Folks have been talking more about fanfiction lately, partly in response to an incident that took place at a Sherlock Q&A session, in which Caitlin Moran brought up Sherlock fanfic, and pushed two actors to read an excerpt of what turned out to be sexually explicit fanfic. Without permission from the author. For what was presumably supposed to be a joke. Because fanfiction is funny, and tricking people into reading sexually explicit stories in front of an audience is funny, and so on.
Yeah, not so much. But it does highlight the disdain with which a lot of people view fanfiction, the idea that it’s “lesser” writing, that it’s all laughable, amateur crap, and so on.
I’ve talked about fanfiction before–
- My Updated Fanfiction Policy
- Fanfiction is Fanfiction. Have Fun! (A guest piece I did for the Organization for Transformative Works)
–but it’s never been something I chose to write myself … until last month, when I was listening to my kids watch Christmas special #1,826, and my brain wandered off to imagine what a Rudolph vs. Frosty throwdown (snowdown?) would look like. So I wrote up a quick, silly little introductory scene of Frosty killing an elf guard at the North Pole, because hey, that’s what writers do when something interesting burrows into our brains. I posted it on the blog because I enjoy sharing the things I write, and I thought people might get a kick out of it.
I didn’t expect to get so caught up in the story. The plot bunnies dug deeper, eventually setting up a nice, snowy colony in my temporal lobe. I ended up writing a ~6000 word story and posting each scene as I went — something completely foreign to my usual writing process, which involves multiple completed drafts and rewrites before I let anyone else see what I’ve written. (Click on the Crimson Frost cover if you’d like to read the finished story.)
While this isn’t likely to become a habit — I also have contracted fiction to write, and I really like being able to pay my mortgage — it was certainly educational and eye-opening. Not to mention a lot of fun.
Here are a few of the things I took away from the experience.
Writing good fanfic is just as challenging as writing good anything else. I’ve sold close to 50 pieces of short fiction in my time. That silly little Frosty story took as much work as any piece of professional fiction I’ve done. I struggled with plotting and characterization, I lay awake at night trying to work out the problems, I went back and did last-minute edits before each scene went live. Sure, it’s possible to write lousy, half-assed fanfiction, just like it’s possible to write lousy, half-assed anything else. But nothing about fanfiction makes it inherently easier to write than other kinds of fiction.
Instant feedback is dangerously addictive. I turned in the manuscript for UNBOUND a few months ago, but it will probably be close to a year before I start to hear from readers. Whereas I’d post a scene from Frosty, and people would be commenting and emailing within minutes. I like this whole instant gratification thing!
Fanfic can be freeing. As I wrote this story, I found myself playing in ways I don’t allow myself to do in professional fiction. I dropped a Jurassic Park reference into one scene. I amped up plot twists and cliffhangers. I took risks with things that
could have been potentially were completely over-the-top. And it was awesome! (At least for me.)
I can do “realtime” writing. The scariest part of this thing was changing my writing process. I didn’t know how this story would end when I started writing. I would post one scene without knowing what would happen in the next. I was terrified that I’d get stuck and the story would die a miserable death, like a Bumble choking on a hairball. Or that I’d figure out that the story needed to go in another direction, but it would be too late. But I did it. There are some things I’d go back and change in revision — more foreshadowing of the importance of memory, for example — but the story worked. And for me, that’s a huge and exciting victory.
A writer is someone who writes. I’ve never understood why some people jealously protect the coveted title of “Author” or “Writer.” The way I see it, if you write, you’re a writer. I don’t care if it’s 100,000 words of professionally published novel or 100,000 words of Star Trek fanfic. Having done both profic and fanfic, I don’t get it. Calling someone who does fanfic a writer or an author doesn’t in any way diminish or dilute me and my work. Why is this even an argument?
Like I said, I’m not planning to make a habit of this. And I won’t be changing my policy about not reading fanfiction of my own work. But writing this story was a fun, interesting, and eye-opening experience.
And for the record, anyone who’s ever thought about who would win in a fight between the U. S. S. Enterprise and an Imperial Star Destroyer, or whether or not a kryptonite-powered lightsaber could kill Superman, or if Marcie and Peppermint Patty were gay, or whether or not Ferb was actually a Time Lord, or if Tron survived his fall in Tron: Legacy and if so what happened next … y’all might want to shore up your glass houses before you start hurling stones at fanfic and the people who write it.