That's a pity, because my interview subjects told me there's enough talent within these communities to help writers flourish. "Keep in mind that plenty of fanfic'ers write original works of their own, and a larger chunk of the professional writing community than you would think is in on the game," Dean says. "It's not uncommon to overhear talks of publishers and editing nightmares at a fanfiction convention." Skilled editors, combined with community support and honest, constructive criticism, could make a huge difference. According to Andrew, some sites are already taking this approach. "Most of those [sites] don't simply tell authors that they can't write - they tell them how to improve, and that's the key," he says. Alongside all this external aid, it's important to remember that writers can also help themselves. "[They] need to treat their fanfiction with the utmost care and take the time to make it the best it can be," says Tiut.
But there is, perhaps, a danger in encouraging more fanfiction sites to take a professional attitude to writing and editing. By imposing those kinds of rules, they could easily lose their inclusive nature. Having to put stories through any kind of submission process would dampen the appeal for many people. But, as Andrew notes, "quality control doesn't necessarily mean an all-powerful editor ... it could simply mean fostering a community that encourages authors to take pride in their work." This sounds like an approach that could benefit everyone.
Diverse and Disparate
The writers I spoke with reveal a number of forces at work within fanfiction, all pulling in different directions. The communities seem unconcerned with how they look from the outside, yet there are real concerns about writing standards. They recognize the medium produces a high volume of poor writing, but it's tolerated and sometimes even cherished. In fanfiction, the concept of "meaning" (to both the reader and author) seems to carry more weight than the equally hard to define "quality," almost certainly due to its strong social aspect. But this is at odds with a desire among some to see writers take more pride in their work.
So while it's still easy to pull the trigger on Nemo and friends, perhaps we should keep in mind that the author of Donkey Kong's Barrel: The Purge probably knows how goofy his story is. Writers of fanfiction seem well aware of the amount of bad prose created in the name of fandom, and they either don't care, actively enjoy it or are taking steps to improve standards within their own circles. Mocking the more absurd and humorless entries at FanFiction.net will probably never get old, but it's only telling the fanfiction community something it already knows.
Peter Parrish thanks Andrew, Dean and Tiut for their time and efforts. His Bratz Ponyz/Dark Messiah crossover-fic is still on hold.