The Fanfiction PhenomenonNovember 14, 2016 • By Caro and Michelle • 17 • 6 • 1942
Wait … Mulder and Scully had a second child? When did that happen?? And how!?
Just hold your horses, there. It didn’t happen. Technically. But that’s the beauty of fanfiction: whatever you dream up in your head can suddenly happen in your favorite fandom. All you have to do is write it down.
If you’ve been living under a rock (or, more generously, not that invested in entertainment) you may not be familiar with the concept of fanfiction. Basically, it’s fiction featuring characters and other elements from a particular fandom (TV series, movies, books, video games, etc.) written by a fan. If you think that’s a lot of “fiction” and a lot of “fan” in one sentence, you’re starting to get the idea. To put it more simply: it’s a story written by an author who shamelessly steals someone else’s copyright. Authors don’t get paid, but they don’t get sued, either. Fair enough.
So if we’re not making money and we’re not writing original stories, why would we bother in the first place? We are glad you asked. Mostly because we’re always willing to share our obsessions (fandom and writing) with anyone who’s willing to listen.
Identify as a writer
Caro: From the author’s point of view, a fanfic is a win-win situation: you get to write and you get to keep your favorite characters alive. But don’t think of fanfiction as novels; think of it as alcohol during Prohibition. One may think this kind of obsession is a sickness, but then again, writing is commonly known as a therapeutic technique to improve mental health, right? (We’re working on it.) Hasn’t wine been linked to many health benefits, too? Thus, time spent writing fanfiction is hardly ever wasted.
Michelle: Exactly, spending time writing anything isn’t wasted because writing anything makes you a better writer. In fact, I never thought of myself as a writer before I took the plunge and wrote fanfiction. I was always a reader, of course. And I teach writing. I would have even called myself an editor. But writing was always that last, elusive element. Other people were writers, not me. But writing fanfiction made me realize that I was a writer too, and it opened up other possibilities to me as well.
(Almost) no such thing as writer’s block
Michelle: Writing fanfiction is a bit like riding a bike with training wheels. If you’ve ever thought about taking a stab at fiction writing but were worried you didn’t have enough ideas, half of the problem is taken care of for you. There’s an entire world that already has all of the details in place, a world that you know and love, and you just have figure out what you want to do with it.
Caro: Yes, it’s a real time-saver in the writing process. The wannabe writer that sleeps within you can now focus on other matters of writing: the plot, the psychology, the relationships, the twists, doing some research on specific topics, your writing style and other details, like transcribing actions and emotions straight from your brain onto a blank Word document.
Michelle: Building believable characters was always the part that scared me about writing fiction. But since that’s taken care of, I feel better about creating plots while staying true to who the characters are, what they would say and how they would act. These characters are our friends (now I can see what Caro meant by mental illness…) and we want to spend time with them and try to find their motivations. We know them as much as we know ourselves. And the fun of writing fanfiction is the challenge of creating an interesting story while staying within certain parameters so it’s believable to the readers who know the fandom inside and out.
Caro: You can write anything from novel-length stories to really short prompts. It’s a lawless territory. In my own experience (I have written about twenty stories, which is not a lot, considering some others authors), fanfiction is a great exercise to find one’s voice, to create different atmospheres and discover what you like to write more. I have tried thrillers, mild-horror, comedies, angst, and pure romance (read: erotica).
Caro: The aim is not to turn your favorite characters into dirty little whores. I can only speak for Michelle and me, but as fanfic authors we don’t necessarily write just to indulge our sexual fantasies (that is, our respective fantasies; we’re not co-writing that) or the kind of kinky sex you want to hide from your spouse, neighbors, family and associates. Although, it works great apparently; E. L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) wouldn’t contradict me. So, okay, I wrote sex. But you gotta understand just how frustrating that show’s been! Platonic activity, my ass! (Sorry, private frustrated X-Phile joke.) I only wrote what I wrote for the characters’ sakes.
Michelle: Yes, we create more of what we want to see in the fandom or correct what went wrong. Have you ever hated a plotline in your favorite show? Screamed or threw things at your TV because that NEVER should have happened? Or, hell, maybe you just wanted to kill an annoying character off. Writing fanfiction is a bit like playing God with somebody else’s creation: the original creator of the series builds the universe, and then on their day of rest, we take control and turn that universe into one that makes more sense.
