Tag Archives: fanfiction

Getting to the ending

Well, it’s been a year since I started my project on documenting the fanfiction workshop I taught in my son’s fourth/fifth grade class. I got distracted by the end of the school year and never came back to it.

There’s a lovely irony in the place I got stuck: “Getting to the ending.” Endings are, apparently, difficult.

The main thing I told the kids is that there are no hard and fast rules, but people have an intuitive sense of when something is ended or not. The main question to ask is, “Does it feel finished?”

I gave them three general options:

  1. Solve the problem or mystery or find the treasure
  2. Have the character fail to solve the problem or mystery
  3. Leave the solving of the problem or finding of the mystery to the future, but add a resolution

I also provided some examples by reading ending sentences out of various books and asking the kids why they felt a sense of completion.

From that small amount of guidance, most students were able to generate an ending. Some were stuck, and we worked with them individually, offering suggestions if needed. But in keeping with the rest of the course, I kept adult visions of “the proper story” out of it.  Once they felt the story had a sense of completion, it was done.

Next up: revision!

This weekend’s panel at Geek Girl Con

Cross-posted on the Washington Lawyers for the Arts website, http://thewla.org/blog/.

This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a panel at Geek Girl Con on “Fanfiction: Sharing, Creating, and the Law,” put on by the Washington Lawyers for the Arts. It was a great experience! It was fun to work with the knowledgeable and friendly panelists, and I got answers to questions I’ve had for a long time. I’ve spent a lot of time researching the concept of fair use and learned a lot of legalities, but less about how I could apply them in a practical sense. Now I’m armed with a lot of knowledge and a solid sense of direction. Very helpful!

Just being at Geek Girl Con was amazing in itself. I brought my spouse and children, and we all spent some time exploring the con, dressed as characters from Doctor Who or Nancy Drew. Who knew you could find a life-sized robotic Dalek standing next to a woman in a TARDIS costume singing along to “Let it Go”? Or make a pocket-sized model of the solar system?

The panel was moderated by Allison Durazzi, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers for the Arts, and the participants were Kristin Ann King (myself); Rachel Buker, WLA board member; and Brian Rowe, chair of the WLA Board of Directors. Our goal was present both creative and legal perspectives on creating fan fiction.

I went first and talked a little about my background. I write short stories, blog posts, and critical essays. My first book, Misfits from the Beehive State, was published last year. It’s not fanfiction — it’s a book of surreal short stories set in Utah, all about people who aimed for perfection but fell down the rabbit hole instead. I also write fanfiction, mostly for the Doctor Who fanfiction site A Teaspoon and An Open Mind. That site has tens of thousands of stories, all put out there for free by fans, mostly using a pen name. It’s a wonderful avenue for storytelling, but I do often wish I felt free to put it out under my own name. I’ve had many questions over the years about the practicality and legality of borrowing others’ work. What happens if someone thinks I’m infringing? Is it possible to know for sure whether my use of a copyrighted work is protected by law?

Rachel went next, and she covered the fundamentals of copyright, including thorough definitions of copyright and the public domain. In brief, copyright is a bundle of rights that protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. It has to be creative expression — for example, ideas and facts are not covered by copyright. Those kinds of works, works whose copyrights have expired, and certain other types of work are in the public domain. She gave links to tools for determining whether a work might be in the public domain. For a fuller explanation of these concepts, check out the PowerPoint slides from the talk .

Then we broke for a little bit of Q&A, and the audience asked thoughtful, interesting questions.

Next Brian discussed ways that people can legally use copyrighted works. Free speech is a first amendment protection, and it’s also built right into copyright law in the form of “fair use.” When courts are considering whether or not it’s fair use, they consider four factors: the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of work used, and the effect of the use on the market of the copyrighted work. Brian covered several cases in which that the courts decided whether or not fair use applied, as well as a few cases that were settled before a decision could be handed down. He encouraged the audience to create transformative works and pointed out that every creative work is a remix of one kind or another. Star Wars, for example, borrowed heavily from other movies. Brian also provided a list of legal resources, including the Washington Lawyers for the Arts, free and low cost resources, and organizations that help defend these free speech rights, such as the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

These resources are in the slides, but they’re worth adding here as well:

We finished up with more audience questions, and once again they were thought-provoking.

I learned a lot from this panel that I can take home and use in my writing and publishing endeavors. Here are just a few of my key takeaways:

  1. The fair use clause of the copyright is extremely fuzzy and open to interpretation by the courts.
  2. If a copyright holder thinks someone is infringing on their work, it does not always go straight to court, and most cases end up being settled. There are specific steps that can be taken, such as a “cease and desist” letter or a “takedown request,” and specific right and wrong things to do in that situation.
  3. There are organizations out there that provide free and low-cost legal assistance, depending on the situation.

