Now that I think back on it, I’ve written fanfiction before I knew what it was. More precisely, if I delve back more deeply into the mind of the childish me, I have probably written fanfiction before I knew what writing was.
My parents keep a book (alright, more like a couple of pages) that my four-year-old self dictated to the teacher in kindergarden. About two horses that I actually knew.
Two horses I had been told lots of stories about.
Isn’t that what fanfiction is, at the heart of hearts? You see something, you fall in love, you make it your own…?
Now, more years later than I want to count I still haven’t fully jumped off the bandwagon. Sometimes I wonder why.
It is, come to think of it, not the most reputed of pastimes. Especially when you lose the excuse of being below twenty years of age and thus are supposed to become an actual adult, one sometimes feels that people expect you to leave this childish pastime behind.
Once you grow past your teens, fanfiction is often regarded as something not to be shared too much, something private and even at times a little embarrassing. “It’s not real writing” is a relatively commonly used phrase, if to the face of the author or not.
And why is that?
Let’s face it: an overwhelming amount of fanfiction is bad. I feel very sorry for saying this, and I certainly will refrain to put up a wall of shame or any link to a story that I actually consider bad, but believe me, I have read enough to say that I think I kind of deserve to say this. The plagues are manifold, and depending on the community are horrible indeed.
The first and foremost plague is the Mary Sue. Fanfiction writers will know her (and her less familiar brother Gary Stu), and she often wanders through stories, where teenage girl with violet hair and eye changing color solves all the problems of the canon characters with a song, only to fall into the arms of her (and usually the writer’s) love interest after the final battle, almost perishing from a scratch, but then miraculously recovering in a tearful reunion with said… well. I exaggerate. But not much actually. Others, though, have ranted better and more efficiently about it (like this), and this is not a rant, this is supposed to be a balanced post.
The second plague often accompanies the first, and is called the self-insert. Now I like a good autobiographic story as well as the next girl, but autobiographic + existing canon often spells disaster in many ways. It works in very, very rare ways (one of the few that I do think is written with taste, skill and beauty despite carrying lots of traits of a self-insert is Cuthalion’s “Winter fire”. Maybe because it focuses mainly on side characers and doesn’t try to be an Eowyn replacement…) Of course, you can alter the setting of the canon, take some of the characters, warp them to fit your new canon, warp your own self a little to better fit the story and plug all this together. That’s called “being inspired for a new story”, friends. (Example anyone? How about Bridget Jones’ diary being P&P fanfiction? ) And it’s a different thing.
The third plague, again often in league with the first one is the wish-fulfilment. Now, that is a grey area, because that in itself doesn’t make the story bad. What does is if you ignore the rules and regulations of the world for it, or if the story is written only to get this wish fulfilled. If the plot on the road is good, well, then that’s fine and probably not so bad. Often, it’s not, though.
The fourth plague is the wide world of OOC. Again, seldom seen on its own, you warp, disregard and ignore the original character’s traits until nothing more remains than a name. Nothing wrong with character growth, nothing wrong with placing the character in an alternate universe and carefully adapting the character to fit the changed setting. But this, friends, is work. Serious work, that requires thought and skill and effort. (For a totally brilliant Alternate Universe, that has made extremely beautiful work of warping the characters to a completely different – and in itself interesting – world check out unicornesque’s “Season Unending”)
The fifth plague, the most vague of them all is “bad writing”. The internet and its vast community makes it easy it push out anything that just passes your fancy, and sometimes it makes you forget. Characters have more than one trait. You should have a plot or (in case of a vignette) a thought or idea that your story centers on. You should, at least roughly, try to construct a story that’s interesting for people to read. And try to write understandably and with a limited number of errors… (I’ll probably be punished for that statement alone, because there’s surely lots of errors in that post here J )
And the sixth is the English language. That seems a strange thing to say, but let me explain. As a non-english fanfiction writer (I, for one, am german) you are, at the beginning of your writing, faced with a difficult decision. Do I write in English, or do I write in my mother tongue? The advantage of the first is that you can profit from a world wide community, your audience is simply bigger. The disadvantage is obvious. It’s not your mother tongue. Do the math. But the alternative is to write in a language that is less widely used, but that you command better. Tough choice, huh? And as a result, there are lots and lots of stories with truly bad English, sometimes even barely readable. I don’t exclude myself from that, my first ever fanfiction, “from shadows I come”, also shows signs of that…
The seventh and final plague (yes, I know there’s ten in the bible, but I couldn’t make up ten, and I wouldn’t, because actually I love fanfiction and want to get to the good stuff!) is the insecurity of it. There is never a guarantee that a story will be finished (on the other hand, I’m quietly saying George R R Martin and weep…). There’s brilliance that will probably be lost in the void forever, stories that I fell in love with but that were never told to the end. I’ll probably never get over either Wandering Child’s “Beneath your eyes” or flagabovetheflames “Black the age that only gets darker” (actually that’s also a great example for an alternate universe that totally avoids OOC-ness) being discontinued… But then… I have a few dead bodies in my cellar there as well…
So why, then, even bother?
