What with the release of the new Star Trek movie, the announcement of Amazon World’s fanfiction publishing platform, and Yahoo’s purchase of Tumblr, fandom and fanfiction have found themselves in the spotlight and in the news quite a lot recently, even making their way into a recent edition of the Washington Post Express here in DC, which is handed out for free at metro stations across the area every weekday.
(I know, I know, I’m leaving out E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey, which was originally a Twilight fanfiction, but I have no love for Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. To each their own, but neither are my cup of tea, so talking about them might not serve much of a purpose.)
Like with anything else, there are plenty of misconceptions and stereotypes associated with fandom, fangirls, fanboys, and fanfiction, some of which the articles I’ve come upon lately expounded upon, though some have done justice. For instance there is the thought among some that fanfiction is only smut. Is there a great deal of smut? Yes, but how many books on the shelves of bookstores contain sexual content? The answer? Quite a few, so saying that all fanfiction is just smut simply because some stories are, is like saying all published books must contain smut simply because many do. This is not, of course, knocking stories that do contain smut, because a great deal of stories that do also contain much larger, overarching plots, character interactions, and good writing.
There’s also the really terrible misconception that all fanfiction is badly written, but this too, is so, so untrue. Is there badly written fanfiction? Yes. But oftentimes if you search through all the shelves of a bookstore or a library, there will also be poorly written published works, because published does not always mean something is quality writing, which is sad, but true. I’ve read a fantastic amount of wonderful books in my time, books I’ve gone back to again and again, written in, marked with post-its, but in turn there are also fanfictions with which I’ve done the same; I have nearly 500 favorites on my list at fanfiction.net, and at least 100 on Archive of Our Own, better known among fans as A03 (which actually made Time Magazine’s list of the top 50 websites of 2013) These fanfics have stayed with me, influenced me, influenced my writing, made me laugh, cry, and smile, much like any of the many books currently on my shelves. So sure, there is badly written fanfiction, but there is also some seriously incredible, endless imagination, writing, and creativity in fanfiction circles.
I’ve been involved in fandom and fanfiction for nearly a decade now; I started when I was 15, and I’ll be 25 next Thursday, and I’ve never regretted a moment of it, and truthfully have only gotten more involved as the years pass, more comfortable talking with people about it. I’ll never forget the day my friend Anna came up to me, sliding a notebook filled with loose-leaf in front of my face.
“What’s this?” I asked curious, but confused.
“Your very own writing notebook of course!” she exclaimed, enthusiastic. “You liked the fanfictions I showed you so much, I thought you should start writing your own.”
I looked down at the notebook, decorated with Japanese Kanji in what I think was some sort of Lavender paint pen, and smiled. My dad had been in the hospital for several months at this point, and while reading had always been a comfort to me, writing seemed even more so. The idea that I could expand upon stories and characters I already loved was a thrilling prospect. And so I jumped in, writing my very first fanfiction in the Rurouni Kenshin fandom. It certainly wasn’t the next Great American Novel, and my writing was certainly rougher, less detailed, and less mature than it is now, but the more I wrote the better it got, and I learned from other fanfic writers, who were more than willing to help out a new kid on the block. Over the past 10 years, I’ve written fanfiction in various fandoms, including Rurouni Kenshin, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom of the Opera, House MD, Criminal Minds, and Les Miserables. Going back and reading my own stories from past to present, I see the progression of my writing, I watch it grow into what it is now. (In case you happen to be the curious sort, my pen name is KChan88).
Fanfiction delves into characters I love, studies them, puts them in new and unexpected situations, takes them on adventures or shows them in the small, quiet, emotional moments. Fanfiction is full of immense creativity and passion for the stories we already love, the stories that stay with us.You didn’t like something that happened in canon? You can write your own ending. You loved a particular plot point but wanted more? You can expand on it. You adore a certain character or a character relationship and want to write more about them? You can do that too.
Fanfiction showed me how much I love to write, and it helped me realize I could try my hand at original works, too. I got a Creative Writing minor in college because of fanfiction, started writing my own original work, including the memoir I’m currently writing. Even as I work on the memoir I’m still writing fanfiction (currently for the Les Miserables fandom) and working on both pieces only really serves to enhance the creative process; working on one gives me ideas for the other, and always keeps me writing something every day.
Really, my life wouldn’t be nearly the same without fanfiction, without Anna sliding that notebook under my nose that fateful day. It helped me discover that writing is, perhaps, my purpose.
Fandom itself is truly an incredible, intriguing entity, a place for people who are passionate over something to come together. Fandom is chock full of insanely talented artists, writers, musicians, and is also full of seriously intelligent people who debate the finer points of a novel, a TV show, a movie, a play, who discuss character traits, symbolism, plot points, who analyze as well as most English majors I went to college with. In fact, in the Les Miserables Tumblr fandom there is currently a re-read of Victor Hugo’s original novel taking place, where everyone participating reads a chapter of the novel a day and then posts on their blog about it with a specific tag for everyone to track. I gladly take part in this, and I’ve learned a ton not only about Les Mis and its characters, but also about history, politics, and all sorts of things.
Fandom also creates friendships, creates bonds over the things people love; I’ve personally made several friends over the years through writing fic, participating in fan message boards, on Tumblr. Several years ago I was a very active member of a Pirates of the Caribbean forum, and I met lovely people through that. I’ve made friends in the States, friends in Canada, and even a friend all the way over in England, who often beta reads my current Les Mis fic chapters for me and helps me make them even better, who decided she liked my story so much she wanted to make an audio recording or podfic of it, which is a growing phenomenon in the fandom world. I’ve forged friendships with other fans simply by answering a review they left me, reviewing their story, or sending them a message on Tumblr if I liked a post they made, or something they drew, and found we usually had more in common than just fandom alone. It’s a truly wonderful experience, something that could hardly exist without the advance of the internet.
My roommate, a fanfic writer herself, once had someone plagiarize one of her stories into another fandom (essentially stealing her words and adjusting them for the different fandom) and once her readers realized this was happening, they came to her aid instantaneously in a true show of reader loyalty. In fact, a friend my roommate met through writing fanfiction once went to a convention where they were discussing Star Trek fanfiction in particular, and the person she was talking to knew of my roommate’s fanfiction just from the title, and how cool is that?
There are plenty of jokes about how crazy some fan-girls are, and how strange fandom is, and of course that can be true, but isn’t that just the case in life, with humanity in general? People come with all sorts of personalities, likes, dislikes, preferences, ticks, and fans are no exception. There are arguments sure, disagreements over certain aspects of things, but on the whole, fandom is largely a friendly place from my experience, once you find the right people, once you find your niche. Fandom is a different sort of community, but it’s a community in which everyone can find a place for themselves if they are passionate about something, a place where people can gather, can be nerdy and excited and enthusiastic about something without being judged for it, and I think that’s beautiful.
Fandom keeps our favorite things alive and breathing long after a series ends, a books closes, a screen goes black at the end of a movie, the curtain falls on a play, when a favorite actor or performer passes away.
To end, I’ll leave you with this fantastic post on fanfiction and it’s place through literary history from a Tumblr user, including a discussion on published fan-lit (all those Jane Austen continuations on the shelf? Star Wars novels? Published Fanfiction): http://bookshop.tumblr.com/post/37075331312
And a second post by a professor, discussing how fanfiction is literature and literature is fanfiction, and that in all actuality, fanfiction existed since before it even had that specific name, because derivative works have been written for hundreds of years: http://reshki.tumblr.com/post/45354535647/i-aint-got-no-candy-for-you-on-fan-fiction