Good Fan Fiction

Let me start by acknowledging this will largely be an opinion piece.   I am no more a good judge of writing than I am a good judge of anything else.   Some of you may agree with most of what I say,  some of you will think I’m a complete idiot.   Ideally,  your opinions of what I say will be consistent with what you already think of my views from reading this blog.    This post will be an expansion and re-organization of some things that have been discussed elsewhere on the blog the last couple days.   We’ve had a lot of excellent commentary from Frea O’Scanlin and Ernie Davis that has got me thinking about this.   I will include a few recommendations again as well after the jump.

There are obviously a few different things that go into the appraisal of if something is good or not.   Good grammar and structure is part of it.  I’m sure you all have noticed my grammar isn’t always the best, I tend to have a casual attitude about these things.  But it is important that ideas be conveyed in a way that is easy to understand.  Nothing kills an interesting idea faster than technically poor writing that makes it difficult or impossible to understand the writer’s point or story.    The fan fiction community is large and international,  so some allowances have to be made.   I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen Chuck speaking with British idioms.   If the story is good I can often overlook such things;   but structure, spelling, grammar, idioms can all add up to a strike against (or maybe a half strike!).

A closely related thing is sophistication of the writing.    I really hate to make a big thing of this.   People write fan fiction as a personal thing;  hobby, interest, and passion.   I think it is wonderful how many different people want to explore different aspects of the characters, stories, and setting that make up the Chuckiverse.    But some writers clearly have more or less skill than others.   There’s no two ways about it,  a very well thought out and developed story is satisfying in ways a more superficial treatment of things is not.    For a one-hour show,  Chuck actually has a lot going on with action, adventure, comedy, romance, and drama.   The best writers juggle many these aspects very well;  we’ve all seen Frea O’Scanlin’s posts here the last few days,  if you haven’t read her work yet I highly recommend it.  At the risk of inflating her ego too much,  I can’t believe sometimes I’m reading an amateur piece that captures all those aspects so well.   There are also some very good writers out there who capture one or more aspects nicely;  and honestly even doing one of those things well can make for a very good read.

From here on things get more subjective.   Most pieces at fanfiction.net are so-called “one-shots”,  that is a single chapter entry that normally addresses a single moment or scene from the show.   Sometimes its just a slightly different outcome to a scene we saw,  or  a look inside a character’s thoughts.  A few one-shots even expand a longer fan fiction.  Many of these are interesting and even fun.   But generally I don’t find one-shots very satisfying.  I like more complex stories and characters.   I especially like more developed AUs,  that is Alternate Universes,  that really go off in different directions from the show.

I’m sure no one will be shocked that I say I require a happy ending.   Everything doesn’t have to be peachy perfect;  I certainly accept some destruction and the occasional character death as part of the genre.   But Chuck and Sarah must end well,  and together.   I know,  dreadfully shallow.  But if I have reason to think such won’t be the case,  well,  I really have better things to do with my time (and more fun fanfics to read!).    This standard is somewhat variable with the story being told.    Some pieces really aren’t about Chuck and Sarah’s relationship.  As long as no real harm is done to it this doesn’t have to be a big deal.   I’ve read some stories that could just be an omitted episode of the show;  they can be fun on their own,  but change nothing from the show’s canon (or canon at the time they were written anyway).    That doesn’t excite me as much as a real AU,  but it doesn’t rule a story out either.   I’ve also seen stories that are very Casey centric (or even some other character);  again,  this can be fun but generally not as completely satisfying to me.

Some writers have a clear agenda or bent to their writing that shows up in most of their stories.   I’ve often recommended BillatWork’s stories here;  he has flat-out stated he wanted to show it was possible to tell an exciting story with Chuck and Sarah together.   So that is usually near the starting point of his tales;  and he’s done this about seven different ways now by my count,  going way back to just after S1.   His agenda,  and what I want to see line up nicely so I tend to like his work.   I can think of one prolific writer who clearly has an angry take on the Chuckiverse;  his stories usually start with how wronged Chuck is (normally by Sarah) and it motivates him to morph into a super agent.   Now he happens to be a pretty good story-teller in spite of his love of angst, anger, and generally dark themes;   I can think of two stories of his I liked quite a lot (one I even recommended here),  but I tend to handle his stuff like something really hot;  that is I proceed carefully,  reading his intro and author’s notes carefully,  and yes,  reading from the last chapter,  before I decide if I’m going to invest in one of his works.   Other writers love military themes,  and I do too so this is often a good match.    Some writers love dirty stories;   I don’t so their work gets skipped  (this is very easy to do as fanfiction.net defaults to not displaying these titles).

