athelind: (Default)
J.K. Rowling is getting sued by the clueless again. Yes, yet another plagiarism accusation. Making Light goes into great detail about the spuriousness of the claim, and the wretched quality of the claimant's allegedly-plagiarized work.

You don't really need to read all that. You'll find the meat of the whole issue before you even have to scroll down the page, when Ms. Hayden points out three things about such lawsuits. Her second point addresses something that comes up a lot in pop culture conversations:

“Non-writers think it’s the ideas, rather than the execution, that make a book. They’ve got that backward.”



I submit this as a Law of the Internet, on a par with Godwin's and Poe's: "Hayden's Second Law".

As I said, this comes up a lot. "Plagiarism", per se, is seldom invoked, but milder euphemisms abound: "derivative" is a popular epithet, and to many, "originality" seems the highest criterion for literary merit.

The career of the Gentleman from Avon indicates otherwise.

I should note that I'm guilty of this, myself; I've repeatedly tabled my own flailing attempts at writing because my characters, settings, or plot seem "derivative".


Addendum: just a few hours before I made this post, [livejournal.com profile] foofers provided a technological example of "it's not the ideas, it's the execution" -- in this instance, whether the ideas got executed at all.
athelind: (Default)
I should note, incidentally, that some people assume that the term "fanfic" is perjorative. That is not my intent in this matter.

When the Second Law says "indistinguishable", it means indistinguishable -- functionally identical in all important respects.

Alan Moore's Watchmen is a superhero story of unparalleled excellence.

It is also pure, unadulterated fanfic, in all but a single respect -- and that respect is that Moore recieved a paycheck from the corporate entity (a legal fiction of no literary relevance) that the copyright (another legal fiction of no literary relevance) to the characters upon whom the graphic novel was based.

EDIT: Thinking about it, with the possible exception of V for Vendetta, all of Moore's major works are fanfic.
athelind: (Default)
The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.
athelind: (Default)
I've realized that "Running the Asylum" is really Snark's Second Law of Fanfic. The first dates back thirty years:

"Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market."

The previous entry has been adjusted accordingly.

On the other claw... is that just a specific example of the "Sufficiently Established Franchise" rule? It certainly set the stage for the incorporation of fan writers into the Official Canon.

On the gripping hand, it could be said that Star Trek fell prey to the Second Law in the second season of the original series, when they accepted a script from an unpublished college student who sent in a pile of unsolicited script submissions...
athelind: (Default)
From FurryMUCK, this morning:

[livejournal.com profile] normanrafferty tries to remember the review he read of 'Torchwood'. "I think it said, 'Is it possible for something to be new material and fan-fiction at the same time?'"

Oh, you betcha. Let's codify this, in fact:

Snark's First Second Law of Fanfic (a.k.a. "Running the Asylum"):
A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic.

When a fictional franchise has lasted long enough to induct its fandom into the ranks of its professional creators, the distinction between Canon and Fan Fic erodes. The new wave of creators start sneaking Fanon into official sources. Ret Cons abound. Writers will revisit old stories, instilling far more self-indulgent detail into the retellings than ever appeared in the original.

In short, the Inmates are Running The Asylum.

Sometimes, this can bring fresh, new life to the franchise. Other times, the same kind of in-fighting that erupts in fannish circles will play out between creative teams -- but now, the factions are all armed with Canon.
athelind: (Default)
Nobody quite answered the question I thought I'd asked in my last post. They answered the part about why Fantasy fans keep doing the same thing over and over, but not the part that really interested me.

So let me ask the same question, differently:

If the appeal of Fantasy over Science Fiction is really the comfort of the familiar, why do so many Fantasy fans insist that it's "more imaginative" and "less restrictive" than Science Fiction?
athelind: (Default)
Over on Second Life, a friend of [livejournal.com profile] silkspider's was helping another friend work up an RP sim.

She checked it out, and described it to me.

