Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Love/Hate Relationship with Fanfiction

     I was completely disdainful of fanfiction the first time I heard about it. Who did these random people think they were, completely coming up with their own ideas about special characters that authors had labored over? Who gave them the right to re-write something that didn't belong to them? It seemed disrespectful, selfish, and…weird.  I shuddered at the thought of one day someone doing that to my stories. And to tell the truth, I’ve found that most fanfiction is badly written junk that should never have escaped someone’s desk drawer or computer hard drive.

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my usual reaction when reading a fanfiction synopsis 
     While a lot of fans and readers find it mean or selfish that some authors dislike having fanfiction written about their works, I completely understand—especially when one browses a fanfiction website and discovers just how horrible some of the plots are. Completely free of any restraints (and often encouraged by anonymity) fanfiction writers have the ability to take other people’s beloved characters and completely twist them, often placing them in steamy situations or radically transforming the characters’ personalities to fit their own whims.  As a writer (and a reader) this is so frustrating. Honestly, while I think good writing naturally lends itself to “headcanons”--hopefully making characters so real that the reader can easily imagine more to the story— completely transforming someone else’s work just because you want to is, if not exactly plagiarizing, rather disrespectful. I find this especially apt when someone takes a clean, wholesome story and makes it R-rated. While most fanfiction sites do pretty well with allowing readers to filter out “mature” stories they might not wish to read, there are still synopses that  make me want to throw something at the fanfic author’s head yelling, “WHY?” And not necessarily because they’re immoral; some are just, to say it plainly, stupid. Thus, I find myself making this face:


or this one:

miranda sings

a lot.

     And yet, fanfiction isn’t all bad. There are some truly fabulous gems that feel more like an extension of the author’s story than anything else. Also, there are some franchises and stories that lend themselves better to fanfiction than others; I find that a show like Doctor Who does well, since the TV show is already written by a different number of people, thus making the “feel” of the stories a little better to emulate and is a little more accurate to the tradition of collaboration in such genres of entertainment. (It also seems less of an affront to a singular author) The same goes for comics and movies. As far as novels go, if fanfiction is true to the characters, I don’t have as much of a problem with it. (Accurate, well-written Sherlock Holmes pastiches are a major weakness of mine.) Heck, I’ve even tried my hand at a couple fanfiction stories myself.  And in a way, fanfiction has always existed, often in the form of retellings (Fairy tales, Biblical stories, and Shakespeare plays are usually the most commonly used for those), which is probably why the older a tale is, the more open I am to fanfiction about it. I’ll even go so far as to say that I like AUs in certain circumstances. Alternate Universes taking a familiar story, using the same characters, but changing one fundamental detail or throwing them into a completely different environment—Shakespeare in space, for example—can be really enjoyable while staying true to the author’s intent. I suppose that’s what it comes down to: if fanfiction stays true to the intent and integrity of the original, I don’t have a big problem with it. (although I admit I don’t think I’ve ever read any fanfiction without a vague sense of unease, as if the ghost of the original  writer was looking over my shoulder and ready to pounce, like, "WHAT do you think you're doing? I didn't write that.")

And scared the crap out of Scarlett. | Chris Evans Scared The Crap Out Of Scarlett Johansson On "Ellen"

     But too often, fanfiction is used as an excuse for overly excited fangirls (and fanboys, for that matter) to indulge in overly emotional (and sometimes sexual) obsessions over fictional characters. And honestly, that’s really weird and awkward and makes the writer (and hopefully the decent, rational human being) in me cringe.


     Basically, people are inconsistent. I say this because one day I’ll swear off fanfiction, decide it’s the worst thing to ever exist, and two days later I’ll find myself wondering what a certain character would do in a certain scenario and the next thing I know I’m actually writing a piece of it myself.  Or I’ll stumble upon a really well-written, imaginative fanfic that’s been recommended to me and I'll nod thinking, "yes, I could get used to this."

     When it comes down to fanfiction in general, there’s just so much of it. And part of me wonders if trying to find a “good one” is even worth it. But sometimes I begin to really miss a book series or a TV show…and I start looking for some fanfiction. *shakes head* Human beings. We're so irrational, hypocritical, unreasonable, and inconsistent, aren't we?

Leslie Howard ForeverLeslie Howard Forever

I don't think anyone really understands how deeply I relate to Henry Higgins *ahem*

     So perhaps, honestly, fanfiction itself isn’t my problem: bad writing is. And while many fanfiction authors really are just excited about the things that they love and want to express that through writing, many of them aren’t writers. That’s totally okay: not all of us are, nor are we all meant to be. And fanfiction is a marvelous way to practice writing and get better at it--none of use are Shakespeares or Miltons our first try. I get that. But when you have a site dedicated to writing that’s free for anyone to contribute to, there will be fics done by people who don’t really know what they’re doing, and sometimes that can be painful.  I’d never seen so much bad writing until I was introduced to the fanfiction world, with some pieces so horrible it’s made me (literally) feel ill. And yet, I’ve also found fanfiction so well-written that it’s put traditionally published works to shame.

From the archives of the Timelords

     Yet the actual mechanics and grammar of writing cannot be my real problem with fanfiction, since I know people have to learn and grow in their writing. It's the content and storylines themselves that I find to be "bad writing." Or maybe it's just that people nowadays have wicked morals, and it naturally translates into their writing. Maybe that is what bothers me the most.  Because really, my main feelings about fanfiction are as follows: when I like it, it's acceptable. When I don't, it's not. And obviously, not being the fandom police, I can't do anything about that. And I don't think it would be exactly right if I was, because whether I agree with them or not, people can believe and think what they want, even if they're terribly, woefully wrong(although free speech or not, some people really shouldn't talk type. They just shouldn't.)

