azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 11:14am on 14/04/2007 under ,
This arises from a discussion over on [ profile] liviapenn's journal and continued on [ profile] alixtii's. In the interests of full disclosure, I shall reveal that it is based on a theory from cognitive psychology called Prototype Theory, which argues that most categories are non-essentialist (ie. there is not a list of necessary and sufficient characteristics that will separate all and only members of the category from everything else in the world). Categories have fuzzy boundaries (ie. it’s not clear where some things stop being members of the category and start becoming something else) and are organised around “best examples” (known as prototypes, hence the name of the theory). The basic idea is thus that central members of a category exhibit a set of characteristics that everyone agrees are typical for a member of that category (so birds, for instance, have feathers, fly, sing, lay eggs, and are small enough to fit in your hand), whereas less central category members lack some of these characteristics (penguins and emus don’t fly, emus and turkeys don’t fit in the palm of your hand, ducks don’t sing – but they’re all still birds). In fact, less central members may have no characteristics in common with each other at all, but will still share some characteristics with prototypical members. Prototype theory arises from Wittgenstein’s theory of categorisation as a matter of “family resemblances” as alluded to by [ profile] alixtii, in which members of a family as a whole have physical features in common, but individual members of the family may not. So Uncle Fred has blue eyes, blond hair and pigeon toes; I have pigeon toes and red hair and green eyes, and my sister has red hair, green eyes and perfect feet. She shares no single identifying characteristic with Uncle Fred, but both of them share characteristics with me, and within the family as a whole both red and blond hair, green and blue eyes, and pigeon toes are common, but the distribution within individuals differs). One of the linguistic tests for whether something is a central category member or more of a marginal member is how far it is substitutable for the superordinate term. Thus in the sentence “Twenty or so birds twitter on the telegraph poles outside my window every morning” the words “robins, thrushes, sparrows” can be substitued for “birds”, but “duck, turkey, eagle, penguin” can’t (or at least not without causing surprise). And so it is with fanfic. I would argue that there is a list of prototypical characteristics that central members of the category “fanfic” display, such that everyone would recognise them as fanfic. And I suspect the “conceptual analysis” discussion is more about people proposing central characteristics than saying this particular characteristic alone is sufficient and necessary to define fanfic. So what might these central characteristics be? I propose the following list, which is emphatically not given in order of significance ( and always bearing in mind that less central examples of “fanfic” may exhibit no more than one of these characteristics):

1. It is not written for publication
2. It is derivative
3. It is about a media product
4. It is a written text
5. It explores emotional/sexual relationships in greater depth than in the original source
6. It hits a kink
7. It utilises certain tropes (hurt/comfort, cavefic, aliens made us do it, soulmates)
8. It utilises certain stylistic features (this one is bound to be controversial, but it’s not difficult to come up with a list of classic fanfic stylistic features, such as the use of epithets, which explains why it’s possible to say that The Da Vinci Code “reads like fanfic”)
9. It is written by fans for other fans (if it is drawerfic, the imaginary readership is still fans of the source and not general readers)
10. It is character-centric

If we look at the outliers, we see that R&G [ETA: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead]is a derivative written text about a media product while anthropomorfics are not written for publication and utilise certain recognisably fanifccish tropes (actually, it would be possible to argue that anthropomorfics are pastiches of fanfic in general, or that their source text is fanfic as a whole, but I digress). Note that there is an overlap with things like fanvids, which brush the very edges of the category (they’re not written, but they have a number of other characteristics in common with fanfic), which leads us into the theoretical waters of semantics. The salience of the central characteristics is affected by what other categories you are contrasting things with – “written” becomes most salient when contrasting fanvids with fanfic, “not for publication” when considering media tie-ins, “by fans for fans” when considering R&G. In fact, as [ profile] sallymn pointed out, any film or TV (or radio) adaptation is derivative and therefore doesn’t contrast with fanfic on this dimension; and the same is true of a remake of a film or a TV series. If “derivative” is taken as the sole defining criterion of fanfic, then all these things have to be included; only by considering other typical features of fanfic can we consider the ways in which such things are not like fanfic.
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 07:17pm on 24/09/2006 under ,

