My name is AK Lee and I am a fanfiction writer. (Hi AK!)
There, I've said it.
There's still a stigma surrounding fanfiction and fanart creators. People associate fan-creations with explicit content, and for some reason, writing or drawing about sex elicit snickers and snide remarks. As if most adults aren't having sex anyway!
I am a fanfiction writer, however, and I have written fics of all sorts, from m/m explicit non-con to het gen fluff, from AU crossovers with multiple ships to canon-compliant . If you understood any of that, you're a fanfic reader and/or writer, and good for you! If you haven't read fanfiction, you are missing out on a treasure trove of independently-created fiction that is entirely free. All you have to do is choose what you want to read, and leave comments for the author at the end of the fic.
Many scholars have written about the history of fanfiction, in particular slash fiction, and the role it plays in our engagement with popular culture. One article I read recently is The active defense of fanfiction writing: Sherlock fans’ metatextual response by Nickie Michaud Wild. The article details a specific event where erotic fanfiction was shared by the host, Caitlin Moran - without the creators’ permission - with the actors and producers of BBC Sherlock, at an event where fans and creators were present.
Michaud Wild’s article discusses the impact of what BBC Sherlock fans have dubbed ‘Morangate’. I was active on Tumblr when this unfolded. It is not hyperbole to say that it sent a shockwave through the BBC Sherlock fandom. Writers of BBC Sherlock fanfiction were horrified; some were embarrassed, and took down their work or made it private; others were furious at being made the butt of jokes and, in my opinion, rightfully angry, for their work which was a celebration of their mutual admiration and enjoyment of Steven Moffat’s and Mark Gatiss’ interpretation of Sherlock was mocked or dismissed by the host, the writers, and the actors. In other words, the event host made fun of fanfiction writers for writing erotic fanfiction of the Moffat and Gatiss fanfiction of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. (A round-up of the event can be found here)
What most creators who do not dabble in fandom don’t realize is, fanworks keep interest in a piece of media alive. They enrich the world. And, if a text ( a book, a show, a game…) interests enough fans, the fans begin discussing and dissecting the text. They develop analytical skills and critical reading skills of their own accord. Their interpretations may not be in line with the creator’s intentions - just see any religious text and the many interpretations of their contents - but that just means there is room in this piece of media for many voices.
Unfortunately, in the sphere of fandom and fan communities, many of these voices happen to be women - and women’s voices are often not as valued.
From the article:
“Women in fandom are historically more ‘transformational’ than ‘affirmational’ and as such are less aligned with the media creator’s vision (Jenkins, 2012); the ‘powers-that-be’ in media (those who have created it, written it, established the canon, etc.) are unlikely to criticize men’s practices, as they see them on their side.” [emphasis mine]
As Michaud Wild further elaborated, most of the time, women who engage in fandom are belittled as “fangirls”. “Fangirling” is supposedly cringe-inducing behavior. Being a fangirl is something akin to being a squealing, bouncing, teenage girl hyperventilating over seeing her idol.
First of all, feeling an excess of emotion on seeing an idol is nothing to be ashamed of. Secondly, calling all female fans “fangirls” infantilizes them. There are many women who both have mature thoughts about specific texts and squee over the text at the same time. Thirdly, the idea that “girl” is supposed to be an insult is so very patriarchal, ugh.
But I digress.
Fandom engages fans. In this day and age, once you can engage them into putting their time creating fanart and fanfiction of your work, you essentially have supporters who are more than happy to help promote your work via word-of-mouth or via social media posts. Fans who love your work will follow you anywhere. Both Nickie and I are Fannibals - fans of NBC’s Hannibal - and the producers and writers encourage fans much more enthusiastically in participating in the exploration of the world of Hannibal. In return, I like to believe that they have earned themselves the undying and delectable devotion of the Fannibals, to the point where we support their new projects almost as fervently as we do Hannibal.
As a new novelist, I wish I had a fandom. It’d be an honor to have people delving into the unwritten and unexplored spaces of my world and populate it with their imagination. As Michaud Wild puts it, ‘Fanfiction is all about audiences responding back and reinterpreting the messages they receive.’
I can’t wait for people to respond to my messages, because then - then it is no longer my own little world, but a world shared with people who love my characters and want to understand them, and want to have a conversation about them.
What is better than that?
There are a few things I learned from writing fanfiction.
One of the first things I learned from writing fanfiction is character consistency. One of the main issues I have when reading fics that need more working on is when established characters behave in ways that is inconsistent with their personalities. It feels like a mistreatment of the characters. Hence, I learned to define my own characters clearly before I even begin to write my plot.
Another lesson I learned is pace. Most of my fics are chaptered fics, I learned how to end a chapter and leave my readers wanting more, while at the same time providing necessary background information and moving the plot along. Fanfiction teaches me to balance action, description, introspection, and dialogue.
One very important lesson I picked up is how to write sensual and sexual scenes. It isn’t easy to show intimacy through words when it is something best felt sans words. Reading and writing how two or more characters meet and fall in love is challenge enough; add in the messier, physical parts of… well, parts interacting, and it is a whole exercise in mental gymnastics. Trust me, keeping track where each limb goes and what their positions are at any moment in time takes a lot of enjoyment out of writing the scene. It also helps you to become thick-skinned! Once I’ve written different iterations of “insert Tab A into Slot B”, it’s kind of hard to be embarrassed by sex scenes.
The very nature of fanfiction encourages in-depth exploration of small moments and introspective musings that TV or movies do not have the space for, so it is also very good training for writers to delve into expanding a character's inner world. For instance, I wrote a short fic on the red lining under the outfit worn by Chirrut Imwe in Star Wars: Rogue One. No way would the Star Wars movie franchise spend any time writing this, let alone filming it, but to me it added to my personal interpretation of one of my favorite film characters. This helps when I am building a character from scratch, because I end up thinking about the details that go into a character’s look or behavior that I might have otherwise overlooked in growing the character.
Whenever I mention that I write fanfiction to my fellow writers, most of them wrinkle their noses. One has told me that fanfiction is “amateurish and crude”, the implication being that fanfiction is less "real writing" and more of an indulgence. However, it is a great training ground for beginning writers, and a great place for people to just share their love of a piece of media. Whether their passion takes the form of a sweet coffee shop meet-cute or an epic showdown between good and evil or smutty plot-less erotica, it is just a means for fans to share their joy in a fictional world.