Fan Fiction: Why? Why? Why?
by Sylvia Bond
Eventually I realized that I needed to stop being coy. I needed to come straight out and ask the question, much like my Mom would, but without any kind of judgment or request for justification, especially in light of the whole “no money being made” aspect. I wanted to know because I wanted to understand; I like having answers that I can use to distract even my most vocal detractors.
Anyway, here’s the question I asked: Why do you write fanfic?
And did I get back answers? You bet. Were they what I thought they’d be? Yes. Were they like the answers that I’d give? Yep, except only more articulate.
I think really good, engaging shows raise questions that they don’t intend to answer but in which they invite the audience to imagine. For example, sometimes they invite us to imagine an episode tag or missing scene that just doesn’t fit in their 44-minute story-telling allotment. Sometimes they invite us to imagine the characters’ backgrounds in more vivid detail – e.g. daydream scenarios from their childhood that cause Sam and Dean to develop such different relationships with their father. So – I write to answer (or at least explore) those kinds of questions for myself. (harrigan)
The tiny bit I have written has tended to bit in response to challenges or AU’s that other people have created, so perhaps a way for me to give something back to the community that I’m part of. (Sereana64)
People’s stories have always interested me. It’s one of the reasons I studied psychology and became a therapist. I like to know what makes a person tick, what shapes how they see the world and in turn how they interact with the world around them. Dean and Sam Winchester allowed me a great opportunity to play with imaginary psyches. In other words, I am character driven. It’s more important to me than the plot or the tense, or any of that other stuff. If the characters are interesting and I feel invested in them, I want to read about them and thus write about them. I think most people feel the same way. (Ridley C. James)
Fanfic gave me plot, at least a basic premise from which to work. I write fanfic so that I can write. I just need that most basic prompt. Here are two guys. This is what makes them fucked up. Let’s put them on a crash course and see what happens. Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that when you’re writing about people who exist, either fictionally or in real life, you know what they look like. You don’t have to create them whole cloth; you have at least the physical. It’s a place to start. I like words, a lot. I like what they do to me and what I can make them do. I like the way they look on the page. I find it amazing a lot of the time, the power in it. I’ve always been able to write but there have been long periods when I didn’t, and then I got into this. And it’s like, of course. This is something I was meant to do. (Candle Beck)
Because I needed to know what had made them the men I saw onscreen, why did they react that way in a given circumstance? Where, why and when … I *had* to know their back-stories, and the shows weren’t always forthcoming, so the only way to find out was to think it through and write it – and sometimes it all clicked into place and it felt as if I’m taking dictation. That magic still happens, thank God! It’s the enigmatic, many-layered, dangerous men and the worlds they live in that intrigue me. Back then it was Spock, Dave Starsky, Ken Hutchinson, and BodieRay Doyle. These days it’s mostly Duncan MacLeod and Methos, and a few assorted characters from an obscure film or three and a little-known, long-dead TV series. One day it’ll be the conflicted Winchesters, father and brothers. Writing fanfic is my way of exploring these people. Writing fanfic is also the tool that has honed any skill I’ve gained. I can’t see me ever giving up it or the original fic. (Sidhe Woman)
I *love* to be inside their heads, inside their world. Writing is the best movie ever; completely 3D and engaging all the senses. I also love being part of the fannish community, in taking part in building our own shared reality. (CatalenaMara)
I’d say, I become highly invested in certain fictional characters, and I need to explore certain aspects of their lives or, more often, write for them the emotional relationships and resolutions I wish they could have. Generally, I write relationship stories with some sort of happy resolution. It’s a direct reflection of my love for the characters and my wish to see them happy. (Killa)
I wanted to write in the Supernatural universe because as we all know the show can’t show us those little missing scenes we all would love to see, those conversations that make the characters who they are, but may get lost in the ‘bigger plot story’ or myth arc. And what fan hasn’t craved a little more brotherly love. .
