Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Creative Power of Dissatisfaction by Paula Graves

This is a post from 4/6/2006 that Paula Graves wrote that I believe is most interesting considering the infamous 50 Shades books started from fanfic. Enjoy and go ahead and answer her questions.  I think it will be interesting to see what everyone thinks now in 2012.

My best friend, Jenn, loves fanfiction, that infamous and ubiquitous creative outlet for frustrated writers and non-writers alike. She seeks it out for just about every show she watches, almost invariably when the show she loves has taken a turn that she doesn't like. In other words, her dissatisfaction with the show leads her to seek an alternative story for the characters she loves.

I've recently given some thought to the appeal of fanfic, and I've come to the conclusion that all popular fiction is, in a way, fanfiction. For one thing, plenty of books and articles have documented the patterns that almost all fiction has in common--archetypes, themes, plots, story rhythms, etc., suggesting that whoever it was who said there's no such thing as a new plot, only fresh and interesting twists on old ones, was right. But beyond that, I think that for a lot of writers--perhaps even most of us--the emotional and creative drive to write comes out of a similar dissatisfaction with "the way things are" that drives people to write fanfic.

We want to revisit old archetypes and plots and revisit them, twisting the set-ups, the settings, the endings, the beginnings, providing an alternate take on an eternal story. Perhaps we decide that "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" isn't really enough of an ending for Scarlett and Rhett. So we create a new story, set up new situations for archetypal characters (the headstrong heroine, the bad boy, the villain with a heart of gold, etc.) so that their outcomes are different this time.

We're finding creative power in our dissatisfaction.

I've recently had trouble trying to come up with new ideas for novels. But one day, as I was discussing fanfic with my friend Jenn, we were discussing all the weird ways fanfic writers twist Jane Austen's classic stories, setting them in high schools, on different planets, you name it. During the discussion, we jokingly came up with the idea to turn Jane's books into spy thrillers, a la Tom Clancy.

Then, suddenly, it wasn't a joke. It was an idea. Why not play with the archetypes and plots of Jane Austen, only twist them to fit a contemporary romance thriller? Address some of the ways that Jane Austen's stories didn't quite meet my personal needs for fiction (e.g., where's the dead body, Jane? Where's the twisty, turny mystery I love so much?) Take the basic story conflicts--rich versus poor, pride versus prejudice, sense versus emotionality and modernize them to reflect current day conflicts. Raise the stakes, make the conflicts more immediate, modern and dangerous, and see where the "what ifs" take you?

I'm not talking about stealing plots or characters. I'm talking about taking inspiration from stories I love or stories that didn't entirely satisfy me with their outcomes, settings or depth. I'm rethinking characters, situations, conflicts and resolutions and figuring out how to tell them in new ways, with new outcomes and new themes.

Have you been so inspired by a particular character or set of characters that you wanted to give them (or their archetypes) a different ending or a new and exciting adventure? Hit the comments link and tell us all about it.


Christine said...

Inspiration is wonderful!! I think this is very true in our writing. I read a lot before I write large blocks of manuscript because I want to soak my brain in words and paragraphs and descriptions. I want them to live inside my head and percolate and become renewed in my own voice... in my own telling...

I like the Jane Austin thing... cool idea to twist it and make it modern.

JoAnn said...

My first adventures in writing were a gazillion years ago when I was about 13 and fanfic wasn't even a twinkle in anybody's eyed. I was a huge fan of a TV western, and I wrote an entire episode for it. It had two actors I was seriously crushing on, and my script was about them fighting over a woman -- me. :-)

Louisa Cornell said...

My first experience writing online was writing fanfic based on my favorite soap opera character. I posted on two sites and I had a blast. That was over ten years ago, but I still have the hard copies of what I wrote. The best part is, I think I have come a long way since then. And the inspiration for one of my novels was the self-same soap opera character.

Carla Swafford said...

Hey, JoAnn, I still do that though I don't write them down. It might not be the whole TV show or movie, but one scene that hits me and I want it to go in another direction.

I don't think I've used any of the made up scenes, but it surely helps me work on emotions.

Cari Hislop said...

It's not just dissatisfaction (though that was the reason I wrote my Redeeming a Rake). I think it's also the fact that we feel an emotional connection with certain characters and archetypes. They resonate with something deep within us. Long before I started writing stories my sister and I would take turns telling romantic tales where we were married to various characters we saw on TV or in the movies (I think we fought over Superman!) We came home from Superman (that was the first one with Christopher Reeves) and we stood in the dark living room singing the song...Can You Read My Mind... I've never thought of it as fanfic, but really it was.

Maybe the fact that fanfic tends to be a collaboration - people finding other people who like the same types of stories and characters that makes it so powerful. It's self-affirming.