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by Mark Gross
Note: The recent letter by Chad Harger, was something of a catalyst for me writing this letter. But any anonymous opinions that I refer to are not necessarily limited nor attributed to him specifically (Although his letter was one of the better-written ones I received/saw posted).
Some time ago, I posted a brief editorial to RPGamer regarding the existence of cliche in fanfiction and a simplistic analysis of such. I say ‘simplistic' on account of the fact that I'd be an arrogant bastard to presume to have _all_ the answers. I must stress that I'm not taking back anything I said before. I merely presented two explanations that I believed to be extremely prevalent.
Anyway, for my trouble, I got a whole slew of letters and saw a couple of editorial replies posted up on RPGamer. Wow! I actually provoked a response! (*Insert brief feeling of satisfaction*) Some replies were more coherent and reasoned out than others, but as I look them over, it's safe to say that they can be generalized into two camps. Camp#1: "Preach it, brother! There is too much cliche out there, and there are far too many writers who don't show enough pride in their work or take the time to come up with something original." (Basically, they agreed with me.)
Camp#2: "You're a bigoted S.O.B. and it would be my pleasure to serve you up a Cyanide on the Rocks. Cliche storylines are perfectly okay in themselves, presentation is everything." (They tended to disagree with me.)
Okay, these are extreme examples. But they're still pretty indicative of the two types of replies that I received. Camp#1 never really seemed to offer specifics on why they agreed with me, forcing me to assume that the specifics were what I had already posted. Fair enough. End of topic as far as I'm concerned. Camp#2's replies offered reasons against me.
This camp generally felt that:
A) There were many fanfics out there with extremely cliche topics, yet were still excellent reads
B) If the needle is sharp and the seamstress is skilled, you _can_ make a silk purse from a sow's ear. That is, any cliche can be redeemed by talented writing and a different slant on things.
And as a result...
This, I must confess to disagreeing with (Points A and B, I mean. Mainly.). That is, I honestly don't believe that style and angle of approach are what makes up a story. A notable portion of the process certainly, but nowhere near being the chief determining factor. A completely original idea is worthless without the means to communicate it properly (See the umpteen editorials re: grammar), but expert communication is pointless without something worthwhile to communicate. There is such thing as an excellent storyline. And there is such thing as a crappy storyline.
Regarding, my question near the end of my first editorial, ‘Did the other 49 authors somehow fail to do an adequate job on it? That's _not_ a rhetorical question (Although to my fault, it sure looks like one, and I failed to elaborate on it). Put simply, that is a question that any author should ask themselves when writing a fanfic that involves a cliche topic. And on behalf of many of the replies I received, any decent story possesses some degree of cliche into it (And I don't believe I'll even try to argue that point).
So _did_ the previous authors address it properly? As a writer, writing a story that has an element that already exists in another story, they should be asking themselves why their story is still significant. That is, Author#1 writes "Chu-Chu died and nobody cared". When Author#2 wishes to write a ‘Death of Chu-Chu' fic of his own (Heaven help us), they should be putting consideration into differentiating their story from the first. Perhaps this time, a tropical worm eats him from the inside out, starting with his voice-box (hopefully). At the same time, a problem occurs, and everybody else must struggle to deal with the problem without Chu-Chu at their side. Or whatever. The point is, there should be some reason that their story is significant and unique in lieu of all the others.
So when someone sits down and types out an Aeris-Resurrection story, no problem. But I don't think it's at all unreasonable to expect them to put some effort into making it one-of-a-kind. Perhaps Aeris is resurrected by Joe Psycho. Okay, this opens up a can of worms once the gang finds out about this. Nothing new yet. But suppose Aeris was only the first person to be resurrected? Suppose Joe Psycho can do it to other people too? Easily. Now the group is faced with an unstable nutcase who has discovered something only a step down from immortality. And they are faced with the resulting ramifications of this. Figure out how to stop Joe. Is what he is doing right or wrong? And depending on the answer, should Aeris be killed again to make things right? Is Aeris even alive? What if Tifa is on the verge of using these questions to justify off-ing Aeris? And so on. I don't _think_ that angle has been approached before. But that's not my point.
My point is, by the time this has all been done, the story has ceased to be an Aeris-Resurrection story. Rather, it is a story that deals with something else entirely, that through it's debate and resolution, the Aeris-Resurrection cliche has occurred as a natural extension. I would consider such a situation to be much more ideal than the author digging up Aeris' body, channeling a lightning bolt through it, then letting the animated body go and turn Cloud into psychiatric case again.
Personally, my judgement on a story is not based solely on whether the author's writing talent puts Shakespeare to shame, or makes Beavis and Butthead look intelligent. Having my cake without eating it is stupid, but eating my cake without having it is incomprehensible. The content of the story is just as important as how it's presented. And a big part of the content is originality.
This is an editorial. Comments and Rebuttals are naturally welcome.
I've done a lot of authoring. I've been writing stories for well over ten years now, and I've been writing fanfiction for three. But I've only begun posting what I wrote in the last year. That is, I did not begin writing with the intention that someone read, judge and hopefully appreciate my work. I wrote for myself, and only myself. It was only after I decided to learn HTML that I decided that a fanfiction webpage would be a good practical way to implement what little I had learned. I've read a great deal of fanfiction from both all types of RPG's and anime, and I've done a great deal of proof-reading for the like. And I am absolutely convinced of the inevitability of improvement. I look at my old stories and compare them to what I right now, and easily see signs of improvement. I've read stories even worse than my first ones. And I've read plenty of stories better than I could ever dream of doing. Written by the same person. Even in the absence of outside proof-reading, writing is an automatically-improving activity. If I thought that the existence of better writing was a reason not to write, I never would have begun writing in the first place. So please, start writing. Preferably immediately.
In the end, if you are writing for the sole purpose of garnering complements and having others read them, then I'd be happy to discourage you from writing. Such a pursuit is stupid, and you'd be better off doing something else you enjoy or benefit from. I consider every posted fanfic to be the author stating that they just finished investing a piece of themselves into a written work and benefitted from it. And that you're welcome to read and benefit from it too. So if there is a part of you that would still be writing those stories even if you knew that no other soul on the planet would ever read them, then I encourage you to write your brains out. Aeris-Resurrection cliches be damned.
[Editor's Note: This is a marvelous example of what a Rebuttal can be. His points are clear, his grammar is exquisite, he uses humour, he gives examples, and he makes his point clearly. He is not flat out saying "Uz iz wr0ng so smurf 0ff." In addition, his PS is wonderful. It is excellent advice, and I'd like you all to try to apply it to your editorial writing as well ;) I'd speak for longer about this, but it's long enough, and does a perfect job of speaking for itself.]
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