Caro: It works, for the most part. I would love to be able to say that all fanfiction writers love writing and are deeply invested and respectful of the process. But I won’t lie; there’s good fanfic and there’s bad fanfic. Weird shit, even. As a writer, we’ve all been there, don’t worry. One has got to start somewhere, right? As a reader, you definitely want to avoid those, um, “practice” fics. The trick is to find a writer who is perfectly balanced between the love of words and the love of their fandom. And then it all comes down to this graphic:
Photo source: Fantomsonen.
But then I guess that defines any piece of writing. Some books should never have been published in the first place, either. And it’s not that terrible, really. After all, Michelle’s updates happen every month (and a half). (Give or take.)
An instant and eager audience
Michelle: The big mantra is always “write for yourself!” but if we’re honest, of course we want other people to read (and hopefully enjoy) our stories. However, it’s nearly impossible for a new writer to self-publish an original work of fiction and get meaningful feedback. Fanfiction, by definition, already includes a fan base that can’t wait to indulge in more. “I am like any other woman; all I do is supply a demand,” said Al Capone.
Caro: Yes, there are wonderful platforms for publishing fanfiction and that contain built-in audiences with thousands of readers, eager to discover your new stories. As you begin posting more stories, you may find yourself gaining a following with readers subscribing to your stories, commenting on your works, and nicely asking for more. And, as writers, we’re suckers for comments, reviews, shares, RTs, likes, kudos, pins, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and so on. In a word: feedback! Ponder the word: I fed you, now give me a cookie. Or a chocolate, whatever. It’s the sinews of war. I’m guessing it’s easier getting feedback on a fanfic than on an actual book. Or say, ahem, on a blog…
Michelle: That feedback does keep us going, of course, but it’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes, writers struggle between wanting to write a piece worthy of a Nobel Prize in literature (no, really, we write for ourselves!) and feeling compelled to write what the majority of the audience wants to read (steamy sex stories would only able to compete for the Nobel Prize in fanfiction literature). Hence, the compromise: write a few racy works to build a solid fan base, and then cross your fingers that they’ll stick around to read the written testimony to your creative genius within (and, of course, leave that ever-elusive feedback). Writers that don’t quite strike that balance, though, often end up producing beautifully-rendered stories with random sex scenes that don’t quite fit. Which leads us to a much-needed update on that graphic:
A sense of community
Michelle: Writing fanfiction also lets us connect with others who share our interests. With the advent of Facebook and other social media platforms, we can get to know others who love the same fandoms (who doesn’t love to share a box of Kleenex after a particularly moving episode?) as well as share the struggles of trying to complete a multi-chapter work or plot a scene just right. Just like Walt Whitman did, I’m sure.
The most important member of a fanfiction writer’s community, though, is their beta reader. It’s always great to have an extra set of eyes for proofreading purposes, but a beta is really more than just an editor. A good beta will point out any inconsistencies in the characterization or the world itself (fans will know if you’ve gotten even the smallest details wrong. Trust me.) A very good beta will constantly try to motivate (nag) you to keep writing and update your fics when you’ve been working on the same chapter for over a month.
Caro: Right. After the unpaid writer, meet the workhorse, exploited editor. I’m guessing most fanfic writers are also betas. Or at least I hope so. Being a beta only helps to improve your own writing skills. You need to be critical, picky, and willing to offer suggestions and honest reactions to a work. Since it’s nearly impossible to do any of that for your own writing, you can practice the art of refining on someone else’s writing once they have (foolishly or not) chosen to put their judgment, will and skills in your hands. Because, yes, in order to work, it’s got to be a trust-based relationship.
Get your fix
Back in the day, writing fanfiction (or reading it, for that matter) may have been shameful. You pictured a teenaged girl writing down her fantasies in her diary before finding the necessary bravery to post them online. Today, though, it’s become a real phenomenon led by women writers who have found a way to write for readers while avoiding big publishing companies.
As a matter of fact, maybe more than classic literature itself, fanfiction is in line with readers’ expectations. There’s a lot of freedom in this: editors’ criticism (good or bad) has been replaced by the readers’ based on their sole enjoyment. (Or close to, c.f. previous graphic.) Therefore, we’re only beholden to ourselves and our readers. Not publishers.
We didn’t come here to convince you to write your own stories (although we’ll read whatever you do! Please feel free to share your links in the comment box.). But once you get started, you’ll most likely find that it’s an easy fix for your compulsiveness passion. Fanfiction writing is an act of love, not madness. (Or so we like to believe.) Therefore, start with reading in your favorite fandom (if you’re unsure of where to start, read some comments that people have left; after all, you’d do the same on Yelp or TripAdvisor, right?), and then start your own. You can even fic in the Justin Bieber fandom if that’s your thing…