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Rebuttal to Intrasonic's Fanfic Theories

by Usagi Vindaloo

I'm not usually the type of RPGamer who spends a lot of time on the editorials, and even when I do browse through, there's usually nothing that I want to comment on (or, at least, nothing that hasn't been said already...^_^). However, I was rather piqued by the latest fanfic theories presented by Intrasonic, and I decided, rather than do something productive like my biology homework, to attempt some rebuttal and commenting as a fanfic writer.

First of all, I would like to concede that Intrasonic has some really good points. I found particular truth to his/her comment that much fanfiction is born from a dissatisfaction from the end of a game. I, like so many people, found the endings of FF6 and FF7 to be lacking. ("What, Celes and Locke don't get together? ARRRRRGH!" "Damn you Square, you can't kill off Sephiroth! He's the only reason I played this piece of..." ...er, that's a whole different argument there, and I digress).

I disagree, however, with the negative slant he/she puts on this (or, at least, I assume it's a negative slant; I can't be sure whether (s)he's being sarcastic or not ^_^). There's nothing wrong with being dissatisfied with an ending. It doesn't necessarily mean that the company did a bad ending, but everyone's going to have different standards, expectations, etc., so you can't expect EVERYONE to like a game's ending. So what causes a dislike of a game's ending? Well, there seem to be two reactions:

1) What? How can (insert company name) do that! How can they kill off so-and-so/get some couple together/(insert other outrageous stuff in here)? ARGH! They just ruined a perfectly good game!
2) Umm...that's it? I mean, it was good, but it could have been so much more... I'm left with such a nagging feeling... I need conclusion, goddammit!

Anyway, you get the idea. The first reaction, admittedly, is a little bit childish (although not wrong, mind you), and fanfiction stemming from this can tend to be a little bizarre (not all the time, but I'm sure every fanfic reader can attest to more than a little wish fulfillment out there). The second, however, is more complex. More and more, it seems, RPGs end with a large amount of mystery, inconclusiveness, and even confusion (the "huh?" factor, as I call it). You're lucky if the main plotline gets wrapped up ("OK, yeah, we THINK Meteor was destroyed..."), but everything else is sort of left in the cold. Romances are a really good example of this; sure, FF4 had a great romantic end, but what about Celes/Locke or Clod...I mean, Cloud/whoever he chose?

So, a good deal of the plot is left entirely open at the end. Openness tends to lead to conjecture on the part of the audience. We sit around on our collective couches and wonder, "Hmm, I wonder what really did happen?" Those with imaginations (i.e. a large proportion of the game-playing population) begin to construct their own scenarios in their heads, based on what they gleaned from the game and its characters, with a little of their own feelings mixed in for good measure. Those with the time transcribe their theories; lo, a fanfic is born. So fanfics are basically nothing more than the logical/creative response to a game that occurs naturally in all RPGamers. Therefore, don't write "dissatisfaction with a game's ending" off as a bad thing.

As for Intrasonic's second point, that another problem with fanfics is that they're disguises for people's own writing (i.e. rather than create new characters and worlds, people are using premade characters). Well and good (although I strongly disagree with his/her opinion that Sephiroth wanting redemption is OOC for him; it's a matter of degree, that's all. More on that later...) I have encountered more than my share of OOCness in my time. Remember, however, that sometimes such OOCness may be deliberate. For example, can you imagine how totally boring a parody FF7 fic would be if all of the characters were COMPLETELY IC? Yawn. Much better to have Cid a Dukes of Hazzard fan, Aeris and Tifa engaging in catfights, and Sephiroth wanting milk and cookies. Sounds dumb and OOC? Of course. That's the POINT. In other cases, an author may be exploring what seems to them to be another aspect of the characters persona. For example, if you read a fanfic where Aeris is evil or a bitch or whatever, you immediately write her off as OOC and leave the fic in disgust. Well, perhaps the author felt that, underneath all that sweetness in the game, there must be something darker, and he's playing that up (although perhaps not very well). So perhaps consider the fic before considering the degree of OOCness. (Note: this is not an excuse for all fanfics. There are some that I just read and go, "...the hell?")

Now, finally, to the center of Intrasonic's post, and the part I have the most problem with: clichés. I'm about to say something that will get me flamed off the net.

*deep breath*

Clichés aren't ALL bad.

*sigh*

OK, I can see you're all about to kick my butt. But I will stand by my belief that a fanfic can be cliched to hell and back and STILL be a damn good fic. In my humble opinion, the successfulness of a topic depends more on the delivery and aesthetics than it does on originality. Therefore, when we groan about clichés, we are probably groaning more about the presentation than the cliché itself.

