Fanfiction: Too Legit to Quit
By Daryl McSweeney
I’m sure we’ve all got an idea of what fanfiction is, and I can hazard a guess on your opinion. “Come on Daryl, I come to the Blowhard for quality perception shifting content, why are you taking about that weird porn thing, be classier than that.” Well Joel (I imagine someone who would say that is named Joel) I’m going to try and convince you that fanfiction is much and more than that.
But first let’s look at what we know.
So let’s just hit this awkward nail on the head, Fifty Shades of Grey is unarguably the most (in)famous example of fanfiction, and immediately my arguments for the pros of fanfiction get a little cut off at the knees.
End of article!
Okay, so Dylan has informed me that I have to write more, so yes, this happened but I would argue that there’s a kernel of something important under this book “phenomenon” that’s telling. Beginning as a popular Twilight fanfiction, James posted the story on Fanfiction.net at first, but after receiving criticism for its sexual nature she removed it from the site and posted the story on her own website. When the story got even more popular, EL James eventually changed the characters from “Edward and Bella” to “Christian and Dakota Johnson” and not only was she able to make it work, she made it work so hard that now there are actual people planning and discussing marketing strategies for the second movie.
Half of it is luck, of course, but an even larger part is that the built-in audience that James built followed her every step of the way. You see, my point is that Fanfiction readers exist, they’re out there, and they are active participants in the works that they consume. When James moved the story, they moved with her, when she changed the character’s names they didn’t miss a step, and when she eventually published the story and asked people to pay for it… they ponied up. How did they do that? Is James a Content Strategist genius in sheep’s clothing? Is the story that good?
Nah. Fanfiction audiences are just different. But like good different. You see the number one thing that all fanfiction fans have in common is dedication.
These are stats for the most popular fandoms on Fanfiction.net (and BTW, there are other sites too with their own audiences, though there's obviously some crossover). Look at that! Look at how many people are writing fanfiction! And you can bet even more are reading. That’s crazy numbers! Now granted, most of EL James’s sales numbers came from the advent of the e-reader and people buying the book going, “Oh, what’s this? I’ve heard of this. I’ll read this on the train and no one will know how jimmied on sex energy I’m getting,” but you need a spark to start a flame.
The site gets 100 million visits a month and is the #2 most visited site by Americans in the Arts and Entertainment category. Those are crazy numbers, okay? Those are successful media mogul numbers. Even if only a tenth of a tenth of those people like the story you post on that site, that’s 100,000 people. That’s New York Times Bestseller’s List numbers.
So what? There’s lots of them. There are an estimated 1 million juggalos in the world too. There are a lot of weirdos in the world.
Except are they weird?
For anyone who reads A Song of Ice and Fire, the books Game of Thrones are based on, you will know that it’s been five years since George R.R. Martin has published a book, he promised us two more and the show is edging him out on plot point and wHY GOD WHY MUST I CONTINUE TO WAIT!?... and people are getting antsy. Well, here you go.
That’s the next book. No it’s not, GRRM please don’t sue me. That’s a fanfiction story that wraps up the story in place of the last two books of the series. But dammit, it feels close to being a sequel. It takes all of the plot points and characters and moves them to their end points. Some people die, some people save the day, questions are answered (with the author’s best guesses) and its pretty conclusive.
Fanfiction is not always just “take character and add BDSM or vampires, mix with bad grammar and blend,” there are lots of good writers who are excited to expand and explore the universes of created works and really stretch their legs. They’re making stories in familiar places. They’re showing the in-between times that books and TV shows don’t have time to tell us, showing that our favorite characters have invested and lived in lives. They make these worlds feel more real.
I mean, did I mention 600,000 words!? Do you know how hard it is to read 600,000 words, let alone write them!
Let me make something clear though, I don’t want to badmouth stories where people make Harry Potter a vampire or Goku a Brooklyn ADA instead. I myself prefer the more “closer to the universe” stories, but those stories can be just as good and valid. I once stayed up late three nights in a row reading a story where Robb Stark was a catcher for a national baseball team rather than the King in the North.
Catcher in the Rye is an arguably good book, and that’s a book where a kid just pals around New York for a weekend. My point is, if you’re a good enough writer, you can make any story good. Hundreds of thousands of people are writing fanfiction, right now. Math don’t lie, at least some of them have the making of great writing.
But writing is hard, it takes time and work and practice. Why do these people do this instead of, say, writing their own stuff? It’s because they’re bad/lazy writers, right Daryl?
Here’s my point about Fanfiction: they don’t care as much about story. They care about characters.
I’ll elaborate. TV and movies care about plot. What a twist! we say at the end of the Walking Dead. Whodunnit? Your grandma asks when she watches NCIS. What’s going to happen? What is happening? Did you see what happened? It’s always about plot, and plot IS important, but that’s not what fanfiction is about.
Fanfiction is about characters. Who is dating who? How does this person feel about this person? What was Kyle Ren’s childhood like? What would Jon Snow be like in a liberal arts college in the 21st century? Character, character, character. Why do they think this way? Does this person have depression? Would Batman be cool if his parents were still alive? What if Bella and Edward were into whips and shit? *wink*
I’m not saying character is more important than plot. After all, a story where two people just hang out and go to a water park and then chill out watching a movie sounds dull as hell (though people have written that story, involving Nancy and Jonathan from Stranger Things believe it or not) but it’s just a different beast. Because while that wouldn’t make a good story or a good novel, you do kind of wonder… would a date like that be romantic or awkward for Nancy and Jonathan? (Steve is cool, but Nancy x Jonathan 4ever.)
They’re just different mediums is what I’m saying. People are engaging the things they care about in a very, very active way. It’s a little weird, but it wasn’t that long ago that agriculture was a crazy idea. Try and keep an open mind is all I’m saying. Don’t look for the things you get from TV or movies from fanfiction because it won’t give you that.
But it might give you a story where Barb lived. Anyone who argues against that can meet thousands of people in the alley behind Applebee’s. Specifically, this alley.