Writer Rambling: Fanfiction and Why it is a Bigger Deal than You Think
*Picture credited to monstersofgeek.com
Ok let's be real about this one, because I have seen one too many authors roll their eyes at what is potentially the richest resource any upcoming (and professional) writer should be taking advantage of. Believe it or not, fanfiction may even be on the fast track to having its place within the world of academia if anything is to be believed in an article present in this month's issue of The Writer's Chronicle. Before we get into any of that however, let's discuss what fanfiction is exactly for the writers out there who are just getting started.
Fanfiction is fiction written by a fan of (normally) publicized work who rewrites events of canonized material while using characters featured in aforementioned publicized works.
Put simply: The greatest tool you'll ever run into in your writing career to practice craft and right the wrongs a fellow writer has done to you.
I myself first indulged in fanfiction back in 2006, my high school years being littered with the obsession of good cartoons, anime, books and video games that boasted more complex characters and stories. At first I had simply been a reader, discovering fanfiction.net through word-of-mouth means, read a fic on the one topic I had been contemplating (my two favorite characters not falling in love in the cannon) and I was hooked. How could I not be though? That had been the most amazing thing I had ever heard of! I can rewrite the story? I can change things to the way I wanted them to go and people can share in the nerdy obsession with me? Heck yeah I want to be apart of this!
So the collection of fanfictions I subscribed to grew, and inevitably led me to writing my first fanfiction. Arguably this had been a colossal moment in my writing career for two major reasons: 1) My mind had been blown straight towards the world of creative writing, and 2) The rude awakening that came with the feedback my very first piece of writing ever had received wizened me up to a challenge that left me obsessed.
To this day, I can't even begin to tell you how many fanfictions I've written (and tried writing) in the past. Many I've completed, many I've scrapped as soon as I hit the "create story" button on Fanfiction.net, many were deleted half way through, and several I continue to work on as you read this post. The topics ranged from video games, books, anime shows/mangas I dipped my attention into, you name it.
The practice of rewriting my favorite characters back into the cannon (because I'm the person who always falls in love with the characters who end up dying by a story's half-way point) never got old. I never grew tired of the motivation of doing fictional characters some form of justice or altering plot points I did not agree with in some way. I simply kept doing it over, and over and over again until I was satisfied with "cannon material" of my own.
Ironically, during the obsessive hours I invested in writing fanfiction, that by the way I had been embarrassed to be partaking in because that was the most uncool thing to do in the "high school world," I had been developing exceptionally necessary writing skills.
I know, back up, how can that be? How could I be developing any form of skill when I was just spending hours of my day nerdgasming over a show/game/comic/whatever? This is where the eye-rolling towards fanfiction tends to completely stop as soon as writers understand the benefit that comes from writing fanfiction. Well, to begin, the first skill that fanfiction writing required me to develop to receive positive feedback was research (and better grammar but its my second for a reason). Yes, you heard me correctly: research.
The thing is, when your obsession arrives at just the right zone of being shame-free and boast an appropriate amount of pride in what your writing, you start trying to make your work appear as cannon as possible until it actually is. Sounds strange, I know, but just stick with me. This will come off as obvious but there are entire fandoms of fanfiction readers and as a result many writers of fanfiction earn a little fame here and there. Fanfiction writers also earn their own little reputations based upon the genres they tackle.
Whether that is a writer who writes good erotica in whatever topic, alternate universes, multiple universes, etc. Readers will gravitate towards said writers and those writers get a following. I myself have a bit of a reputation on fanfiction.net for reviving a particular character in the Resident Evil video game series. I don't claim fame or anything, but I have it on good enough authority that the series of stories I am writing now are the only of their kind (regarding the character I focus on as the main character). I don't claim fame however because that can obviously be said of any story on fanfiction.net (I think you get the point I'm trying to make). Regardless, as a result of readers complimenting my uniqueness in story telling and growth in developing craft, I have in return earned a following of readers who are interested in my progression.