     Either way, this crazy thing called fanfiction-- something I'd never even heard of until just a couple of years ago-- is a tricky, messy thing. Honestly, I'm not sure if "love/hate" is even the way to describe my relationship with it. Perhaps "hate/tolerate" or even "aggressively neutral " or "I-haven't-a-clue-what-I-really-think-anymore?" At the very least it's definitely, "I've-Talked-About-It-Way-Too-Much-Already-So-I'm-Going-To-Stop-Now."

(Also, one thing that I am DEFINITELY against is “fanfiction” about actual (and still-living) people/celebrities. To use a fangirl phrase, “what even?” Just don’t. Trying to re-write someone’s life story is creepy, offensive, and should not be done under any circumstances. Thank you.)


Bailey Erickson said...

Yes! I'll be honest... I avoid fanfiction. Like you said, the thought of taking another author's characters and changing them and the story just makes me... uncomfortable? I just think about someone changing my characters, and I know that I probably wouldn't be too happy about that! Haha! I'm sure there are some good ones out there though.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! And your blog is super cute. :P

Heidi said...

Excellently written! Personally, I haven't read much fan-fiction at all, for all the reasons you highlighted so well. :P

Thus far ;), my only foray into the field of actually writing it myself was when I was about ten and had seen the 80's P&P and reeeally wanted it to go past the wedding, so I started in about two paragraphs (without an idea that such a thing as fan-fiction even existed). Then after a bit I read the book and my urgent need for a sequel vanished. ;)

My onnnnne exception so far is probably Zorro (which I would like to write something for), but to me, that almost fits more into the "legends" category. This could definitely be a blog post unto itself, but I also agree that (based on huge, epic, overarching stories originally told and retold through the oral tradition) different fairy tale retellings don't really fit the "fan fiction" label well at all. :)

isaacbenjamin said...

Awesome post. I am very glad to hear your stance on Fanfiction. Incidentally I have written some fanfiction on my blog, like Star Trek mixed with High Fantasy and "Marvel's The Avengers" battle Thanos. I would be honored if you could stop by my blog and tell me what you think.

Speaking of shakespeare in space, have you ever read "Shakespeare's Star Wars". It is a hilarious book that is basically Star Wars but everybody speaks Ye Olde English.

Sridhar Chandrasekaran said...

You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. I'm a self-help blog author and reading blogs is my hobby and I randomly found your blog. I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging endeavors. Please keep in touch with me in Twitter, @selfhelpnemonik

Sarah Rega said...

Yes, yes and MORE YES!! I totally agree! Plus, I loved all the GIF's you shared - made me laugh out loud. :)

Morgan Huneke said...

I'm not really into fanfiction. I've pretty much only read stuff written by friends (some of which is about a mutual friend's book) and then the little brief more like headcanons stuff I come across on Pinterest. I don't really feel like it's my place to decide what happens to other people's characters, as much as I want to imagine them a happily ever after. I've written two pieces of fanfiction, one Star Wars, one Doctor Who. The Star Wars one was about Jedi that I made up. The Doctor Who one was a Ten and Rose adventure from the perspective of my character, and I was very careful to write the Doctor and Rose accurately. Otherwise, it's just not right. Fanfiction...I'd just rather go with original works.

Hamlette said...

This is an intriguing and enlightening post! Because I write fanfic.

When I got to college and had regular internet access, I discovered fansites for my favorite TV show ever, Combat! (1962-67). I joined the "official" mailing list and made heaps of wonderful internet friends. And discovered that some of them were writing fanfic and sharing it. So I dusted off a couple of my old stories I'd written in high school before I knew "fanfic" existed, rewrote them, and shared them myself. And then wrote more, and more, and more.

And I gradually discovered that, like you said, there is some terrible fanfic out there. Heck, people I befriended wrote some of it. Not the icky kind -- the Combat! fandom is predominantly old-fashioned and highly adverse to such things as slash fiction, Mary Sues, and slutty romance-novel types of stories. But you know what? It was still fun. Those fanfic writers were pouring out their love and devotion for the characters and the show, to the best of their varying abilities.

For those of us in the Combat! fandom, reading and writing fanfic was about getting to enjoy one more adventure with The Squad. The show has 152 episodes, but we still crave more, and fanfic feeds that craving.

I've written more than 30 fanfic stories, though admittedly I haven't worked on any in more than a year. I've read hundreds. Some of them are astonishingly wonderful. Some are weird, or boring, or silly, or just kind of there. But they're always a nice diversion, one more mission with The Squad.

So I'm very intrigued by the notion that there might be people like you who find fanfiction weird or creepy or somehow wrong. Huh. Going to have to ponder that a while.

Hayden said...

isaacbenjamin: I have seen those Star Wars books! I thought they looked hilarious :) I'll have to go check out your blog.

Hamlette: To tell the truth, I certainly had a lot of fanfiction plots for certain things running through my head before I never knew what it was, too. :) I just felt weird about writing it down because I didn't "own" it, which is still an area where I struggle with my feelings on the subject. (I really don't mind fanfiction for TV and comics, though, since those really lend itself to multiple people and so it just seems like another episode in a long line of adventures ;)

Overall, I think it's not so much that I'm really *anti*-fanfiction, it's just that being introduced to the whole fanfiction community has been a little demoralizing in some respects (although, that being said, a lot of the fanfiction people, despite some of their...less-than-moral plots, are a very nice and encouraging bunch.)

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