Essays and Fanfiction

Before I get into anything else, I apologize for the extreme lack of activity on this blog! My more active blog is my Tumblr, especially my sideblogs about Star Trek and Shakespeare.

So without much ado (hahahah 10/10 Shakespeare pun there), let’s get into the blog post.

A couple months ago, when we were studying the Tempest at my school, our final assignment was to write fanfiction about one of the characters.

“I thought, what do I want to read?” our fantastic teacher said. “I don’t want to read tons of essays. I want to read fanfiction.”

And this got me thinking.

Some people might argue that the best way to analyze the Tempest’s themes, characters, and motivations would be to write essays. Write a paper in a format that is easy to read, and even easier to grade. Find quotes and evidence from the text, and pick away the Shakespearean outer shell to reveal ideas and truths that apply to the modern day too—themes of power, mercy, captivity, and many other fascinating concepts.

However, my argument is that creative writing can be just as deep, thoughtful, and powerful when it comes to analyzing literature.

When I write stories, I often do so to prove a point, get people thinking, or comment on a current social issue. Take my short story Carpool, which centers around the idea of whether a robot counts as a legal person—and as to whether they should then be allowed in carpool lanes. The story was written to convey an idea: how will/should laws change in response to advances in technology?

Now, I could have written an essay on technology-related laws. I could have cited current legal issues, such as whether or not autonomous drones or artificially intelligent weapons should be allowed. I could have talked about the current state of robots and AI.

And while that could potentially be a fascinating essay, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write a fictional short story. First of all, because I like creative writing. Second of all, because I believed I could make a stronger point using fiction. And third of all, because the audience I wanted to reach out to are more likely to enjoy a four-page science fiction story than a four-page essay.

Fiction spawns empathy. Essays are good and important, but they’re not likely to reach out emotionally to many people. So perhaps if you’re looking to change peoples’ minds about, say, same-sex marriage, it’s more effective to write a short piece about a gay couple who have to suffer through homophobic treatment, than to outline your ethical argument in a more formal, logical way.

In other words… fiction can be just as effective a tool as essays.

Especially if we’re talking about Shakespeare.

One of the things I love about Shakespeare’s plays is that they leave a lot open. The text hints at things that may or may not exist “in canon”, and leaves many open questions to which there could potentially be many different answers. (Is Antonio [pick an Antonio, any Antonio] gay? Is Gertrude really as innocent as she seems? Does Olivia really love Sebastian? Why did Ophelia drown herself? What happened between Beatrice and Benedick before the play began?) I hypothesize that you could pick a question, any of these questions, and write two different essays arguing contrary points… all using evidence from both Shakespeare’s text, and probably other sources that tell us about the time period he lived in.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Shakespeare’s world is so rich, it almost seems to invite fanfiction. Why not take advantage of that?

And besides… if anyone ever tells you that fanfiction isn’t a legitimate form of writing (especially Shakespeare fanfiction)… just remember that Tom Stoppard wrote a famous play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, that is essentially Hamlet fanfiction.

So, English teachers? Perhaps you might want to try assigning your students fanfic once in a while.

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