Fanfiction as an Art of Impersonation

“Fanfiction is lazy and derivative.”

Are impersonations lazy and derivative too, then? It’s hard to achieve a believable impersonation (impression). And when someone achieves one, the audience doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re just ripping off the person you’re impersonating,” because everyone is already expected to understand that the likeness is deliberate. A significant portion of the skill is in the ability to achieve the likeness. The likeness (and often exaggerating that likeness) is largely the point.

It’s relatively easy to create lazy, derivative work in the realm of original fiction, because the presumption of originality becomes a smokescreen to hide that the author is ripping someone off, whether fraudulently or accidentally. Conversely, in fanfiction, as in impersonations, the artist is immediately up-front about the work being impersonated, and in so doing sets the bar rather high. It’s important to remember, also, that there is a lot more to impersonation than simply mimicking the contents of a video clip of the impersonatee. A good impersonator internalizes the character behind the persona so thoroughly that he can convincingly involve the character in new situations and confront the character with new ideas.

A fanfiction writer who seeks to convincingly impersonate an existing fictional universe and its narrative style, especially in order to explore its unanswered questions by introducing new elements, is not being any more lazy or derivative than an actor who specializes in impersonations.

Write for the Orchestra

The man seated at the piano, Ludovico Einaudi, is Primavera’s composer.

Imagine how fundamentally different he is from the orchestra. The members of the orchestra read music and play it expertly, but the composer-creative has an entirely different kind of mind, a mind of an elevated dimension, in that he encompasses the players as his instruments. For the sake of a composition the composer must always conscientously dominate the orchestra, as to submit to the orchestra would be to splinter the synergy of his vision among the members, emasculating it. Yes, achievements of beauty are fascistic. Yes, entitled fandom brigades can be counted on to demolish works in progress whenever collectively handed the pen. (This is what happened to Stranger Things. This sort of coerced fanservice is the reason why the first season, despite being the best season of any television in history, is the only season of Stranger Things that is even worth watching.)

Still, those passionates who would destroy your work by loving it as though it were their own are your target audience and, artistically speaking, your wards. Using the composer as an allegory for the writer, it is the orchestra of passionates that is the target audience of the piece, not the masses who paid to passively consume the performance. Write for the orchestra: the small portion of your audience that is wholly invested in the art. Do it even whilst knowing that if you were to put your work directly into their hands, they would destroy it. Take pleasure in their instinct to destroy it, and in the torture you inflict by ruthlessly maintaining your firm grip on the pen.

Write for people who invite a piece of work to express itself through their imaginations the way an orchestral composition resonates through the players’ instruments. Do not write for the distant idle spectators who may not even be meaningfully awake.

Imagine the way the members of an orchestra must feel about a piece they are playing in order to play it well. Write for the people who feel that way about stories.