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October 9, 2011 / jwaxo

Storybook Weaver (Fanfiction)

Also pictured: the horrors of clipart.

It was sometime in third grade that I decided I wanted to become a writer. Demonstratively, I took to the task of “learning to write” with an odd enthusiasm that centered on never knowing what to write about. I wrote that horrible story based off a board game that only I found interesting, and that was about it. All that I knew was that I absolutely loved reading, devouring books at a steady rate that was enough to get me labeled as one of the “smart kids” at school. I made my way around the school library, reading anything and everything that looked interesting. I ordered books from the Scholastic Book Club, of course, but also borrowed cracked paperbacks from my dad’s bookshelf, or curled up with shiny hardcovers my mom’s bookclub was perusing.

It’s pretty clear what attracted me to stories: the same thing that attracts me to videogames, now. It’s a classic, easy escape: to be whisked off to another world filled with people you’d never meet in the real one, having adventures that would never happen to any real person, doing things that no real person would ever do.

Funny aside: I hated learning to read. I remember being four and being cornered by my mom just before bed time, having Dr. Seuss book after Dr. Seuss book shoved in my face, forcing me to read them to her to prove that I could. Of course, two years later I was cruising through the entire Encyclopedia Brown collection at my school, but being angrily sat down on my bed with a book was just the worst thing ever for preschool me.

Hop on Pop? Sure I’d like to. And then Ma, too.

So when third grade me went to his “advanced placement” class and found a game that was specifically for writing, well, I realized I needed it. And needed it badly.

I kept my eye in the usual places: the Book Club catalog, the bargain bins, and finally was able to procure a copy from a teacher friend. I gleefully installed Storybook Weaver, opened it up to a fresh story, sat down…

…and realized I had nothing to write.

As adult-me has realized, ideas for good stories come out of nowhere and can almost never be forced. They can come while you’re working, while you’re waiting for a bus, or while you’re already working on another story. But they never come when you’re actively trying to come up with something, staring at a fresh white page with silly pictures and a big blank text box, waiting for your prose.

But, goodness help me, I tried.

It was, you see, this same year that I discovered Animorphs.

The only thing I loved more than reading was animals. I still do. During my childhood, despite my mom’s stated dislike of all things non-human, we had two dogs, two salamanders, a guinea pig, and a frog. I loved meeting animals of all kinds: the neighbor’s dogs, the people down the street’s rabbits, the stubby-tailed cat that would greet me in the school yard every morning on the walk to class. I loved animals so much that I wanted to be able to turn into them. Animorphs combined my ridiculous fantasy of animals with reading and with fighting aliens with a story about schoolkids who battled aliens by turning to animals. Plus, it inspired a healthy interest in DNA and biology in grade-school Jeff.

Plus, throwing out words like “deoxyribonucleic acid” was any easy way to impress teachers and adult friends.

So, I had this series that I absolutely loved, and a program that easily enabled me to pump out silly illustrated stories. In a blaze of inspiration I pumped out a sample of the first few chapters of the first Animorphs book with a very special technique: I inserted myself and a number of my friends as relatives of the main characters.

I slapped some graphics on there, mostly just recolorings of the default “human male”/”human female” image that came with the program, added some narration recorded by yours truly, saved it all, and presented it to the people who were sure to support it: my parents.

I remember getting a pat on the back and a few encouraging words about my… narration ability.

I stopped using Storybook Weaver to do almost anything shortly after and, several years later, learned the definition of the word “fanfiction”: additions, changes, or rewrites created by fans of a specific series or work. I also realized that they are almost always embarrassing or lame, obvious attempts to “fix” what the writer saw was wrong with the story.

You see, the point of liking a work is that the work stands on its own. If you add or change it, you’re not liking the work anymore: you’re liking your own, imaginary version of it. And that’s just like of lamely self-serving. I self-inserted myself in an attempt to make my escapist fantasy live longer and grow stronger, but it just embarrassed both current and future me. Writing yourself into the story doesn’t make the fantasy any more permanent than just imagining yourself there.

That did not stop me from attempting an Ender’s Game fanfic several years later. It was so awesome and realistic that I deleted it.

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