It's the most utterly generic fantasy I could think of.

Humans and Elves and Dwarves and Halflings are Good, Orcs and Goblins and Trolls are Evil, no, you can't play a noble, no, you can't be a Furry, no, you can't do this, that or the other thing.

If the appeal of Fantasy over Science Fiction is supposedly that you can do anything with Fantasy, why do people keep doing the same damned thing, over and over?

That's not a rhetorical question. I know some of you out there in Your Obedient Serpent's LJ Friends Sphere have used exactly that excuse to explain your preference for Fantasy over SF, in literature, game settings, or both. Explain yourselves!!
athelind: (Default)
As most of you know, I dabble in RPG design, mostly as a sounding board for [livejournal.com profile] normanrafferty. Some of you may also know that I am (like three out of four people in the fandom) working on a "fantasy epic" of my own. Thus, many of my conversations revolve around the Theory and Practice of World Creation.

Last night, the conversation took a startlingly familiar turn. I opined, as I often have over the decades, that "The best fantasy is written by people who do research, who don't just shrug and say, 'well, it's a fantasy, I can just make stuff up.' Too much fantasy these days is written by peole who think that reading Tolkien counts as 'research'."

The response: "Why does fantasy have to be based on research into what happened? Isn't true fantasy stuff that is Completely Made Up From Scratch? The only difference between basing your game on research of ancient myths and Tolkien is that their books are older."

(I haven't attributed the source because a) I don't want the person in question to feel like I'm "picking on them" in a public forum, and b) the sentiment is so often expressed.)

The obvious comparison is SF, of course. I've read a lot of science fiction, and it's not hard to tell the difference between the stuff written by people who know something about science and are willing to do some research on a topic before writing a novel around it, and the people who just read a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars novels and copied what they did.

However, a better comparison is comic book art.

I've read a lot of superhero comics. The medium has a lot of stylization, a lot of visual shorthand.

The most adept comic book artists have a deep-seated understanding of human anatomy. Their stylizations are based on that knowledge. Jack Kirby was famous for his impossible, dramatic poses -- but the man knew how the human body worked, and how to exaggerate it for effect.

When a comic book artist learned exclusively from reading comics, it shows. He applies the stylizations and conventions without really understanding the underlying structures. He uses the shorthand without grasping what it stands for. His exaggerations become more exaggerated, until his figures are so defomred and distorted that they bear only a painful resemblance to the human form. On the surface, the art may look slick and cool and cutting-edge, but on closer examination, it just doesn't hold together.

There's also... well, as an environmental scientist, I think of it as a "bottleneck effect". When you rely on second- and third- and fourth-hand sources for inspiration, you lose nuances and concepts and ideas with every successive iteration. Writers and gamers often proclaim that doing research just trammels on their Unfettered Creativity -- but so much of their output just winds up looking the same.

You want "Unfettered Creativity"? Our ancestors spent generations coming up with all manner of, well, wacked-out shit. I guarantee you that twenty minutes in the library skimming the Motif-Index of Folk Literature* will give you more useful, inventive, exotic ideas than reading the complete works of Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, and Margaret Weis put together.

It will certainly get your farther than reading the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Eberron sourcebook.

I should also say, by all of this, I am not advocating that All Fantasy Must Look Like Old Fairy Tales. To the contrary, I'm protesting the sameness of the bulk of the genre. Doing research, immersing yourself in folklore and history, serves two purposes: not only will it give you a richer, deeper reserve of concepts from which to draw -- it also will help you break away from the endless litany of cliches and do something genuinely different and innovative.


*True Confession Time: I discovered the MIFL through a "Recommended Reading" article in Dragon Magazine, c. 1978-80.
athelind: (Default)
A post that [livejournal.com profile] the_gneech made early this morning brought this to mind, and I thought I'd expand upon and share the thoughts in my earlier comment.

Some thoughts on the applied use of clichs and tropes: )

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