The Emmett Problem, or Why Published Fics Struggle

June 25th, 2011 § 6 comments

It’s no secret that I am very, VERY against the practice of pulling fics to publish, and there are a lot of reasons for that. But pursuant to a discussion on A Different Forest last night, I want to clarify one of them.

If there’s one thing that I hope is always true of me, it is that I do legwork when I have an argument to make. I don’t believe in ad hominem attacks, straw-man arguments, or attacking a person when you can’t attack their ideas. So I’ve learned every thing I possibly could learn about publishing fan fic. I’ve talked to people in other fandoms, I’ve talked to publishing industry professionals, I’ve even, apparently, consulted the same fan fic IP specialist that Omnific’s legal counsel contacted.

And most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to read the books. Through my part-time job, I’m able to read ebooks for free, so I was able to spend some good time with each of the Omni books (haven’t gotten around to TWCS yet, but I will) without breaking my promise to myself never to give my money to a company whose practices I don’t support. While me reading them isn’t a perfect test, because as someone who is staunchly against the practice, I’m inclined to find fault with the books, it is a good test, because as an almost exclusively vampfic reader, I had read none of the fic versions of the books and was coming at them as novels unto their own right.

There are a number of things I found problematic, but I’d like to point out one in particular, as this was the one that was the sticking point on ADF.

Characterization in fic is truncated. We ALL do it. It’s not an argument that an author is lazy, or an argument that the author didn’t work hard. I work my ass off on my fics. But I can still trust that simply by putting the name “Carlisle,” my readers will understand a number of things: compassionate, fair, intellectual, convicted. I may build a lot on top of that, and I try to, but the fact is that I’m able to shortcut a number of things simply by having that character name.

The argument is often made that characters in Twific AH are so OOC they’re “practically original.” And while they may be different in body, in behavior, in demeanor, the fact is that when you call a character “Edward,” you don’t have to justify “Bella” falling in love with him. That is the plot. It’s understood. To bounce off another hot topic this week, this is exactly why rapefic works so well. Simply by naming the rapist Edward, the author gains the reader’s trust, and she doesn’t have to justify why on earth a rape victim would fall in love with her attacker. He’s Edward. Of course she will. It doesn’t matter at all that this is unrealistic and abhorrent–he’s “Edward” and he’ll be forgiven.
In rapefic,  or other types of fics where Edward is abusive and yet Bella never calls him on it, or when Bella’s “magic vag” as I’ve heard it called, transforms him from a bad guy to a good guy, the workings of this name thing is pretty obvious. But in other instances, in the fics that are more contemporary romance, the name=characterization problem is considerably more subtle. I brought up the example of Emmett, because his character is one that I’ve found to suffer the most from this problem. I feel I must further point out that I’m not in any way talking about the Emmett “jock boy” stereotype. This isn’t about stereotypes or stock character types or any of that at all. This is simply about fic-to-book transfer, and what happens when you take a character named “Emmett,” whether he’s a round, sensitive guy or the party-boy-jock stereotype, and name him something else.
In a book, if you bring a character in, and the first thing he does is insult the female lead, you lose cred with your readers. The guy looks like a douchebag. It’s rude, it’s shocking, and it’s unfair, and your readers will tend to dislike the character right off the bat. In a Twific, if you name that guy “Emmett,” instead of thinking “what a jerk,” your readers will tap in to their own understanding of “Emmett:” jovial, not malicious, big-brother-tease kind of guy. Of course he doesn’t mean it. He’s only teasing; it’s just his way of saying hello. So you get leeway for having him walk in and insult Bella on page 5. Your reader will still like him because she’s supposed to like him, and she knows this simply from his name.
When his name is changed, a new reader is no longer carrying that characterization. So unless you’ve already introduced “Joseph” (not a real name in any of the books) as a character who is this teasing, gentle, bear of a guy, you don’t get that grace from your reader when he starts to tease your female lead. Instead, Joseph comes off like an asshole, and now you have a character you have to redeem—but the redeeming probably isn’t built into the narrative, because it wasn’t needed in the fic.
This is not to say these kinds of edits can’t be made to a fic. It’s a matter of introducing the characters slowly, and establishing their personalities over thousands of words, and being aware of how a character’s behavior is perceived differently when their name alone doesn’t evoke feelings for them or against them. But these kinds of changes are very subtle, and they require a set of eyes who know nothing about Twilight, Twific, and the characters who might inhabit the book. In my experience reading the published fics, this is one of the biggest things that has been skipped, and it’s no wonder–the folks who are doing most of the editorial on the books are all avid fic readers. One of the very best ways to improve your comprehension of a book is to read it more than once. So an editor or a fic reader who has already read the fic is in an awful position to check for these sorts of characterization issues–they understand the story, they understand the characters, and their minds will readily fill in the blanks.
There are lots of wonderful, highly original concepts floating around in Twific. But from what I’ve seen, the kind of edits that are necessary to take the fic to published-novel ready are often so substantial that in my opinion, the author would often do better beginning from scratch.


§ 6 Responses to The Emmett Problem, or Why Published Fics Struggle"

  • laura says:

    That was a very interesting post! Thank you

  • sisterglitch says:


    I could kiss you for making this point so very clearly.

    I struggle with these issues DAILY writing Twilight fan fiction and trying to get a more original edge to my characters and my plots.

    I LOVE me some Carlisle and Edward — that’s why I’m YOUR fan — but I take them on outrageous out-of-character, non-canon journeys. I make good guys bad guys, I change their physicality, their sexual orientation, their alliances.

    And yet, why would I even use their names unless I relied on the implicit assurance that the reader has some basic understanding and trust in their canon natures.

    Thank you, Thank you!

  • Glynis Wood says:


    I totally agree with your argument and specifically that authors of fan fic are able to truncate their characters by utilization of well established, well known and well loved characters such as Carlisle or any other of the characters in Twilight . (I make my points around the Twilight characters as I exclusively only read Twilight fan fics).

    Additionally, as a retired Marketing executive and now as someone studying book editing, I am well aware of copy rights and infringement.

    The case you make about being able to gain empathy with an abusive character named Edward in relation to a character named Bella, makes this point inarguable,

    Like you, I do not believe that fan fic should be published and I hope that those authors who are going that route realise that it is indeed plagiarism of the original works and that even if a case COULD be mounted legally, morally it is reprehensible.
    If they truly believed that their characterizations are original then why would they bother using the identities of existing and well loved characters. If they believe that their “novels” are unique, why not go the traditional route? I think that they are being

    Your viewpoint only serves to confirm why I hold both your work and you in such high regard.

  • lizconno says:

    I’m so pleased someone mentioned this post earlier today! Your argument cogently pushed aside argument A or B against P2P and instead focused on why P2P stories don’t succeed. I may have to use this, especially considering I tend to focus my arguments from an IP standpoint. I wish *I* could write something to truly convey how much I appreciated this post; however, I’m tired, and my brain has shut down for the evening. So thank you!

    • giselle says:

      All good! I think it’s important to think about what these books end up being; my main opposition to P2P comes as an experienced writer much more than a frustrated fandom member (although there is much of the latter, too). I would like to encourage my fellow women writers to do better by their books and by themselves.

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