Minor League Writing

Fan fiction is the minor league of writing.

There is nothing wrong with this. Fan fiction is simply an easy way to release a writer’s creative impulse. While a writer working in their own universe has to worry about staying consistent with themselves, to worry about if what they decide to write is consistent with what they decided to write. The writer of an original work is ever wondering if their decision fit together, or if they need to go back and grind things down a bit more, never quite sure if their current arbitrary decisions work with their previous arbitrary decisions.

In fanfiction, however, there’s something external to the writer, the original story, that let’s them aim at something. In all probability, not everyone will agree if the author is actually hitting the target. Somebody’s read of a character will be different, or they’ll think that the author’s explanation of how a particular event or superpower doesn’t quite work with canon. But reaching for a consensus with their readers is something every author has to deal with, and the fact that fan fiction has some pre-accepted premises makes thing easier.

Of course, if fanfics are the minor leagues, what I’m doing is a team with no connection to formal leagues at all. Fan fiction in a living fandom injects the writer into an audience of thousands, where they are both producer and reader, communally working on their individual story. I, meanwhile, am writing essays for less then two hundred people, who are mostly here for the poetry, anyway. (WordPress is good for hosting poetry.)

That’s not to say that I want to write fanfiction. I have no interest working is somebody else’s sandbox. But I do wonder if my work would be more fruitful, if I could make more connections if I posted my work elsewhere. Unfortunately, I have no idea where I could post original stories, and I’m not sure I want my pictures to be divorced from their contacts, like they would be if I posted them on an art website.

Ah well, it’s something to think about.

Dreaming of Sunshine

I’ve recently read through Dreaming of Sunshine, a Naruto fanfic that created an entire genre of Naruto fanfics.

DoS is an excuse for the author to worldbuild, using the conceit that she died and was reincarnated as Shikamaru Nara’s twin sister.  The resulting character, Shikako Nara, is mostly an ordinary girl, given that she raised to be a magical assassin in a city full of magical assassins, except that she understands that an outsider could find the idea of sending a bunch of twelve-year-olds out to kill people disturbing, and she has partial knowledge of the future.

Part of the reincarnation conceit is that the person writing the fanfic is a fan of the original work, but by the time the actual plot starts, it had been over a decade since she had a chance to refamiliarize herself with the story, so her memory of it is somewhat spotty.  Adding on to this is that she only remembers the manga’s storyline, but the world she finds herself in is based on the anime, so she’s completely lost when she finds herself going through a filler arc.

One of the things I like about the fic is that the filler arcs are allowed to affect the ongoing story, albeit mostly in the form of Shikako acquiring a plot device from said arc and adding it’s power to her own.  This provides her with a unique upgrade path, allowing her to keep up with canon’s main characters in a way nobody in the original work could.

Shikako’s original powerset was already incredibly diverse for her age group, but it still fit together with her clan’s gimmick of shadow manipulation.  The first powers, beside the shadows, are the powers she learned from her mother: illusions and earth manipulation.  The illusions are thematically linked to shadows in a fairly obvious way, and the earth manipulation can be used to create more shadows.  She also knew medical ninjutsu on graduating the academy, fairly high level ones, albeit the only ones that really show up in canon.  It was a bit to far for me when Shikako performed a chakra transfer between people with incompatible chakra types, but it was a minor thing in the overall story.

As the story goes on, Shikako becomes even more impressive, her knowledge of the future driving her to train to become stronger, so as to be able to survive the challenges ahead.  He biggest jump in power comes when she learns fuinjutsu.  (As an aside, I don’t like the fic’s explanation of seals as ‘You can draw anything you like, as long as it makes sense to you.’  I just picture seals as more objective than that.)  However, her interests extend to pretty much every field of ninjutsu and administrative department of Konoha, allowing the author to worldbuild on almost everything.  Shikako’s vast array of powers are kept from being annoying through a mixture of her interests not leaving anytime to herself, her tendency to almost die on missions, and the fact that she was once so impressive that she caused a war.

Other things I noticed was the fact that the fic depicts the transformation jutsu causing physical changes to the caster’s body as something rare.  Evidence from canon heavily implies that the transformation justu causes physical changes by default.  Many fanfics have the change simply be an image laid over the ninja, because otherwise there would be little to keep the simple jutsu that every ninja knows from letting them grow to fifty feet tall, which is a clan gimmick.

