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From Thestar.com


Television’s afterlife (angel mention)

By Malene Arpe

Saturday 22 May 2004, by Webmaster

In the world of fan fiction, great TV and movie characters never die. They just get new scripts

Clark Kent is a junkie.

Xena and Gabrielle are living happily together with their three children. Sometimes Hercules drops by for dinner.

Mulder is still looking for the truth. Out there.

Buffy has been resurrected on a space station some 300 years in the future.

Nick Knight is shopping for new handcuffs.

Vincent mourns Catherine who has been magically transported to a different world, away from the tunnels.

Frasier finally tells Roz that he loves her, but could it be too late?

The past television season saw the cancellation of a high number of favourites, including Friends, Angel, Sex And The City, Frasier, The Practice, Tarzan, Ed and Jake 2.0. This left fans in mourning for their weekly fix of heroics, beefcake, deceitful lawyering, superhero-ness, nookie and jokes. As good scripted television gets swallowed by "reality," it becomes increasingly difficult to let go of the few shows you really like.

When a show dies it’s comforting to know that, just a click away, in the world of Internet fan fiction, many of the compelling characters continue to have long lives, great adventures and, at times, wild monkey sex of the kind not allowed on television.

A taste of fan fiction Making no money from his or her writing, a fan fiction writer is a hybrid of pure storyteller and creative borrower. There are thousands of these more or less anonymous writers on the Internet - although there is no way of knowing precisely how many there are out there, even for a particular show.

Fan fiction, a.k.a. "fanfic," is the practice of writing stories based on characters and storylines created by someone else. Fan "ficcers" use movies, books, comics, cartoons, video games, sometimes the "real" lives of celebrities and, most of all, television shows as inspiration for their own tales.

Some writers set their stories during the run of the show - sometimes filling in the blanks, sometimes taking a certain episode in a completely different direction; others will start off where the show stopped in a "further-adventures-of" mode. Other modes of fan expression include creating music videos and visual art.

"I love it. I absolutely love it. I wish I had grown up in the era of fan fiction, because I was living those shows and those movies that I loved and I would put on the score to Superman and just relive the movie over and over," says Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, when asked how he feels about his shows living on in the fanfic community.

"I think it’s kind of a glorious thing to be able to be carrying the torch. That’s why I made these shows. I didn’t make them so that people would enjoy them and forget them; I made them so they would never be able to shake them. It’s the way I am as a fan. I create the shows that would make me do that."

Fanfic will usually be rated to warn readers of content that may offend. Some stories are set in alternative universes (transporting, for example, the entire cast of Babylon 5 to England, ca. 1750); some are erotic, including the popular "slash" category, which imagines male/male and, increasingly, female/female relationships between characters who don’t necessarily have such relationships on the source shows.

Fan fiction at its best exhibits the qualities of "original" prose: strong characters, inventive plotting and fine pacing, with the added value of being a fan’s methadone, both in between episodes and when the show is gone.

Methadone that sometimes gives you a high as good as the real thing.

There’s evidence fanfic started in the ’30s with writers using characters in pulp fiction novels as templates for their personal creations, but it was the original Star Trek series (1966-67) that more than any other show sparked the imagination of closeted writers who shared their stories via mimeographed newsletters.

Star Trek was also famously the first show that, when its cancellation was announced, sparked an outpouring of fan grief and support.

Through the ’70s and ’80s fanfic writers - writing stories based on shows such as Dr. Who and the Star Wars movies - exchanged fanzines and photocopies of their stories.

Then the Internet happened and writing that had up until then been passed around from fan to fan found a potentially unlimited audience.

But it’s one thing to sit down and read a story in order to alleviate withdrawal symptoms once a show has gone off the air; it’s quite another to spend large chunks of your life (some ficcers report spending three or four hours every day) writing tales that can never be published in the traditional way.

"I swear, when the idea came to me I thought I’d invented it. No kidding - I remember ... suddenly realizing that if I wanted more Star Trek adventures, maybe I could write them myself. I still recall that thrill of inspiration, as if I’d stumbled upon some great secret of the universe or something," says Nicole Clevenger, 26, via e-mail from San Francisco.

"Once I got to college and got online, I realized that a lot of other people were doing this thing too, that there was a name for it."

Clevenger (at tinyurl.com- /2w2zd) now writes about the much-loved, short-lived Whedon sci-fi western Firefly. She feels she’s helping keep the show alive.

"There’s a definite fan base out there and they’re hungry for new adventures and development. If readers think that my stories are enjoyable and true to the show, then I’m giving them a little more of what they want to see on the screen but can’t."

Bardsmaid is a pseudonym for a 54-year-old California woman who writes stories about the X-Files characters. (Many fan fiction writers prefer not to put their own names to their stories; as one British woman says: "I don’t want to give you my real name for use in any article, because I’m an academic - university professor ... and I don’t want this little hobby known more widely than it already is.")