Why write fanfiction, why read?
First and foremost, being a fan is a state of mind. You work yourself up over virtual characters, you develop a passion for a movie, a book, a story. You do it or you don’t. It can’t be taught, I am, to this day, convinced that it isn’t even really a decision. It choses you, more than you chose it. The only choice you have is to give in or fight. It is a form of energy, and something that demands for release. You have been touched by a story, drawn into a world, and like any passion it demands a manner of release.
Writing fanfiction is a way of experiencing the world you feel passionate for, of exploring the background, of delving deeper into the character than you have before. Some people analyze books, write essays on this character or that. And some people try to delve deeper into the psychology of the characters by simply fleshing out or continuing the story. (Example? How about Altariel’s trilogy of “the unreal city”, composed of “The fire sermon”, “Death by Water”, and “What the thunder said” which is a fantastic story of Faramir before and throughout Lord Of The Rings)
Writing fanfiction is also, quite simply, a way to practice. People say, that to learn to write you need to write, and this is very true. If I look at all the things I’ve written as a girl, I am culpable of all the sins that lead to the plagues described above, and it is only by sheer luck that fanfiction wasn’t so much of a thing back then, and so these stories are now lying in my drawer and on my hard disk, but nowhere on the internet for people to see. But even though many of these stories were bad, I learned from them. I gave it to friends who criticized them, I grew from their comments, and with time, I also realized quite a lot on my own. Of course the ease with which you can put this on the internet leads to a lot of raw, and quite frankly bad fanfiction on the net, but then, if you don’t like it, there’s always the little (x) at the top right corner. Still, I would encourage everyone with the drive to write to write. Even if it’s bad at first. It gets better if you listen to others and ultimately to yourself. (Now if it has to be posted on the internet… that’s a secondary question 🙂 )
Writing fanfiction is also, in a way, very immediately gratifying. If you try to compose a novel, you will have to wrap up the whole thing before you even give it to a publisher, and feedback and opinions are still further away. If a story is running well, you will be spurred on, your enthusiasm fuelled. I am convinced, that many stories wouldn’t have been finished without this intermediate feedback. On the other side, there is also a downside to it. As a newbie, the audience is merciless. I mentioned the little (x) before, and it’s clicked so very quickly. People tend to lose interest if you don’t feed them something to keep them going. I am actually immensely proud and astonished (and humbled) of having managed to keep a modest audience for a story that to this day has 71 chapters and more than 360k words where the two supposed “love interests” have not even yet remotely started to think of the process of kissing.
So, on its better days, fanfiction can be grand.
On its better days, people take the canon and give it a twist, spin it off into a different direction to create a different world that, not by deus ex machine, but by growth, plot and development, gives a totally new perspective. A story worth reading of its own with the benefit of knowing and loving some of the characters already (like frustratedstudent’s “When Apollo met Persephone”, AMarguerite’s “Some friendlier sky” , Viciously Witty’s “the goblin market” or like AerynFire’s Sherlock-Holmes quadrulogy, which possibly also ranks among the “sadly unfinished” things, because it seems they were planning a fifth story that never came)
On its better days fanfiction takes the characters and turns and twists them around, gives them a different shade that was not present in canon, but also can hardly be denied. It creates a “headcanon”, a story within the story, an interesting exploration of a might-have-been, a previously unknown depth to a character. (take for example unicornesque’s “At dusk through narrow streets“, Altariel’s “A game of chess” , kchan88’s “Les Hommes de la Misericordie” or Crisiums’s “What we become” )
On its better days, fanfiction takes the canon and fleshes it out, not changing the scenes, not changing reality, but giving the story another level of beauty and introspection (like archiveidiotjello’s “Fairytales” or snappleducated’s “AntiPrincess” or Crisium’s “What we are” and “What we were”).
On its better days, fanfiction takes a story and turns it on its head, takes the characters and twists them around to another universe, changes them and still leaves them the same, a variation on a theme that still very well remembers the original song (the queen of which is unicornesque, as far as I am concerned, who has written so many splendid AUs; as examples may stand “Luwalhati” , “You are a runner and I am my father’s son” or “Every atom of me and every atom of you” ; but there is also frustratedstudent’s “don’t mess with the surgeon” )
It’s multifaceted and interesting, challenging and always new.
It’s good and bad. It’s life.
I guess, it’s fanfiction.