I’ve been asked before why I invest a lot of time for no pay, and I can tell you that I try to write every day again for practice and working on a Supernatural story is an excellent way to motivate myself and hold myself accountable, almost like a deadline. Then there is the whole therapeutic issue. Then there’s my favorite reason, someone else is moved by the words I put out there. They’ve had a crappy day, or they’ve lost someone they love, and something about what I’ve wrote, resonates with them. It makes them laugh, or cry, or maybe even pisses them off.
But wow, they felt something, and they might even think about it for a while, carry it around with them, bookmark it on their lap top. I don’t know, but that’s pretty darn cool to me. Better than a paycheck I would just spend on my ridiculous Christmas list. Of course, I can’t really eat or feed my child and four dogs on that glowy feeling, so it really helps to have a day job. A great day job that provides me with an endless supply of back story, interesting characters, and a little time here and there to share it all with Dean and Sam. (Ridley C. James)
I think that there are just people out there with the type of imagination that won’t just let the stories end… they always are curious about what happened before or what would happen after and they fill in the blanks. (nocturnal08)
Well, I’ve always enjoyed dissecting why people act the way they do. In fictional characters, we have more fodder than most for analysis because we’re often privy to thoughts and private moments that we wouldn’t see in real people. For me, my interest in a show is always dependent on the characters. If they’re unsympathetic to me, no matter how well-written or creative the plot is, I won’t get hooked. On the other hand, rich characters I empathize with will pull me in even if the premise is one I’m not normally interested in, like a “mini horror movie every week,” as SPN has been billed. That’s what makes me a fan. (K. Hanna Korossy)
But I read on ff (fan fiction) voraciously, trailed through profile after profile, and did what I think most people do – I kept saying either “I can write better than this” or “I wish I could write this well.” I loved the additional depth and detail fan fiction gave to the characters, and also just having more ‘show’ than actually aired. I began to imagine what it might be like to write a story, maybe getting reviews, then I got an idea, wrote the story, finished it – and posted. And discovered I could write. (PADavis)
I started writing fan fiction because, again, I’ve been doing it for other TV shows and I love to write stories. (black_wingedbird)
Backstory, filling in the gaps, explaining holes in continuity…lots of reasons. It doesn’t hurt when the character in question is good-looking. It’s more than that though, the characters I tend to focus on are usually protectors, with much anguish in their backgrounds. My stories tend to be case files or humor, and make things better for them, but the stories I love to read seem to bring that character to the edge of despair and then make things better. I can’t do that though, so I just read them. I think that it’s a lot like series books or soap operas…I just want more. (khek)
For me it has less to do with writing about a character because it compels me, and more about really wanting to see two dudes kiss in a story. I’m sorry that’s so shallow, but that’s really most of my motivation. Because in every fandom I’ve been involved in, I’ve been slashing two men that aren’t actually together. My friend Miss Kitty put it best when she said “It’s about the joy! These are two idiot men who don’t know how happy they would be together until you SHOW THEM.” (It’s quoted on our website!) I’ve tried to examine the psychology of what makes me like two men kissing, and the best I can come up with is that men scare me, and when they’re in love with each other, they’re non-threatening.
Also, I really do like writing. I mean, there are parts of it that are not fun. Forcing something when it won’t come, having to send your baby off to be proofread and ripped to shreds, etc. But the creative process is often pretty enjoyable, and like I said, I don’t get a lot of ideas for original fiction, but I get about sixteen a day for fan fic. I certainly don’t write them all, just what drifts up to the surface and screams to be written, but they’re always percolating in my brain. So it’s nice to have a fandom, and friends in the fandom to plot stories with. (walkawayslowly)
The last reason I write fanfic is probably the most relevant reason for me right now. I write it because it’s fun. Pure and simple: fun. I love the characters. I love exploring different situations with them, and sending them off on adventures that I can read over and over again. I love sharing those stories with my friends, and discussing where those stories worked or failed. It’s social for me. It’s a learning tool. It’s a way to have exactly the stories I want to read about the characters I love on a show that may or may not be otherwise doing what I want it to do. And above all, it’s freakin fun. (Dodger Winslow)
Fan fiction is in some ways more like medieval writing, where an author could rely on their audience to command a whole range of knowledge about Classical and Biblical texts, stories and quotations, and thus could create a great deal of connotative meaning with a carefully-chosen phrase. Fan fiction allows me to reimagine events and character in the knowledge that my audience will be comparing them with the originals, to invest apparently throw-away remarks with complex meaning, and to write a story in a tight third-person limited perspective while still ensuring that the audience has more information and understands the situation better than the characters. In short, I write fan fiction for a variety of reasons, ranging from inspiration to enjoyment of the tools and opportunities it offers. But the main reason I write is, as always, because it’s fun. (Króki-Refur)
After getting answers back from this question, I realized that there were as many potential reasons for writing fan fiction as there are stars in the night sky. Here’s some answers that seemed to come up a lot: it’s good practice, it’s therapeutic, it’s fun, it’s a way to give back to the community, you can write whatever you want, and the list goes on.