I also came out of this panel with a whole lot more hope for the future of fanfiction as a legal activity. Fanfiction writers always have a cloud hanging over us: we think our specific use of copyrighted material is legal, but it’s impossible to know for sure unless it goes to court.

But maybe this situation can change. Other countries treat copyright and fair use differently. For instance, in Japan, fan works has more respect, and there are more specific rules for whether or not they violate copyright.

One of the audience members asked about the possibility of having a Hugo Award for fanfiction. The idea has been kicked around, but people are a little concerned. Rachel took the question, and of course, there was no definitive answer. But she did ask whether there was a monetary prize given out, and the answer was no, just a statue. She then inquired as to what the statue was made out of, joking, “If it’s chocolate, that might be OK!”

I would be delighted to see a Hugo award for fanfiction. I would love to see a world where fanfiction can be freely shared and professionally respected.

Thanks to the WLA for the opportunity to participate on this panel!

Days 4-8 of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is part of a series on a fanfiction workshop for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, Day One, Day Two, and Day Three.

Day 4: Starting the Rough Draft

On Day 4, we started the rough draft.

10 minutes: General comments

I started off with some Q&A and then gave some general comments about writing and myself as a writer. As show and tell, I brought some work that I had done when I was in fourth and fifth grade. I talked about how I had felt embarrassed about my own writing, but how, looking back, I see my work in a much more positive light! I talked about how one of my biggest mistakes as a young writer was asking others their opinion about my writing and emphasized the importance of practice.

5 minutes: Freewrite activity

I actually didn’t do this activity, but should have. It should have happened at the beginning of every writing day!

5 minutes: Check-in and review

I asked the kids to get out their “Some Ways to Start Stories” worksheet and look it over. I asked where they were at. Some kids were done and ready to write.

20 minutes: Rough draft

We got started on the rough draft! Many kids were stuck, so the teacher and I went around the room and talked over their character, setting, and ideas for starting the stories.

20 minutes: Sharing

A few kids wanted to share to the whole class, so we did that, and then we did some sharing in small groups.

Day 5: Continuing on the rough draft

Day 5 was a lot like Day 4.

10 minutes: General comments

I made more general comments about writing, gave encouragement, asked questions, and checked in.

5 minutes: Freewrite

30 minutes: Rough draft and cover page

Some of the kids finished up here and asked what to do, so I asked them to start working on a cover page with name, title, and illustration.

20 minutes: Sharing

The Days I Didn’t Do (But Should Have)

I thought this whole thing could be wrapped up in eight sessions, but ended up coming back for more, because half the kids finished when I expected they would, but the other half were still working. I expressed my surprise to the teacher and asked what to do, and she told me it’s always like that. What a challenge. I don’t know how teachers do it!

Instead, I asked the kids to start in on editing. Bad plan! It meant the teacher and I were rushing around the classroom on the one hand helping out kids who were stuck and on the other hand helping out kids who were editing.

If I do this workshop again, I’ll ask the teacher to help me prepare some activities for the kids who finish up first. They could write a sequel, or a second story, or a character sketch, or a setting description. Or they could pair up with kids who were stuck and give suggestions.

Next up: Getting to the Ending

 

By dotmatchbox at flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

By dotmatchbox at flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

Day Three of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is part of a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, Day One, and Day Two.

Day 3: A Flurry of Activity

Day 3 was a mad dash to get the rest of the prewrite exercises out of the way so the kids could start their drafts the next day. Some of the kids had already jumped in to doing drafts, or started in the middle of filling out worksheets. Others were struggling to fill in worksheets. None of the kids filled in any of the worksheets all the way, but all the kids got some details to use in their stories.

Overheads:

Handout:

5-10 minutes: Review of Day 2

I answered various questions, told the kids we STILL weren’t doing rough drafts yet, checked in about the other worksheets.

5-10 minutes: Talking about setting

I showed the overhead “Setting and the Five Senses” and we brainstormed some kinds of setting details for each sense. Then I showed the overhead “More About Setting.”

15 minutes: Setting worksheet

I handed out the “About the Setting” worksheet and kids started filling it out.

10 minutes: Ideas for starting stories

I showed the overhead “Some Ways to Start Stories”

10 minutes: group discussion

Kids broke up into groups and started talking about their story ideas

Next up: Diving right in!

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day Two of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, and Day One: Introducing Fanfiction.

Day Two: The Prewrite

On day two, some of the kids were ready and raring to write, but we had some preparations to do first. Our school uses a writer’s workshop model that includes a prewrite, rough draft, and final draft, so everyone was familiar with the concept of prewrite. We worked on getting rough ideas for character and plot.

