R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson
rj_anderson

What makes a good HP fanfic?

One of my readers, Ana, asked in her comments on a recent post:

"Do you have favorite HP fanfiction?"

Why, yes indeed, I do. And actually, I've been meaning to post a list of my HP fanfic faves, as well as to talk a little about what I look for in fanfic generally and HP fanfic in particular, so I might as well do it now... thanks for asking, Ana.

I realize that tastes and priorities vary with the individual reader (and all the more when that reader is also an author), and that just because I think a story is exceptionally well-written and worthy of reading doesn't mean that everybody else is going to feel the same way. On the other hand, I do think there are some legitimate standards for a well-written story of any kind, which my favorite HP fanfics meet and others (regardless of how popular they might be among fans generally) do not. Here they are, in no particular order:

Originality of thought. By this I mean that the author has striven to avoid cliches (especially the cliches endemic to the particular genre or sub-genre) or else put a new twist on the old ideas that makes them seem fresh again. But even more importantly, I also mean that the author has not succumbed to the temptation to recycle other people's material. When a large part of the plot or characterization or humour in the fic derives from other sources, I lose my respect for a story, and I also lose respect for the author.

Canonicity of spirit. This does not mean that the author sticks slavishly to JKR's writing style and type of content, but it does mean that the author shows knowledge of and respect for what JKR has written and strives to make the story consistent with the world and characters JKR has created. By all means, let's have Year 7 fics, beyond-Hogwarts fics, even alternate-universe fics; but my suspension of disbelief does depend heavily upon being able to find something I recognize in the story as being akin to JKR. If a fanfic is populated with OC's named Alyssa and Brendan, or the canonical characters are all living the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (complete with high-powered careers, glamorous fashions, perfect hair and unlikely romantic entanglements), and/or the story is riddled with references to Muggle pop culture, I find it extremely hard to suspend disbelief or enjoy the story. All those things are so antithetical to the spirit of what JKR has written, it makes me wonder why the author didn't just write some other kind of story entirely.

Consistency of characterization. Not only is it important that the characters should think and behave consistently within the fic itself, but I believe they ought to be consistent with the characters as JKR wrote them. This is certainly not to say that a canonical character, viewed from a perspective other than Harry's, might not turn out to have hidden depths and qualities that JKR hasn't (yet) revealed to us -- in fact, that idea is fundamental to my own Snapefics. But if you're going to write Snape, you need to take into account the character as JKR's already written him, and you need to be prepared to address his unpleasant qualities and attitudes, not just gloss over them. And if you're going to write Hermione five years after Hogwarts, yes, it is true that people do change and grow and mature with the years -- but they don't alter into complete unrecognizability, and even an older Hermione should have some "grace notes" of speech and habit that make her recognizable as the girl we know from canon. Otherwise, how am I going to believe that these are the same people I know and love from JKR's stories? Just assigning the name "Snape" or "Hermione" to a character, or throwing in one stereotypically recognizable trait (Snape is sarcastic, Hermione is intellectual) isn't enough.

Solidity of plot. This is not to confuse "plot" with "action". As Aristotle observed, "Character is plot," and it is possible to write an excellent fic which consists of nothing more than one character sitting around and thinking, or two characters talking. But even so, the story should be about something, and a fic which wanders around all over the place while the author writes scenes that she (or the fans) are begging for but which do nothing to provide significant information to the reader or otherwise advance the action, is a badly written fic. Unfortunately, there are a lot of otherwise promising stories which do exactly this, stretching a five or ten-chapter concept into twenty or thirty chapters, and making it very difficult for the reader to follow the main plot, or even determine what the plot actually is. (I seem to be reading several of these at the moment.)

I have a lot more thoughts on this subject, but I've already gone on at ridiculous length, so I'll have to leave them for another blog. Anyway, next up I'll make a post listing some of what I think are the very best HP fanfics, and providing links to same.
Tags: essays, fan fiction, hp, writing
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