Reads Like Fanfiction – My Least Favorite Criticism

Posted by Laura Gikas, Fiction Reader for 8.2

We’ve all heard it before; some of us have even been at the receiving end (I certainly have). It’s a devastating blow—the getting-socked-by-a-300-pound-body-builder equivalent of literary criticism, and frankly, its usage needs to stop. I’m not even saying this because of its major assault to my self-confidence. I’m saying this because it’s just not good criticism.

First, I’ll admit that I occasionally read fanfiction and just as occasionally will write it myself, and with my limited experience in the genre, I can confidently say that fanfiction is as diverse as the types of gummies in the world—some of them are pure art, some of them are just crap, and most of them are somewhere in between. Of course, we already know when the good ol’ “like fanfiction” destroyer comes out, it’s never meant to imply anything good. It’s safe to assume if anyone says your writing reads like fanfiction they aren’t calling it the Haribo Fizzy Colas of literature or pure art. Nah, maybe the generic Sugarless Gummy Bears of literature (although you’d better hope it’s not that bad).

They have an issue with something about your writing clearly, but it’s still not helpful advice. Okay, they hate your piece (or at least think it needs work), but why? We know it’s like fanfiction and we’ve limited it down to “bad” fanfiction, but that’s such a broad category. What kind of bad fanfiction is it? Is it the grammatically bad fic? Is it the awkward author-comments-interrupting-the-story bad fic? Is it the sounds-nice-but-means-nothing bad fic? Is it the questionable-content bad fic? Is it the out-of-character bad fic? (I’m not entirely sure how this would carry over into original fiction but you never know) There are so many ways fanfiction—heck, any writing in general—can be bad. “Like fanfiction” doesn’t really mean much at all on its own. Qualify it.

And after you qualify it, just throw the whole “like fanfiction” part in the trash. Now you have a solid argument. Something about that story reminded you of fanfiction, figure out what because that’s the part that matters, the part that’s actually helpful to the writer.

In sum, fanfiction is so diverse in its quality and even among the bad works, they’re diverse in their badness, that a comparison to fanfiction as a whole means virtually nothing. It’s time to leave that vague sledgehammer in the dust and start identifying the real problem.

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