Handouts:

5 to 10 minutes: Talking about being a writer

I talked more about what it was like to grow up reading and writing, and how I had written fanfiction as a child before the word fanfiction was even invented. I discussed writer’s block a little bit more. Then I touched on the idea of using established characters but changing their names, to make the story more their own.

5 to 10 minutes: Group Discussion

The kids broke up into small groups and discussed their characters. Everybody picked a character they would like to use and decided whether they would like to use the character’s name as is or change it.

20 minutes: All About My Character

I asked the kids to think up as many details about their character as they could and write them down. I also suggested that if they didn’t know the answer to a question that they make it up. I explained that they might not use all those details, but the details would help them imagine the characters better. Next time I would be a little firmer on this and require the kids to make up three details.

Once they had gotten a start on that, they broke up into small groups and talked about their characters.

20 minutes: Where’s the Story

I discussed common types of plots. Then I asked each of them to write down three types as story ideas. They didn’t have to use one of them, but they could.

As the kids were working, the teacher and I went around the classroom talking to kids who were feeling stuck or weren’t sure their ideas would make good stories.

By the end of day two, most of the kids knew who they were going to write about and what kind of story they were going to tell.

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids and Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round.

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

On the first day, I introduced the concept of fanfiction and started in on the prewrite process.

5 to 10 minutes: Introducing myself

I introduced myself and talked a little about what it was like to be a writer, and what kinds of things I had written. I had learned from my Writers in the Schools experience that having a bit of an “author glamour” helps keep students engaged and interested. I also touched on writers block as a lead-in to the next activity.

5 to 10 minutes: Warmup

This idea came from the teacher and is great! I handed out half-sheets of lined paper. The teacher took a wastepaper basket and put it on the front desk. The students wrote for three minutes, then crumpled the papers and threw them toward the basket.

Of course the question came up: “But what if I like what I wrote and don’t want to recycle it???” I gave them The Look and then said, “Okay, fine, but then you don’t get to play basketball!”

10 minutes: General concepts

  • Fanfiction means writing a story using characters from a book, TV show, or movie.
  • It’s great practice for writing short stories using your own characters.
  • Since many books, TV shows, and movies are copyrighted, there are various laws about what you can and can’t do. Writing fanfiction in a classroom but not publishing it is called “fair use.” Just like you cite sources when you write research papers, it’s important to say which book, TV show, or movie you used.
  • Examples of two authors who wrote fanfiction books and then went on to write their own novels: Kij Johnson and Vonda McIntyre. I showed them my copies of Kij Johnson’s Dragon’s Honor (Star Trek novel) and The Fox Woman, as well as my copies of The Entropy Effect (Star Trek novel) and The Moon and the Sun.

20 minutes: Brainstorming

Then we brainstormed a list of books, movies, and TV shows that the kids might like to use, and the students broke up into groups to discuss the ideas. Each student then picked one they wanted to use.

We ended the day with the kids full of energy.

Next up: Day Two

Entropy Effect and Dragons Honor

Writers in the Schools — A Second Time Round

(This is Part Two in a series on teaching a fanfiction workshop. Part One is here.)

When planning the fanfiction workshop, I had the benefit of experience to look back on. The MFA program at the University of Washington offered an internship called “Writers in the Schools.” I worked with a classroom teacher at a local school to teach short story writing to a class of 7th graders. That was a challenging job and although we all made it through, with some great short stories, I never quite felt I was up for the task. I was pretty shy and had absolutely no idea how to keep the attention of thirty teenagers! They were awestruck for the first few weeks, but when my “author glamour” wore off, it was a struggle to keep them quiet enough so that I could give my lessons.

On top of that, after the class was over I felt that I had taught them the wrong things. I spent so much time explaining the conventions of the short story form, the mystery genre, the adventure genre, and so forth, when many of these conventions are already imprinted on our brains. I spent much less time with confidence-building and tips and tricks for getting unstuck. And when their stories were finished I critiqued them in the same way adult writers critique each other’s stories, not understanding that I was sending a message that a Professional Stamp of Approval would be required for their art.

I gave it my best, and I did a good job, but still . . . . I wanted a do-over!

Since then, I’ve had a lot more experience with teaching and public speaking. I now know that teaching is as much performance art as it is transmission of information. It’s about knowing when kids’ attention is lagging and how to get it back.

I’ve also had a lot of time to think about what kinds of help young writers actually do and don’t need. In general, it’s helpful if it’s about how to get ideas out of your brain and onto the paper. It’s not helpful if it’s about how to do it correctly. It’s helpful if it’s about practice. It’s not helpful if the initial focus is on final product.

Above all, it’s helpful if it’s fun.

Enter the fanfiction component.

Next up: Day One

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