Sunday, July 27, 2008

Either Fanfiction Or Books

Poor Nadia. Fifteen, and because of some connection or other, she gets to be the spokesperson of her generation: Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? from The New York Times.

Ah, so much to discuss and to rant about! Go, read it, share your thoughts. In light of the program Carlie and I will give at the YA Lit Symposium, I was particularly drawn to what fanfiction reader/writer Nadia had to say.

But first, on the online v book situation; much like tv v book, I don't think it is an either/or, better/worse situation. I will say this: since I've begun to have trouble with my eyes, I have found it physically easier to read some things, like The New York Times, online instead of in print. Which makes me believe all the more that we cannot assume things about the content of online reading. Am I less of a reader because I read the New York Times only online? No.

And I see value in traditional books, and storytelling, and the enjoyment they can give. As always, I want my cake and to eat it to; I want balance. Books and computers; not exclusive. And there is no doubt that we will see some amazing storytelling in the years to come, due to the technology available for storytelling.

But back to Nadia. Here is the money quote from the article: Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. “No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said.

I am so, so, so, thankful that most of my knowitall stupid statements and beliefs I had at 15 were not shared in national newspapers to haunt me all my days. (Note to self: start shredding all high school journals and letters.) I picture Nadia in an English class in five years and someone throwing that up at her.

See, one of Nadia's joys in fanfiction. Which I understand. But fanfiction reading and writing meets different needs; and you cannot substitute one for the other, saying it's either reading fanfiction OR reading books. It's not sitting down and saying, hm, I will either read Catcher in the Rye or search out a Numb3rs/Veronica Mars crossover. And it's entirely possible to read and enjoy both.

Fanfiction existed before the Internet. So it's entirely possible Nadia would be writing it even without the computer. What she wouldn't have is the community that the Internet brings; something skipped over in the article.

Fanfiction is more than poor grammar and spelling. Perhaps all Nadia reads is bad fanfiction (Many of them have elliptical plots and are sprinkled with spelling and grammatical errors. One of her recent favorites was “My absolutely, perfect normal life ... ARE YOU CRAZY? NOT!,” a story based on the anime series “Beyblade.” In one scene the narrator, Aries, hitches a ride with some masked men and one of them pulls a knife on her. “Just then I notice (Like finally) something sharp right in front of me,” Aries writes. “I gladly took it just like that until something terrible happen ....”) But fanfiction has many beta (editing) communities that are online so that fanfiction can be extremely professional (and better copyedited than some books. (Hey, what book/tvshow/anime manga is Nadia's MarySue original story based on? Anyone?)

Nadia's dreams of moving from fanfiction to traditional publishing is not unfounded; look at Cassandra Clare (writing books) and Mere Smith (writing/producing TV shows). But good fanfic writers are, well, good writers. They pay attention to spelling, grammar, etc. And one way to become a good writer? Well, as the NYT article says, you learn by what you read. Nadia needs to seek out quality stuff to read -- both within fanfiction and within books.

OK, final point of the rant. Major fail on readers advisory to take Nadia's first "omygodlovedthisbook", a Holocaust memoir, and follow it up with a fantasy. No wonder she went back to fanfic.

Edited to add: In looking at some of the blog discussion about this article, I found To Read or Not to Read at I Could which does a great job with the readers advisory aspect.


Michele said...

Last weekend I beta-read (and edited) 10 fanfiction stories in the space of three days) - two of them over 25 pages in Word. It's true, there's some badly edited stories out there, but there are those of us who care enough about our fandom to do something about that situation.

With regard to fanfic writers who've gone on to be published authors, two spring to mind in my own fandom: Keith de Candido and Paul Cornell. Paul, in fact, is one of those amazingly talented people who writes TV episodes (including for Doctor Who where he started his fanfic career), novels (both in his fandoms and outside them), and comics. If anyone needs a good example of how writing fanfic isn't a dead-end pursuit, Paul Cornell's the best living example I know!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Sarah Marie Brennan -- Maya is her fanfic name I think -- who is beloved by the fanfic community (which I didn't know when I first learned of her book deal).

I read this article too and I also think they're making a crucial error when they omit the community aspect of the online experience.

And I'm 100% behind you in agreeing that fanfiction and reading traditional books are not mutually exclusive. It's two entirely different sorts of entertainment, to my way of thinking. Also, who's to say that those kids who are reading fanfiction now would've been traditional readers if fanfic hadn't existed?

My first gut reaction was to wholeheartedly support the article -- but really all it's doing is playing off traditional readers' deepest fears without really proving its case.

Anonymous said...

I have to correct myself -- it's Sarah Rees Brennan -- my brain was totally crosswired for that one with Marie Brennan!

Nina said...

What's with the implication that you can't have it both ways, anyway? I avidly read books, but I've read through more stories than I can count on (a branch of If you look hard enough, there's some really excellent writing to find online.

lili said...


Sarah Rees Brennan writes Harry Potter better than JK Rowling does (and her fanfic is certainly better EDITED than some of the later HP books in regards to adverbs and waffle).

My favourite bit of the NYT article was this bit:

“Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”

Neither does watching TV/ getting some fresh air and exercise/ eating leafy vegetables/ being good to your mother. BECAUSE THEY ARE DIFFERENT THINGS.

I am so sick of the media always simplifying these issues into either/or polarities. grr.

Anonymous said...

I agree! :) I read
on everyday
and there are some stories
that absolutely blow me
away - and I can't help
but wonder why publishers
just won't pick them up?
like 'K for Catcher' by
Talyn Gray or 'Eulogies and
Post It Notes Can Change the
World!' by Imaginary Parachute.
I'd just thought that I should
add that link, for anyone who'd
like to read amazing stories
online, can! :)