For a guy who’s always pushing geeks down in the mud (metaphorically speaking, of course) and callously laughing at them (literally speaking, of course) while constantly insisting he isn’t one himself, I’ve written a fair amount of fan fiction. Does this make me a contemptible hypocrite? I won’t comment one way or the other, except to say that I think it rather obviously does.
Up until now my fan fiction has all been Batman shit. I’ve published three Batman stories right here on this very blog: “Price You Pay”, “Put Asunder”, and “The Fruitless Revenge” (which has been getting a lot of hits lately, despite the fact that it’s not that great). Back in high school I wrote a whole series of Batman stories under the umbrella title The New Continuity. It was great writing practice, which is about the best result you can ever hope to get from something as silly as fan fic.
But now I want to branch out. I’ve wasted enough time writing unpublishable Batman stories for the time being. I’m ready to move on to wasting time writing unpublishable Star Trek stories for a bit. Two weeks or so ago I came up with an idea for a story featuring the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation, last seen limping off into the sunset in the horrendous film Star Trek: Nemesis. Captain Picard and company never got a classy send-off like the original cast got in Star Trek VI, and since the franchise has rewound back to the early days of Captain Kirk and Spock with the release of the new Star Trek film last month, it doesn’t look like they ever will.
And son, that just don’t sit right with me. So there I was sitting around watching TV and playing Solitaire (for mine is an oppressively lonesome existence) when I thought of the perfect way to bring Next Generation (and, in a way, all of Star Trek) full circle, send Captain Picard, Riker, Worf and the rest out to pasture with a little dignity, and hopefully kill a shitload of them along the way, too. So I started making notes.
But before I got too far, I made myself a set of rules. See, not only have I written a bit of fan fiction, I’ve read some, too. And as those of you who have also read some know (and those of you who haven’t might expect), most of it ain’t so good. If you want to see what I mean, head over to FanFiction.net and pick a story at random. Odds are it’ll blow like a preacher’s wife on Sunday morning. Or, if you’re not into the whole reading thing, give a listen to one of the fan fic audio series from Pendant Productions. I hate to shit on people who are trying to do something creative, especially when the whole point of the exercise is to have fun, not to vie for Marconi Awards, but Pendant’s Star Trek series, Defiant, happens to perfectly illustrate a lot of what I don’t want to do with my story.
Pendant’s Defiant is a lot of fun, well produced, energetically (if not well) acted, a good time not meant to be taken seriously. But it falls into the same trap as a lot of fan fiction, and as the official Star Trek projects often do: it’s too pedestrian. The opening narration of Defiant talks about traveling “a far and wondrous distance,” but in the six segments I’ve listened to so far, they haven’t even left the vicinity of their home space station. It’s unfair to blame Defiant too much, since that’s one of the most stinging knocks on Star Trek in general. You’ve got a premise that could literally take your characters across the universe, and yet most of the time they’re either sitting around watching a giant TV on the bridge, or gathered around a conference table debating the finer points of imaginary laws. Do they ever explore strange new worlds?
Another problem (not so much with Defiant that I’ve heard so far; more with fan fiction in general) is that stories tend to have conceits instead of plots. And sometimes they don’t even have conceits. I see this problem a lot in the Batman stories I used to write. I’d write these long scenes of two people talking to each other — let’s say Dick Grayson and Alfred — about something that had nothing to do with anything else in the story. It would usually be something quirky or funny, the sort of conversation you might have with a good buddy in the car after hearing a particular song. Great for establishing character, great practice writing dialogue, but I wound up with stories that weren’t really about anything. Other fan fiction I’ve read feels like it’s about something just to be about something, not because the writer had a real interest in telling a particular story. Crossovers often suffer from this. “Production notes give Spock’s mother the last name ‘Grayson,’ which is also Nightwing’s last name! That makes Dick Grayson one of Spock’s great-grandfathers!” Not a plot, just an excuse to do something the writer thinks is neat.
Which leads nicely into the last problem I’d like to avoid in my forthcoming Star Trek opus. Too many fan fiction authors make their stories serve their own nerdy whims instead of the other way around. Even with something as silly and pointless and counterproductive as fan fic, your first duty as the writer is to the story. If the story is better served by leaving out the Dr. Crusher vs. Dr. Pulaski slap-fight, no matter how awesome you think that would be, drop it. Story comes first, and anything — anything — that doesn’t serve the story doesn’t deserve to be in the story. Ninety years ago an English professor in Ithaca, New York wrote a little book of composition rules for his students. The thirteenth rule was “Omit needless words.” His little book, revised a bit over the years, is now the most widely used writing handbook in the United States; we all know it as The Elements of Style. Why are students and professional writers alike still using it after all these decades? Because it gives good advice that makes fucking sense and makes your writing — even your fan fiction — better. So omit needless words. All of them.
I’m sorry. I don’t mean to lecture ya’ll. You just make me so angry sometimes . . .
Anyway, I’m nearly done the planning stage of my Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fic. It’ll be twelve segments, all stand-alone episodes that serve the larger story. Strange new worlds will be explored, people will go where no man has gone before, and lots of motherfuckers will die. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll blow your fucking mind. I’ll have the first few episodes ready in the next couple weeks, I’m hoping, and I’ll post them here first and then a few other places after that. So consider yourselves duly warned.