Fandom As a Prompt

Sometimes, you want to create, but inspiration is sadly lacking. You haven’t seen any golden-haired Apollo types wandering the streets, or witnessed an emotional reunion in a coffee shop, and no matter how hard you think you just can’t come up with the idea that will allow you to create your masterpiece. Sound familiar, Wanderers?

We’ve already talked about how to deal with a creative block, but fandom and the creative endeavours related to it can be a great quick fix when you’re trying to keep your skills current, or as a starting-point for your own original creation. A fanfic with a few names changed can, it has become apparent in recent years, even become a best-seller in its own right. But why is it often so much easier to come up with an idea when it’s fandom-related?

Well, OK. Let’s say you’re making a series of paintings, just for the sake of an example. Theoretically, you’ve been asked to make a set of three paintings that tell a story, for a gallery showing or a class project or a ludicrously rich client. Take your pick. There’s a lot of free rein in what you choose to paint – and that’s the problem. You can’t narrow it down enough to think of three subjects you want to immortalise on canvas.

You think about it for hours, but ideas aren’t forthcoming. You make food, and jot down some random thoughts that refuse to turn into anything you want to paint (why did you write down hands, hands are difficult)… and eventually you give up for the day and curl up on the sofa with your favourite book. Except – wait. If you paint the sour-faced girl of chapter one, and then use your second canvas to introduce her to a sickly cousin and a bright-eyed boy with an animal in his arms before rounding out the series with a picture of the trio sitting together and tending a beautiful garden, happy and healthy… well, that’s a story, isn’t it? That’s a series of three paintings showing the progression of a lonely child’s friendship. And, depending on how you execute it, it may not even be recognisable as fanart of The Secret Garden.

Alright, Wanderers, I’m no artist. When I turn to fandom for inspiration, I use it to write – but many of the same principles are applicable. When you use your fandom as a basis for your creations, you have the unusual advantage of starting off with well-established characters you don’t have to think up from scratch yourself. If you’re working directly within canon, you also have a timeline of events to work with, so you know where you’re starting from and where you want to get to. Chances are that, as a member of the fandom, you also know exactly where you can find a receptive audience for your creation, and what appeals to them, should that be a factor in your creative decision-making process.

Working straight from canon, then, you’re given characters, a start point, an end point and an audience, and all you have to do is the fun bit in between – which is probably why you picked up your pen, paintbrush, or camera in the first place, isn’t it? Even if you want to create something a little less derivative, however, you can still use elements of a fandom you’re fond of as building blocks.

That lead character, the one with the dangerously obsessive personality who sparkles in sunlight? Strip him of his glitter and dump him in the middle of the jungle, one of few survivors of a plane crash. Take the king of an empire of pickpockets from Victorian London and put him in the next seat on the plane. Now the first character is struck with an obsessive need to find the second… especially when he discovers that his Swiss Army knife is mysteriously missing. And just to add to the conclusion, there’s a minor character from a detective show prowling about, posing as a stewardess as she attempts to root out the criminal once and for all – but where does her duty truly lie? Should she team up with the first character and make her arrest, or stay with the other survivors and try to help them find help?

Of course, that’s a completely made up example (although seriously, if anyone decides to take it as a prompt I’d love to see the results) based on simply uprooting assorted characters from other fictions and putting them in an unusual situation. Still, as a starting point, that might not be a bad way to go. If you’ve already got a cast of characters in mind, why not use fandom as a basis for your world-building? It’s difficult at the best of times, but if you’re struggling to design, say, a fictional university campus from scratch, there’s really nothing wrong with starting off by dividing buildings and inter-college rivalries along the familiar lines of Mordor and Rohan Colleges, for example, or modelling the background infrastructure of a small village you’ve made on the village from Hot Fuzz. You can change names and details later, but sometimes it’s good to start with at least a few reference points you’re already familiar with, simply because you’re less likely to forget them or worry about them.

So, this article started off innocently and seems to have turned into an impassioned defence of plagiarism. I’m certainly not saying you should steal other people’s work and pass it off as your own. If you get a chance to credit your influences, definitely do. But don’t be afraid, if you’ve got that urge to create but no ideas are sparking, to borrow things and play with them until they become more yours than anyone else’s. Aeroplanes weren’t invented without a little inspiration from birds, after all!

At around this point of a ‘Fandom As…’ article our Editor tends to like a conclusion, so here’s mine: fandom can be brilliant for kick-starting a stalled creative drive – and that’s not even considering the way other members of your fandom can offer prompts when called upon, ideas they’d like to see but don’t want to realise themselves – and I don’t think any of us should be afraid to experiment with a little borrowing here and there when we’re trying to create for ourselves. What do you think, Wanderers?

Eleanor Musgrove (likes playing with other people’s worlds)

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This entry was posted in Fandom As..., Issue Twenty-Five and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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