Fanficton: A Practice in the Art of Storytelling
Good shows, films, pieces of literature and other narrative mediums all have one thing in common: they leave their audiences wondering, “What will happen next?”
Sometimes this desire is filled by a particularly diligent author, screenwriter or director. Sequels are made, spinoffs are constructed, and an idea that started out as a solo effort can be extended into a successful series. One of the unexpected downfalls to worldbuilding is drawing in an audience so much that their desire for more can’t be satiated.
Enter the world of Fanfiction, an attempt to curb the appetites of fans who aren’t satisfied by what has already been established in a creative product. Those who find themselves fascinated with the worlds in works like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Legend of Zelda, or even The Big Bang Theory can find their refuge in an abundant online community dedicated to fulfilling the desire to know more. The most prevalent web source for Fanfiction, Fanfiction.net, features thousands of categories for TV shows and video games which archive the written works of amateur fans. The popularity of Fanfiction for books like Twilight has resulted in some of its adapted publication. Fifty Shades, anyone?
But Fanfiction isn’t a new concept. Nor is it a phenomenon unique to the internet. The internet has made Fanfiction more accessible, increased its popularity and its demand from audiences. Fanfiction has been around since human beings began to tell stories — or since they began to write them down, anyway. Eventually, storytelling branched into different artistic mediums, like comic books, film, video games, and television. The advent of new narrative mediums increased the scope available for fanfiction, but the outcome remained the same.
The inherent value of fanfiction — fulfilling the human desire to tell stories — has remained apparent throughout its history. By fulfilling this desire, fanfiction has established itself as a legitimate and valuable art form. It has enhanced the narrative storytelling tradition, and in the current digital era, encouraged young writers to get their start in a massive online community. Its use should be supported by authors as free exposure and complimentary to the resonating power of their own stories. In a post-modern world, nothing can be constituted as original. Stories are borrowed, freed, and made accessible through their restoration across time and culture. To quote Jarmusch:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.”
Fanfiction Throughout History
About five hundred years ago, a writer by the name of John Milton was so inspired by the Genesis tale from The Bible that he decided to rewrite it in present-day, Enlightenment-era English. Paradise Lost took him longer than twenty years to produce. At this time in his life, he was blind and had to dictate the whole thing to his daughters, who wrote it all down for him. Milton claimed it was his greatest work, the product of divine intervention from God, who had told him the story every night while he slept. Once the sprawling epic was completed, it was hailed as one of the greatest works ever produced in the English language. Today, it is studied as part of the canonical literature by students of English all over the world, and it stands in literary magnitude alongside the works of Shakespeare and Homer. Professors of Milton studies claim that it is the best work in the epic genre ever produced.
You might have guessed it by now, but this great work Paradise Lost was originally written, and remains to this day, a piece of fanfiction.
Before Paradise Lost, another of the great writers of contemporary English, a certain William Shakespeare, also dabbled in the art of fanfic. Romeo and Juliet, a work adapted from an Italian poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, was just one of the Bard’s borrowed works. Antony and Cleopatra took two historical, dramatic figures and expanded on their lives. The play elaborated on their tumultuous relationship, passionate love affair, and ultimate demise using evidence and rumour from history. Some of his most famous and popular plays, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Henry IV, could all be classified as fanfiction.
Human beings have always felt the desire to tell stories, and when stories end, it’s hard to accept that the characters or narratives an audience has become so invested in are really, truly gone. Fanfiction fills that desire for knowledge in a way that is safe, imaginative, and provides excellent practice for original storytelling.
Although Fanfiction.net remains the premium source for fanfiction, other social media platforms are providing informal spaces through which to self-publish work. Livejournal, Tumblr, Storywrite and DeviantArt provide open platforms through which to publish written works, including fanfiction. Just like any literary publication, however, each of these sites caters to a slightly different audience. Livejournal is well known for “kink fics” — works including explicit and raunchy sexual acts between fictional characters — that violates some community guidelines on Fanfiction.net. Tumblr provides an integrated and extremely complex fan community that is split into “fandoms”. Each fandom offers a devoted community who repost fanfiction, fanart and other fan medium works with specified search tags. This system makes it easy to find a very specific type of fanfiction, and easily check its quality based on peer review.
