This post originally appeared at The Oak Wheel on July 31st, 2014.
(Dear Reader, you may also consider this article’s title to be The Secret History of Fandom, because that’s also what it is)
Fandom has a long history. A long and secret history, which common men are not permitted to know, since the days of ancient Babylon. And today, young grasshopper, I shall teach you to how to harness this power, the power of Fandom, but only for good and not for evil.
Okay, that’s not all true. Fandom really only dates back to the 1887 (people have been raving about Sherlock forever), even if fanfiction, as such, dates back even further (Hello, Willie Shakespeare). But in these two articles I will be teaching you how to harness this mighty power of the gods, and why you should even bother.
First of all, why write fanfiction?
Because I do think that you should at least consider it. It may not be your cuppa, but don’t discard the tea before you give it a good look over.
Now, not everybody think that it makes sense. Take George R. R. Martin for perhaps the most famous example: “But don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out. If you don’t exercise those ‘literary muscles,’ you’ll never develop them.”
Well, let me say something, Mr. Martin: You’re very silly and I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. (Also, if I can make a brief tangent? What is Martin going on about talking about creative laziness, when half of the crap in the fantasy genre is still taking its cues from Tolkien?)
There are two benefits to writing fanfiction that I can think of right off the bat:
- You learn how to write within the constraints of someone else’s world. Constraints, friend. Maybe you’re not even very good at building worlds or characters and you want to practice just writing stories first, taking it one step at a time. That’s good.
And even if you don’t have any trouble with building worlds and characters, it’s still good practice to write within certain limitations. You can set these constraints any number of ways, but there’s something to be said for seeing if you can write specifically within the bounds of an already-existing personality.
- Building your own fandom. Yes sir, visiting someone else’s playground can help you build interest in your own. Take Joe Ducie, for example. He got his start writing fanfiction like Harry Potter and the Sword of the Hero and Harry Potter and the Wastelands of Time until, sometimes getting thousands of reviews for each story, he transitioned to writing original works and even appeared on a Worldbuilders video. Fanlore has a page about this phenomenon.
- Full disclosure here, I don’t really know how I feel about this, but if I’m going to be comprehensive then dang it, I’m going to be comprehensive: You can use your fanfiction to test the waters, as it were, and then translate it into original fic form if it makes a huge splash. You may be thinking that this is totally ridiculous and nobody could possibly think it could work, but… Well…
You know that City of Bones movie that came out August last year? Cassandra Clare was once— brace yourself, because this is a very inventive pseudonym— Cassandra Claire, writer of The Very Secret Diaries (Lord of the Rings fanfiction) and The Draco Trilogy. The latter is more relevant, because The Mortal Instruments recycles numerous characters, plot elements, and even text from Draco.
Exhibit B is— get ready now— 50 Shades of Grey. E. L. James really takes the cake, as she originally wrote it as Master of the Universe, a sordid Twilight fanfiction, under the penname Snowqueen’s Icedragon. What did she do to translate the story into original fic format?
Just changed the names, actually…
Fanfiction gets a bad name, but it’s honestly been going on for a freaking long while. “Derivative work” or “Transformative work” might be better names, and under that auspice you can see a whole bunch of literature in a different light. The Aeneid steals Aeneas from the Iliad.WilliamShakespeare’s work was heavily derivative or transformative, especially in the first stage of his career. Bram Stoker’s Dracula gave birth to Nosferatu and basically every other story that ties Vlad Tepes to the vampire myth.
Heck, even The Matrix is not too far off from a cyberpunk-skinned rendition of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles (as Morrison says in a Suicide Girls interview, “They [the Wachowskis] should have kept on stealing from me and maybe they would have wound up with something to really be proud of”). And the 19th Century story Edison’s Conquest, as Cracked tells us, gave birth to some of the most fundamental tropes of science fiction.
Look, we’ll just stop here and say, “Fanfiction is so embedded in our history that Cracked wrote another article on the topic.”
If I seem like I’m talking an awful lot about fanfiction, it’s because it’s very, very important. Even if you don’t write fanfiction, encouraging others to write fanfiction of your work will be a very important part of growing a fandom, so any moral imperatives against fanfiction have to be handled before we can move further. Because math proves everything, we’ll turn it into an equation:
No fanfiction = no fandom
(Exceptions may exist, sure, but you wouldn’t bet your career on rolling a “1” on a twenty-sided die, would you?)
Your turn: Whether you agree or not, what do you think about fanfiction, and why?