Bardsmaid (tinyurl.com- /2se6h) started writing her stories in response to what happened during the sixth season of her favourite show.

"Mulder and Scully were taken off the X-Files, after which the show quickly led us through a series of fantasy episodes. I couldn’t help thinking that since the X-Files had been Mulder’s life, not just his job, that he’d certainly be impacted very strongly emotionally from this turn of events, and yet the show gave us no real evidence of this," she says.

"So eventually this whole idea, of waiting to see the emotional impact of divestiture - and not seeing any - got to me, and one night I sat down and figured I’d try exploring the topic for a few pages and get it out of my system. After all, how long could it take?" A very long time, as it turned out. She’s still at work on a trilogy that’s currently sitting at 1,100 pages.

Bardsmaid, like most serious fanfic writers, uses a volunteer editor, or as it’s known in the community, a "beta" or "beta reader."

"Actually, I like to use more than one, and an assortment of more casual readers, because each one brings a unique perspective and notices something nobody else did. The discussions, about both characters and writing, that I’ve gotten into with betas or other readers have been one of the greatest rewards of writing fanfic."

When devoted fans of a defunct show go looking for stories about their favourite characters, they want tales that ring true. While a lot of what’s available (a quick Google of "fan fiction" nets more than a million results) manages to nail the exact tenor of a show or a particular character, there’s also an awful lot of swill. Finding that "true" voice is key.

"One thing many fic writers will say is that they write fic because they don’t have to create their own characters - that that part is already done for them," Bardsmaid says. "But to me, the most difficult thing about writing fanfic, and something the `original’ writer never has to deal with, is the fact that your readership already knows your characters intimately. The hardest thing about writing fic is getting the characterizations just right."

But what of that "original" writer? How does he feel about having his ideas and thoughts used by others? Ronald D. Moore has written for and produced Roswell, Star Trek (Voyager and Deep Space Nine), Battlestar Galactica (he’s now working on the new B.G. series), Touching Evil and Carnivale. Like Whedon, Moore has nothing but praise.

"I think it’s great. I think it’s an expression of people’s love and affection for a show. The fact that people would take the time to sit down and write entire storylines, wrapped around back story and characters that are established, do elaborate plots and write serials, it’s a remarkable tribute to the appeal of those shows," he says.

George Lucas (Star Wars) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) are famously no fans of fans’ creations, partially because of copyright infringement issues, but also because some of the stories tend to stray outside the lines of wholesomeness. Moore, who does not look at fan fiction about his own shows to avoid inadvertently borrowing story ideas, dismisses such concerns.

"I think that’s just something you have to accept. If people want to take Star Wars characters and parody them and turn them into adult situations or play a more mature realistic or pornographic version of Star Wars, I think that’s all fair use. Why not? Let people go do what they want with the material, as long as they don’t sell it. There’s no way anybody on God’s green earth is going to look at anything the fans have done and think that George Lucas put it out or that it had any actual impact on the franchise."

Most ficcers stick to one show or fandom. While they may profess to be fans of an array of shows, there has to be a special connection for the prose to start flowing, and to continue writing after the show is long gone.

Yvonne Connell (http://www.lcfanfic.com) writes exclusively about the series Lois & Clark, cancelled abruptly after four seasons. The 43-year-old Brit is a fan of X-Files and Star Trek as well, but she has "never felt moved to write fanfic for them. I think that’s probably because I only discovered fanfic through L&C, which I began to watch pretty much after my big interest in the other two had tailed off ... As it is, I still enjoy watching (Star Trek) and X-Files, and read X-Files fanfic, but just don’t feel the need to write anything myself."

"I honestly don’t think I’ve ever loved another show as much as Buffy and Angel," says Oklahoma’s Jean Cousins, 31, who only uses characters from Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse in her stories. "Past shows that have come close include Firefly, Farscape, The X-Files and Lois & Clark. I think the reason I never felt compelled to write fanfic about those shows was because I pretty much got what I wanted from them. . . . But Joss Whedon has that whole `don’t give them what they want, give them what they need’ philosophy and he never lets his characters really be happy."

Like countless other fanfic writers, Cousins (randomthought.addr.com/redemptionista/) continues telling stories of the characters she loves.

"I do think fan fiction helps to fill the void left behind in the absence of new episodes. For me, there is no substitute for getting to watch the show. But reading and writing fan fiction does keep the characters alive, and keeps us from having to say goodbye."

2 Forum messages

  • > Television’s afterlife (angel mention)

    24 May 2004 02:33, by Anonymous
    as a fanfic writer and reader I think that was a verry... cool article. I can’t help but wonder why some authors don’t like fanfics, I think I would have to consider soemthing like that one of the biggest compliments I could get. To make such a great charecter that people want it to live on beyond what the writers dose is just mindblowing.
  • This lovely article reminded me why I love fanfic so very much. Being quoted in it myself (though never having actually read it), I was thrilled to come across it - a wonderful tribute to the subculture.