Characterization in Fanfic: Using Canon as the DNA for Your Characters

Author: Dreamflower

Nominator: Raksha the Demon

2011 Award Category: Non-Fiction: General - Honorable Mention

Story Type: Non-Fiction  ✧  Length: N/A (Non-Fiction or Poetry)

Rating: General  ✧  Reason for Rating: N/A

Summary: An essay on characterization: constructing your characters to fit into Middle-earth.

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Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 10

Whenever I begin to read something by Dreamflower, I know I will see a piece that is reasoned, sensible, tightly put together, and often very affecting. This essay tackles a subject that would, if I tried to write about it, produce a long and rambling thing. Dreamflower has written a clear, eminently comprehensible essay that includes several AHA! moments, just the recipe for a good piece of writing. The importance of Canon, when writing Tolkien fanfiction, is something that has been debated for years and will probably be debated long after we are gone. Dreamflower shows how one can use Canon as a base for writing quality fanfiction. I especially liked Dreamflower's discussion of the theme of fluidity of interpretation, using Canon as a springboard, but not a straitjacket, for one's interpretation of various characters. She uses both characters major and minor as examples, Merry, Dora Baggins, Eothain, and Radagast. Dreamflower also demonstrates how canon can give fanfiction writers a grounding in even minor characters who only appear or speak briefly on Tolkien's vast stage; when the fanfiction writer uses imagination as well as reading skills - when the fanfiction writer uses, as Gandalf says, [eyes to see that can].

Author response: Thank you! I've never believed that canon was meant to be a straitjacket, anymore than fourteen lines to a sonnet are a straitjacket. I've always thought that canon gives the fanfic writer a challenge: "See what you can do with me!" In terms of characterization, I believe that trying to approach the canonical identity of a character is part of an unwritten contract between the reader and the writer. I'm glad it gave you some AHA! moments! *grin*

Reviewed by: pandemonium_213  ✧  Score: 10

I really enjoyed Dreamflower's essay on the use of canon. When I read her analysis, I recognized this is very much (if not exactly) how I approach my interpretation of Tolkien, even at its most heretical. This essay has also caused me to veer from using the term "alternate universe" in reference to my interpretations to "alternative history," because I would like to think the fundamentals of my approach — the genomic foundation, to allude to Dreamflower's essay — are intact, just expressing themselves to yield a bit of a different but still recognizable phenotype, to use the language of biology. Dreamflower's essay should prove to be an excellent resource for writers, from beginners to experienced. I would say it will be especially those who are new to the game (with The Hobbit movie approaching, they will be coming, folks) and may be brow-beaten in some quarters by canon orthodoxy. Dreamflower's essay illustrates how one can let one's imagination free and still have that base which makes the characters, canon or original, recognizable as inhabitants of Tolkien's secondary world. This essay might not have ninety-five theses, but I like to think Dreamflower has tacked it up on the figurative door as Canon Reformation.

Author response: Wow! I really am pleased and flattered by your opinion of this article. While I did want to give useful advice to new writers (and maybe some not-so-new ones who might find it useful) I really wanted more than anything to make writers *think* about why they chose certain characteristics for their characters, and where they could find the information they really need to make them fit into Middle-earth. I don't think it will have as much influence as Luther's proclamation, but perhaps it will give a few people pause as they write, and make them *think*. Thank you so much!

Reviewed by: Virtuella  ✧  Score: 7

Dear Dreamflower, first of all I will say that I really approve of you using the female as a generic pronoun – not only is this commendable feminism ;-) but it also reflects accurately the fact that the majority of fanfiction writers and readers are women. On the actual topic of this essay, I like it that you do not prescribe, but describe. I’ve come across various “writing guides” that tell people how to construct a character almost like a cooking recipe, and I’ve found them very grating. You avoid this and instead show us how Tolkien has built his charterers and how fanfiction writers have extended them believably. The examples are well chosen, Merry Brandybuck in particular being a character who gives readers a keen impression of scope well beyond his role in the books. And you are right, Eothain is a character who, in spite of a very brief appearance , makes the fanfiction writer feel she has a good bit of clay to work with. Thank you for this insightful essay.

Author response: Thanks, Virtuella! As to the pronoun, it seems only sensible to me to use the feminine pronoun in an area in which females dominate-- not to disparage the few gentlemen among us who participate in writing fanfic, but to be realistic as to the majority of those who would be reading my article. I think it is rather presumptuous to make a set of "rules" about writing. I prefer to think of them as guidelines: here are a few methods and techniques that can be useful, but how someone uses them is up to her. The important thing is to know WHY she writes her characters a certain way.

Reviewed by: Marta  ✧  Score: 5

I found this a very interesting look at how to develop a canonical character into "our" character in our own fanfics. Using examples from well-known stories (the author's and others'), Dreamflower walks through how to develop the snapshots given in canon to a believable characterization of that character at other points in his/her life. There were a few points where I disagreed, mostly to do with what the author should do in her characterizations rather than how to develop a canonical characterization if she chose to. Still, even when I disagreed with the essay, I thought Dreamflower laid out a really convincing case for her point - this was a very well-written essay.

Author response: Thanks! I appreciate the lovely review! And I am *really* looking forward to your rebuttal to some of the parts you disagreed with! *grin*

Reviewed by: Adonnen Estenniel  ✧  Score: 4

In this essay, Dreamflower gives a good summary of the sorts of characters found in fanfiction and the approach to use. Her advice is sound--researching a characterization never hurt any author, as far as I'm aware, and she gives it gently and with poise. This is a useful set of guidelines for authors who are just starting out, and (hopefully) a close synopsis of tactics long-established and successful authors already employ.

Author response: Thank you so much! I really do hope that this will be useful to others!

Reviewed by: Linda Hoyland  ✧  Score: 4

A most interesting and enjoyable essay, which I would highly recommend to anyone just starting to write stories set in Tolkien's world as well as the experienced writer. Dreamflower explains just what it is that keeps the diverse interpretations of characters we know and love similar enough that we recognise them like old friends in the many and varied stories available.

Author response: Thank you Linda! I do hope it's a useful article. I find it pleasing when I see a good characterization, and am always glad to pass on what I have observed over the years of reading other good writers-- like yourself!

Reviewed by: Kaylee Arafinwiel  ✧  Score: 3

I haven't read many nonfiction pieces about Middle-Earth aside from Fiondil's, but this one, written by another favorite author of mine, is brilliant too, and I highly recommend it. No spoilers here, but I just wanted to say how much I like it =)

Author response: Thank you, dear!

Reviewed by: SurgicalSteel  ✧  Score: 3

A great essay on how one can use canon to help craft characterization in fanfiction, whether those characters are canon or original ones. Specific examples are given illustrating what sort of information can be gleaned from canon to aid the author in this task. An instructional read!

Author response: Thank you, dear! I hope that it's useful to others! (And glad that I had some sterling examples to draw upon!)