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Assumptions in writing fan fiction?

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by Sid87, Dec 5, 2012.

  1. Sid87

    Sid87 I love shiny pokemon

    When writing a fan-fiction, how much do you allow yourself to assume the readers already know?

    For example, let's say you are writing a pokemon story (shocking, right?). Do you feel the need to describe the poke-universe (the concept of battling; the use of pokeballs; the fact that there are types; etc. Just the basics of the whole world), or do you assume the reader knows that? When introducing every new pokemon, do you go to great lengths to describe them, or so you assume your reader already knows what, say, a Gyarados looks like if it isn't an important chracter nor its appearance relevant to the story?

    Do you think it is a better idea to write your story as if introducing the world to a stranger, or do you think it's better to forgo description your readers will certainly already know and get on with the tale?
  2. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie 桜咲くこの坂を今も上っている

    For the most part, you're writing assuming the person who's reading it understands about what you are writing about (because why in the world would anyone wander into fan fiction and not know anything about that particular fandom--but it happens). However, it depends on how (or what) you're writing the story (about). It can take place in the Pokémon world, but perhaps you wanted to do something different with it, or you're writing about a new region or made-up Pokémon of your own. In which case, you'll have to introduce everyone to it. You just can't assume a random reader will come along and realize, "Oh, the world looks and acts just like this exactly."

    This is why the introductory chapters are such a huge deal so you can lay out the foundation/setting of the story, what its rules are, what to expect, and other basic ideas, then move along with the story. Everyone seems to have a different interpretation of the Pokémon world, from what I have seen, so it doesn't hurt to show us a little bit of this world. If you're wondering about describing little insignificant moments in the world like you said about the Gyarados, then either briefly mention what it is and its dominant traits, or just don't explain it. Heck, if it has no relevance to the story whatsoever, then don't mention it at all, and it saves you space and keeps your narrative on track.
  3. Absol6028

    Absol6028 What did you say...?

    I personally assume that they know the basics. If they didn't know what a Pokemon was, why were the reading it in the first place? I mean, sure you could try and branch off of some other fic/game but it's just my opinion.

    And really, sometimes I like to describe it depending in the fic. I think it's just a fun way to say how you think the game/animé/fic should work. It really gives you the chance to be creative honestly.
  4. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I always write my story as if introducing the world to a stranger, because I don't do things like exhaustively describe or explain things that readers might be unfamiliar with. For example, if I'm writing a story in a world with a magic system, I don't have a section where I go, "So there's magic going on here and here's everything you need to know about how it works." If the main character is ignorant about it themselves, then the reader will share in discovering what's up over time; if the main character already knows the rules, then the reader will learn the important ones over time by being exposed to how the character uses them. So, I feel no need to explain the premise of pokeballs, for example; readers see them being used to send out or recall pokemon all the time in my stories, so I figure if they're unfamiliar they'll catch onto "pokemon are stored and carried around in these things" pretty fast. It's not that I assume people will know these things already, but that I wouldn't take the time to explain them even if I knew they didn't.

    That isn't to say that there aren't some 'fics that don't really work for people who aren't already familiar with the fandom, or where a non-fandom reader is going to miss out on something significant; this is especially true in AU's and other 'fics where the premise depends on subverting the reader's expectations about the source material. So if you have a fanfic where Ash starts out with some pokemon other than pikachu, an unfamiliar reader might enjoy it, but they'll miss out on a lot of its significance. Or consider purple_drake's fanfic about Lance being brainwashed into believing he's a part of Team Rocket; if you don't already know who Lance is, you don't really understand what's so horrifying or interesting about the situation. But this is just something you have to accept--it's not as though you could cater to unfamiliar readers by having some kind of author's note or in-text explanation like, "So Ash Ketchum is this guy who has a pikachu and here's what happens and here's what's important and okay, my fic is going to be about what if things were just like that except not, here we go..." In these kinds of cases, you kind of just have to accept that people outside the fandom are going to be missing out by the nature of your premise, and that's fine.

    All in all I treat fanfic as though it were original fic, aside from throwing in the occasional in-joke; I may go a little lighter on the description of some things than I might in an original fic, but not by much.
  5. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    I tend to strike a bit of a balance. My fic introduces very hefty amounts of headcanon because I like using fiction as an outlet for my mountains of theories on how the Pokemon world functions, and its fun to think of ways to have those explanations come up. But most of the time I end up including the full details in worldbuilding extras posted as supplementary content with the fic, because otherwise I'd be bogging the narrative down with too much clutter (unless of course its something that the main character knows nothing about and is literally learning about for the first time.

    As for Pokemon descriptions, I assume that my main character knows all of the Kanto and Johto Pokemon by heart, so the narration is written to reflect that, but I still sneak in little descriptive phrases here and there to keep a visualization in the reader's head, unless it's reaallly unimportant (ie, a Pokemon is in one sentence and not mentioned again.) I still generally assume that readers are going to know all the Pokemon, and in case they don't, the narration should help them out well enough.

  6. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me Staff Member Moderator

    I think it's reasonable to assume a reader of Pokémon fanfiction is familiar with Pokémon and the Pokémon world. This isn't a problem exclusive to fanfiction, either; fiction written by real-world authors set and published in the author's home country tends to assume the reader is familiar with that country and its common wildlife and culture and vernacular and so on, too. Relegating elements that the characters wouldn't give a second thought to and that the intended audience almost definitely already knows to the background without actively trying to familiarize the reader with them just in case they don't is standard practice.