My favorite answer came from walkawayslowly when she said: For me it has less to do with writing about a character because it compels me, and more about really wanting to see two dudes kiss in a story.
I love this answer most of all, because it was straight from the hip, telling it like it is, unafraid, because, yes, sometimes it simply is about wanting to see two dudes kiss in a story. (Typically you’ll find two dudes kissing in slash fan fiction, stories where two male characters have a romantic and/or sexual relationship not otherwise indicated in the canon source material.)
I think that the slash aspect of it might be what holds me back from shouting about fan fiction from the rooftops. In my regular life, I usually have to know a person a few years before I even begin to bring up the subject to them. Usually, the reaction is muted, and it takes me a while to realize they’re okay with it.
And even in fandom, slash is a provocative subject. There are many subgenres of fan fiction, gen, het, h/c, death, etc. The boundaries between any and all of these become items for debate, but slash is the one that seems to push the most buttons, enough so that it requires a warning if a story contains it. (And frankly, fandom seems sensitive enough that if you warn incorrectly for any subgenre, you get scolded.)
Fan fiction allows us to push boundaries of our own writing, and I think slash fan fiction pushes it very, very far. At least it does for me; outside of being at a fannish convention, I almost can’t bring myself to talk about it, thusly, I admire walkawayslowly every single day for her forthright honesty.
Earlier, Candle Beck talked about the tolerance in fan fiction for experimentation, in that because you’re writing about characters fans are already are invested in, you pretty much do whatever you want with them. You can write about them turning into the opposite gender, growing wings, or having their soul become melded with an inanimate object, like a car. You can write the story so that the time line goes backwards, you can jump back and forth between the past and the present. You can write in first person present tense, second person past tense, third person any tense, anything you want. Heck, you can even kill off a beloved character, provided you warn for such an event.
Warnings on stories serve as filters so that readers can not only stay away from stories that contain elements that they don’t like, but at the same time they can find stories that have everything they do like. These kinds of filters are different than the filters that exist in the standard publishing world, where three guys in ill-fitted suits in New York somewhere like to believe that their opinion is the only one you should listen to, because in fandom, anything goes. And I don’t mean almost anything goes, I mean anything goes. If you do it well, it doesn’t matter what you do, people will read you. And there’s a power in that, a power in your command to, within the framework of the fandom, write whatever you please.
What keeps this from being overwhelming is like Candle Beck stated, that TV shows offer a basic premise from which to start. If the whole world was your oyster, and you have unlimited character possibilities and unlimited plotlines, it’s mind boggling and overwhelming, and perhaps why some would-be writers never start. But with fan fiction, your choices are limited, and thus, you are able to begin.
On the heels of that, Króki-Refur describes the similarity between fan fiction and medieval writing, which was an interesting way to put it. If you know that your readers will “get it” because of a known and shared reference in canon, or a line or a look that has context behind it, then you don’t have to over-explain or anguish about those details. But you can’t assume that it’s easier to use the shortcuts, because if you use the wrong shortcuts, you fall on your face. Every fan fiction writer I’ve ever encountered has anguished over her work because of the passionate desire to get it right.
Ridley C. James mentioned an intangible benefit from writing fan fiction, and that is the ability to affect others through your writing. If you get strong reactions from readers, it’s like Christmas. Or if your Christmases tend to be of the crappy variety, it’s better than Christmas.
