I have a confession to make. Once upon a time, when I was but a wee twelve-year-old pariah, with a nose too large for my face and no social skills to speak of, I would take my escape through other worlds. That itself is not the confession; “gawky kid does lots of reading and goes on to study literature” is not exactly a revelation.
However when – like millions of others – I was going out of my mind waiting for the next Harry Potter, I decided – like millions of others – to try my hand at writing within the world I enjoyed so much.
In other words, I bloody loved fanfiction.
I wonder what to do next. There are still a few days until we go home and nothing in particular to do until then. Most people are spending time with their friends, enjoying the sunshine … but I have no one to do that with.
(Instead of pictures, I have decided illustrate this post with relevant quotes from my own bad fanfic writing for your amusement.)
Just like porn, pictures of cats, and your crush’s holiday photos from five years ago, the internet has made fanfiction more accessible for everyone. However, like all of those things, it existed long before computers.
History lesson! According to Wikipedia, it has been around since people became impatient for the next Don Quixote in 1614. By the 20th Century, all the big writers were at it: E Nesbit revised Lewis Carroll, CS Lewis ripped off JRR Tolkein. It was a literary bloodbath. When Star Trek arrived in the 1960s, things really got crazy.
The thing is, fanfiction is excellent at fulfilling its purpose. Bored kids can read and write about their favourite universes to their hearts’ content. Okay, it’s never going to win any Pulitzer prizes (although I’ll have you know I was once runner-up for the 2008 Marauder-era Quicksilver Quill award on mugglenet.com) but that’s not what it’s trying to do.
If it’s good writing you’re after, of course fanfiction is not the place to start.
What?? Why?? James told her, didn’t he? Bloody hell, I’ll kill him. Oh, he’ll be sorry that he ever crossed paths with Lily Evans, mark my words! But how can I inflict juicy, juicy revenge? It needs to be painful … Oh yes, it will be painful, I can tell you!
Note the abundance of punctuation, awkward repetition, and general bizarre phrasing of the above.
Thankfully, if they’re serious about writing, most authors will eventually move on to bigger things. Writing in someone else’s universe becomes too restrictive, and the time comes when you want to create your own. And now that you have practiced plot development, dialogue, and not-sounding-like-a-total-idiot, it might be that much easier.
At the very least, you will have learnt how to string a sentence together.
She now had the respect of much of Gryffindor, but was still striving for something more – her ambition to be liked seemed to have no limit, although she would not change herself for it.
The problem is when a writer (all right, let’s just drop all pretences, EL James) is told so often that their work is “good enough to be published”, that they go ahead and actually do it. Fifty Shades of Grey, in all it’s totally-not-Twilight glory, becomes the result.
“What about her?” Sirius demanded, sharply, his reasonable mood suddenly being replaced by a fire of hurt and anger roaring to life in the pit of his stomach, just at the mention of her name.
Fanfiction just isn’t in the same league as published writing. It’s unedited (although some do make use of amateur volunteer “beta readers”), often extremely episodic, and it can never be truly your own. Not even if you change Bella Swan’s name, remove the vampires, and relocate her to a university in Seattle, where apparently you can study English for four years without an email address.
Which isn’t to say that people who write fanfiction are all bad writers. Once they have used it as a practice tool, they can go on to do better things. Jaida Jones, for example, started with Harry Potter fanfiction, and went on to co-author her own fantasy series which, although I haven’t read it, at least has four stars on goodreads if that is your thing. Then again, so does Fifty Shades.
However, as fanfiction does not show any signs of going away, Jones won’t be the only one who finds her feet using other people’s characters. At time of writing, the top 25 books on fanfiction.net have 1,015,606 fics between them, including 3296 about the Bible (which I couldn’t resist checking out – my favourite by far comes with the summary “So what was high-school like for Mary and Joseph?” I guess there is only one way to find out).
And there are hundreds of other book categories besides these, not to mention the entirely separate sections dedicated to films, TV shows, comics, games, animes/mangas, plays/musicals and miscellaneouses. And that’s just on the one website.
“everything else just seems to … fit, you know? It’s like where you’re wacky, I’m ordinary and where you’re scared, I’m strong. But where I’m scared, you’re the one that’s strong. Where I see a problem, you see a solution. Everything bad about me is good about you and the other way around. You know, together we almost make a whole person.”
In conclusion: although undeniably bad, fanfiction is not all bad. Sort of like the sentence I just wrote. It enables you to practice writing, gives you something to read if you want it, and stays largely off your radar if you don’t. The problem is that it’s only the really bad stuff that breaks that last rule.
Still, there’s nothing funnier than finding the most truly awful and bizarre story out there, then doing a dramatic reading with your friends. And I haven’t even mentioned slash fiction.
“Oh, Minerva,” Dumbledore chuckled, “You just don’t understand teenage boys, do you?”
McGonagall smiled, and went back to reading through Ministry education reports, as Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, and reminisced about his own days as a daring and ruthless teenage miscreant, smiling jovially, and chortling to himself.