On Fanfiction

By GrandLordMagus

Fanfiction is as old as the art of storytelling itself. With each subsequent oral telling of a story, myth, legend, or what have you, the story itself changed--things were added or removed, different ideas were emphasized or downplayed, new characters made their entrances, and so on and so forth. These innovations in the story were the product of the individual storyteller's fertile imagination, unsurprisingly. Why such a thing was done, one can only make guesses and estimations. Perhaps the passers-on of lore didn't like the story as it was told to them. Perhaps they didn't feel as if they had enough creativity to fabricate an entire story on their own; as such, they took some sort of existing framework and tinkered around with it in their own fashion. Or perhaps they just wanted to breathe life into it by, in a sense, making it new; rehashing the same product over and over again gets boring for both the transmitters and receivers. Look at the world around us; it's human nature to shape the world as we see fit. And so, by natural extension of this human desire to alter our environment and the innovative tendency of the oral tradition, we have fanfiction.

I suppose there may be people reading this who are unfamiliar with what exactly fanfiction is. I'm all too happy to enlighten you. In its most basic sense, fanfiction is fiction based on an existing work (this being the source) in any given medium--TV, movies, video games, etc.--as written by a fan. Simple, huh? Fanfiction can be original in the sense of characters, the time of the action, and so forth; fanfiction gives you more or less a foundation--a particular setting (a universe, if you will) with existing characters should you decide to use them--and you go from there. However, fanfiction can be derivative, for lack of a better word, in the sense that you can utilize existing characters--thereby making the formulation of plot your central concern--or by writing a scenario that happened in the source, but as you interpreted it. Of course, you can throw all canon--the characters, history, etc. of the source material--out the window and play a "what-if" scenario; this is known as alternate universe, or AU. There are many other types of fanfiction, but I think you get the general idea. Any further questions can be directed to the e-mail address at the bottom of the page. In all honesty, I don't know how fanfiction was transmitted before; I was introduced to it as strictly an Internet phenomenon. This makes perfect sense since it allows people of various interests to come together with like-minded individuals, no matter how many miles separate them. It also provides a forum for individual work to be exhibited, leaving perusal to the reader's sole discretion.

So why bother with fanfiction? Aren't you basically ripping off other people's work? As to the second question, no, I should say not. As to the first, I previously gave you three reasons, each of which I'll explain further, as well as a few additions I've found in my personal engagement of this art form. (Yes, I call it art; as to why, I shall explain that in due course.) Anyone gets into fanfiction for two key reasons: they love to write and they love a particular source material. I love to write, else I wouldn't be writing this damn treatise. I love video games; only natural that the two should meet, right? You may rightly say nay; just because I have two passions doesn't necessarily entail that they should be wed. I hope you're all familiar with George Costanza and what happened when he tried to combine food and sex. Besides, if someone loves to write so much, why not apply themselves to original work? Excellent points; forgive me when I shoot them down. As to why join writing and a source: personally, I love RPGs, so much so that, in some kind of way, I'd like to exhibit the kind of passion I have for them. But being a fanfic--the abbreviated term for fanfiction--writer isn't some sort of emblematic of fanboyism; it shows that I've formed a connection with the characters and with the world in question, have carefully considered everything included in the source, and have a desire to try my hand at working within that established context. It's a desire to be creative, which any writer has, but a creativity expressed in a certain arena. I hope that doesn't sound unreasonable to anyone, especially if they understand how unorthodox the mind of a writer can operate.

OK, so why not original work? The reason is, and this is my first point in favor of fanfiction, is it's easier. Now before you go rushing to compose an e-mail railing me for taking the easy road, especially with regard to art, hear me out. As I said before, not every writer has confidence in their own ability to create an entirely original work. Hell, I know that even the best authors can have crises of doubt in their own creative faculties; happens to me all the time, though I'd be reticent to label myself as one of the best. I don't personally see the problem with giving a budding writer a few well-proven tools to work with and let them build thereafter on their own. Also, it leaves the writer--neophyte or not--free to concentrate on other aspects of the story rather than having to set up a background, characters, and that sort of thing. Granted, this could possibly be doing a disservice to the writer, as they needn't give any consideration to particular story elements, but I don't think it's even possible to not know how to do such things. For instance, in fanfiction character is extremely important. If using a source character, then it is the writer's job to see that they don't act out of character or, if they do, to give a damn good reason why. The writer is trusted with the task of keeping it believable, to a certain extent. Even by not explicitly writing certain story elements, one learns the ropes of writing those very elements anyway.