Thanks to [ profile] grondfic I spent some time today following links to all things Wimsical and found this description of an unfinished piece of Wimseyfic by, of all people, Stephen King. And it got me thinking in more depth about the relationship of fanfic to source texts (though purely in a concrete – how does King differ from Sayers? – rather than an abstract sense).
Read more... )
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 03:24pm on 14/07/2005 under
I know I've missed the boat on this, but I've been away for a while and come back to the very tail end of the fanfic vs profic debate, and I cannot resist sticking my oar in on one tiny point. Over and over again I've read the claim that "Shakespeare wrote fanfic". People, he didn't. I don't care if he based some of his plays on historical or even literary works by other writers, because the important part of the word fanfic is not the "fic" it's the "fan". Drawing inspiration from other works isn't enough to make something fanfic. The crucial factor is that fanfic is written by fans for other fans – by and for people with a deep, perhaps even abiding, love for a created world or character(s). And that world, those characters, are recognisable to the reader. Fanfic draws on shared knowledge – it may subvert that knowledge, in the form of an AU or a missing scene or a reinterpretation of canonical events, but it doesn't work as fanfic without that shared knowledge. Please note that this says nothing about the quality of the writing, either of fanfic or of non-fanfic, but it does have a profound impact on form, because in fanfic the shared knowledge is left out – has to be left out, because who would bother to wade through a piece that tells you in detail who all the characters are? But Shakespeare doesn't assume that shared knowledge, let alone that shared affection for particular characters in his plays. Audiences didn't go to watch Macbeth because they'd loved Macbeth in Holinshed so much – hell, they didn't even go to see Henry V because they admired him as a historical figure. They went - hmm, Macbeth probably isn't such a stunningly good example here - because experience told them that Shakespeare could make a thunderingly good play out of the material. Drawing from other sources doesn't make a work fanfic, what makes it fanfic is the fannish element (for this reason I would also question whether even something like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead counts as fanfic, even though it uses characters that were created by someone else, – you don't got to see RaGaD because you love R&G so much that you want to imagine more about their lives, but because of the witty way Stoppard uses well-known minor characters to address certain philosophical issues. And the fact that they're minor is important here – lots of people have fallen in love with Hamlet, no-one ever thought much about R&G before Stoppard put them centre stage).
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 11:19am on 08/09/2004 under
I've been following the plagiarism crisis over on [ profile] spiketara with a sort of appalled fascination. I know it seems bizarre that a person should be so desperate for attention and praise that they're prepared to pass someone else's story off as their own in order to gain it, but there are some awfully needy people out there. I've known two people with Munchhausen's syndrome, who were constantly inventing awful catastrophes in their lives in order to garner sympathy - a best friend who committed suicide, an abusive boyfriend, a baby who died at birth, a brain tumour etc etc. In its own way, that kind of behaviour is not so very different from nicking fanfic in order to gain attention. I'm not trying to say that the plagiarist in question suffers from Munchausen's, or any other kind of syndrome, but you don't have to look far in her lj to find signs that she's extremely emotionally needy (and I guess you have to be to need positive reinforcement so badly that you don't mind if it's completely unearned.)

It's a very sad story all round, and I feel really sorry for all those involved, for the author whose fic was stolen, for the moderator who had to deal with it, and for the plagiarist herself, who is unlikely to be good at taking justified criticism squarely on the chin. But the 'human interest' aspect of the case aside, something else struck me about it, and that was that the plagiarised story was originally about *Buffy*. The plagiariser merely made a handful of tiny changes so that the first person narrator appeared to be Tara rather than Buffy. Now, Buffy and Tara are two wildly different characters, and it's awfully hard to imagine a first person narrative by Buffy about her S6 relationship with Spike being convincing as a narrative by Tara about *her* relationship with Spike, even if it's an AU relationship. Yet, judging by the comments made when the story was first posted, this wasn't actually a problem. I'd always operated on the kneejerk assumption that the appeal of fanfic is that it deals with recognisable characters whom the readers already know and love/hate. Clearly the extent to which those characters are 'recognisable', though, is much more flexible than I realised. After all, this isn't just a matter of someone posting a 'my Tara' who is significantly different from someone else's 'my Tara', it's a story in which 'my Tara' is in fact a different character altogether. I'm not sure what to conclude from this, but I thought it was interesting. Although perhaps it's no more than an extreme example of a fanfic author remaking a character entirely in the image of what they would have liked to have seen.


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