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We fans are a funny lot. When we’re not sharing our loves and our passions with all who are willing to listen, we are finding new ways to connect with that which we love, be it personally or publicly. Our passions drive and inspire us, often taking our creativity to new heights. Or sometimes we just moan a bit about when things change. Both equally valid things to do, but it’s the way fans find exciting and clever ways of expressing themselves and that which they care about to the world.
In my experience, I’d say that some of the most interesting and imaginative people I’ve ever met are lifelong fans. They’re the cosplayers; the con-goers; the ones pouring hundreds of man hours into posting on forums, blogs and other online communities; the ones filling Tumblr with an alarming amount of naked fanart and yes, they are the fan-fiction writers.
Unfortunately, for those not “in” the fandom, a lot of the above will just be seen as so much wasted time, such activities fitting only the saddest and loneliest basement-dwelling neck-beards and freaks. Sounds ridiculous right? Well sadly even in 2013 – a time where we have seen poster boy for obsessive geeks everywhere, Joss Whedon, become one of the most successful directors of all time with a big screen version of a Marvel comics crossover series, and where the videogame industry is the biggest entertainment industry on the planet – these slurs do still get tossed around by the “cool kids”. One of the biggest targets for such scorn is that of the fan-fiction writer.
Like other such easy targets, the Furries, the Bronies, and the like, fan-fiction writers are often dismissed by fans, non-fans and even some creators as sad, emo fangirls or sexually frustrated housewives who only trade in writing the worst kind of self-indulgent and masturbatory fantasy porn. And, when a lot of people know of fan-fiction through such “high profile” writers as E.L. James and see the prevalence of Twilight-based work that’s out there, you’d be forgiven if this was the case by and large.
I confess, for the longest time even I considered fan-fiction not worth the effort people put into it. Oh sure, I understood on a conceptual level the benefits. It helped inexperienced writers develop skills and confidence in their writing by allowing them to rummage into pre-existing toy boxes, thus eliminating the messy and difficult world-building aspect that can seem so daunting to novices. I even understood the potential for finding an eager and appreciative audience for your work and the feeling of validation that is felt when someone somewhere tells you that you wrote a good thing. Hell, I even admit that there’s nothing really wrong with indulging in a bit of fantasy porn if that sort of thing floats your boat. You want to get off to the thought of Harry and Malfoy playing with their wands in a very special leather-bound Room of Requirement, you go right ahead.
Yet, despite these positives, fan-fiction still rubbed me in the wrong way. As a writer I felt that fan-fiction was, well, lazy. To me world-building and character creation were very important parts of the writing process. You needed to know what you were creating intimately to get the best work out of it, also by setting your stories in pre-existing universes either one of two things would happen:
The stories you created would fit so consistently within the canon of the story it would be redundant. After all, why read something like the original when you could just read the original, with the further knowledge that what happens in it is actually real within the context of that fictional universe?
Secondly, they would be massive departures from the original. I’m talking about the alternate universes where suddenly everyone goes to an American high school, where everyone is magic, or nobody is magic, or they are magic but it’s the magic from a different series or everything is a Digimon version of Glee or whatever. To me, taking the pre-existing world and characters and twisting it so drastically seemed to defeat the purpose of using the characters in the first place. If it’s going to be so damn different why not just, y’know, write an original piece of fiction. Again, it seemed odd to me and all I could think of was that the writers were simply being lazy, using pre-made kits to avoid doing any groundwork of their own.
Looking back, sure I can see how arrogant and judgemental that attitude is, but honestly I still agree with parts of it. Sure I’ve softened but I still have my own issues with the whole enterprise. I mean, no matter how good some of the stuff out there is, sadly as with everything on the internet (the very antithesis of the idea of quality control), the bad will always drastically outweigh the good. That’s not to diminish the good out there, but that’s sadly the way it is and probably will be.
It was in conversation with a good friend of mine, herself an avowed fan-fiction reader and writer, that really made me understand more the appeal of the fan-fiction world.
“[It’s] a good psychological outlet. Treating the characters in ways that reflect events that have happened in your life can help a person deal with traumatic events, and same goes for the readers. Because the topics in fan fiction have a better rating structure than most published novels, you can find a range of topics happening in fan-fiction which can both respect the reader who’s reading it for personal reasons, or those who don’t want to read it for personal reasons.”
A fair point, that in my haste I hadn’t really considered. Not everyone suffering emotionally might have the desire to spend the time and effort in creating a vast world of in-depth characters just to help them express how or what they’re feeling. Fan-fiction with its basis in the familiar tropes and settings of a work is like a comfort-food; something recognisable and stable enough to help a person work through and discuss what they’re going through without getting bogged down in the basics. Plus, it could be that they’re identifying with the plight of a character and by writing about them it can help to understand themselves better. Through the character’s triumphs, some may find their own.
Or maybe you’re just having a bad day and want to imagine some particularly gruesome tortures for those characters you really despise. I hear that’s pretty good too.
“You can do it for yourself or for an audience, and both will still inevitably lead you into some sort of community and camaraderie.”
Obviously I wasn’t blind to the many and varied fan-fiction communities out there, but really that’s what it was all about isn’t it? Community and camaraderie. Fan-fiction writers across the globe have found a way, like fans everywhere, to reach out to others that connect with others that share their passion. It seems odd to me that we like to discourage and distance such connections. Tarring fan-fiction with the porn brush or declaring them walking stereotypes potentially “damaging” the universes and fandoms they claim to be part of.
But that’s not really fair now is it? We’re all fans after all. One of our best qualities is our ability to reach out and embrace our fellows no matter who they are or how they choose to express themselves. There’s room enough in our ever-widening circles for anyone who wants in, who wants to feel that kind of acceptance that a shared passion can bring.
Sure, fan-fiction isn’t for everyone, but then again not everyone is a fan of the same thing. Embrace the diversity of audience that such followings bring I say. Let the cosplayers dress up, the artists draw and yeah, the fan-fiction writers write.
Fandom is passion, and passion shouldn’t be locked in a box. For some that box is opened with a brush, others with a pen. The important thing is that they come from the same place, one of deep abiding love. That’s something I think anyone can be a fan of.
Special thanks go to my good friend @TheFirstChibi for all of her help and time.