Second, the case of being dissatisfied with the source's plot, or just hungry for more material dealing with a similar sort of scenarios. Me, I'm a big fan of The Matrix, so I read some fanfiction for it when I can. I'll write some when I get around to it, but I digress. I suppose you could just sate that hunger by reading fanfiction as opposed to writing it. Fair enough; I'll concede on that. However, that leaves you at the mercy of what's out there--which can be frightening, trust me--rather than letting loose the ideas spinning in your own head. If the ending of a film left you wanting more, then surely there's plenty of fics that would handle that. Still, no one would cover it in the same manner as you would; every writer is an individual, as if that should come as any surprise. Or suppose you felt like the plot should've gone in this direction, when in fact it went in that direction. It's possible you could find a fic that utilizes your idea, but not very probable. And again, your take on the situation is yours and yours alone; no one could emulate that. For me, there's something very satisfying about seeing things, at least in fanfiction, work out the way I want. I'm not a big fan of predictability, which one could say I was guilty of here, but I like happy endings that seem to be becoming rarer and rarer. In fanfiction, as important as canon is, the sandbox now belongs to you, and you can play in it however you want. And as I mentioned, canon doesn't even need to be taken into consideration. Play away.

Beginning to understand? Good; I hoped you might. Third, the concept of innovation. Ours--when I say that I mean American, but globally to an extent--is a culture that is dominated by youth and invention; things hafta be new, fresh, lively, and exciting to warrant our attention. People pay ridiculous amounts of money to be "on the cutting edge" or to be the first on their block to have it. If you're not on board now, you'll miss the train. But enough idioms. When people write fanfiction, they breathe life into something static; the source will never change (which has its merits and flaws). Fanfiction, when written well, can bring those old ideas to life, can recall the earlier verve the source was produced with. A source can capture our imagination, and through fanfiction we can let it--our imagination and/or the source, actually--expand. This makes it new for the writer and for fellow fans; presumably that particular idea hasn't been seen before. For me, it's been the case that reading a fanfic sparks in me the inspiration to write a fic for that very fandom (the body of fanfiction devoted to a source); this, hopefully, can hold true for others. By reshaping a story through fanfiction, it becomes a new entity, no longer the familiar (and perhaps thus boring) piece we know but some extrapolation of it. The wonder we experienced upon first witnessing the source can be rekindled with a good fanfic.

Fourth--and this may stand in marked contrast to my first point--fanfiction offers a distinct challenge. Assuming for the sake of argument that you're using existing characters and not simply rewriting a scene, there is a great strain on the writer to develop on original plot that seems credible. Countless fanfics have been written that simply resurrect the main villain; this is an understandable, yet trite, way to go. To more or less reiterate the source again is to not only fail to exercise an appreciable creative ability, but it also fails to generate any interest in the reader. It retains a staleness that fanfiction can, and very well should, obliterate. Also, if using existing characters, the writer must keep their thoughts, actions, and reactions in line with their established personality. It won't do to have the hero slay his wife, unless he is truly that kind of person. If a writer does want to change a character and have them act in different ways, then believable reasons must be given; the writer has to establish a close pathos with the character. This sort of character manipulation works well applied to original work, but to believably change a known character is as much an exercise in one's own skill (never know unless you try) as it is one in curiosity. What's more, a good fanfic shows an appreciable (often far deeper) knowledge of the source; the writer must utilize as much as possible what is known within the source and relies on judgment thereafter to extrapolate upon it. It's much more than a matter of guesswork; it's an understanding of how that world works and what would make sense.

For all this, it should come as no surprise what my fifth point is: fanfiction is an excellent way to hone one's writing. That's not to say it's simply a matter of practice to warm us up for our serious writing; the methods involved in fanfiction makes us aware to aspects of writing on the whole. In nearly every case, it forces us to carefully lay out a plot, one that is interesting and yet not absurd. In certain cases, it keeps us alert to the issue of character and how to individuate one from another. It gives us an idea of what should be present in the formulation of a universe, even if the setting is Earth 2003 A.D. Also, because of the cyberspace nature of fanfiction, it is feasible to contact nearly any author and give them some useful, constructive feedback. Writing is an endeavor that is actually not spoiled by a chorus of comments; the product is only enhanced since not everyone will pick out the same flaws and strengths. Such advice is usually not limited to use on a single piece but can be applied to writing in general. Any writer wants an audience, and every good writer wants criticism; fanfiction allows for both in a way that makes it distinct from typical, tangible published work.

