Fan fiction: Loading the canon

March 11, 2011 at 10:01 am (Articles / Interviews) (, )

What I think of fanfiction n__n.

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Darna Lives pic

 

Last week, Gerry Alanguilan and Arnold Arre released Darna Lives!, a self-proclaimed work of “fan fiction created by two Darna fans.” In true fanfic style, it was done without the consent of the copyright holders (although the makers do acknowledge that Darna is not their original creation, and Alanguilan “humbly asks permission” from Mars Ravelo’s family to continue the project), but was pursued solely for the fun of taking an iconic character and giving her a new story.

As fanfics are wont to do, being outside of the established “canon“, Darna Lives! takes a few liberties with an otherwise well-established character – Narda is re-imagined as a pudgy middle-aged working mother, whileValentina is a popular superhero.

Despite the changes, Darna Lives! manages to do in 10 pages what all fanfic makers try to achieve – take a previously established character and craft an entirely new story through which that character remains compelling.

Fiction made by fans

Anyone who has read fanfiction knows what happens when writers try for this and fail – the result is the typically self-absorbed kind of work which has given fanfiction a bad name. But then, there are many potholes when one undertakes bridging an established mythology with whatever comes from one’s own imagination.

This includes how much one adheres to canon, how to interpret a certain character, and how much restraint must be employed when introducing wide-sweeping changes to an otherwise established character or concept.

As such, fanfiction is notorious for being bad. The pseudo-fanfic My Immortal parodies the popular mistakes many fanfic makers tend to make – a disregard for the basics of writing, a callous twisting of characters to suit the writers’ needs, and a tendency for self-insertion – putting the writer him or herself in the midst of the action for no reason other than self-gratification.

For this reason, some writers have strongly discouraged their fans from making fanfiction. Song of Fire and Icewriter George R.R. Martin believes that fanfiction is copyright infringement, and not suitable as a writing exercise.Anne Rice famously had all fanfiction based on her works pulled from the online fanwork repositoryFanfiction.net, bluntly saying, “It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters.”

While writing stories with one’s own characters certainly seems to be the advisable course of action, fans continue to generate fanworks with enthusiasm. These fictions may come in the form of written stories, comics, fan-made movies, or other forms of media.

Making fanfiction is the literary equivalent of playing games with your childhood action figures, taking your cue from their given storylines and personalities and then constructing entire worlds for them to navigate in.

Fanfic writers take pleasure in re-creating or re-imagining their favorite fictional (and sometimes non-fictional) characters and presenting them in their own “fanon” or fan-made canon. It’s far too much fun to stop.

And as with any creative enterprise, original or otherwise, part of the fun is sharing it. The aforementioned Fanfiction.net has around 2.2 million users, with stories available in around 30 languages. Blog circles likeLiveJournal have become bastions for fan-based work, as have online text-based Role Playing Games and other websites.

Some even appear “in the real world” in print, as in the case of Japanese doujinshi, which are independently-published stories that sometimes use non-original anime characters.

Canon vs fanon vs fan-made canon

While issues like ownership and copyright cloud the issue of fanfiction, some writers feel free to play with stories and characters that have long passed into the public domain or are otherwise less securely guarded by copyright.

For instance, any reinterpretation of Alice in Wonderland, whether it be one of its self-professed sequels, the2010 movie directed by Tim Burton, the horror video game, or the book series which puts Wonderland at war, essentially does what fanfic writers do – take a bunch of characters (in this case, Lewis Carroll’s, sometimes even including Lewis Carroll himself), and going crazy with them.

Mga Ibong Mandaragit was a socio-political novel, but it also took elements from Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo – having one of the characters go after Simoun’s treasure, which was thrown into the sea at the end of the original novel.

One can argue that even stories that appear in the same continuum as an original work and is published under the same label or copyright, but is not written by the original writer, can be thought of as fanfiction. These may be works sanctioned by the original writer, or the copyright holders, when the author passes away or on to other projects.

Certain limitations may be put in place (if you are writing a Batman story for DC Comics for instance, it is highly unlikely that you will be writing about how the Dark Knight meets, say, Sailormoon from the similarly-named anime series), but these are still essentially instances of another creator picking up the strings of an original maker and spinning an entirely new yarn.

These would include L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, which was continued by Ruth Plumly Thompson after Baum’s death, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books which was picked up by Eoin Colfer, or even the alternate cartoon world created in the DC Animated Universe which draws heavily on the characters and storylines presented in the comics series.

As in the case of originally-created works, what ultimately separates the good and the bad in fanfics is how it is executed.

It is a given that with fanfiction, original characters and concepts are bound to grow malleable, depending on how the writer treats or imagines them. Some are bent entirely out of shape, so as to be almost unrecognizable. It then falls entirely on the writer or artist how to eke out a decent story while still paying its respects to the original work.

For instance, no matter how strongly an Avatar: The Legend of Aang fanfic writer may feel that the characters Zuko and Katara might make a magnificent romantic pairing, whether this in turn may evoke the same feeling in their readers depends on how well their fanfiction is written.

At its highest levels, fanfiction can become works like Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a graphic novel series epic which chronicles the interactions of a wide variety of Victorian-era characters, such as Mina Murray from Dracula, and Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), or Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto (which retells the story of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy through a grittier filter). These are the works which find harmony in the original work, the writer’s intentions, and how these meet and meld on the page.

Fortunately for Darna fans, Alanguilan and Arre are comic book veterans in their own right. One may trust that in the case of the iconic heroine, these fanfic makers know what they are doing.

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This originally came out in the Philippine Online Chronicles in March 2011. The image came from Darna Lives!.

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