Fan Fic Sensibility and the Id Vortex

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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February 18, 2013

A Gift of Ghosts, Sarah Wynde

A Gift of Ghosts, Sarah Wynde

A while ago, Mean Fat Old Bat reviewed Sarah Wynde’s A Gift of Ghosts and shortly thereafter it and its two sequels were free, so I picked them up. After reading all three, I can say that they’re all fluffy and pretty enjoyable reads.

So how does that tie into the title of this post? What does this self-published series have to do with fan fiction? Well, in the afterword to the first volume, Wynde mentions that she started out writing Eureka  fan fic and that made a lot of the narrative choices make more sense to me. The way Akira and Zane so seamlessly fall into a relationship. The way there just happens to be a town full of people who are totally cool about Akira’s ability to see ghosts. The narrative voice felt very fannish to me in some indefinable way.

And why the hell am I writing about this?  Heh. That’s a bit convoluted and the easiest answer is probably–as so many answers are theses days–blame Twitter. I mentioned “fan fic sensibilities” to Chris Gerwal and he asked me what I meant and I got to thinking and decided that it would make a good post.

The place I’m starting the conversation from is the concept of the “id vortex” which was coined by Ellen Fremedon back in 2008. Here’s the bit from her post that’s essential to my discussion:

Because pro writers either have some shame, and relegate the purest, most cracklicious iterations of those stories to drawerfic that their workshop buddies will never see, or else they’re shameless. But they usually have to be shameless alone– and so their versions are written so solitarily that they don’t have any voice of restraint, to pull them back from the Event Horizon of the Id Vortex when it starts warping their story mechanics.

But in fandom, we’ve all got this agreement to just suspend shame. I mean, a lot of what we write is masturbation material– not all of it, and not for everyone, but. A lot of it is, and we all know it, and so we can’t really pretend that we’re only trying to write for our readers’ most rarefied sensibilities, you know? We all know right where the Id Vortex is, and we have this agreement to approach it with caution, but without any shame at all. (At least in matters of content. Grammar has displaced sex as a locus of shame. Discuss.)

It is the idea that there is a locus of shame in pro fic that I find so intriguing and why I have different reasons for reading fan fic versus pro fic (I like both!). But every so often, there’s a piece of pro fic that has qualities that strike me as particularly fannish–they’re usually the books where, as I’m reading them, I’m thinking to myself, “This is a terrible premise for a book and I can’t stop reading it because I am completely sucked into it.”

Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches was like that for me–she’s a witch academic, he’s a vampire geneticist, there’s a mysterious manuscript and other magical shenanigans, they do vampire yoga! Seriously, the premise is completely ridiculous and over the top and yet–Harkness is a very good writer and she makes it work.

But I also think that this is why we’re seeing more and more works of barely disguised fan fic being purchased for publication–say what you want about Fifty Shades of Grey (and I’ve said plenty!) but E.L. James has taken some of the more compelling aspects of the Twilight series and transmuted them into something that scratches the same itch for readers.

This isn’t to say that all fan fic is created equal, because it absolutely is not. There’s a lot of terrible fan fic out there. There’s also a lot of terrible pro fic, too. And one nice thing about fan fic is that it’s works written by fans for other fans–and yeah, they’re using other people’s characters and generally building on established canon which means that a lot of the heavy lifting has been done for them already on those fronts. I’d argue, though, that since that heavy lifting has been done that it leaves the fan writers free to explore the gaps in the canon, to take the characters to new and interesting places.

I’m really not sure where I’m going with this, so I’m going to end this post with links to some of my favorite pieces of fan fic and talk about why I like each one.

  • “Incorrigible” by helarctos. A crossover between Madeleine L’Engle’s Murry-O’Keefe stories and V.C. Andrews’s Dollanganger series. Wrong in all the right ways–Charles Wallace goes within to right a great wrong. I wasn’t sure anything could redeem the Dollangangers, but I was wrong.
  • “In Which Tony Stark Builds Himself Some Friends (But His Family Was Assigned By Nick Fury)” by scifigirl47. Avengers.  Household chore chart! Tony needs a hug! Sentient toasters! And a really great plot, too.
  • “let yourself be found” by radiophile. Elementary. This is just a really lovely little character study between Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson and encapsulates so many of the things I love about the show, which is short on good crime plots but long on wonderful characterization and platonic emotional connection.
  • “Only This Fight and Nothing More” by escritoireazul. Roseanne. Absolutely heartwrenching story about one of my favorite sit-com couples.
  • “Jayne Eyre” by Meltha. The author’s summary works best here: “The great novel Jayne Eyre comes to life before your gorram eyes.” Seriously, this is fantastic–the author gets Jayne’s voice absolutely right.
  • “Goodnight Room” by Skoggcatt. Completely awesome science fictional take on Goodnight Moon.
  • Gamol-léac by Castiron. Beowulf. I’m not spoiling this one for y’all, it has to be read to be believed.
  • “Vorkosigan’s Day” by Philomytha. Vorkosigan Saga. Duv Galeni meets Aral Vorkosigan for the first time. And just…GUH.
  • “Simmering” by loveslashangst. Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children. Ayla invents sliced bread. I adore this fic so very much–it basically hits on why the first few books on this series are so cracktacular and also hits on why they’re so damn annoying. And it’s really funny and well-written,too.
  • “The Secret of the Giant Squid” by Donna, my lovely and talented co-conspirator. Nancy Drew/Harry Potter crossover fun! (I am biased because, well, I beta’d it.)

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