Fan Fiction as Advertising

I’ve always felt that studios, writers, graphic artists – the owners of various movie, television, and graphic novel characters and worlds – were missing out on a very good marketing plan.  What do they want?  What is their motivation for providing shows and movies, books and comics for their particular audiences?  Of course part of it is pure creativity.  Writers write and artists pen because it wells up from somewhere inside, from the author’s fea (to borrow a Tolkien term).  Write or die.  Create or stifle.  I get that.

But, come on, isn’t a part of this creative process motivated by money?  We all have to feed our kids, pay our mortgages, and buy the cool new Chucks.  So, logically speaking, the more people that watch your show (and buy the advertisers’ products), go to your movies, buy your books and comics, and pay for your autographs at DragonCon, the higher your revenue and the more opportunities you have to do what you love – create new worlds.  Even I can do that math.

Advertising is expensive.  Without discussing the craziness that is Super Bowl ads, just a 15 second ad on television can cost as much as $100,000 (during a mid-rated show on a major network in prime time) and that does not include the costs of production or overhead.  While networks do handle promotion for their shows, the money they are willing to spend increases with the show’s popularity.  Give and take.  You wash my back, I’ll wash yours.  (Or is it scratch?  That has always confused me.)  In other words, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and, when you pay the piper, the piper is willing to play a lot of 15-second jingles for you.

Back to topic.  Advertising.  More eyes on your product, more ticket sales, more people lining up at your table to get a $30 to $100 autograph.  As Joel Grey taught me, money makes the world go around.

So, why aren’t studios and authors and etc., etc., utilizing a totally and completely free method of advertising that has been known to gather new fans and raise audience interest for their products?  Why aren’t they endorsing fan fiction?

I had neither notice of nor interest in the excellent BBC show “Sherlock” until I came across some stories about it on fanfiction.net.  Read a few stories, found the show was already a year old, went to my local Barnes and Noble and bought season 1, watched season 2, bought those DVDs, and am now waiting on pins and needles for the next season to begin.  And, believe me, if either Smaug or Bilbo happens to find his way to my favorite sci-fi conventions, the lines for his autographs will be out the door, around the corner, and down the highway.

I’ll ask the question.  Why isn’t fan fiction popular with stars or studios?  Why aren’t they thanking the fan fic writers, pointing people to the stories, and generally hopping on the band-wagon of excitement and enthusiasm?

Some answers are obvious:

Some of these stories are horrible.  Yep, fanfiction.net has no editor, no proof-reader, no one who is on staff to read these stories and toss away the hundreds wherein the writer has no interest in grammar, has only a passing knowledge of the use of a period, let alone a new paragraph, and couldn’t express a coherent thought if it bit him on the nose.

Also, some of these stories are horrible.  Death, dismemberment, eye gouging, cancer, kidnapping, brutal brutality, rape, sexual slavery, and general nastiness are featured widely.  Gruesome, grim, and horror-lific.  Yikes.  I kid you not; tread lightly when you see warnings for violence or “dark scenes.”

Thirdly, some of the characters are not in character.  Gibbs weeps.  Spock pouts like a whiny pouter.  Military men are caricatures who only know how to a) be thick-necked jerks, b) kill people because they like it, or c) terrorize anyone not up to their physical standards.  (Just because this also happens in mainline fiction and television doesn’t make it any more appealing in fan fic.)  I totally understand if studios, actors, and writers do not want to see their beautifully carved, wonderfully alive characters turned inside out until they are all but unrecognizable.

These three problems could be overcome with the simple addition of an Editor.  Someone – or some ones – who can filter out the badly written, the graphic, the out-of-character stories and allow the thin stream of pure creativity to drip through.

Enter Kindle Worlds.

http://www.geekwire.com/2013/amazons-kindle-worlds-program-promotes-licenses-fan-fiction/

Brilliant.  Only an entity as huge as Amazon.com could do it.  Only a company that is forward thinking, exists by setting up business on the cusp of technological development, and has a wealth of personnel and resources could possibly tackle these problems and overcome them.