My sixth, and I swear last, point is that ultimately fanfiction gives us a deeper appreciation of art and enriches us. Forgive me the pretentious Romanticism, but I wholly believe this to be true. Fanfiction stems from a source that often, in some manner or another, can be considered art. We take a great deal of time in scrutinizing the elements of the source and why such elements are characterized as they are--effective, evocative, etc. We come to a deep appreciation for what goes into a source's production, especially upon analysis of every little facet. (If you don't know who or what the Entity is, have a cigar and pat yourself on the back; we don't either. After far too much discussion, we're content to let it be.) And by writing fanfiction, that appreciation reaches further as we become, in the process, molders of our own creation, even if some of it is borrowed. That appreciation, I think, makes us fuller human beings.

It's not like we're the only ones benefiting from this. The producers of the source, in effect, get free publicity. I don't think anyone could ask for more from what is primarily a bunch of working, artsy college kids. Their fan base can expand as well. It's not unheard of for someone to stumble across a piece of fanfiction, like it, then feel compelled to experience the source for themselves. To shut down such an endeavor as fanfiction on the basis of copyright infringement, which it's not as per the Fair Use Law of 1976, seems to be self-defeating.

Fanfiction isn't all peaches and cream. Like any sort of art form, there are people with less than aesthetically admirable goals. A lot of fanfiction is written early on in the writing life, from what I've seen, and it is not these amateur works I condemn. Rather, there is a host of fanfiction known as lemons (or slash), the fanfic equivalent of erotica. Like any bad porn, the "story" is there merely as an excuse to get into graphic sexual detail. Sex handled tastefully in writing is that which is the most enviable. Lemons are the only offenders I'm aware of; there are other instances of debauchery, I'm sure. Most of the forum regulars could point you toward some examples, if you're bold and curious enough. I don't see why they hafta use other people's creations; wouldn't it be just as easy to write original erotica?

I think I've gone a fair way toward making the case for fanfiction. So who at this point can deny its inclusion as a form of art? It takes just as much time, effort, and invention as any other, sometimes even more. Although there is much tripe about, there are works in fanfiction that are of such magnificence and power that, were they created in any other way, they'd lose something. Not to sound egotistical or anything, but fanfic writers are true artists. We don't do this for money--since we don't and never will get paid--or for fame--since the 'Net is a huge place where anonymity reigns supreme--or any other reward. We do it because there's a love inside us, a love that has chosen this particular medium as its mode of expression. No specific quotes come to mind, but through the ages artists have oft equated love and art in tandem; modern society, despite its numerous shortcomings, is no different in this respect. To deny fanfiction as an art is to deny the validity of love as having its place in art.

I've used a lot of qualifying statements throughout this: "certain," "perhaps," and made abundant use of personal examples. That's because I don't intend this as the be-all end-all essay on fanfiction, nor can I speak for anyone else. I can only give my personal opinion and relate my personal experience as best as possible. This, in effect, makes the scope of this argument rather narrow, but I would be greatly surprised if no one reading this found some resonance of truth for themselves within it. It's only my take on things; you're free to take it or leave it as you wish.

I hope that I'm not only preaching to the converted here. It is my most fervent hope that people who were unsure of fanfiction walk away from this enlightened and eager to dive into fanfiction, a rewarding endeavor as I've found. My intent was not to hold fanfiction in any higher regard than original work, only to make a case for it as a legitimate writer prerogative. I also wanted to somehow make an attempt to lay down some of my ideas on the subject. If you disagree with me on any of this, feel free to write up your own response; without challenges there can be no progress. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you've enjoyed this piece; if not, I am heartily sorry that I've wasted your time. Please feel free to share your thoughts, good or bad, with me at iamrazorwing@hotmail.com. I hope that everyone who reads this will take the time to comment. As ZealPropht once told me, "May the Black Wind never blow your way!"

~The prince without a kingdom.~

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