Guest Content: Sturgeon Was an Optimist

Over the past couple weeks my daughter, TheChildF, has been doing some research and writing a report on it. (Why? Because I’m a monster and am not giving her a break during her school Christmas break. Monster, I tell you.) In the interest of providing some content for the temporarily languishing blog, here it is. (Why? Because I’m a monster.)

Wattpad Fanfic Report

Abstract

Sturgeon’s law states that “90% of everything is crap”, and I wanted to see if that applied to Wattpad fanfiction too. Seeing as Wattpad has a reputation for badly written stories, I wasn’t expecting much. By skimming the first chapter or so of the top 5 stories in the hot category in 10 fandoms, I have concluded that out of the 50 stories I had read, 2 were good enough that I would keep reading them. 13 of the 50 were passable by Wattpad standards, a deliberately lowered bar.

Intro

I came in with the hypothesis that more than 90% of Wattpad works were awful. This is based on Sturgeon’s law, which states that “90% of everything is crap”.

Method

Materials:

  • computer
  • wattpad
  • a healthy dose of spare sanity
  • the strength to go on

First, I chose 10 fandoms to read 5 fanfics each on. Instead of randomly choosing them, I got popular and well-known fandoms, as well as some smaller ones I had heard about in passing. I picked out the top 5 stories from the hot listing, but it would have produced a better result if I had sorted by new instead because the worst stories are usually excluded from the hot list.

I read at least 500 words of each story, though inevitably some had multiple chapters of character introductions and song recommendations. Additionally, if I was unable to tell if a story was passable or not, I would read a few chapters past the first one.

I automatically rejected a story if it met the following criteria:

  • excessive capitalization, spelling, and punctuation errors
  • improper writing mechanics
  • excessive, pointless swearing

Results

FandomPassable by Wattpad StandardsGood Enough that I’d Keep Reading
1 Direction1/50/5
K-Pop2/50/5
Minecraft-Youtube1/50/5
My Hero Academia2/50/5
Harry Potter1/50/5
Naruto1/50/5
Lord of the Rings2/51/5
Game of Thrones3/51/5
Twilight0/50/5
Warrior Cats0/50/5

Discussion

By the time I realized I sorted by hot instead of new, I had already worked through most of the stories, so I kept the same sorting and didn’t worry about it. It would probably be better to sort by new next time (if there is a next time). I also noticed that, as I read more fanfiction, my standards for Wattpad stories changed for the worse. I decided to read all of the stories first, then decide if they were passable.

Conclusion

Sturgeon was an optimist. Two out of the fifty stories I read were something I’d continue reading, which isn’t a good look for general Wattpad quality. The other 11 passable stories were not good enough to keep reading and were “good” only compared to the really bad stories on Wattpad.

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kennycan

What’s a Wattpad?

boron

It appears to be a platform for dysfuntional graduates of our school system who, instead of scribbling on paper, put words down in any order they believe can be understood
wattpad.com

kennycan

What platform isn’t these days?

Except Blogs 😁

boron
  • What are “improper writing mechanics”?
boron

TNX. I had to look it up; I didn’t know the expression.. We just never progressed to the next grade until we could write, in cursive, something the teacher could read.

kennycan

That why you never became a doctor. 😉

Only a pharmacist can read what they write.

Barry

First, I chose 10 fandoms to read 5 fanfics each on.

Not only have I never heard of a “wattpad”, I’ve never heard of “fandoms” or “fanfics either.”

I have a feeling I don’t want to know about anything further 🙂

HazHap

Heh. It may be better not to know. 🙂

Think of fanfic as sort of being the written equivalent of what a cover band does with music. Amateurs of widely variable talent (some good, some bad, many outright terrible) write stories set in their favorite “fandoms” — novels, TV shows, movies, and the like. Much of it is basically frustrated fans who feel the stories “turned out wrong” and write their own preferred outcomes. Think people who wanted someone different to end up on the throne of Westeros, or whose favorite character got killed off, or the “wrong” couple ended up together. (There is a lot of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ fanfic out there, for example.) Sometimes it is fans imagining what might have happened if a TV series had gotten additional seasons (lots of Firefly fanfic exists).