    And if readers who aren't familiar with these elements do choose to read the story, they can cope. They know they're entering into it at a disadvantage and may be confused by things, but if they're determined to read it anyway, they're not going to be helpless because you don't explain in detail what Gyarados looks like every time one appears; it's extremely rare that a Gyarados is significant in a context where the significant parts won't be implied by the context anyway.

    There's a pretty significant difference between assuming the reader probably already knows, on the one hand, and intending for them to slowly pick up on what's going on as they read, on the other, though. If you assume the reader is familiar with the Pokémon world, you can use the canon's jargon freely and assume that it is understood from the beginning, whereas in original fantasy, the world's jargon starts out meaningless and has to be used with care to keep the reader following approximately what's going on. As an extreme example that I happen to know you're familiar with, Homestuck fanfiction presented as original fiction to someone unfamiliar with Homestuck would have a whole extra possible pitfall, namely for the reader to have not the faintest idea what any part of the sentence they just read about sprites and Sburb and Cruxtruders even meant. It's possible to gloss over it and figure it out as you continue, sure, and that's what a reader who knowingly goes into Homestuck fanfiction without having read Homestuck will do and they'll probably figure it out, but there's no real excuse in original fiction for writing entire sentences that don't mean anything to anyone but second-time readers.
  7. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Thinking about it again, all things considered, the Pokemon world is a pretty forgiving world to suddenly be thrust into with little prior knowledge. Even if someone reads your fic having never played the games or watched the anime, they should still have the basic components of the world figured out quickly enough.

    There are weird creatures with elemental powers and people use them in battles.

    That's a pretty simple base world concept that most everyone probably already knows. Oh and the creatures get carried around in small capsules. Alright, simple enough. A non-fan might get a bit lost if you suddenly drop TMs, stat-boosting items, Team Plasma, Elite Fours, and Legendaries on their head all at once, but with the basic world concept so solid, it's nearly impossible that they'd be totally lost.

    And then...continuing off Dragonfree's example...there is Homestuck. I cannot for the life of me figure out what that comic is even about. Believe me, I have tried. Almost everyone I know loves it, but every time I ask them to tell me what it is about, they give me this look of horror like no one could ever possibly explain it.

    I...well you see...there's these humans...and they're in this game...there's...TROLLS ARE AWESOME JUST READ IT.

    I don't know, maybe everyone I know is just bad at boiling things down to their most basic components? Of course, there is the fact that the basis of Pokemon as a series is its world, and the basis of Homestuck is probably its story and characters, and world-based fics are almost invariably going to be easier to jump into because they assume very little prior knowledge and just make up their own story and characters. It always amuses me when people assume that all fanfics are unoriginal because they use ready-made characters and plot, when our fandom that assumes the exact opposite.

  8. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I don't know, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. When writing original fiction, I don't have any qualms about throwing in multiple unknown concepts in a single sentence, or using jargon that the reader isn't going to know yet. I really don't try to be careful, but I also find that it's not an issue that comes up all that much, because unless you're using a really different setting, you probably don't have the jargon/unfamiliar concept density to make a lot of those kinds of sentences natural. I also don't mind spending some portion of the book in confusion, as long as I'm assured there will eventually be a payoff that sheds light on what was going on (and things aren't just hella confusing because the author has no clue what they're doing). I understand that not everybody likes those kinds of stories, just as I have friends who complain, "I have no idea what's going on!" at the beginning of i.e. Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but I don't think that a bit of uncertainty is a bad thing. I like to write the kinds of things I like to read, and my favorite stories are ones that make me think, where I'm challenged to figure out what the rules are and what's happening, to "solve" the plot before the story's actual big reveal. It's definitely a fine line to walk, though--at some point you have to take readers' "aaagh what the ****" reactions to your story as an indication that you need to make things more clear, rather than just that they're not ~intelligent~ enough to appreciate your story, or whatever.

    Upon reflection I should also say that I tend to take the long, i.e. chaptered story view when I'm stating my opinion here. One-shots don't have the luxury of space to get people used to things, so if you have a short fanfic that centers around some fandom-specific concept, then yeah, you're going to alienate anyone not familiar with the canon. Because short stories require more economy of words than long ones, you also have less opportunity to jam in some clarification if you need it!

    I guess what I should say is I'm not trying to say "NEVER DESCRIBE THINGS EVER," but rather that I tend to run less description than normal, and in general I think new writers err on the side of too much explanation rather than too little, once they get past the stage of having a one-page story that's almost entirely dialogue/things happening really fast for no apparent reason. You need less than you think you do, I expect!

    A Clockwork Orange begs to differ. ;)

    "Four kids play a video game that brings about the end of the world, but will allow them to create their own universe to replace the old--if they can win."

    Homestuck is more character-based than the Pokemon games, certainly, but no more so than the manga or anything; it has its own extensive rules, terminology, species, and so on, as Dragonfree's post alludes to. There are actually many, many Homestuck versions of OT 'fics, where you have a group of OC characters who go to play the game together and have their own adventure. I don't think it's the best comparison to make here. Maybe a television show like Sherlock or something that's set in more or less the real world.
  9. SBaby

    SBaby Dungeon Master

    I think for the most part, it's safe to assume most people know what the different Pokemon look like. So unless they are important to the main plot (like if they're one of the Pokemon that the Trainer gets, or one of the ones they directly battle against), you are probably safe with just their names and maybe a general description of what they're doing. Of course if there really are any doubts, my rule is always 'There's no such thing as too much description'.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2012

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