Welcome to the Dark Side: An Elitist Exposed
by Armelle Madeline
Author. Beta. Competition winner. Student. PPC member. Deleterius
member. GAFFer. Writer. Hopeful of being published dreamer. Oh, and
fanfiction elitist, and part of the raving masses.
Possibly one of the less modest, or witty commencements, but my studies of Oscar Wilde regrettably have not left me with lasting traces of interesting repartee. Forgive the lack of accent, I don't have a French keyboard.
I first dipped my toes into fanfiction when I was nearly thirteen. I'm now seventeen, so that's four years worth of reading, writing, flaming, ranting, and general 'creativity'. When I first arrived on fanfiction dot net, I posted a horrendous little piece of soft core, starring terrifically out of character 'Buffyverse' characters. I actually got reviews, and proceeded, delightedly, to carry on 'enchanting' the internet with my delicately phrased stories about Spike and Buffy. Hmm. Yes.
I then ventured into the Lord of the Rings fandom, and proceeded to meet the intricacies of web lingo. 'Mary Sue'? What was this, a new character? What a boring name! Anyway, I did my research like a good little girl, and managed to discover a meaning behind the name. Actually, my interpretation went along the lines of, 'Mary Sue is an original character that has been 'thrown into Middle Earth', falls in love with Legolas, goes along with the Fellowship, and has Legolas's babies after marrying him'. I'd read the first of the trilogy. Be afraid, be very afraid!
So I conceived an anti-Sue, named after me with a little tweaking to make it slightly prettier, and set her up. To make life living hell for the Fellowship. I thought it *highly* entertaining, and there were quite a few others who left me reviews numbering in the hundreds, chortling along with me. And then there were the flamers. Constructive critique never really landed on this story - I was thirteen, and naive, and had written the 'OMG, I'm not a Sue!!!' Sue. I had someone list in excrutiating detail the mismatched canon I had botched, and hurt and upset by the 'personal' attack, I posted a long rant in my user profile, on purists, and their attitude.
Which was picked up by the unofficial Fanfiction dot net Board, and mocked. MSTd, to be precise, though I didn't know the term. Some mean soul posted a link to it in my reviews, I checked it out, arrived, and wrote something along the lines of,
'Okay, I don't agree with you, I think it's unfair to mock me for this when I posted it, upset at the attitude from my reviewer, I have deleted the rant, please remove this'. Only couched in less agreeable tones.
It was a taste of harsh criticism, and I continued writing. I wrote another Sue, basing her in the Buffyverse, with a richly woven background of pure angst. Ye gods, it sickens me to look back. And an author arrived on my story, who wrote me no holds bared critique.
'She's a Sue, and this and that, but if you did this, tweaked this, made that character in character then hey presto, better story'. An online friend became indignant on my behalf, rode up on her white horse and accused the other author of plagarising my work, citing examples in her story of a similar action, description, whatever. It was so pathetic I can't remember my reasoning.
Anyway. I realised this around the third email back and forth, while my friend continued to bat patronising and condescending emails with the other author. I apologised for my tempestuousness, and asked her to beta my work.
She did. I had a year of betaing by that girl, and my writing shot up. I learned grammar, how not to insert A/Ns into text, to allow the reader to find their emphasis, canon cliches, construction of plot... Make no mistake, it was tough. She did not sugar coat it. I would rail at her online, swearing that she was stopping me from writing decent stories, that grammar didn't matter, that I could write what I wanted.
She put up with so much, and I thank her heartily for that, a nod to Jen. She kept going. She had in-out knowledge of canon, was a college student studying psychology at Yale, so smart, then, and could be one hell of a bitch in reviews. She started an awards site designed to point out good fics and bad fics.
Do you get my point here? The sledgehammer of exposition, Jen was a purist, and was teaching me how to write, something I dearly wanted to do. I believed I could be a proper writer, but without someone slamming grammar and spelling, and plot into my thick, fourteen year old head, for whom rhino skin is comparatively thin, I would never have reached the stage I sit at, and would never be clambering higher.
SInce Jen's guidance - I still seek her out for critique and reviews - I became a lot more pleasant to those with harsher critique. I sought out the nastier of the fandom, and asked them to read and not hold back. Knowing that I had impressed someone for whom impression was not as common as the reviewers of 'so good, write more', was a far greater achievement than ten of the bland.
