As I’ve gotten older, I’ve dreaded conversations about my hobbies more and more because when someone asks me what I like to do in my free time and I say, “I write,” that apparently says a lot about me as a person. Thankfully, I’m still too young for people to hear that and ask, “Oh, have you gotten anything published?” No. No I haven’t. Because I’m 19 years old and frankly I don’t think I’ve got a strong enough grasp of my voice to really deserve publication–of course, that doesn’t stop so many.
However, even though I’m not faced with that question, I’m faced with another. “Oh really? What is it that you write?”
I think people always expect to hear some gripping tale about my awesome mystery novels, or tasteful sci-fi, or short stories and poetry that show a New Yorker author in the making.
And then I say it: “Fanfiction.”
Immediately, everyone deflates. Oh God, not fanfiction. How very dare she piggy-back on another author’s creativity. Can’t she create something for herself?
Or, as an alternative, the reaction that–if possible–kills me even more: “What’s fanfiction?” Even though they don’t know, this is still said with an inflection that indicates that they frankly just don’t care.
Fanfiction has pushed its way into the public eye more and more as of late. I’m sad to say that Fifty Shades of Gray might have a large amount to do with its rise to infamy. And to me, that’s the tragic thing about fanfiction. It gets such an undeserved bad rep. You’re not a real author if you write fanfiction. Even if you somehow manage to go somewhere with it, you’re simply another E.L. James, profiting on something that’s frankly not very good. Something that wasn’t really your idea.
To which I say, unabashedly, “Fuck you.”
If we may peruse my own AO3 page, you will find 98 works on there that have been posted in the past year and a half or so. This, in and of itself, is a feat; I am a thoroughly prolific fanfic writer. Of course, quantity reveals nothing of quality, and I will fault no one for looking at that number of works and asking, “Okay, but is any of it good?”
Obviously I’m biased. I should hope that it’s good, if I spend so much time creating it. But regardless of overall quality, I will take a chance and say that, compare my earliest fics to my most recent, and you will see improvement (hopefully you can agree that it’s vast improvement). I have developed as a writer since I began writing fanfiction and as much as I hate to say it, it’s not really because of my schooling in the past two years, phenomenal as my English teachers might have been. No. It’s because I have been practicing and perfecting my writing, and most importantly, I have been experimenting–with perspectives, with styles, with diction… I’ve done everything in my power to make my character development more logical, to close up plot holes and to determine just the proper amount of detail to provide to readers. I try to write a story that people will appreciate, but I try to throw in things that people will not expect. And I’ve gotten better at this, too, at throwing people around just a tad while shit goes down, until finally it resolves happily (or unhappily, because honestly a lot of the fanfic I write is fairly angsty).
And I must ask: what about this is not writing? Of course, every author goes through their own particular process, and mine might be different than yours or anyone else’s. But doesn’t it sound like writing to you? I have the same concerns. I have read fanfiction that is not only better than mine, but that is also better than much of the published nonsense that’s being put out these days.
But of course, the problem still lies in the fact that they are not my characters, that it is not my inspiration.
A majority of the fanfiction that I write is real person fic, so in this respect, mine is a rather special case–I must point out that they are, in essence, my own characters, because I’m building on the surface aspects of these people that they choose to put out into the public eye. This seems no different than adopting a character on the NaNoWriMo website; you’re given various traits, and you build on the rest. I think that real person fiction might be the most like “real” fiction of all fanfic.
Other fanfic, however, deserves no more scorn just for involving characters that have already been fleshed out by someone else. There exists fic that does little more than retell the already-existing canon of the story, but this is not the fic I seek to defend. No. I seek to defend authors who put Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise into a new situation so that we can explore how the characters react to a new threat. I seek to defend the authors who depict the adventures that Rose and Tentoo have on Pete’s world, because surely a Doctor/Donna hybrid is bound to get into some trouble. I seek to defend the authors who tell stories of the Marauders’ time at Hogwarts. I seek to defend the authors who thought, “What would the Winchesters be like in an alternate universe where… they started a rock band? they went to a normal high school? they worked at a coffeeshop?” I seek to defend the authors who think that maybe the Doctor met Sherlock Holmes, or that maybe Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff really are the parents of Katniss Everdeen.
Creativity abounds in fanfiction. We get these ideas and we run with them and some of the output is absolutely phenomenal, if you’ll simply take the time to look. It doesn’t matter that the characters are already a part of a book, a movie, a show, a podcast… they have still inspired us to create something. Unlike J.K. Rowling, I have not jotted notes on a napkin that have evolved into a best-selling series known around the world. Instead, I’ve just been watching television, or reading a book, when a thought has popped into my head, “But what if this happened instead?” What about that is so bad?
And so I implore you, don’t look down on someone for writing fanfiction.
In fact, if you’re not too ashamed, feel free to come join us; our smut’s more quality reading than that published shit any day.