I remember some of the first stories I ever wrote. My mother bought me a set of blank, hardcover books that I could write in when I was about seven or eight years old. Of course, I filled both of them with stories about Pokémon and this obscure, sci-fi, CGI cartoon, ReBoot.
In the third grade, I wrote the beginnings of a story involving the characters from the Nintendo 64 game Snowboard Kids 2. I left it open on my desk one day and went to the bathroom. When I came back, my teacher had left a sticker and a checkmark on the page, writing “Great job!” or something along those lines.
I didn’t know what “fanfiction” was. I didn’t know I was adhering to a specific genre of writing. I just knew that I loved certain TV shows and video games so much that I was compelled to put my own spin on their stories. I wanted to see what would happen if the characters interacted a certain way, or if a new character was introduced.
This is the appeal of fanfiction to people all over the world. Whether through reading or writing it, it’s become a way for people to get closer to the worlds they love and pay homage to their favourite creators. If something in a book didn’t go the way you wanted to, or if a character you love didn’t get nearly enough screen time for your liking, then you can bet there’s a fanfiction out there that will suit your needs. That’s what fanfiction is, a piece of fiction using plotlines and characters from a pre-existing world.
This very concept is what drew Shannon Blackmore in to the world of fanfiction.
“When I was younger I used to enjoy fiction and what not, ” said Blackmore. “So reading and writing fanfiction was a way to really dive into different worlds and I thought that was very cool.”
Blackmore is a first-year student at St. Thomas University, and has been interested in writing from a young age. After being introduced to fanfiction by a friend of hers, she was immediately hooked.
“The concept of writing about someone else’s life or in someone else’s point of view was very appealing to me. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as it was sort of like creating your own storyline and world, except it wasn’t as long as a novel.”
The concept itself is simple, but there are many facets of fanfiction that veer into a confusing and, at times frightening, landscape.
50 Shades of Dante
There’s a type of fanfiction called “AU” (meaning “alternate universe”) that opens up a whole new world of storytelling options. For example, there are quite the handful of movies that draw inspiration from different Shakespearean plays. The movie She’s the Man, starring Amanda Bynes, follows the same basic setup as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The plot is basically the same, just a modern retelling set in an American college instead of Elizabethan Europe. There are probably a dozen different terms for this kind of storytelling, but when I look at that premise, I could easily see it on a fanfiction website with the summary: “Twelfth Night modern college AU.”
There are different terms to explain this style of storytelling – parodies, retellings, reimaginings. At its core, though, it’s putting a new spin on something that already exists. It’s looking at it from a different perspective, or playing around with the characters. This is also the basis of what fanfiction is.
There are all kinds of examples. Fanfiction isn’t an entirely new and foreign concept. The term itself has been traced back as far as the early 1900s, and the concept, arguably, dates back even further.
“Well, one way to answer this would be to say something like, ‘Oh, the Divine Comedy is a self-insert fanfic of the Bible with characters from the Iliad and Aeneid and whatnot,’” said Kaleton Martinson, a creative-writing major from STU. “Because there are an awful lot of reasons and similar such examples.”
Perhaps the most popular fanfiction (whether people realize it is one or not) is the controversial 50 Shades of Grey erotica series. The series got its beginnings as a fanfiction of the vampire romance series Twilight. All it took was for the author to change the character names, publish it, and suddenly it exploded into a wild success, with three books, a movie, and a sequel in the works. All of this started from something that a woman decided to write in her spare time. A hobby. Of course, that’s how a lot of popular novels begin, but the fact that it started as a fanfiction puts an interesting twist on things.
Sometimes, it’s not even fiction that people base their stories off of. A lot of Blackmore’s fanfiction experience comes from the world of “bandom”, which involves stories written about band members. These are typically bands made up of young, attractive men, like One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer.
“I found that really cool because you could make connections between two of your favourite bands that might not necessarily know one another in real life. It was like building bridges and creating cool relationships/friendships where they weren’t before. I don’t know, to me that was really cool because who doesn’t aspire for their favourites to communicate, y’know?”
Obama chuckled. “You mean, the Chaos Emeralds?”
For all of the hidden good points fanfiction has, there are more than just a handful of stories that give the genre its bad name. A lot of these fics fall under the umbrella category of “crackfics.” which are basically stories with concepts too ridiculous to be taken seriously. That’s not to say the writers don’t approach these stories seriously, but when you read a story where Spongebob Squarepants is in love with Elsa from Frozen…it’s hard to believe that’s not supposed to be a joke.
