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27 July 2011 @ 03:22 pm
Vampires as fanfic  
In a discussion in the car on the way home from Cascade Writers, I realized that writing about vampires or zombies is a lot like writing fanfic. In both cases, much of the character development and worldbuilding are done for you; all you have to do is say "vampire," or "Kirk," and the reader instantly knows what to expect.

In both cases, defying those expectations is possible, but it's more work, and it's not often done because it will disappoint or anger a good chunk of the readers. Some writers wind up "filing off the serial numbers" so that the fanfic is no longer recognizable as such (or is recognizable in a camouflaged, wink-and-a-nod way). You end up with a starship that isn't quite the Enterprise, or a powerful life-draining immortal who isn't quite a vampire. There has been some quite good fiction produced in this way.

Although I recognize that fanfic is a useful writing exercise, and can be used as the basis of some interesting transformational works that take the basic material and comment on it, or use it to comment on other aspects of society, I generally find it uninteresting because it's lazy. And that might be why I find so much vampire and zombie fiction (and there is so much of it, these days) extremely put-downable.

dd-bdd_b on July 28th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
I have a hard time accepting the vampires in Stoker, Quinn Yarbro, Rice, and Hamilton as the same. Never mind the vampires in Buffy (which vary a lot). And one of the chief things I do when reading them is try to figure out how the vampires work -- precisely because they don't work the same way (often it's inconsistent within a given series, even).

Which is I guess to say I don't see vampires functioning usefully in the way you describe. Maybe the recent spate of nonsense has narrowed down to a single view -- but I kind of doubt it, from what I've heard about the ones I haven't read. The word "sparkly" comes to mind in that context....
et in Arcadia egobooapostle_of_eris on July 29th, 2011 07:57 am (UTC)
My current working hypothesis is that the whole "fic" thing is a basicly different way of relating to the stuff than I do.
But I haven't gotten much further.
mcjuliemcjulie on July 29th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC)

Interesting thought, but I think what you're looking for is "shared world fiction" rather than "fan fiction." I think fan fiction is characterized by things like a lack of professional polish and discipline, and aggressive and blatant fan service manifested in things like slash and author/reader insert characters (the infamous Mary Sue). Most fan fiction would not survive on its own without the characters and world-building already accomplished by the host fiction.

Shared world fiction, on the other hand, is all over the place. It can be tedious and dull, like Dungeons & Dragons tie-in novels. Or it can be fantastic stuff like the Hugo and Nebula-winning "A Study in Emerald" or "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."

That said, I agree with dd_b that there is not enough congruency among vampire fiction to consider all of it as shared world fiction. There is too much variation not only in the specifics of how vampirism is conceived (stakes, sunlight, etc.) but in what kinds of stories vampires are used to tell. Is the vampire a hero, anti-hero, villain, sympathetic villain, protagonist, antagonist, love interest? Is the vampire natural or supernatural? What are its innate strengths and weaknesses? How does the vampire metaphor function in this particular story?

I would suggest that if current vampire and zombie stories feel stale and dull to you, that's more likely because they are considered "hot" right now, which often leads to less interesting stuff being published. When a formula sells, you get stuff written according to that formula.

However, I would describe one work of vampire fiction as being remarkably like fan fiction -- Twilight. It has the characteristic lack of professional polish and discipline, the protagonist is a fairly blatant author/reader insert character, and it really skimps on things like characterization and world building. The only difference is that it's fan fiction for a host fiction that doesn't exist. So in that case you might consider the host fiction "the entirety of vampire fiction up until that point." Especially because the writer is not a horror or vampire fan, and her knowledge of vampire mythology is straight out of the pop culture zeitgeist.