If you are looking for a slightly more professional, tightly knit community of writers, Storywrite will fit the bill. The community on this site is devoted to acquiring the tools necessary to write well. Most users post original short stories, but fanfiction can be an excellent first step into getting established within the community, and later branching off into more original storytelling.
DeviantArt is widely known for its art mediums, but it can also be a good source for publishing fanfiction. Establishing a profile on DeviantArt as a dedicated writer could generate a loyal fanbase of readers who pay attention to story updates. DeviantArt provides somewhat of an online portfolio, allowing users to utilize its potential as an entry point into the publishing industry.
The Good, The Bad, The Infamous
Fanfiction has dominated the internet for a long time. And like in any community with a history, certain writers and their works have gone down in the books as fantastic, or infamously terrible.
One of the best known pieces of fanfiction writing pays homage to the world of Harry Potter. My Immortal was a fanfiction originally posted on Fanfiction.net in 2006. It was subsequently removed for reasons still unclear, but not before it had made the rounds of the internet as the worst fanfiction to ever be produced. Akin to the cult fascination with Tommy Wiseau’s The Room in the film industry, My Immortal is the most commonly used example of fanfiction gone bad. So poorly written and so bad that it’s almost good, there is too much incongruity surrounding the work to deduce whether or not it’s intent was satirical.
“Hagrid ran outside on his broom and said everyone we need to talk.
‘What do you know, Hargrid? You’re just a little Hogwarts student!’
‘I MAY BE A HOGWARTS STUDENT…’ Hargirid paused angrily. ‘BUT I AM ALSO A SATANIST!’
‘This cannot be.’ Snap said in a crisp voice as blood dripped from his hand where Dumblydore’s wand had shot him. ‘There must be other factors.’
‘YOU DON’T HAVE ANY!” I yelled in madly.”
— Excerpt from My Immortal, Chapter 11.
Despite the author’s intent, the work has enjoyed a cult popularity status within the online community. Its poor quality is determined by grammatical errors and inconsistencies in plot — common ailments of fanfiction — but also an infuriatingly angst-ridden heroine, direct misspellings of the names of characters from the original Harry Potter, and plot lines that seem to run in circles of confused triviality. There seems to be no point to the story, no drive to the characters who control it, but that may be exactly the point of it. In My Immortal we see a reflection of the fanfiction community in its astounding poorness, its unwillingness to accept change, and the phenomenon by which something so terrible has been pedestalled and revered for its, intentional or not, comedic elements.
But although fanfiction is largely sneered at online for its exemplary bad form, there also exist many imaginative, impassioned and highly visual works that do justice to original content. A famously excellent work in the fandom of The Legend of Zelda, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time by Arxane, dates back to 2001 on Fanfiction.net. A retelling of events from the video game by that name, Ocarina of Time provides a detailed and meticulous explanation of the relationships, stories, and events that make up Hyrule in a highly intimate narrative that breathes life into static characters. This fandom is one of the most difficult to write in because its lead hero, Link, is mute in the game series. His voice is instead redirected to the player, who is responsible for choosing his responses and deciding his personality. Because of this, every writer has a different perspective when considering Link’s voice.
But what Arxane does here, in my mind, perfectly encapsulates Link in a way that is not too demanding, and not too removed. It is an intricate balance of emotion and action, sympathising his character and redetermining the fairness of his destiny.
“Link’s heart fluttered with unease. Ruto was alone in this world now that her entire race was frozen under a tundra crafted by magic, and the only thing keeping her going was the faint hope that someone would break the spell. Now that he had reappeared, the look in her eyes didn’t lie: it was the sincere rekindling of emotions unused for countless days since being released from the ice imprisoning her people. Like Malon before her, Ruto saw something in Link that meant something to her, and to destroy something that precious — even if it were an illusion — wasn’t something Link was prepared to do.