“The weirdest fan fiction that I’ve ever read is One Direction based,” said Blackmore. “In it, Harry Styles had a very bad case of anxiety, and to deal with it he insisted on acting like a literal baby. His bandmates would put him in diapers and bottle feed him, and carried him around on their hips, etc. This was not at all how the fanfiction was described originally, and it was a massive surprise to me. It was horrible. ”
Crackfic has become popular due to the sheer absurdity of most of its content. A Twitter account with the handle @fanfiction_txt has over 80,000 followers and is dedicated to posting out-of-context fanfiction quotes. The most famous of which is pinned to the top of the profile and simply reads: “Obama chuckled. ‘You mean, the Chaos Emeralds?'”
The Chaos Emeralds are an item from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, if that context is needed to make the quote any more bizarre. While a large majority of crackfic writers purposefully write bad or strange stories to get a few laughs out of people, there are also plenty whose intentions are far less clear.
One of the best examples of crackfic (and one of the most infamous fanfiction stories in general) is a Harry Potter fanfiction called My Immortal. The basic premise of the story revolves around a goth girl named Ebony who’s attending the wizarding school of Hogwarts. She might also be a vampire, but the author is never really consistent with this fact. Most of the main characters in the series have been transferred to Slytherin and given a goth makeover.
It’s horribly written, both grammatically and in the sense that it makes very little sense. Everyone is written completely out of character, and even Ebony herself is inconsistent. Half the time the author ends up calling her Enoby or various other misspellings of her name. Because of all of this, a lot of people think that the story is purposefully written badly as a joke. Others argue there’s no way someone could make something like this up. The mystery of this (as well as the abundance of hilariously awful quotes the story is filled with) is no doubt part of its charm.
The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest
With the level of weirdness that crackfic can reach, it’s no surprise that people have mixed feelings on fanfiction. Plenty of people will grab the strangest stories they can find and use it as an example of why fanfiction isn’t considered “real writing.” It isn’t art. Besides, how can something be art if it isn’t original? How can taking characters and plotlines from somebody else be considered at all creative?
It’s like Blackmore said before. It’s an exercise in creating connections that were previously non-existent. This can extend to more than just real people. When you truly love a piece of work, you don’t want it to end. Fanfiction writers have, for the most part, become experts in taking stories in new and exciting directions.
“People are putting themselves out there and dedicating all of their time and passion toward these stories and characters,” said Blackmore. “Even though it isn’t completely original, people are only using names and what not that already exist. Scenarios and relationships that people write about are all different and unique.”
If there is any doubt to just how much time and dedication people put into writing fanfiction, just look at the story, The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest. The monster of a story is over four million words long and still going, and is inspired by the video game Super Smash Brothers. This story is argued to be the longest piece of literature in the English language, and it’s a fanfiction written by somebody in college.
Fanfiction offers people a platform to tackle new ideas and concepts that the original creators never took the chance to explore. A single change to the original story can drastically alter events and character development.
“I’m in the midst of a really good story based upon Jurassic World called It’s Not the Raptor DNA that explores the idea of the Indominus Rex having human DNA in its genetic make up as well,” said Martinson.
People tend to look at all of the weird erotica and crossovers that occur and choose to accept that as the genre’s face value, but there’s more to it than that. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had while reading have come from reading fanfiction.
“I believe that the people putting their time, effort, and passion into their work should be recognized as art,” said Blackmore. “Even if it may be odd to some, it is a form of art and authors take pride in this.”
I remember one story specifically that sticks with me until this day. It was a Harry Potter fanfiction, based around the pairing of Draco and Hermione. The story goes through their relationship as a married couple, and Hermione is deeply unhappy. At the end, it turns out that it isn’t Hermione at all. Draco has been forcing Pansy Parkinson, a minor character from the books, to take a potion that makes her look like Hermione because he has always loved Hermione. The ending is extremely powerful, and I remember having to close my laptop and sit in silence for a moment after the big twist was revealed.
Moments like these are, I think, what fanfiction writers live for. It’s the whole reason I write. There’s something exhilarating about pouring your heart into a story and posting it for the world to see. On days that I post a new chapter of a story online, I spend the next 48 hours obsessively checking my email. Each hit or positive comment is like a shot of adrenaline.
Both writing and reading fanfiction have proved to be really important to my skills as both a writer and a reader. Even if I’m not writing something original, fanfiction gives me the opportunity to keep in practice and improve myself. I’ve gone months without picking up a book, but I can easily curl up in bed with a 30-chapter fanfiction and finish it in a day or two. Why wouldn’t I want to immerse myself more in the worlds I already love?
“I’d say that fanfiction, and fan-art in general, is fun,” said Martinson. “That’s what’s important. It can be a method of improving skills, or enjoying reading… and as long as people are getting something out of it, I’d say that’s more important than the idea of just what constitutes as ‘real’ art.”