And, suddenly, fan fic is in the open marketplace.

Not many television shows have signed on – and please notice those that have – very teen angsty (with a supernatural twist) dramas.  Clearly, someone up there has decided that fan fic writers are mostly teenage girls.  Interesting.  Not true, but interesting.

Fan fic writers are watching with baited breath.  We’re waiting.  Waiting to see if our favorite obsessions are going to show up.  If shows that have been off the air for decades will be given a green light.  If studios and writers and creators will be able to get over that last huge hurdle that has forever kept them from acknowledging that fan fiction could help them, could boost ratings, DVD sales, and royalties.

Speaking as a writer, the biggest obstacle, that huge hurdle to overcome seems to me to be this:  Ownership.  I have created these characters and this world, says the writer.  I own these concepts, this dialogue, these identities, say the studios.  They are in my head and my heart and they speak and act inside me.  They are MINE.  And how dare some 45-year-old wannabe think she can spin my characters in any way that would be acceptable?  Rank plagiarism.  Theft.  Get your own characters and ideas.

Yes.  Of course.  I understand.

To a point.

But, as Adrian Monk would say, here’s the thing:  there have, for many, many years, been books that “add to” the canon of feature films or television.  Go to the bookstore – or, in some cases, the used book store.  There you’ll find Man from U.N.C.L.E™ books.  Doctor Who™ books.  Starsky and Hutch™ books.  Then wander into the Star Wars™ aisle and prepare to be amazed.  These books are stand-alone stories set in that show’s particular universe using existing characters.  Licensed by the studio, these books are generally not considered “canon;” they are “other adventures,” set in between episodes or tales that expand the show’s universe long after it was cancelled or ended. 

The main difference between these stories and fan fiction?  It’s not quality or readability, believe me.  Just pick up a couple of the Stargate Fandamonium books and you’ll see that good story-telling and good characterizations are not always the standard.  Heck, I remember reading one Star Wars book back in the late 70s that had Luke and Leia married and raising kids.  George Lucas has since explained that these two are brother and sister, but that hardcover book did indeed exist.

The difference is that these books have been vetted by the owners.  They have been given a once-over (too often it’s a bare flipping of the pages – seriously, when did Colonel Maybourne become Colonel Mayberry, people??), the writers have paid licensing fees, and the owners have signed on the dotted line.

It’s about money.  And pride.

Sometimes you have to swallow one in order to get any of the other.  And vice versa.

I encourage studios to consider fan fiction.   Treat it as a marketing strategy.  An investment.  Do you want to sell DVDs?  Finance a reboot?  Bring your characters, your world, back into the public eye after too many years out of syndication?

List your demands.  Be specific with your requirements.  Set up your editors and gate-keepers.  Tell us what we have to do to get our so-beloved characters back from limbo and onto the page again.

I promise we’ll take good care of them.  You can watch over our shoulders to make sure we do.

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Stargate Fan Fic Writing Panel Prompt: Janet Saves the Day

In honor of the beautiful and talented Teryl Rothery’s appearance at DragonCon this year, the writing panel, “SG Writers Unite!” brainstormed story ideas focused on a Janet centric story.  Picking up some aspects of our “Beginnings, Middles, Ends” discussion, the group chose certain complications and started clicking those keys, ideas and inspiration zooming!  The following were the situations they were given as possible “Middles”:

 

An unexpected Goa’uld arrival

A hike on the side of a mountain

A festival or party

It’s dark

A space battle

Arrival of someone from the (team’s) past – not time travel.  (Think Daniel’s grandpa not AU Sam)

A betrayal

A power failure

A minor character death (MINOR, people!)

Disagreement between two team members

Naked, wet Daniel

The Russians want something

Stargate malfunction

Creature!!

An SG-1 member infiltrates the enemy

A twig snaps

The ground disappears

All the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck stand up.

 

The group picked … drumrolllll … well, most of them, actually!  I will admit that the first hand raised insisted on the naked wet Daniel scenario and who were we to argue with instant inspiration? 

