I was chatting with a friend today about fanfiction. We both write fanfiction, we both read fanfiction, we both enjoy fanfiction. And yet, we both agreed that open enjoyment of the genre isn’t something that people generally admit to. Or if they do admit to it, it’s usually in the hushed tones that remind me of my early days of puberty, when feminine hygiene products were kept behind the front counter of the corner store and had to be asked for in furtive whispers or by notes passed over to the clerk like a bank robbery notice, and then they were double-bagged to keep them hidden from the public view as they were conveyed back home.
Back in the day, I wondered why something as necessary and ubiquitous as Kotex had to be hidden from sight as though it were shocking and scandalous. Today I found myself wondering, yet again, why fanfiction is treated so much like a weakness or failing or vice that needs to be hidden, downplayed, or apologized for.
I won’t get into a discussion of copyright infringement because that’s out of my sphere of knowledge, and because it isn’t germane to the question at hand, which is – why do we treat fanfiction like the bastard child of a ne’er-do-well son?
Fanfiction is at least as old as the original Star Trek television series and, who knows, it may have existed in some form or another way back in Shakespeare’s time, or even a few thousand years before that, when Sophocles and Aeschylus were all the rage.
Of course, I’m not saying that fanfiction is on the same par with Hamlet or Antigone or any work to be found in the literary canon, but – does it have to be?
The basic purpose of a story is to tell a story. Fanfiction does that. Sometimes no more than that, but surely never ever less than that. The same as in the “real world” of writing and publishing, in fanfiction you can find good, bad, and extraordinary stories. You’ll find authors who create a story in an afternoon and post it to the web the same day, warts and all, and you’ll find authors who painstakingly polish each story before posting. And everything in between.
On the one hand, writing fanfiction is easier than creating something new, because you have ready-made characters and a built-in audience of readers who are already devoted to them, and know them so well that one sentence of explanation – of intent, motivation, struggle, of almost anything about the characters – will suffice as well as or better than a chapter of exposition on characters no one has met before.
On the other hand, it can be harder to write fanfiction because the readers know the characters so well. They often (very often) know as well as or better than the author how and why the characters will act or react, how they speak, whom they love and why they hate and every other thing that can be known about them, and the reader will let the author know when they miss the mark. And, unlike writing in the “real” world, with reviews and emails and private messaging, feedback to fanfiction is often instantaneous.
Fanfiction isn’t for everyone, but neither is Shakespeare or Aeschylus or Romance or Westerns or graphic novels or non-fiction or Twitter or any kind of writing. Every kind of writing has its admirers and detractors, devotees and “couldn’t care less” people.
Because of copyright issues, fanfiction isn’t a way to make a living writing, but I think it’s time for fanfiction to be let out of the attic and recognized as a valid form of creative writing, and for fanfiction authors and readers to enjoy their craft openly and without fear of derision.
I’m a fanficcer and proud of it! (OK, I might need a better word than ‘fanficcer’, I’m just saying…)