Of course, like any little fatheaded teenager, I have, and still do, make stupid errors. I betaed for a fourteen year old much like myself, only lazier. I wanted her to do better, to tidy up spelling and grammar and thicken her scenes because she'd be so much easier to read, and she'd achieve more.
It didn't go well. My 'I don't hold back' persona was not well received. She didn't want a beta, she wanted a praise fanatic, and I didn't do praise. I reserved it for when she seriously impressed me, and when she got it, she was overjoyed. Since then, as she shoved away my advice, and launched a personal attack, our online friendship has gone downhill. We don't speak, whereas Jen is someone I know well, and chat with almost daily.
An example to illustrate the beast discussed. Fourteen year olds, my friends, are thick skinned and skulled. They do not get upset, they get revenge. If you tell them their story is weak, they do not believe you. The, 'you're jealous' argument was conceived by the girl I betaed, amongst others. She levelled popularity with good writing; as she had more reviewers, I was attacking her because I was jealous of her better status.
It's true. Writing for the more literate end of a fandom will always be toil, and thankless for the vast majority. You're not writing fantasies for those squee-ers who are too lazy to think them up themselves, you're writing canon-backed stories which are well thought out, and rooted in basic 'fact'. As such, mostly those who know canon intimately can understand them. It's daunting.
Since then, I've entered GAFF, the PPC, Deleterius - mostly based on my own mistakes. I plagarised Miss Cam, a very very high-up fanfiction 'elitist', who originated the 'Official Universities', trying to educate the masses in an amusing way in canon, and the common cliches.
This was double plus ungood. I was MSTd, ruthlessly mocked, and apologised deeply to Miss Cam, and joined the PPC, determined to do better. I now read very little fanfiction, what I do read is mostly by authors I have found in fandom that I deem good reading, and instead of searching for new ones, I read their new stuff.
So why have I bored you to tears with a history of my dabbles in the world of writing? Because I am human. I have a face, a history and a real life outside of fanfiction. I am not just an 'elitist', my position has evolved over time from being the veriest little fangirl to hopefully, something more.
I am seventeen, so somewhat close in age to fourteen year olds. I know many, some of whom I can only dream of writing like, Thalia Weaver being one of them. I don't personally believe in softening the blow; if you post on a public forum, expect to get backlash. When I was a newbie, the first thing I learned I learned from criticism. Praise is nice, but better when it comes with grudging respect. Kids on a fanfiction site or a livejournal are reduced to sign ins, and excuse themselves via their age if they think someone is going to come down on them.
Anonymity serves as useful in this world in the deep blue nowhere for honest opinions. These people are not real life friends about to borrow your CDs, they're writers with valid opinions. However, that anonymity means that the blow is cushioned, writers can excuse their bad habits and subsequent critique with, 'well, they're just being mean. They don't know anything'. Well, ahem, we do. We are here, we have committed the same mistakes, and a seventeen year old girl can look a twenty five year old metaphorically in the eyes and say, 'back off. It's not personal, because hey, I don't *know* you, but I do know a little more through experience'.
That's where the term 'elitist' seems to come from. Yes, I think I'm better than others. I have better control over grammar and spelling, but I don't forget the roots I have in writing. In life, people are going to be superior to you. Equality lies between the pages of a dystopian novel; in reality, human nature means that we have a heirachy. At the moment, I'm higher than the misspelling, OOC-ing, squee-ing fangirl that live in numbers in the Pit O'Voles. I lose my temper.
GAFF serves as a nice place to vent aggravation. Like my parents, I now know the frustration behind the refrain, 'why can't you learn from *MY* mistakes?!" People learn from their own errors, and grow up. GAFF allows the enraged reviewer to wail, 'but I don't *like* Evanescence! Capslock makes my eyes blur, can the exclamation mark abuse, ye gods, does this character know himself?" And then couch such expletives in more rational terminology.
I am aware we judge. But we judge from an informed standpoint. Most of us have written Sues, been fangirls or guys, and gone through the angst of growing up. Those who participate online often have a reason for doing so. A fanfiction community is filled with misunderstood people, who come off superior.
So yeah, the Dark Side judges. But don't judge us based on preconceptions, and pain. We have been here, paid our dues, learned our craft, and are snarky with humour. Join us. I swear it doesn't hurt!