Questions From The Audience – July 18th, 2012

“Fanfic” — John Wiens

While I am not sure how well I can deal with such a drilled-down and narrow-focus question, this is going to be the topic “du jour”.

Fanfic is a two-word mash-up of “Fan” and “Fiction”. It’s loosely accepted to mean fiction writing produced by fans of an existing author, using that author’s story world and even sometimes characters.

So in other words, if you are a fan of a 1980’s TV show called “Tales of the Gold Monkey”  and pen a short story about Jake and Sarah running into an orphan kid that they add to the crew, well that’s fanfic. You’re a fan and you’ve composed fiction set in your favorite existing setting.

If you love the Twilight series, and decide it needs a bit more naughty, and you compose an erotic story that winds up called “Powerful Guys In Charge of a Really Big Area” and use the setting and characters from Ms. Stephenie Meyer’s storyverse, then that is fanfic. If you then change the setting, the characters and all the other things that tie it to the Twilight storyverse, and change the name to “A Finite Number of Color Tone Variations of a Neutral Palette”, then it’s not really fanfic any more.

Fanfic is fiction composed by fans of an existing storyverse that clearly takes place in that storyverse.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that almost everyone has composed Fanfic. If you’re a fan of soap operas, and day-dreamed about how you’d have handled a scene between two characters, then that is fanfic. If you love vampire erotica, and you’ve scribbled down three pages of a fight scene or a love scene involving your favorite character, then that is fanfic. If you write a short-story about what happens to Wedge Antillies on a weekend leave at Tosche Station, then that is fanfic. If you write a three novel epic that involves a girl from Tatooine that winds up Darth Vader’s executive assistant during the events of “A New Hope” through to “Return of the Jedi”, that’s fanfic.

It doesn’t matter if anyone else ever sees it, how many pages it is, or if it even ever hits paper. You composed a story in someone else’s storyverse because you loved the strong image they gave you enough to dream. I am personally unsure if there is a higher compliment to be paid to an author concerning their world-building and descriptive skills.

I think fanfic is a remarkably important feature in the fandom landscape. First off, it marks a point of greatness in fiction; be it screen, print or music. That marker can serve to inspire others who are like-minded fans that it is okay to dream, to talk and to exchange ideas. Fanfic is the pre-web version of social media for fandom.

Fanfic also serves another important job. It’s a safe place to try your own authorly ice skates. You’ve got a helmet and padded seat cushion, in terms of an extablished storyverse that you know and love. All you need to do is focus on the little piece of story you want to tell. It’s like starting a story with “Once Upon A Time”; it absolves you of all the issues of world building, making sure all the loopholes are closed and “but-what-about’s” are tight. You don’t even have to create your own believeable characters, if you don’t want to. It’s liberating. You just need a good story to tell.

I started out writing fanfic early on. I’ve even got some examples here on my blog site in “The Library“. I love worlds. That’s my style for both writing and gaming. I love to build or explore worlds. Fanfic lets me do that. I can either bring my own characters, or borrow one that I think didn’t get enough attention in the source material.

It also gives me an instant audience. The other fans that share a likewise love of the characters and storyverse I am appropriating. They’ll be vocal about what they think of what I’ve done with their beloved setting. That means I can find out how good a writer I am and how well I really do “make stuff fit” into a story world.

It helps dreams-to-be-writers push off from the boards and slowly coast out to center ice. They might fall down, or they might wind up going backwards at some point, but they are out there doing it. That immediately sets them apart from everyone else still sitting up in the stands.

Fanfic also does another interesting job, one which is overlooked sometimes by the authors or screenwriters. We’ve got to sleep some time. It can take six months, a year, two years or longer for us to cycle between projects. Our fans need their fix. If what we’re doing is really that good, our fans will want more and they’ll want it now.

Fanfic is the fan community satisfying it’s own craving. It might not be the best quality stuff, but it’s got the essentials of what the fans want in it. It takes a little bit of the responsibility off of the original author to rush something else out to satisfy the fans.

There are three personal benchmarks I have for success for myself as an author. When I have seen all these three things, I will know that I’ve really done something awesome as a storyteller. When I’ve seen someone Cosplaying one of my characters, when I’ve seen someone produce artwork inspired by one of my scenes and when I’ve read a piece of fanfic set in one of my storyverses, then I’ll know I’ve really done it. Each one of these three things is an expression of the fans celebrating the story, the characters and world that you, as a storyteller, have let them grow to know and love.

I can’t think of a greater way to pay forward than to encourage someone else to come down from the stands, pull on their skates, and tenatively push off from the boards. If they choose to take that first leap of faith in your rink, then that is truly high praise.

Let me know what you think of fanfic and your own experiences with it in the comments section below this blog post. I’d love to hear your thoughts.