In my last post (which, if you've not already read it, can be found here), I mentioned that the discovery of a particularly good fanfiction had robbed me of a good week of February's reading time. It was novel length (27 chapters to be precise) and I devoured it at the expense of reading a 'proper' book. Following on from this, I wanted to write a little more about fanfiction - partly because it's something that I have read and enjoyed for well over 10 years now but also because I think it's something that has, for many readers, become synonymous with poor writing, crazy plotting and angst-ridden teenagers. Whilst I'm not going to pretend there isn't a fair amount of all of those things in the average fanfiction archive, I wanted to discuss some elements of fanfiction that you might not have previously come across and celebrate some of the excellent fanfic writing that is out there.
So, what exactly is fanfiction? Dictionary.com defines it as 'fiction written by fans of a TV series, movie etc, using existing characters or situations to develop new plots'. Wikipedia adds that fanfiction is 'fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator'. So, it's basically when writers (often, but not always, amateurs) who are fans of a particular book, movie, TV show, anime etc. create their own stories using (and crediting) the world, characters, settings and situations originally created. The original work is known as the 'canon' and many fanfiction authors will work within the confines of this, scripting stories that run alongside the events portrayed, or that fill in 'off-camera' moments. Other fanfictions might develop the canon by writing a sequel (showing what Harry Potter does as an adult, for example), or developing an alternative narrative (known as AU stories) by diverging with the established canon at some point (e.g Harry Potter joins Voldemort and turns evil). There are a number of sub-genres within fanfiction as whole and quite a lot of slang, some of which can be a bit daunting for newcomers. Whilst I do not have space in this post to cover all of these, I found a pretty comprehensive dictionary of terms on fanfiction author Moonbeam's archive, here.
There are a number of fanfiction archives out there but the best known (and certainly the archive I have the most knowledge of) is probably Fanfiction.net, which is HUGE (it has over 708,000 stories archived for the Harry Potter series alone). There are also fandom specific archives which will collect together work dealing with just one fandom, or even a subsection of a fandom (for example, stories which focus on a particular character or relationship pairing).
Contrary to popular belief, fanfiction is very diverse. Since E L James famously (or should that be infamously?) developed one of her 'Twilight' fanfictions into the first draft of her now bestselling 'Fifty Shades' series, a lot of people equate adult fanfiction with erotica. Prior to this, fanfiction archives have had the reputation of being the places where teenage angst finds expression, good literature gets tortured and where good prose goes to die. To this I would only say that fanfiction, as with published literature, is as diverse as the people who write it, which means there's going to be fanfiction out there to cater to all tastes and styles. As with any large archive of the written word, not every story is going to be a gem. Considering that some fairly terrible books - all of which have had the expert help of editors, copywriters and publishing houses - still get published each year, it's not surprising that there's going to be some less than sterling writing within an archive of stories written purely for the love of the fandom and the joy of writing about it.
And that, for me, is the key factor in fanfiction. None of these writers are getting paid. They're writing stories about their favourite characters for the sheer love of doing so. Because they can't let go of the story once they've finished. And isn't that something that we, as readers, are always doing? How many times have you finished a book and you're just not ready to put it down yet? Authorised continuations of classic novels are increasingly popular with readers and professional authors - consider P D James' 'Death Comes To Pemberley', which sees Lizzy and Darcy embroiled in a grizzly murder case, or Anthony Horowtiz's 'The House of Silk', which details a lost Sherlock Holmes case. And TV and movie executives love to carry on stories long after original source material has been exhausted, such as in the much-loved Midsomer Murders TV series (based on the novels by Caroline Graham). For me, some of the very best fanfiction is distinguishable only by the professional status of the people who write it and is therefore is a perfectly valid way of continuing to engage with my favourite books long after the final page is turned. So you might have to kiss a few frogs before you find a prince but delving into a fanfiction archive will cost you nothing but time.
So, as a reader to a reader, I'd urge you not to dismiss it. If you've never tried a fanfiction before, give it a go. You might be surprised to learn what's out there. But be warned - if you find a good story, you might lose a week of your reading life too!
Until next time, Happy Reading!