Still, fan fiction writers don’t, as a rule, get into fan fiction because we think, oh, I’m going to make someone cry, or laugh, or cringe, or shudder with pleasure. But the fact of the matter is, once you’ve gotten a comment where a reader says you’ve done that? It’s like a potent and addictive drug.
I’m not alone in thinking this. I’ve heard many fans refer to fan fiction activities by referencing terms from the drug world. We often refer to each other as “enablers” (writers or artists) or “pimps” and “dealers” (purveyors of fannish creations via rec lists or communities) or “whores” and “addicts” (being addicted to whatever the enablers are putting out). Some stories are so fantastic we call them “crack.” Because when you are reading or writing something that you know is good, it’s rather like being high. And like adrenaline junkies want more, we want more. And then more. And then more.
One answer that came up a lot was the idea of exploring a character that you’d, essentially, fallen in love with. I don’t mean really falling in love with, anyone can tell you that these characters aren’t real, but if we could just get away from that idea for a second, and focus on how it feels good to feel good, because these characters make us feel good.
Additionally, Killa talked about being invested in a character to the point of wanting to see them happy. It’s not just writing to fix what a show got wrong, it’s more than that because fan fiction writers have a feeling of being engaged and involved in the character’s lives. For us, doing this, and being there, is like entering a garden full of delightful possibilities. Sometimes, real life, in comparison, has very little going for it.
And like K. Hanna Korossy said, interesting, complex characters make her a fan of a show, even if she typically wouldn’t watch it because the premise isn’t her cup of tea.
What makes the show cross over into an actual fandom love, however, is the relationships. If you have one great character, like MacGyver, I can enjoy the show for its plot and character. But when you have two great characters playing off each other, buddies and friends, then that’s a whole other level of fulfilling. Those are the show I dissect with friends and think about at night in bed and want to write about. Those are the shows that make me passionate.
Why? I think it’s because every person yearns for a real close relationship, a soul mate, someone who knows them and loves them anyway. A “buddy show” allows us to enjoy that vicariously. And it’s an added bonus when it’s a male-male friendship because those are more subtle in our society and, therefore, more satisfying when expressed.
It’s no coincidence that the shows that inspire the most fan fiction are the ones that have a close set of friends: Starsky & Hutch, Star Trek, X-Files, Supernatural. Nor is it a coincidence that many of these pieces focus on relationship rather than plot, and that they are often “hurt/comfort” stories: stories in which one character gets hurt and the other provides comfort, a situation in which its permissible even more manly guys to show concern and fondness. It makes us believe in friendship just as romances make us believe in true love.
Supernatural is a natural fandom show. It features two brothers (long history together; natural love) bound by tragedy (baggage that leads to angst and comfort) in a dangerous job (regular peril leading to care and comfort) on the road and under the radar (minimum of outside characters to interfere with the relationship; unusually great need to depend on each other). The show also features good writing that’s led to all sorts of neat ideas and tangents and hints to explore, and great acting that really makes you feel with and care for the characters. Every episode leaves me with much to think about and a great desire to pour some of those thoughts and feelings out onto the page. (K. Hanna Korossy)
- The Fan Whisperer Part 1 – It’s So Very Personal
- The Fan Whisperer Part 2 – Becoming a Fan Fiction Writer: Dealing in Emo
Sylvia Bond is a ten-year technical writing veteran with too many degrees under her belt to count. She lives in Colorado, but does not ski, preferring instead to spend her money and time at the annual Great American Beer Festival, taking road trips across the United States, and reading historical fiction from the comfort of her fluffy green arm chair. She has been involved in fandom since 1993 and been writing fanfic since approximately 1993. What she finds most amazing about fandom (besides the open heartedness of fans and the sheer amount of creativity) is how visible fandom has become. “In my day,” she says, “we had to hide behind P.O. boxes to get fanfic. But nowadays, people wear t-shirts that shout their affiliation and share their shiny toys on the internet.” It’s a wonderful world.