Still, he had been rather surprised by Ruto’s insistence to accompany him to the Water Temple. He suspected she desired to convert her vision of him into a reality, but he would prefer believing she wanted a hand in freeing her people from Ganondorf’s cruel tomb of frost. If the latter idea proved to be the real reason, maybe Ruto had matured more than he cared to believe.”
— Excerpt from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Chapter 59.
This passage perfectly encapsulates Arxane’s ability to project Link’s voice, thoughts and hopes. His writing can turn a boring moment in a game, or a seemingly unwritable scene, into something tangible and entertaining. Link’s time spent picking through dungeons is used to convey his personality and innermost reflection. His relationship to others, an integral but stunted part of the game, is portrayed with vibrant complexity. The fic is not without its problems — it would do well to have an editor look over the final draft for errors — but what is done well here more than makes up for small blips. Without a publisher, this is the height at which fanfiction can hope to reach: breathing life into an ambitious work with a highly complex main character, an imaginative story, and a compelling narrative that provides context to the more nuanced moments of the game.
Driving The Desire To Write
One of the biggest challenges for new writers is to actually get in the habit of writing consistently. Putting the pen to paper, or the hand to the keyboard, on a daily basis is increasingly difficult in a world proliferated by interactive media. Why invent a new story when so many satisfying ones already exist in the world? And why bother producing when simply consuming is so much easier?
This is a problem all who endeavour to write must face at some point. Its increasingly difficult to get started in storytelling when that encroaching feeling of dread hits: the fear that all good stories have already been written. It’s nearly impossible to produce new, original content, especially for one who is inexperienced in doing so. This is one of the reasons new writers get so discouraged right out of the gates. There’s no room for new, mediocre work when so many fantastic and original stories already exist.
Fanfiction provides a doorway out of that dark hole of banality. By using stories that are already established in some way – like a plot, or a set of interesting characters, or a Brave New World – writers can gain experience without feeling discouraged or blocked by the nagging feeling that they aren’t good, or original enough. Fanfiction provides an excellent outlet for amateur writers to express themselves in an environment that is safe, stimulating, and relatively easy. They can provide readers thirsting for more with new stories that satiate their desire to learn more about characters, or a world, that has already been produced.
The community of Fanfiction.net is particularly encouraging. The service is anonymous, free, and allows for just about anyone to try their hand at writing. A comment section is provided for each story, and serves as a great area for constructive criticism, and even more importantly, encouragement. It’s extremely difficult to send off a piece of original work to a publisher and get a rejection letter, or worse and even more common, nothing at all. This doesn’t provide a safe and encouraging environment for new writers to flourish. Instead, it creates a sort of “sink or swim” atmosphere that is true to the publishing industry, but is much too intimidating for a young writer who is just starting out in the field.
Like anything, there are catches to using this service. Because of the ease with which new stories can be published, there is a lot to wade through before finding something that could be considered high quality. There is no editorial service provided, which means that most writers can publish without even reviewing their story. The ability of writers to adapt to changes, and get used to an editorial process of revision that makes their work better, is a fundamental skill that isn’t offered through this service.
But the benefits to young writers definitely outweigh the drawbacks. And the fandom they write for is enriched with unique, imaginative voices that breathe new life into old tales. What’s so powerful about fanfiction is the stories that are told again and again, independently of their creator. The new echoes of familiar characters and places resonates across an online world that encourages creativity and drive.
It’s free exposure for the original author, without them having to produce anything new. The fact that their content moved someone so much that they decided to continue the legacy of their characters is proof of a great, engaging work, and should be seen as a compliment. More than that, writers should encourage this process as a way to get new and young writers writing. With so few in the field, this kind of exposure should be encouraged as a first step into storytelling and self-publication.
After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery.
What do you think? Leave a comment.