It doesn't sound so nerdy now does it? Well, yes it still does actually, but I take it that the lens that made fanfiction writing seem like a waste of time may be cracking. Honestly, websites like fanfiction.net are just colossal internet campfires where everyone is just sitting around sharing stories and, more importantly, feedback. To say that fanfiction is anything less than an exceptionally important training tool for writers would be an insult.
It is one of the greatest tools in your arsenal since you get to skip the step of having to develop characters and world building (although for success you are still required to develop characters as your plot requires). Either way, Fanfiction writing encourages you to develop craft which goes hand-in-hand with developing critical thinking skills. Therein lies where we get into fanfiction potentially being a beneficial concept to introduce to the world of academia.
This month's issue of The Writer's Chronicle released an article titled, Pop Muses: Welcoming Fanfiction into the Creative Writing Workshop. First, if you can get your hands on this issue of the Writer's Chronicle (if you're not already subscribed), do so. Cara Diaconoff (author of the article) is perfection in this article and in her exploration of the concept of introducing "play" into academia's creative writing workshops. Perhaps my favorite passage to quote in this article is Diaconoff's statement about her understanding of fanfiction, which I think is important for any writer to see:
"Online fanfiction is indeed rife with erotica, but as a literary movement, a body of texts, and a generative source for creative writing, it's a far more complex phenomenon than such easy labeling would suggest."
Re-read that one if you need to. The words "literary movement" are indeed in there. This won't surprise seasoned fanfiction writers because they've experienced watching the growth of this movement (present company included). Fanfiction in recent years has become a literary movement in its own right. Now I will also state there's nothing wrong with erotica, not that I'm suggesting Diaconoff thinks so, but for clarity on the matter, erotica's a great market and if its your forte get to perfecting those skills! More to the point however, it is quite the idea to introduce fanfiction to a classroom. Why not challenge a student to write about something they are actually passionately into? Why not then challenge a student to try writing what they are interested in, but better?
As Diaconoff states later in the article, "...Taking fanfiction seriously leads to a productive interrogation of the concepts of originality, influence, and intertextuality." Fanfiction writers develop this when they write. The nerds that got laughed at in high school (again present company included) were developing very crucial skills a writer needs nowadays for their craft. Interestingly, the skills developed by fanfiction writers (who practice the craft in their free time) are far superior to the skills high school and grade schoolers alike take away from their creative writing classes all together.
As stated by Diaconoff:
"If finding an audience outside the classroom is an essential component in the student writer's development, then student writers of fanfiction have much more immediate access to an engaged, critically well-informed audience than do student writers of more traditional fiction."
Perhaps I may be jaded being that I am a writer of fanfiction, but I find the idea Diaconoff pitching here to be nothing short of fascinating. Fanfiction writing has come a really long way in the past ten years, becoming far more serious of a practice and meditation of craft than ever before. Personally, I hope it happens because many younger minds out there could really discover the joys of writing we turbulently had to discover in our own time.
Now after reading some random writer's opinion on the matter (that is, if you still happen to be here) some of you may be having second thoughts about investing time in fanfiction or snickering at the level of pretension you see before you. My fellow fanfiction writers may be offering a thumbs up, who knows, but either way I leave you with the challenge of giving it a try. Give yourselves a chance to sit back and just play with what you know, then challenge yourself to try new concepts while allowing yourself to borrow characters you did not create to do so. No one will judge you for it, and to prove my point I will quote a personal favorite Tumblr blogger, Oddhour, to inspireyou:
"for the fanfic writer: Your work is not lesser for not following canon. When you write, you’ve created a new work on its own. It can be, but does not have to be, limited by the source material. Canon is not the end-all, be-all."
Because we fanfiction writers know that the label of fanfiction means absolutely nothing when we're feeling like this:
Here are a couple of websites to get you started, so get writing!