Too often the term "fanfiction" is used as shorthand for poor quality, for clumsy writing, for dreadful genre writing.
Can we stop doing that? It's no more accurate to label all fanfic bad
than it is to label everything published by a proper house good
. Just like the difference between literary
writing is one of style more than quality.
Here is proof: a new Jeeves & Wooster novel, in the style of Wodehouse, written by Sebastian Faulks. And by all accounts this sort-of-official-fanfic is a morass of utter shit.
is a descriptor of content, not quality.
‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’ is worse than bad fanfiction
The Jeeves and Wooster formula is as follows. The location may vary. The plot may vary. The cast may vary. But, in brief, the narrator, the amiable if not particularly independent bachelor Bertie Wooster, along with his paragon of a valet, the brainy Jeeves, winds up being called upon to extricate a friend or an aunt from trouble. Matrimony and arrest may threaten, engagements and nights in jail cells do ensue, but invariably the status quo is restored, thanks to Jeeves’ brilliance. Bertie and Jeeves, who has vowed to turn in his notice if matrimony ever looms, are reunited, and Bertie gets rid of some article of clothing that has been making Jeeves upset. All this in a nostalgic vision of England or New York where excruciatingly little of world events ever penetrates. “How’s the weather, Jeeves?” Bertie asks one morning. “Exceptionally clement, sir.” “Anything in the papers?” “Some slight friction threatening in the Balkans, sir. Otherwise, nothing.” This, in Jeeves in the Springtime, is as close as we ever get to World War I.
. . .
Which brings me to the subject of fanfiction. What is it, exactly?
I would submit that three kinds of fanfiction: the sanctioned published kind (spin-off Bonds, Star Wars sequels, many of these aimed at men), the kind you forget is fanfiction (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Milton’s Paradise Lost) and the kind the word evokes, written on the Internet largely for and by women between 14 and the designated demographic of “50 Shades of Grey.”
If you want to read a story about Bertie and Jeeves where people deal with World War I and everything changes, go to the Indeed, Sir fanfiction archive where there is plenty of that, much of it better written. If you want to read a story about a young Wodehouse male who falls in love and gets into scrapes, read the “Indiscretions Of Archie.”
Some writers do violence to their own creations. Many fanfic writers do. This is where we get tropes like the Mary Sue, a perfect female character suddenly introduced to the story who can do everything really well and the main character is just destined to fall in love with. This is frowned on even among tweens.
Fanfiction is motivated by the sense that there is something missing. Generally, what is missing is that not enough of the characters are having explicit sex, or that two of the characters that you wish were having sex with one another are not doing so, although in Wodehouse fanfiction this is not always the case. It’s a tribute, but it’s also about filling in the gaps.
And you could argue that Wodehouse’s work, by definition, set in the perpetual greenwood, with no history and nary a hint of sex — biographer Robert McCrum quotes George Orwell’s comment that Wodehouse sacrifices all the farcical potential of “anything in the nature of a sex joke” — is rife with gaps to fill. Except that its incompleteness turns out to be the secret of its perfection.
. . .