Fan Fiction, Defined?

That title was rather misleading because I’m not sure the term can be defined. But whatever it signifies, I’m not ashamed to admit my journey to becoming a novelist started in the world of fan fiction. And since my first original release also takes place within that realm, I thought it might be helpful to familiarize my readers with the lay of the land, so to speak.

 

“Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.” (1)

 

Fan fiction, or fanfic, has a jargon all its own. I write AU (alternate universe) because I include at least one OC (original character that I invented) interacting with canon (JKR’s published works) characters. I was careful to avoid making my OCs into “Mary Sues” or “Marty Stus” and instead created characters with real emotions, strengths, and flaws. My first story (George & Annie) was a straight romance, but my most recent story (Here Be Dragons) is “slash,” which means that it centers around a romantic pairing of two men, but all my work is chock-full of fluff (mushy romance) and lemony goodness (the sexy stuff).

Now, the characters I chose to write about are secondary if not marginal in canon. It is far more popular to write about different “ships,” or romantic pairings of characters. For example, if I’d written fanfic about Harry, Professor Snape, Hermione, or Draco (and most especially any romantic combination of these four, and I mean any combination) my work would be far more broadly read, I suspect simply because readers feel more strongly about these characters. However, I prefer to follow my muse, which mostly steers clear of these folks.

“Right now fan fiction is still the cultural equivalent of dark matter: it’s largely invisible to the mainstream, but at the same time, it’s unbelievably massive.” (1)

The sheer volume of HP fanfic is astonishing. A single archive, FanFiction.net, currently (as of November 2, 2011) boasts 557,715 individual stories, an inventory that grew by 1,515 in the previous week. And that’s just Harry Potter fanfic – FF.net hosts stories based on hundreds of other books, movies, and other media. Dozens of other Harry Potter-centered archives exist, too, and not all stories are cross-archived like mine. That’s a whole heck of a lot of creativity!

I can personally attest to having hundreds of readers from all over the world (thanks to FanFiction.net’s amazing tracking statistics available to authors). This is due to absolutely no advertising at all – fan fiction relies purely on word of mouth recommendations (nearly every archive encourages its readers/members to create a list of favorite stories and authors) and stumble-upon serendipity (each archive offers a search engine with varying degrees of user-friendliness).

These aren’t all one-shots (stories complete in one chapter) and drabbles (stories less than 500 words, usually) being posted, either. George & Annie runs 470,000 words and 70 chapters long (depending on which archive you read it on) and took four months to write, plus weeks – okay, months – of editing, polishing, tweaking, posting, and revising. Twice, the thing was vetted in its entirety by a collection of archive admins, volunteer experts who help maintain a minimum standard of quality. In short, it took a lot of work by a lot of people to get online.

But it was a labor of love. I’m proud to say that for every moderated archive I’ve posted on, I’ve earned validated author status, which means they trust that my work is up to snuff and no longer has to wait in the queue for inspection before being posted. There are comic parts where I still laugh out loud, romantic parts where I still feel a heart-flutter, and sentimental parts where I still shed a tear every single time I read through them for editing purposes. Some of my reviewers have referred to this story as “the G&A universe,” and my first spin-off from this tale, “Here Be Dragons,” is gaining a solid readership, too.

 “Fan-fiction writers aren’t plagiarists who can’t come up with their own ideas, and they’re not all amateurs.” (1)

As I’ve said before, my own motivation for writing George & Annie was to “practice” writing a novel. So, by definition, I was an amateur. And I won’t deny there is a generous helping of complete crap posted on fanfic archives, but there’s also some really amazing, inventive writing to be found.

Cassandra Clare, a young adult novelist currently known for The Mortal Instruments saga, got her start with HP fanfic. She’s still famous within such circles for her Draco Trilogy (Draco Dormiens, Draco Sinister, Draco Veritas, all of which can still be found online with some digging). Sarah Rees Brennan, a.k.a. Maya, like many other fanfic writers gone “pro” with the publishing of original fiction, has pulled all of her previously popular HP fanfic, but is still regarded as historically influential within the HP fanfic world. Loads of other gals (and probably some guys, but I haven’t found any who’ll ‘fess up to it since getting published) have used fanfic to springboard into, or partner alongside of, exclusively original creativity.

“The problem is that for most people, any kind of writing looks like work to them, so they get confused why anyone would want to write fanfic instead of original professional material, even though they don’t have any problem understanding why someone would want to mess around on a guitar playing Simon and Garfunkel.” (1)

For me, writing is an addiction as well as a creative outlet. I couldn’t stop it now if I tried. I’ve got six original novels “completed” (though I find something to tweak every time I read through them), but I still love writing fanfic and intend to write more. If it wasn’t for my positive experiences with fanfic, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be writing today. And I’m tired of people implying it’s anything to be ashamed of. It’s an amazingly diverse, accepting, supportive and creative community to belong to, and I’m proud of the fact that a select subset of them enjoy my work!

(1) All quotes in this post are from “The Boy Who Lived Forever” by Lev Grossman, Time Magazine, July 7, 2011. Find the complete article by clicking on the title.