Last edited 5 months ago by HazHap
Barry

“…and write their own preferred outcomes.

So, they’re progs 🙂

Thanks for the intro, maybe 🙂

I looked up “Wattpad”. 90% of the users are age 13 to 35 and the majority are female. I now understand why I never heard of it.

HazHap

There is a lot of wish fulfillment in fanfic writing. A lot of it is just people playing around with “what if? scenarios that for legal reasons will never happen in professionally published work. Harry Potter shows up in Marvel universe New York and joins the Avengers, for example. The corporate cross-licensing would be beyond a nightmare, so it would never “officially” happen. But someone thinks it would be fun and writes a story where it happens. It is a similar impulse to all the people who get into geek fights over whether an Imperial star destroyer could beat Picard’s Enterprise in a battle.

I think a lot of it is that some characters and settings are so engaging that people just don’t want the stories to end. So they write more themselves. Creating interesting original characters and doing solid world building is HARD — see Hollywood, endless reboots of every IP ever. So people use already existing characters and settings that they like and try to tell new stories. (Most of them aren’t anything really new, but every now and then someone goes off in an really unexpected and fun direction.)

Barry

Gotcha. I have no problem with it, just isn’t for me personally.

I am surprised I never heard of it, but it’s more likely I just don’t recall it as it would not have been interesting to me.

I have read some alternate history/fiction over the years. Some of it was good, most of it poor as it couldn’t have happened. To rewrite the ending of a fiction, or continue it seems to fall along the same lines. I’d bet some small amount is good, most bad.

Barry

Heh, the title is way up there on top…

HazHap

Alternate history is a good comparison, as a lot of fanfic is essentially alternate histories of whatever the original story was. “Everything the same except ___” is a huge fraction of all fanfic. When you do the same thing with real world history, you can get a nice career out of it. See Harry Turtledove, among others.

You might not have heard of fanfic before due to it being a legal gray (at best) area. Some authors tolerate fanfic in their universes, others do not, but the publishing industry (for obvious reasons) keeps a sharp legal eye out for anyone trying to make money off fanfic. So while tons of it exists, fanfic does not exactly get promoted much.

Barry

I know now. I learn something new every day.

HazHap

Thanks for posting this, SteveF. Interesting, and it matches my experience. I have read quite a bit of fanfic in a whole bunch of fandoms, going back at least 25 years now. (Longer if you count professionally published fanfic, e.g. authorized tie-in novels like Star Trek books and movie novelizations like Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars books and the like.) Sturgeon was indeed an optimist. 99.9% of fanfic is pretty terrible, and much of the rest is merely passable.

But there is so much fanfic out there these days that even with such percentages being bad, there is a lot of pretty decent stuff. And there is some that is as good (or better than) much of what is professionally published by the big industry houses these days. The trick is finding the good stuff amidst the mountains of dross. Fanfic.net currently lists about 840,000 Harry Potter fanfics, for example, and almost a quarter million Twilight fanfics. It is a fascinating phenomenon.

kennycan

The whole point of publishers used to be sifting through good vs dross.

Of course, publishers don’t make money anymore so, like newspapers, their purpose is to sift through dross to find what supports the Narrative.

If anyone remembers Throw Momma From The Train they will realize almost no one under 40 today would “get” that movie.

Last edited 5 months ago by kennycan
kennycan

That’s certainly the case as well.

HazHap

This. Very much this.

HazHap

Yes, proper editing (or anything even close) automatically moves a particular piece WAY ahead of the curve.

Fanfic has been around a long time. Some of it is just disguised as “respectable” writing. Anyone but Doyle writing Sherlock Holmes stories, anyone but Christie writing Poirot or Marple mysteries, anyone but Fleming writing James Bond — it is essentially the same impulse.

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