Actually, Naruto’s full of things like that, where the full implications of something existing are simply ignored.  Magicwise, the biggest offender is transformation, but another basic technique, substitution, also nullifies vast swathes of potential powers, namely suicide techniques.  There are also narrative elements that are ignored, like how the main character would have had to skip two years of school in order to fail twice and be the same age as his teammates.  The technology level is all over the place, the only hard and fast rule being that nothing can obsolete people trying to kill each other with magical powers.  All in all, the worldbuilding of the original work is more hole than structure, which is probably why it’s fun to worldbuild in it.

As for myself, I don’t like playing in other people’s sandboxes.  Especially for ongoing works, as canon would have a chance to shift on me.  There’s also how I would have to do a lot of research to write for a huge, sprawling franchise like Naruto, watching filler, tracking down the data books, and other things, just so I would know how everything worked and not look like an idiot to the audience.  But there’s nothing keeping me from using any work simply as inspiration, taking the basic premise and reworking it into something unrecognizable.  Maybe I’ll do that to Naruto when I have the time.

Naruto Fanfiction

There are over 400,000 Naruto stories on fanfiction.net, and general wisdom holds that we can expect over 40,000 of them to be worth reading.  That’s enough to have entire genres.  You can spend years wandering through the archives, even if you limit yourself to the good ones.  And when you read good fanfics, some things occur to you.

Canon never explains what the hand seals do.  Their done before a ninja does a jutsu, but there are jutsu that don’t need hand signs, and sometimes the seals can be skipped.  Some of the seals are associated with a particular element, but when Naruto learns how to use his element, he only uses it with a technique that doesn’t use hand seals.

The genin learn things a lot faster in fanfiction than in canon, especially elemental jutsu.  Some of this is a hold over from before the exposition about a ninja only being able to use jutsu of their innate element(s), and before that it was implied that the common elements could be used by anyone, but it’s still a far cry from canon, where victory is shown to be the result of using your Thing better than the other guy.  This might also have something to do with canon’s dialogue have everyone be very impressed by people with large jutsu arsenals, in spite of what is shown.

Sakura doesn’t have a Thing in Part I.  She isn’t versatile, which is what usually happens when people don’t have a Thing, and she doesn’t use the three jutsu taught in the Academy to devastating effect.  This becomes particularly obvious when she’s replaced on Team 7 with somebody that actually is versatile, like in Dreaming of Sunshine.  She was associated with genjutsu early on, in the same way Naruto was associated with taijutsu, and Sasuke was associated with ninjutsu, but then the original author realized that visually impressive genjutsu either win the fight or do nothing at all, and that went out the window.

There are a lot of ways that canon could have gone differently, and the number of good fics that rewrite the series based off of one relatively small change.  Switching up the original teams is common.  Much of this is due to the huge, sprawling cast, detailed magic system, and strange world who’s technology is mostly determined by what allows ninja to exist.  The plot is also poorly put together, with the original author’s brain seeming to spawn a ton of ideas and characters, and the weekly schedule not allowing him to take the time to turn these ideas into something coherent.  Assuming I’m not simply reading myself into his situation, of course.  I can understand why someone would like to backsolve the series into something logical, but for myself, I have better things to do than to rewrite other people’s work.  Except, perhaps, recreating the magic system.

Proper Chapter Length

There’s something I’ve noticed while reading fanfiction.  Some of these authors write like they need to fulfill an arbitrary length quota.  The actual prose isn’t particularly overwrought, and it’s not like they’re repeating themselves or anything, they just write long meandering chapters with no real overarching theme.

It’s like they’re just describing a series of events, with each piece starting where the last one left off.  There’s no reason for each installment to start or end where it does.  These fanfic are also, inevitably, dull.

A story should be centered around a single, complete idea, the kind of thing you can summarize in one sentence.  If the author doesn’t know what the story, or chapter of the story, is going to be about before they start writing, the result will almost certainly be a long, meandering mess.

More than just talking about the inability of amateur authors to actually make a point with their words, I want to talk about the reason for the length.  Readers of fanfiction tend to be impressed by long stories.  At least part of this is that long stories can only exist when an author has actually done the work of actually typing it all out.  This effort frequently extends to making sure the story is actually good.  The problem arises from people that don’t know what makes a story good.

This results in some readers believing that it’s normal to take thousands of words to just get into a story.  In truth, there’s something wrong if it takes more than two hundred.  However, people seeking advice from readers frequently receive such nonsense.  This can result in a story that starts strong, but becomes a boring slog a few chapters in.  When this happens, I find myself wandering off mid-chapter.  As for myself, if I have to risk either leaving a reader wanting more or getting bored and leaving, I know which side I’m going to err towards.