Do check if a work is complete or in progress.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve been frustrated by a good story only to discover it ends in a cliff-hanger and hasn’t been updated in two years!   The basic info line on all stories does tell if a story is complete and when it was last updated,  so there’s really no excuse to be surprised by this.   At first I was very cautious about starting works in progress;  at this point keeping up with favorite stories/writers is part of my daily routine.  I guess I just accept that some tales may never get resolved.   But really,  think twice before you click on the in progress story that’s been sitting since June of 2008.

Among the topics brought up here recently is the fact that different mediums do different things well.   Television allows us to see and hear in a real sensory way.   It can be viscerally exciting or pleasing.   The written word is different.   It allows for more introspection,  more depth of description.   Think about it;   describing the intersect could take pages of written word that may take tens of minutes to read,  but on-screen we see it in seconds.  While getting inside a characters head can easily be done in writing,  but is hard to do with out some sort of clumsy voice-over or monologue on-screen.   There is a tendency among fans of the written word to claim its superiority to all other forms of story-telling;  but I call that apples to oranges.   Most stories will always play best in the first medium they were crafted for (does anyone really think the novelization of “Empire Strikes Back” was better than the movie?);  while some few have been very well adapted across media (“Lord of the Rings” comes to mind;  brilliant novel and a brilliant movie; please don’t get silly diminishing either one!).    My point in all this is that fan fiction is a different experience.  Enjoy it for what it does well.    It can get into character’s thoughts,  it can explore paths not taken in canon,  it can explore key decision points or crisis points,  and it can further develop ideas/characters/events that a fellow fan felt was worthy of their time.

Every writer screams for reviews/feedback.  I am cautious about this.   I’m sure everyone who’s ever posted here knows how satisfying it is when someone responds to a thought or idea you posted.   Fan fiction writers are often putting a lot of work into something they aren’t getting pay or official recognition for.   It’s mostly for their own satisfaction.  But it’s hardly surprising they want to know their efforts are appreciated,  and some may even want honest feedback to help with their shortcomings.   But man what a thin line to tread.   I never want to hurt the feelings of an enthusiastic fan like me.  I’ve mentioned here I will only post positive comments and recommendations.   If I mention a writer or story I do endorse it.   That doesn’t mean I think its perfect,  but it does mean that in some way I found the story satisfying and a good time.    If a story has serious shortcomings I will try to say something to tip-off the careful reader I have some reservations  (here is where I’m struggling with if I want to give an example or not…);  but I seriously do not want to offend or hurt the feelings of an enthusiastic fan and writer  (did you all realize I was such a wuss?).      Now there is so much material out there,  my silence on any piece is not condemnation;  but if I review,  I liked it!

We’ve talked about more issues than just these,  please feel free to bring up any aspect of the fan fiction experience here.  Who knows,  it might even generate another long essay by me (or someone else who is actually knowledgeable about these things!).

I’ll make just a couple new recommendations this time.  A while ago I started rereading the Chuck/fanfiction.net listings from the start  (no not everything)   and I have found a few that missed before.    The first one I’ll mention is a fairly long one-shot called “Chuck vs. The Funeral of Sarah Walker”   by Mystlynx.  Not surprisingly there are some very painful moments in this story,  but it does qualify under my criteria listed before as a good story.   Its one of those that left me really thinking about what would have come next,  and wishing the author had added another chapter at some point.   This can be read in 15 minutes or so.   It would be rated PG for mild innuendo.

Another story I’ll recommend with only a few qualifications is “Chuck vs. Life” by marybr.   This may be one of the earliest epics among Chuck fan fiction,  it was started after episode 1.11,  and not finished for almost exactly a year.  I wasn’t reading fan fiction back then,  and I couldn’t tell you if all her updates were slow,  or if there was just one long break in there;  but I’m glad to just read the end result now!   This is almost purely a romance,  and is at its best towards the end of the core story.   The writer has a good feel for the characters and writes a fun story.   She does employ one triangle which you all know I don’t care for;   but it is worth bearing with it.   My only reservation is,  the author is not primarily an English speaker,  which does result in some unusual grammar, vocabulary, and usage at times.   But considering that limitation,  this story is very readable.   One curiosity is that the two epilogues are as long as the main body of the story!   Be glad for that too,  they are lighter in tone and lots of fun.   Allow three hours to read through,  it would be rated PG.

Many other stories I’ve recommended here before are still going strong.  Frea O’Scanlin (I think I got it right that time!) continues with her excellent “What Fates Impose.”   This is the most complete treatment in fan fiction and truly worthy of the term “epic.”   Time seems to move slowly in the story,  but with action, humor, and even character/relationship growth coming right along you’ll actually be glad she’s not in any hurry.