Here is the basic beginning idea that we came up with:  There’s a power failure that causes all of the emergency/blast doors to slam shut.  Janet, Daniel, Siler, and a few others are trapped in the infirmary with no communication.  They don’t know if the power failure is because of an accident, an attack, or something else.  Daniel has been expected in the “Embarkation Room” (because that’s where the teams ‘embark’ from) to greet some powerful aliens and ‘do’ diplomacy.  Are the aliens the problem??

I hope someone picks up and runs with this story – changing it however they want to.  In fact, it would be great if a bunch of fan fic writers decided to take this on – then we could see how our different creative minds work given the same set of circumstances.  I plan to keep working, as soon as my Friendship Ficathon duties have been fulfilled.

Here are the notes I took:

 

Begins with power on.  Janet is treating injured Airman Oliver Simpson.  He’s badly injured.  He needs surgery – he has a head injury and a subdural hematoma.  Surgery to relieve the pressure is needed asap.  Siler is in the infirmary as is usual for a minor burn.  Daniel is also in the infirmary for some reason we’ll explain later.  Decontamination shower – he’s the last one out after SG-1’s last mission.

Hammond calls infirmary asking for Daniel in the Embarkation room to greet the sumthin delegation from sum planet. Asks for status of Airman Simpson.

Suddenly – klaxons go off.  The power fluctuates.  Janet is concerned.  Security doors close and everything goes black.

Emergency lights.  “Crap!”

Daniel with towel out of shower.

Heightened concern.  Janet very concerned about Airman Simpson.

A few minor characters.  Nurses (3)  Corpsmen (2) Daniel, Siler, nameless patients.

Daniel and Siler trying to work out what’s wrong – or at least restore communications.

Janet is torn between her duty as doctor and duty as an Air Force officer.  How can she be effective at either if she has to focus on both? 

Marine Sgt. NAME is being treated for a broken arm (part of a mission that went badly) part of Simpson’s team.  He’s is in Janet’s face about her being ranking officer and how she must find out what’s happening on the base. (Research Janet’s rank.)

Daniel in “explanatory mode” talking about the alien race that he’s supposed to meet in the Stargate room – technologically advanced – perhaps they weren’t as friendly as I thought they were.  Internal conflict for Daniel thinking maybe this is partly his fault.

Janet is more concerned about saving her patient.  MARINE wants to pull her focus onto the base emergency.  You can’t save one man at the risk of everyone else dying!!!

Patient has a seizure!! That’s never good.  Totally unresponsive.

Banging and/or the door starts to open.

Is it good guys coming to the rescue or bad guys from a foothold situation?

 

Now Go! Write! Pick your circumstances and let fly! Give Janet the props she deserves!  If you could comment on this blog with a link to your first chapter, that would be fantastic!

And thanks again for supporting our Writing Panel at DragonCon.

Ends

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The End of the Line

Ends are hard.  Hard to envision.  Hard to get into words.  How much angst?  How much comfort?  How much hope for the future?  How do I, the writer, give my readers the closure their hearts are crying for without making it soapy or fluffy or trite?  How do I give them an inkling that the story is not quite over while still wrapping up most of the loose ends I’ve left dangling?  Can I bring in a solution out of nowhere (cue ‘beam me up, Asgard’) or a villain we’d never met (CM’s Season 8 finale’s John Curtis. Who?) without my readers cursing my name and tossing my story into the fires of hell?

And then there’s the – sometimes inevitable – character death.  Huge warnings should come with this twist.  And hankies.  And, perhaps, self-addressed, stamped envelopes for the hate mail.  (Joss, Davies, we’re not going to ‘get over it’.)  I wrote my first ‘major character death’ fic not that long ago.  Really, really hard to do!!  But endings are like that.  It’s hard to say goodbye, hard to give our most favorite characters, our friends, our heroes some time off.  A break until next week.  Or next year.  Or longer.  Or forever.

