Fanfiction

About four or five times this year I’ve written fanfiction, though only once did I do it thinking it was fanfiction. Fanfiction has been a thorny issue for me ever since I consciously realised I had stopped reading it. Mostly, my opinion has been negative – harshly negative, at times. I used to write and read Ranma 1/2 fanfiction – and other fanfictions, though for the life of me I have no idea why. Ranma 1/2 is a decent enough series, with a fairly fun, if poorly structured approach to storytelling. It’s good, but not great, and sits in my mind around the same point as Inu-Yasha. Fun enough, inoffensive, watch-with-your-mum kind of anime fare. Nudity jokes, but basically no sex jokes. I didn’t consciously stop until one day I realised that I had downloaded megabytes at a time of fanfiction and just wasn’t reading it. I was parsing through it at high speed and jumping to the end as quickly as I could.

That’s about when I stopped bothering to read at all.

For a time I commented regularly on Imgur, before I felt like there was a wash of anti-feminist sentiment so thick I just didn’t have it in me to endure screeds of mysoginy broken into 140-character multi-tier strings from people desperate to look for a fight they could win. Often, I’d see high-quality screenshots, videocaps, or drawings from various fan projects. Most direly, I saw My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic work, with these pictures of things like Twilight Sparkle as a steampunk Civil War general opposing robots crafted to look like they were from… say, Chrono Trigger. These crossovers that had, to me, no common ground, things that did not make me think or wonder or dream or inspire me, but just looked like an enormous amount of effort spent trying to take a square peg and hammer it into a round hole.

I often lamented in these situations “What if this person had instead tried to make an interesting, new thing?” which gave voice to my personal frustrations with fanfiction in general. Why do you work so hard on these things that are subordinate to, that require familarity with, these other things to be good? Who can love your work without appreciating the media from whence it came?

I still think there is something there. I think there’s something wrong, something… something almost contemptable about these coerceive attempts to make Gritty And Dark Ponies. I think that the joke of Ponification has to have a distinct end. But…

Watching Old Boy, I was struck by how the story arc paralleled a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. Much of the Cthulu mythos writing I love is shared between writers, with some iconic “Lovecraft” pieces not being written by Lovecraft at all (such as The King In Yellow). I adore the Naoki Urusawa works Monster, and Pluto, which are an oblique fanfiction and a direct fanfiction.

I wrote My Name, Eternal, a mishmash of three Bible narratives that is, sadly, impenetrable to every human in the world who doesn’t know who Shamgar, Son of Anath is. I wrote Hate Plus fanfiction, a single little scene in words, in an idiotic attempt to create something someone could smile about as much as they might smile about fanart.

Fanfiction is not always bad. The black score in my mind has been replaced by a gradient. My natural reaction to so so so much of it is that it is bad, it is awful, it is terrible and self-serving and you should make something of your own… but…

Honestly, I think when I say that I’m wrong. I’ll continue to hate almost all of the fanfiction I see, but I have to set aside the idea that it’s the medium as much as it is the many, many, institutionalised and socialised problems around it.

I hope you make something of your own. I hope to see new things. But if you need someone else’s framework with which to work… then that’s okay too.

3 comments

  1. Mispy

    I’ve tended to view fanfiction as a useful gateway drug for writing, much like how reverse engineering and modding gets people into gamedev. It gives you a cohesive existing setting to experiment with and an immediate audience to get feedback from.

    Building entire universes from scratch is pretty intimidating!

  2. Fox

    I reckon that’s about it. Fanfiction is an excellent crutch, in the same way as tracing is an excellent way to get used to shapes and poses.

    Definitely, you should grow out of it, even if that just means “reskinning” a work into like Old Boy. But haven’t people been doing it that way since basically forever anyway? Lion King, and Hamlet and stuff are pretty obvious, but if you put stock in the Hero’s Journey then basically everything is a fanfic anyway (see also Mormonism).

    WRT Pluto, I believe it’s no longer “fanfiction” if the body that owns the rights /pays/ you to write it. Otherwise Transformers Animated, MLP: FIM and TMNT are all fanfic, just off the top of my head. I think to be fanfic it has to be unofficial, at the very least, which Pluto is not.

  3. Chris

    Speaking only for myself and in recent years, the effort I have put into fanfiction comes from the fact there was a story I wanted to tell in the context of something preexisting, and it isn’t a story I could tell in original work.

    I think your question of “What if this person had instead tried to make an interesting, new thing?” is not entirely unwarranted, but it’s not necessarily relevant either. Some fanfiction I have seen seems so disconnected from the derivative property that I have wondered why it isn’t original. But I am not the writer, and I can’t say what they were thinking when writing it. The connection for them may be deeper than it seems to me.

    Other fanfiction, however, does not tell a story that could just as easily have been told as an original work. I think you can create something unique and of value in a derivative work. Not usually of monetary value, of course, but that is not a universal end goal for writing (not suggesting you said it was).

    In a general sense, I think creative writing is good as a hobby. All such writing, for whatever reason. It’s an expression of personal creativity and putting your thoughts and dreams in a format for others (even if it’s never meant to be read by others). If it’s “bad”, or even if it’s written for reasons I would find personally uninteresting or dubious, I think there’s still intrinsic value in creative output.

    I mean, one can hardly find a creative outlet more easy to look down on than GRIT. A self-indulgent Ranma 1/2 (and whatever else people were into in the time) fanfiction taking up space on a non-fanfiction-related newsgroup, populated primarily by author avatar characters living out personal fantasies of varying sorts is easy to look down on, but for a lot of people for a surprisingly long time, it was valuable. It taught people a lot about writing, about character development, and being exposed to other people’s ideas and creative preferences. It made a lot of friendships, and it led to a lot of enthusiastic creativity that may not have happened otherwise. Does it lessen any of that experience that it was kind of dumb and grew out of a cringingly banal “Ranma’s Best Babe” debate? I would argue no.

    In a more personal sense, though my creative output is largely directed towards original work for the past five years or so, I don’t regret having put so much effort into fanfiction. It’s part of what shaped me as a writer, and even though I may have been published by now if I’d worked on a comparable body of original work, who’s to say I’d be a BETTER writer for doing so? Maybe I would, and maybe I wouldn’t. I can’t know the answer.

    What I do know is that I learned a lot of valuable things from writing fanfiction, and more importantly, writing fanfiction (particularly my last fanfiction) allowed me to tell some stories, and explore some character concepts, that I simply could not explore outside the realm of fanfiction. Whether that’s valuable to anyone else or not, it was valuable to me. Right now, the stories and characters I want to explore most are best approached from original work, and that’s great. But in the future, even in a future where I was a professional author, if there was a story I wanted to tell that required a derivative work to tell it, I’d do so, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.