Fanfiction: You Know You Love It by Julia Milton
I used to be embarrassed by the time I spent on fanfiction.net. I thought it was somehow shameful, a guilty pleasure to be indulged in secret, like picking your nose. After all, everyone knows that fan fiction writers are all teenaged losers with deficient love lives and too much spittle in their mouths. Right?
Then one day while we were visiting my in-laws, I noticed my husband’s brother reading a fat Timothy Zahn Star Wars novel. And I thought, hey! Wait just one second!
Show of hands. Who reads fan fiction? Who writes it? Now, how many of you admit to this in public? Yeah. Because it’s weird, right? Several mainstream authors have gone on the record condemning it, so it’s no wonder fanfiction.net and sites like it run on anonymity. After all, the great George R.R. Martin himself has bestirred his ponderous beard long enough to pronounce, “Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.” Maybe so, Maestro, maybe so. I’ll bet Timothy Zahn is crying all the way to the bank.
It seems almost facile to argue that this completely misses the point. Is it really necessary to point out that fan fiction writers are not interested in the critical acclaim of the literary establishment? So you think it’s lazy. Well, I guess it’s a good thing it doesn’t exist for you. Fan fiction is not for the author, the creator. You’ve done your part. You’ve opened your mind and given us characters so compelling, a world so rich, that we cried when the last page was turned, the last episode watched. You gave us these things freely, and, whether you meant to or not, open-sourced your creative process. You’ve ignited our imaginations and it’s our turn to play now. We are having more fun than you can possibly imagine, but you needn’t take any notice. We’re perfectly content to play in the sandbox by ourselves.
Except for the fact that we’re not, really. Playing in the sandbox by ourselves like the weird kids who eat paste. Three words, my friends: revisionist fairy tales. Hello, Wicked! How you doing, Ella Enchanted? What’s up, The Looking Glass Wars? And I haven’t even mentioned all the volumes of “Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulu” that have appeared on the shelves since the Doyle and Lovecraft oeuvres went into the public domain, let alone such literary standouts as Wide Sargasso Sea, which mucks about merrily inside the canon of Jane Eyre. All these authors are lazy? Hmm. I think Elizabeth Kostova might have something to say in defense of her 10-years-in-the-making Dracula epic The Historian.
But it’s so creepy! Those internet fan fiction archives, well, they’re full of weirdos, everyone knows that. It’s just so much poorly written smut. Well, sure, you do have to do a certain amount of slush reading before you find something good. That really has nothing to do with fan fiction itself and everything to do with the fact that anonymous, virtually unedited internet forums of any kind attract the banal, the sleazy, and the mediocre. Fortunately, the subject matter itself also attracts the serious and talented. Some use it as an interesting writing exercise, a way to focus on plotting and believable character development. For most of us, it’s just a hobby, an enjoyable way to pass the time. I mean, I guess we could be doing something useful with our lives, like watching “Honey Boo Boo,” or building the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks, but you know, we can’t all be so driven.
It’s time to fess, ladies. What’s your fandom? Don’t be shy. If Shakespeare can do it, so can you. (If MacBeth isn’t a glorified Real People Fic, I don’t know what is. The lazy bastard.)
When Julia Milton isn’t writing the continuing adventures of Doctor Who, she discusses actual books at lostintheshelves.wordpress.com. She lives in Phoenix with her husband and daughter.
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