This ongoing series will look at the various ways people get involved in fandom. First up – fanfiction.
When I first told my parents that I write fanfiction, they were not impressed.
“Why can’t you write something original?” They whined. “Then you could get it published.”
Actually, their first response was, “And that is?”
To which I explained, as I am to you, “Fanfiction is a particular genre of fiction written by fans of a TV show, book, movie, etc., using existing characters and situations to develop a new plot”. Admittedly, I explained it far less concisely than that, because this time I looked it up in the dictionary, because people who write dictionaries are far better at coming up with definitions than Little Old Me.
They also have far more time on their hands, but I digress.
The other thing my parents did was wonder how on earth I ‘got into’ writing fanfiction, like they were talking about some new designer drug.
To be honest, that seems to be a common response – “How did you end up doing that?”
I wondered myself for a while. And then I started training to be a teacher.
One of the ‘models’ we are expected to know and use in schools is the Three Stages of Story-Telling, devised by a guy named Pie Corbett (and I apologise for the slightly academic turn this article has taken).
The three stages are as follows:
Imitation is fairly straight forward – the theory is that children should build up a bank of traditional stories that they can recite from the top of their head – things like Little Red Riding Hood, for instance.
The idea is that they use the ‘conventions’ from these stories to eventually invent their own – starting with ‘Once upon a time …’ or having a basic structure of ‘problem-solution-resolution’.
But innovation …
Innovation is often the part that has the most time devoted to it in school, because it allows children to focus on certain parts of story-writing.
Returning to Little Red Riding Hood as an example, children can focus on:
Character – Create a character profile for Little Red Riding Hood/the Wolf/Granny
Setting – What if Little Red Riding Hood lived in the middle of the city? Would it still be a wolf she came across?
Plot – What if the woodcutter never arrived? How would Little Red Riding Hood escape?
These are all simple exercises to help children scaffold their writing, but let me change Little Red Riding Hood to Harry Potter.
Character – Create a character profile. What made Petunia Dursley treat Harry the way she did? What was Hagrid thinking when he saw Harry again?
Setting – What if Harry Potter was set in a non-magical high school?
Plot – What if Peter Pettigrew never faked his death?
Now you have the makings of a fanfic.
Another aspect of fanfiction – and fandom in general – that can be confusing is ‘When does canon become fanon’?
I would argue (and feel free to disagree with me) that all fanfiction is fanon. ‘Canon’ is created by the author or writer of the original media.
And even ‘canon’ fanfiction can become ‘fanon’ with one sentence in a later book, movie or episode.
For example, using Harry Potter once again, a fanfiction detailing the conversation Ginny and Harry had after their first kiss could be considered ‘canon’ – the kiss happened, the pairing happened, but, as of yet, JK Rowling has not disclosed the details of any conversation that may or may not have occurred.
In a slightly more cut-and-dry example, a fanfiction written after the fourth book was published, but before the fifth, could focus on a conversation between Harry and Hermione after she kissed his cheek at the train station (which many ‘Harmony’ shippers use as an argument for JK Rowling intending to put the two together and changing her mind – make of it what you will), and in which they admit to having feelings for one another. At the time, in that context, it could have been considered ‘canon’. She kissed his cheek, and a deal was made about it (maybe not a big deal, but a deal nonetheless).
However, once the next three books were released and Harry confided that Hermione was like a ‘sister’, what could have been canon was consigned firmly to fanon.
So the question becomes: Does it matter?
The whole point of fanfiction is to explore. You may come across some readers who want nothing more than canon-abiding fiction, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it.
Ask questions – fans are amazing at finding plot-holes, critiquing motivation – ‘What if’ is the most powerful question in a writer’s arsenal.
If you’re a reader, not a writer, be open-minded. Don’t cling to the original like a bible – enjoying fanfiction does not mean ‘betraying’ anything or anyone. If you find something you don’t like or enjoy, just click the back button – you’re in a library with no one bugging you to take the books out.
If you find something you do like, most sites will allow you to leave a comment as a ‘guest’ or anonymously, even if you don’t want to sign up as a member (which is usually free). Check out our earlier issue for Tips on Reviewing, but do try to comment – feedback is the only pay fanfic writers get for their work.
A word of warning: There are trolls out there.
I’ve seen some things, man.
In those cases, do not – DO NOT – respond.
No matter how tempting it is to think “Wow, that is a ridiculously bad summary, wonder how bad the story is”, it is not worth it.
Those things will burn your eyes out if you’re not careful, and those writers live for criticism.
Never sink to their level – most sites will have ‘report’ buttons. Just click it and move on.
And while we’re on the subject of warnings, fiction ratings is slightly different to movie ratings. Most sites use the standard K, T, M (M standing for Mature, T standing for Teen, K standing for … Kindergarten, I’m assuming), so do pay attention to them, because there’s nothing worse than a steamy sex scene cropping up when you’re least expecting it.
Aside from a steamy sex scene not cropping up when you are expecting it.
The most important thing to remember about fanfiction, however, is that it is supposed to be fun. It keeps the characters and the settings alive in our hearts.
There are thousands and thousands of stories out there, some good, some bad, some phenomenal, that you can access at any time and with no need to pay for them, and no irate librarian chasing you out because you’ve been sitting there all day and it’s closing time.
So go and explore, and experiment, and if you find yourself up against writers’ block, remember:
Close your eyes.
Picture your favourite scene (or least favourite, which sometimes works better).
And ask yourself – What if …?
Next issue, we’ll be looking at another form of expressing fandom, so don’t miss that!