I was flipping through some old writings of mine a while ago, all while re-watching the French animated series Code Lyoko in an attempt to recapture my childhood or something, with the looming deadline of this week’s post over my head. Oh, and an unfinished album review for a metal CD that came out last week. Good times.
Anyways, I was looking through some of my older stuff when I stumbled upon that cringe-inducing aspect of my childhood that made me not only regret undertaking this bit of literary skullduggery, but also made me remember way too many things all at once. This was, of course, all of my old fanfiction stories from when I used to kill time on deviantART.
Oh yeah. We’re talking about this.
Alright, firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way: fanfiction has an immensely controversial reputation, one it’ll probably always have. Fan labour will always be around, fan art will always be popular, and fans will always remake their favourite films, either by their lonesome or through mass collaboration, and fanfiction will always be written and read. Fan labour and its many facets are, honestly, some of the most impressive, sincere, and genuinely cool enactments of creativity that’s readily available, but where there’s fandom, there is unease. Ever since the internet became a viable meeting ground for fans of, well, anything, it’s also become a battleground-cum-farmer’s market of fan-made goods and loving tributes to anything and everything that has a copyright slapped on it and has existed at some point. For every twenty pieces of fan art, there’ll be forty arguments being carried out across countless forum posts on the very same subject.
Fanfiction’s place amongst all of this is one of distinction and notoriety. The art of using established characters and settings and telling your own stories with them reaches all the way back to the death of Sherlock Holmes, where fans resurrected the character for their own stories after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed the character off. Since then, fans crafting their own adventures for their favourite characters have long become a popular way of not only displaying their affection, but also showing off their own writing and storytelling skills. It should also be noted that the idea of having two male characters enter a non-canonical relationship started not with the anime boom, but with Star Trek fans. In fact, the seminal novel Killing Time had heavy undertones of a Kirk/Spock relationship in its original manuscript, something that’d been well-established and practiced among female fans of the show since the original run. Fanfiction has a seminal place in the development of modern fan culture, and there just isn’t no denying it.
But as I was reading back through these old fanfics of mine, I realized something. Fanfiction, especially nowadays, has this uncanny ability to see where a person was at the time of writing a fanfic. A lot of general queasiness about fanfiction comes from not only the sometimes subpar writing on display, or the admittedly cringe-inducing sex scenes that sometimes play out in an unsurprising amount of these stories, but also the large amount of times when the story starts to play out like someone’s diary rather than a cohesive narrative. I’m certainly guilty of this myself, and while it can certainly be uncomfortable to read for the uninitiated, other times it shows just how deeply connected someone is to what they’re writing. Sometimes, it takes someone else’s creation to get your deepest thoughts and feelings out, which is something that’s not so easily accepted.
So why am I talking about fanfiction? Well, I think it’s because I believe that, like fan art or fan games or fan music or whatever, it has value to those who partake in it. It’s hard to sit here and really speak ill of something I’ve been involved with since I was young, but that doesn’t mean I understand why it usually elicits shocked laughter and uncomfortable side-glances from those who’ve seen some of the more questionable sides of the subject. The numerous ironic reading videos of people trying to stifle their laughter as they slog through a poorly-written overly-edgy My Little Pony fanfic can be hilarious, just as the idea of an erotic story involving Tracer from Overwatch getting gangbanged by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can confuse and horrify anyone who’s not the reader. It’s no secret that fans sometime use these forms of fan labour as conduits for their own oddly-specific fetishes and fantasies. It’s a way for teenagers to get out a lot of their angsty, underdeveloped emotions, all without resorting to real-world actions. It’s a weird, strangely personal world.
But is it bad? Like, should we believe the horror stories we’ve heard and just shun anyone partakes in fanfiction?
The reason looking through these old stories compelled me to write this is to highlight the good that comes from writing fanfiction and letting people do their thing when they write it. As someone who considers writing their natural talent, I can honestly confess that if I hadn’t started writing dumb human-girl-meets-alien-boy fanfics way way back in grade 7, I would’ve never planted the seed that made me realize that I actually have a way with the written word. Other people might think otherwise, and that’s fair, absolutely. But fanfiction is not only a way of expressing one’s love for a piece of media, or getting out of your head all those weird unrealistic self-insert fantasies, but I also see it as a genuine way of honing one’s abilities to write and tell stories.
Hear me out: imagine having an idea where you think of a story, but instead of characters or setting or anything, you think of a scenario or a new way of telling a story, or an experimental way of structuring a multi-chapter story. Fanfiction gives writers a place to experiment without having to create characters or settings. Pick something you know by heart, and throw your ideas at it, see what happens. It can also allow creators to tap into that childlike sense of make-believe, when kids ran around their suburban backyards throwing imaginary Hadoukens at each other. You have your favourite characters, now go on new adventures!
It’s really hard to summarize my feelings about fanfiction. I see why some don’t like it, I see why others, myself included, love it. As I come to the exhausted end of this, I sit here and try to think of why fanfiction still matters in a day and age where fan artists can make money off of their work, fan remakes warrant documentaries about their productions some decade or two later, and where fan games are more popular than ever. Hell, the Japanese have essentially chiseled their own economy out of fan works, just look up Dōjin on google, the numbers are STAGGERING. But, why do these niche, sometimes awkwardly constructed stories still matter?
Well, I think it’s the freedom that comes with it. It’s far from popular, and remains only a minor niche format these days, but the freedom of the written word is a beautiful thing. And fanfiction, in manners both fantastic and horrifying, may just be one of the ultimate exercises in creative freedom. At the top of the pile are works like Fallout Equestria and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality¸ while at the bottom you have the eternally-infamous My Immortal. And everything between, and below. It’s a strange world, definitely not for all. But I can’t stay mad at it. In a way, I owe my creative life to it.
Still, Tracer getting spitroasted by Donatello and Leonardo does bother me. And I don’t even like Overwatch.