Went to watch the Imitation Game last night with a few friends. While we were waiting for the movie to start we got talking about fanfiction and how there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground on it. You either love it or hate it. (Conversely, there is also only very good or very bad fanfiction.) I’m a fanfic writer myself, so I think it’s rather obvious with which side I’m marching but it got me thinking. Why is it that people hate fanfiction? A quick google search yielded this result. Yes, I bookmarked it on my laptop. Yes, I will be printing it out and checking out at least some of the books mentioned if only for solidarity’s sake.
I suppose people look down at fanfiction because of its fantasy-fulfilment element. I mean, the concept at its most basic is: How do I get these characters I love and place them in a different scenario? What would happen? How would they react? Writing good fanfiction is hard. Sure you already have established characters and backstories and in-universe rules (unless you go down the AU rabbit hole). Looks like the only thing you need is an original plotline, right? WRONG! Trust me when I say there is nothing harder than twisting a pre-existing scenario to fit your own ideas. That is, assuming you have any respect for the source material. And I include AUs on this generalisation. The best AUs out there are the ones that manage to subtly reference the original. It doesn’t have to be a big, neon-bright sign. But it needs to be there.
Although it is probably incredibly narcissistic of me, I will use my own fanfic as an example. I started writing it when I was fifteen. Why? Because I had just finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and was raging about the end pairings. Not a noble motivation, I know. But it got me thinking. Was there a way to change that without completely disrupting the flow of the original storyline? I read a lot of fanfiction (some good, some bad, some atrocious), rewatched the episodes most of them seemed to focus on an insane amount of times and pulled the Literature card. What is the Literature card, you ask? I did what every Literature student has done at some point: took something that was not a piece of literature and analysed the living, breathing daylights out of it like it would be my main coursework assignment. you can read a revised version of the result every Monday.
I had never written anything that long before. There had been short stories and bad poetry (and a couple of attempts at novels). I didn’t know how to go about shifting character motivations without completely giving them a retcon. So I used a proxy, an OC character, someone who could interact with the canon characters from the point of view of an outsider (there’s a reason why she is older and not-mortal) but at the same time be bound by the same rules as them, thus being assimilated to the story. Did I succeed? I like to think, yes. It took a lot of work, a lot of scraped scenarios, dialog scenes, characters that might have been included but weren’t. I didn’t want a whole new Avatar story, that had nothing to do with the original. (That’s why we have this cinematic nightmare…) I just wanted a small change in the last couple of scenes. Why didn’t I write just those scenes differently? Because unless you want utter fluff or PWP (no judging, they’re good in their own right), then you need to provide backstory. Let’s be rational: the whole hero-gets-the-girl concept is not only tired, it’s also more often than not downright contrived.
Of course this doesn’t always work out quite the way you thought it would. For every good fanfic there will be three following a similar vein but being downright atrocious. And you know what? I’m okay with it. Yes, I will my eyes and skip them when I’m looking for something to read. But that’s the beauty of fanfiction: that anyone, anyone, who loves a story can make it their own, show their understanding of how that world works and what the characters motivations are. There always be flops, coughTwilightcough50ShadesofGreycough, but there will also be beautiful pieces of work like Wide Sargasso Sea, the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (yes, I went THERE), Mists of Avalon and Euripides’ Helen.
So love it or hate, write it or read it, it’s up to you. Just please, for the love of all that you believe in, stay away from the Mary-Sues.
P.S. And go see the Imitation Game! It was AWESOME!