In episodic television, we have built-in hope.  We have next week’s episode to look forward to.  We have the (sorta) guarantee that no main character is going to be lost.  (I know, I KNOW!  But he came back the very next season!!)  We can wait a week.  Or two.  Over the summer hiatus.  For a year while the actors take off to make major films.  For a really, really long time until the director/writer gets his cabeza out of his mikta.  Sigh.

I went to some Torchwood panels at DragonCon.  Loved listening to those beautiful Welsh vowels, hearing the funny stories, the light-hearted memories of the cast and crew.  But, no, John Barrowman, I will not be writing/emailing/tweeting to BBC to demand more Torchwood.  Not unless they resurrect Ianto Jones.  I see no point.  There is no Torchwood without Ianto for me.  He’s the innocent with the secret past, the everyman, the one people root for.  In order to be Torchwood, there must be Ianto Jones and it must be set in Cardiff, Wales.

As Gareth David Lloyd said, Ianto’s death was not a good death.  It was not earned.  It did not cement his place as a hero within the Torchwood canon as did Owen and Tosh’s deaths.  It was meaningless and stupid.  (When is ‘death by alien fart’ ever going to be epic, I ask you???)  You cannot just kill off beloved characters all willy-nilly.  You can do it, but you must do it perfectly and not often.  Just ask Joss.

Ends.  Why do we hate them?  Perhaps because, in our real lives, they come all too frequently.  As a person who has lost a Shakespearean amount of people close to me within the past few years, I tell you this:  ends suck.  There’s always something left unsaid.  There’s always guilt.  Grief.  Misery.  Loss.  Don’t ask me to live through it with my make-believe family and friends, too.

As usual, we look to The Rolling Stones for some wisdom on this subject. 

“You can’t always get what you want … but if you try sometimes, you might find …

You get what you need.”

At the end of Forever in a Day, no one wanted Sha’re to die.  But she did.  And Daniel and Teal’c got closure.  And Sha’re herself got an end to her suffering and slavery.

Good ends, bad ends, unemotional, logical ends.  Walk-aways.  Shock endings.  Lame puns.  Really bad old-age makeup.  Shawarma.  Ripley and the cat in a cryo-chamber.  Whether they tear us apart or make us laugh; make us scream with frustration or with joy, ends are necessary.  The story needs a stopping place, a goal, the Journey’s End.

This journey – the journey of DragonCon – is over for me.  It started about four years ago with a group of fantastic ladies who made friends quickly and latched onto my heart.  It continued with the discovery of fans of programs I had always assumed only mattered to me.  With like-minded individuals who spend a lot of time thinking about the plotting and characters of stories.  With other writers.  With people who are not afraid to dress up in costume and have fun.

It’s time for that journey to end.

A burgeoning ‘membership’ of 65,000+ people that has led to lines for panels that wrap city blocks.  Twice.  Expensive hotel rooms that lessen their guest services every year.  A Dealer’s Room that is far-removed and badly planned.  Long drives, hot weather, waiting, waiting, waiting.  A Stargate Fandom that is down to its smallest, most devoted kernel of fans.  I’ve done that and have multiple t-shirts, photos, and autographs to prove it.

I’ll miss my ladies the most.

Thanks for the memories, DragonCon!  For the panels and the parties, for the fast friends and line-sitting buddies.  For the wonderful stars who are never too busy to chat for a minute.  For the writers who have inspired me with their insight.  For Nick Brendon’s snoopy dance.  For GDL’s Atlanta skiing.  For Marina’s sweet words about our mothers.  For the enthusiasm of Steampunk and the age-old wisdom of Doctor Who.

It might not be what I want, but it’s what I need.  And, hey, you never know when I’ll make a guest appearance as a ghost or a memory or a flashback, wavy lines and all.

It’s time for me to write.  To concentrate on this new road opening out beneath my feet.  To turn my mind to my own characters and plots, twists and turns, worlds and wonders.  I’m excited about turning ‘From Fan to Pro.’  I cannot freakin’ wait!

Because ends can be beginnings, too.