Talking with myself: Discussing fanfiction

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So, I am a writer first and foremost. I typically write screenplays, and I would love to eventually be a screenwriter for movies. That should come as no surprise to most of you who’ve read my reviews over the years. I love movies. I love television. There’s something magical about them, and there’s something magical about the way that they transcend space and time and connect people together.

Now, the topic of fandom is a completely different thing that I’ll probably comment on later, but just know that fandom is a beast in itself, and it’s cool to see people come together to offer discourse about the shows and movies that they love.

An aspect of fandom that’s transferred to the mainstream is fanfiction. Fanfiction is what got me into writing. I was thirteen, my parents had divorced and I got involved in my first fandom for a little Canadian TV show called “Sue Thomas: FBEye.” I made my first online friend in that fandom, and I wrote my first fanfiction for that fandom. I was hooked. I’ve been hooked ever since.

My fandoms and likes and dislikes have changed tremendously since then. I went from liking “CSI: Miami” and enough procedural dramas to kill a horse to becoming more selective with my TV shows, but the love of fanfiction has never gone away. In fact, if we’re being honest, fanfiction is the only thing I write in the traditional sense. All of my “original” stuff is written in screenplay format.

Now, what exactly is fanfiction, since I’ve been talking about it for three paragraphs without an explanation? Many people probably already know this, what with the advent of Tumblr and Twitter, but fanfiction is a fiction text that borrows copyrighted characters, settings or other intellectual properties as a basis for a story. Fanfiction can be based on anything, honestly, movies, TV shows, video games and novels.

Fun fanfic fact: the modern iteration of fanfiction came about in the 1960s all thanks to “Star Trek.” Yup, you can thank “Star Trek” and probably “Doctor Who” for what fanfiction is now.

Of course, if it wasn’t for fanfiction.net coming online in 1998, I’m not entirely sure if the concept would have exploded as it did, but of course, with the advent of the internet, anything and everything exploded to enormous heights of popularity.

In between slaving away at my senior project and my other homework, I’ve begun to dabble in fanfiction again. I’ve mostly been writing in “The West Wing” fandom, but I’ve started a story for the old 1980s show “L.A. Law.” We won’t get into that or why I’m 30 years late for that party. (It’s mostly because I’m only 27 and the show was off-air before I even knew what it was about.)

Anyway, when I first started writing fanfiction, it was a misunderstood exercise. I remember telling my parents I was writing, but I never told them what I was writing about because the concept of fanfiction was taboo. This has changed in recent years, and I’m all for that, but there are still settings where fanfiction is sloughed off and ignored as a legitimate form of self-expression.

Yes, I’m talking about the university system. In creative writing classes, we’re expected to create original things, which, hey, I’m all for, but at the same time, fanfiction is still writing and it’s still creative. In order to be able to write a convincing fanfiction, the author must have intimate knowledge of the world they’re writing in. They also must have the character’s voices down. Fanfiction isn’t something to half-ass (unless you’re purposefully writing crackfic and that’s another thing entirely). If anything, fanfiction is harder than anything else you’ll ever write, including stories for yourself.

In order for fanfiction to work and be believable, the writer must be able to weave in original characters with canon characters. (Canon = material accepted as officially part of the story.) Also, the writer must be able to weave an original story or plotline that feels like it is part of the canon, even if it takes place in an alternate universe. What part of this isn’t creative? It’s disappointing to go into creative writing classes and not be allowed to show my strongest work. It’s something we must do better on, especially as fanfiction and fandom continue to proliferate.

I mean, if we’re being honest, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” even though it was awful and an equally awful film, was a published fanfiction. It came from fanfiction.net and was originally published as a “Twilight” fanfiction. Yes, I’m aware, that’s a bad example, but the fact is, using fanfiction as a basis for original published work is going to continue. Amazon had spearheaded that movement with Kindle Worlds, but it is now defunct. Despite that, publishing a work of fanfiction is as easy as changing the main character’s names.

You might say that defeats the purpose, but the fact is, some writers who started writing fanfiction are just more comfortable in that genre and it’s easier to write a story in that way than creating new characters and new worlds. Is that lazy? Not at all. Fanfiction is one of the greatest and most fulfilling writing exercises I’ve ever had the joy to experience. Getting to play in these worlds is a dream of mine and I think expanding fanfiction into the creative writing curriculum might be a good way to recruit more people. Because, again, let’s be honest, I think at this point, most writers in these classes started in fanfiction. I know I did, and I’m glad I did.

Shelby Arnold

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