Category Archives: fan fiction

The skill in imitation

One somewhat controversial thing I believe about writing is that it’s very good to be able to imitate other writers’ styles. Other writers and scholars thereof might disagree, failing to see any practical application for it, and protesting that it’s more important to refine and develop your own unique voice rather than trying to copy someone else’s. (You often hear that argument when people denigrate the writing of fan fiction.) But I maintain it’s not only good practice, it’s actually a skill worth having for its own sake.

Voice is an important aspect of writing, as it influences mood, feel, tone, and style. But I think an author shouldn’t necessarily be limited, or limit themselves, to only one. As nice and useful as it can be to have a signature style, I think it’s good to be able to adapt your writing to sound different for different pieces, or even for establishing different characters. If you don’t find some way to be flexible that way, you run the risk of making everything sound the same no matter the feel of the piece you may be going for– or worse, you make everything sound like you, which I find to be a sign of immature work. So imitating the sound of other writers’ styles and voices is an exercise in developing your flexibility. It requires you to stretch yourself beyond your natural impulses or current artistics strengths in order to create something that sounds like someone else’s work, which broadens the possibilities for what you’re capable of depicting. It gives you more control over the voice you give any one project, and enables a wider variety of feels and effects you can impart to your work.

This for me ties into the appeal of fan fiction. I know not everybody is this way, but both when I’m reading and writing fan fiction, I’m looking for more of the story I already love, with more of the things I love about it. So I’m drawn to pieces that stylistically capture the soul of the original. That also means that when I’m writing it myself, that’s what I’m shooting for– something that believably feels like it could be part of what’s canon. So I make a special effort to study and emulate the way the original material is written in my fic. The best job I ever did at this was with my piece for the BBC radio comedy Cabin Pressure. I wrote basically a script for an additional episode of the series which, after the fashion of its idiosyncratic episode titling system, I called “San Tropez”. Cabin Pressure has a very specific, British style of humor with characters who have highly distinctive voices, and I worked very hard to capture them. If I may say so, I’m really proud of how good a job I did. I’ve gotten a number of comments from readers saying I nailed the style and voices exactly, and that it’s both funny and extremely in character.

But not only do I think it’s just good practice for increasing flexibility in other projects. I think it’s actually a useful skill in its own right. For collaborative projects, particularly ones that run for a while and have teams of writers, being able to fit in with the “house style” is essential. I have dreams of someday writing for television, and writers’ rooms have to have some degree of cohesion to make all the episodes feel consistent with each other. People tend to notice when the “voice” or “style” of a television show gets inconsistent or deviates from what is established, and reactions are usually disapproving. Sometimes it’s even at fault for what people describe as Seasonal Rot. In that case it would be a necessity for me to be able to adapt to a certain voice that may or may not naturally be mine.

So it’s more than just an amusing little “party trick” for writers of fan fiction. It’s actually a powerful developmental tool for a writer to expand their toolkit, and sometimes even demanded by a collaborative situation to keep the pieces all cohesive. So I like challenging myself to play in someone else’s sandbox every now and then.


On art snobbery

I like to say I try not to be an art snob. I’m sure people have laughed at me for that, as unfortunately I have a problem with coming off as snobby in life in general. But what I mean by that is that I try to judge art by its own merits, rather than by features that are measures of nature rather than quality. Genre, medium, and audience all create their own standards, and I make an effort to judge a piece by the standards it was designed to exist within. I’m not perfect about this; unfortunately I have my biases. I have zero interest in gross-out comedies, for example, and would be hard pressed to believe you can create a truly artful example of one. But I hate when people say that something is automatically a lesser piece of art just because it was, for example, aimed at children, or because it’s in a particular form. I think you can make powerful and technically accomplished macaroni art if you do it right.

By that same token, I try not to deify any particular form. I don’t think this is a big problem for most people or for most art forms, but occasionally you get somebody who sticks up for a much-maligned form by talking about it as if it has an inherent value that it automatically grants to any work in that medium. The best example I can think of that is fan fiction. Fan fiction is so often an so unfairly a whipping boy that a lot of people say its inherent populist and community-building features are automatically elevating. Personally I think it’s possible to both approve of the spirit a concept fosters even if you don’t really like the resulting examples it generates. I love that fan fiction has things like a lower barrier to creativity and a way of inspiring people to personal expression, but honestly I don’t really have the taste for the kinds of fanwork that avenue tends to produce. But I think you need to be able to separate quality from personal taste. Something can be good even if you don’t like it, and you can like something that isn’t good.

Art, man. It’s complicated.


On writing comedy

As I have occasionally mentioned before on this blog, I don’t think I’m the most talented when it comes to writing comedy. I like to think of myself as a fairly witty person, who can make you laugh with a clever remark in conversation now and again. But when it comes to coming up with real jokes or funny lines, that’s more the province of other writers. In my writing program, I thought of genuinely funny stuff as much more the province of my friend and boss Bill Pendergast, or how Julie Weinberg had such a knack for dark comedy.

Still, I certainly enjoy it for its own sake, but even moreso, I like it as a way to add balance and lightness to a heavier narrative. I’ve always felt that even really serious drama needs something to keep it from going into the territory of “grimdark.” So, even though it’s not always easy for me, I am endeavoring to get better at it so that I can effectively include it in my own work.

My favorite comedy of all time is probably Frasier, which I thought managed to be extremely funny while still maintaining a level of intellectualism, narrative and character integrity, and did not resort to tired or offensive stereotyping in jokes. I’m very inspired by the style of comedy therein with its level of wit and cleverness. I’ve also been watching Cheers, which happens to be the series from which Frasier spun off, and is considered to be a required text for anyone who hopes to write comedy. Honestly I find Cheers to be a bit dated and not nearly as funny as Frasier, nor does it have anywhere near the dramatic integrity, but it has a heart and charm to it that inspired countless humor pieces that came after it. I’m hoping to learn from examples like these.

The funniest thing I ever wrote is probably The Late Mrs. Chadwick, my most performed ten-minute play. The main joke, the resolute refusal to compromise stiff-upper-lip British manners, is one that plays to my strengths. I was pleased to find at the recent staged reading of Vivat Regina that pretty much all the jokes played, and in fact were some of the audience’s favorite parts of the piece.

Most recently I’ve been working on a silly little side project, a fan fiction for Cabin Pressure, a BBC radio comedy that I find extremely funny. I started it just to have a little low-pressure positive feedback on something, and I’m determined not to stress about it, but I have been making an effort to make it not only funny, but as much in the style of the source material as possible. It has a particular kind of dry British humor that is very distinctive. I do find myself struggling to come up with bits and gags. I’m positive it’s not as funny as any of the originals, but I do think I’ve managed to capture the characters’ unique voices. Some commenters have even said things to that effect; my favorite so far was the one who said if the creator John Finnemore retired, they’d tune in if I were the replacement! 🙂 That’s encouraging. But I know I still need more practice. Like any aspect of writing, you got to put in the work!