Both of Ninjavanish’s stories are still unfolding,  19th century sci-fi Chuck continues in “Chuck vs. the Frontier”.   This is a fun ride,  but apparently won’t see any more updates until November or so due to some lame excuse about school or something…     “Chuck and Sarah vs. Themselves” was just updated on 9/14 with one of the best action chapters I’ve ever read.

“Walker’s Eleven” by Moonlight Pilot has been updating faster than many others;  and is a fun story starting with the idea Sarah never left her life of crime.   Currently she is trying to get revenge on the crew that betrayed her,  but she has been forced to put together an improvised crew prominently featuring Chuck, Morgan, Jeff, and Lester.   Is anyone surprised that this seriously a lot of fun?

There are so many others.   I don’t even write and I can barely keep up!

– Dave

Advertisements

About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
This entry was posted in Fan Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Good Fan Fiction

  1. Ernie Davis says:

    Wow, seriously great post Ernie Dave. I have to say that on the topic of writing proper grammar, a bit of sophistication and a bit of style are very important to me too. A writer who can’t master the mechanics of writing is going to lose me on the first page. Which is terrible of me since I have huge problems with commas and run on sentences. As a part of this I want to get up on my soap box for a minute. I’ve mentioned that in my real life I’m a scientist and I’ve worked as a college science professor part time. When students ask me what they should work on to develop professionally, either in or out of the sciences, I tell them two things. Learn to write and speak well. I can’t stress that enough. If you are going to be a professional, which college usually implies, you WILL be called upon to communicate your ideas on some topic at some point. The greatest idea in the world is worthless if you can’s communicate it in a way others can understand. Writing is key to anyone who wants or needs to share ideas. Reading comprehension is the flip side of this, so I’ll assume if you can write you can read. (I don’t however assume the opposite relationship! But I’ll get to that.) I’ll also put in one last plug for being able to speak before an audience, though I know I’m dangerously close to a lot of people’s deep seated phobias, but really, if you are lucky enough to go to a school that teaches either rhetoric or forensics (in the traditional sense of speaking and argument) do yourself a favor and learn.

    Since this is a Dave Ernie comment you know I can’t stop there. I’m also going to spend another moment on my soap box to say that as a teacher, I was feared as no other. I gave essay tests. I did this for the reason’s stated above; life is not multiple choice. But it showed me something I really didn’t want to know about much of our culture. Writing has been so devalued in our education system that I can say, sorry to say, that about 40-50% of my college students, I considered functionally illiterate. They couldn’t structure a sentence to save their lives let alone a paragraph. Sorry, writing is a part of literacy.

    OK, now I’ll step down off my soapbox and talk about the fun stuff in another comment.

    • atcdave says:

      Fun soap box Ernie. I must congratulate you for having the courage to continue the Ernie/Dave gag while discussing grammar. On occasion I’ll get my wife’s help editing one of my posts, she normally starts yelling about commas, run-ons, and semi-colons pretty quickly. She hasn’t looked at this post yet; its so long I’m afraid she’d be yelling all night if she saw it!

      I do feel slightly hypocritical bringing the topic up because of my own limitations. I’m probably insensitive to a lot of style issues that are considered important in “good” writing; and I have a stubborn streak that just loves starting sentences with “and” or “but”. But seriously it is so important to be clear and understood. Safe to say that’s the WHOLE POINT of writing.

    • joe says:

      Hum… Spooky. I trained as a scientist and taught physics & astronomy for a short time 30 years ago. I feel a convergence!

      Oh – I *always* gave those dreaded essay questions on tests also. Really bummed out the students, and me too. One time someone used they’re, there and their in the same sentence, each one incorrectly. Depressing.

      My big realization was that when the grammar was incorrect it became very difficult to know if the student actually grasped the concept I was asking about. Their meaning became surprisingly ambiguous.

      And now that I’ve said that, the thing I’ve enjoyed most about Frea’s writing is her vocabulary. Besides getting each character’s phrasing just right, her descriptions and narration are amazing.

      And now I have to dig into Mxpw’s offerings too!

      So much Chuck, so little time!

      • Frea O says:

        My freshman year of college, I took a psych course where the in-class exams were all essay questions. My professor would literally tear off five or six pages from a legal pad for everybody, and we usually ended up going back for more pages. That was the in-class portion. The take-home portion was four questions and I handed in sixty pages one time, I think.

        This was a freshman course. I can still tell you most of what I learned in that course, which says good things for essay questions, but dang…that must have been a lot of reading for that professor.

        And Joe, I’m glad the fact that I’m a geek who gets the Word of the Day emails from dictionary.com is paying off. 🙂 Also, thank you for the compliments!