Take, for example, the 'cliché of Sephiroth getting reborn and redeemed somehow (BTW, I will state for the record my bias that I think Sephiroth is one of the best characters ever, sane or insane, good or evil). How many fics have trudged this long and soul-finding path? *I* sure as hell don't know; I lost count somewhere back around a thousand. ^_^ Not only that, but they're going to keep coming (I'm writing one as we speak...) So, Sephiroth's rebirth is a cliché, right? It sure seems that way. And yet, there are still brilliant and fresh fanfics that deal with this topic. Sure, there are some that are absolute piles of poop, but I'm sure that anyone who reads FF7 fics on a regular basis can name AT LEAST one Sephiroth fic that stood out in their heads.

So what differentiates them? Well, I tend to find that the ones that stick in my head are the ones that are (shock, horror!) well written. I hear a collective "DUH!" out there in RPG land. Still, bear with me. Of course, there's still the syntax and semantics of the language that affects our judgment(i.e. we're more likely to remember a well-spelled and descriptive Sephiroth redemption fic than one with typoes every page and lines like, "He swung. He missed. He died."). However, I'm thinking more of the way the writer goes about 'performing' the cliché. This requires thought and skill.

Back to the Sephiroth redemption example, say we have two fics, both of equally skilled spelling, grammar, and description. The first one has Sephiroth mysteriously get resurrected. Immediately upon his resurrection, he feels remorse for what he has done, and sets off to find the AVALANCHE members to hook up with them and tell them he's sorry. Along the way, and once he meets them, his actions continually indicate that he's a total good guy now, has no more ambitions or feelings of hate, and that he's totally disgusted by what he did. By the end, it turns out that Jenova was controlling him somehow, and that what he did wasn't totally his fault. AVALANCHE becomes good buddies with him, he settles down, marries someone (Please god, not Yuffie!), and generally becomes an all around nice man. Fair enough, but it's this type of fanfic that screams CLICHÉ in loud and ringing terms.

Let's try the second fanfic. After spending a millennia drifting aimlessly through the Lifestream, Sephiroth finally finds a way to return to the land of the living. Everyone he ever knew (including our intrepid heroes) is dead, but he is still grimly determined to carry out his mission and become a god like Jenova meant for him (or rather, like he THOUGHT Jenova meant...). As he journeys, however, he begins to question his own motivation. When did he decide that he wanted to be a god? Was he acting for himself, or for Jenova? Confused and a little weak from his excursions, he ends up falling in with a group (who could be everything from the FFT crew to the Sailor Senshi to just normal original characters) and living with them for a while. Despite himself and his hatred for people in general, he begins to experience normal human emotion, both from his new companions and - even more frightening for him - from himself. It is these experiences that finally make him realize that Jenova could not have been his mother (since she never showed any love or warmth), and that he in turn was a puppet himself. Where he goes from there will determine his redemption, if indeed he is redeemed (e.g. does he decide to shrug and go back to being a villain anyway?). Sorry I rambled on a bit, but I'm hoping that you can see my point. This long and potentially fascinating story rose from a single cliché, and the further possibilities with this cliché alone are endless.

As you can see, I take great exception to Intrasonic's opinion on clichés and 'overused themes'. I especially have a problem with his/her line:

"A topic isn't cliché when the writer is the first person to write about it. As for the fiftieth person to write about... did the other forty-nine somehow fail to do an adequate job on it?"

It's a pointless question, in this writer's opinion, but if it must be answered, my answer is no, the other 49 didn't do an adequate job. A topic is infinitely subtle, Intrasonic, and everyone has a take on it. Some people feel that the road to Sephiroth's redemption is through Aeris. Others think it's through coming to terms with his childhood and Hojo. Still others might think it's through a big teddy bear, a bowl of ice cream, and Friday night TV. The point is, they should feel free to present their opinions in the manner that they choose. Some might present in a very clumsy and technically dull manner, but hey, we're not all Shakespeare. I personally enjoy seeing how someone does a fresh take on an old idea. But hey, that's me. Hmm, that was Shakespeare too, now that I think of it...

In closing, I'd just like to summarize my thoughts:
1) Clichés don't make a fanfic bad; bad spelling, grammar, and writing make it bad.
2) There's nothing wrong with being dissatisfied with the end of a game.
3) There's nothing wrong with DOING something about being dissatisfied with the end of a game.
4) Clichés can be done in new and exciting ways; don't just write something off because it's "one of THOSE stories again".

Right, well, thanks for listening to my looooooooooong ramble. Oh, and I do agree with one thing for sure: When Frog loses Ye Olde Englishe accent disappears, I get nervous too. ^_^

Original Editorial: On Fanfics - Conspiracy Theories That Make Mulder Look Conservative

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