I have tried my hand at fanfiction before, but I never got much into it because it restricted me so much. I have had a lot of trouble with writing and this is mainly due to characters, so I can see the appeal of writing someone else’s character and letting your fanish mind find the light but I don’t believe that this is very proper. If you can’t write for your own characters how in the world are you meant to write for someone else’s? Again thank you for an inspiring journal entry, I should really start actually reading your works ^^’.
lantairvlea Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Because I don't have the time to say much else: Amen!

With regards to character theft it seems that those doing it themselves appear to scream loudest about the content being all theirs.
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