      • joe says:

        Heh! My last comp-sci course featured take-home questions that were seldom answered in less than 60 pages of code, written in C++.

        Hey, that’s a language too! It counts. Grammar, punctuation and everything! 😉

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Reading the essays was a painful experience, which perhaps explains my impatience within a certain latitude that defines me as the median standard, despite my flaws. I can recognize people who write better than me, and people whom I write better than (and that is nonsense up with which I will not put), but get a certain level below my comfort zone in clarity and grammar, I’m gone.

        Did I mention I no longer teach?

      • joe says:

        Sheesh! That’s the way I’ve always described my chess playing. I play the game just well enough to know how badly I play…

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    OK, the fun stuff. You know I’m going to plug Castle Inanity… And I know a lot of you are starting to think, “Hey, CI and CT, get a room already!” So I’ll get that out of the way. But seriously I’ve found more good fan fiction through ALL the CI authors, Frea, mxpw, Liam2, I Am Not Amused and Wepdiggy, well I’d be lying if I didn’t admit they are my first resource to find good fanfic.

    Now the shocking part. I’m almost the opposite of Dave on this. I like the one-shots. I still like the longer fics and am gradually working through them, but I love the short stories and the one-shots. Sadly it’s often because I don’t have as much time for reading as I’d like, but with the one-shots I can get a quick Chuck fix on my coffee break or at lunch when I should be answering comments here, working on my next post, or actually, you know…working.

    As for non-CI authors I already mentioned Sharpasamarble, so now I’ll plug Altonish. The big thing that impressed me with Altonish was his/her ability to write close to cannon and to do the BuyMorons better than I’ve seen anyone else. Granted, most of the stuff I’ve read has been fairly AU, so Buy Morons aren’t usually an issue, but Altonish has pulled off a few Buy More moments I can easily picture on the screen as part of the show.

    • atcdave says:

      Obviously I have enjoyed the many one-shots. That was kind of my point in recommending one. But I guess that is a difference, I do generally prefer longer pieces significantly expand the mythology.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I guess I should have been more clear with my writing. 😉 I actually prefer the one-shots at this point.

      • atcdave says:

        I got that Ernie; I was just acknowledging I’m the opposite. I’ve liked many one-shots but I prefer the longer stories.

    • Frea O says:

      Ernie, Dave, Darnie, Erve, Morgan’s Cabal of Bearded Ones, whatever your names are, thank you so much for the Castle Inanity love. Honestly, it’s all Wepdiggy. The man is a walking, talking lexicon of Chuckfic. All I have to do is tell him I’m bored and he comes up with four or five different recommendations because he seriously has read everything in the section and even more so, has the ability to sort out which stories are which. The rest of us have our favorites and gush about them, but Wepdiggy can set you straight, which is why I always look forward to “What the Frak is Wepdiggy Reading?”

      I have a confession to make: I’m actually a bigger fan of the one-shots than the serials. Not saying I don’t love the serials because I do, but as somebody who literally cannot write a standalone in its own universe without taking up around 10k words, the ability to write a good one-shot is just remarkable to me (and yet, Bad Frea, I still haven’t read “Collide”). And I have a horrible memory, so it always takes me a minute to remember the specifics of some universes when authors of serials update, which, heh, some reviewers have told me about Fates. Guess it’s a pretty common problem. 🙂

      • atcdave says:

        Keeping up with the various serials is a serious problem. There’s maybe six or so that I enjoy a lot, that I seem to remember what’s going on pretty well. But another dozen or so, I have to reread the prior chapter or something to remember.

        As I said, I really have enjoyed a lot of one-shots; but I guess I’m a more is better sort of guy. I always like extended cuts of movies too (assuming I liked the movie to begin with!)

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Frea, I’m a big fan of “What the Frak is Wep Reading?” too. And I must admit, he opened a door I haven’t explored much yet with one of his more (ahem) mature recommendations. I found some really good stuff at a Live Journal page, once I got the courage up to venture past the “are you over 18” warning. It appears to be another complete community outside FF.

        Now to clarify the statement that the CI authors have introduced me to virtually everything I’ve read. I go to FF and click on Frea, click on her favorite authors. Read. Click on Frea’s favorite stories, read. Maybe click on one of Frea’s favorites favorites. Repeat with Liam2, mxpw, etc. Still working through the list. Thanks all.

  3. atcdave says:

    Man if I’d waited just one more day to post this…

    Frea posted a “What Fates Impose” update today (9/15) that must qualify as epic. Yes it only took her 38 chapters and a quarter of a million words to do it. On the other hand, its still November of 2007 in her story; so all things considered its quite rapid. Don’t know what I’m talking about? I’m sure you can figure it out. Very fun chapter; funny and satisfying in the end.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s