“My Immortal” fanfic art by Deviantart’s ChazieBaka
by Alison Lang
There was a time when fan fiction – aka, the act of writing original stories using characters and worlds previously created by someone else – was one of the nerdiest pursuits one could ever possibly engage in. Confession time: I covertly wrote Buffy fanfiction through a large portion of high school, and one day made the mistake of mentioning to a fellow fan that I had recently penned a story about Giles turning into a werewolf and tearing apart the Sunnydale High library. Her expression of stunned derision led to my early retirement in the world of fanfic, but I kept reading it secretly for a long time. Along the way, I encountered stories that made me bust out laughing, or cry, and I’ve definitely read my share of pieces that have made me cringe. I’ve also read some that have approached near-genius.
Therein lies the beauty of fanfic; it can enable shy nascent writers to push the bonds of creativity, narrative, character and story in a freer manner than if they were simply creating their own characters from scratch. It’s also an easy way to get into the habit of writing fiction on a frequent basis, receive feedback from various communities and (maybe) become a better writer. The anonymity of the process means you quite literally have nothing to lose. And in this day and age, with the advent of nerd culture, fanfic has suddenly become commercially viable: there’s the much-maligned example of 50 Shades of Grey, which started as a Twilight fanfic, and Amazon announced this past June that it was developing and selling Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl fanfic by amateur writers through a new Kindle program. Sneer all you want, guys, but fanfic is now a deal. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – and hey, we’ll show you how!
KNOW WHERE TO GO
Do your initial research by visiting the many fanfiction communities and forums online. Fanfiction.net is a good place to start. The site contains a massive listing of nearly every fandom out there, from good ol’ standbys like Harry Potter and Star Wars to crossovers between Phantom of the Opera and Happy Tree Friends (yes, this exists.) Archiveofyourown.org has a cleaner layout than fanfiction.net, also includes fan art and is easier to navigate if you know what you’re looking for. Fictionpress.com is another site for when you’ve written a few fanfics and feel like you have a hang on what you’re doing. The interface is not unlike other writer/community websites like Wattpad, and there’s a lively user presence that will provide helpful feedback. You can also explore Livejournal, Tumblr and various Yahoo! Groups to find specific fan/writer communities. And Slashfic.org is indispensable for slash writers (more about that later.)
WRITE WITHIN THE FANDOMS YOU KNOW
Much like any beginning fiction writer, it’s important to write what you know – and fortunately within the world of fan fiction, your options are boundless. Love the X-Men? Write an angsty Wolverine/Jean Grey/Cyclops vignette. Is Mad Men more your bag? Do a piece that explores a day in the life of Peggy Olson. A warning: Fanfiction readers are an obsessive and nit-picky bunch. If you write a Game of Thrones fanfic that confuses one of the series’ many characters and plotlines (or accidentally refers to Hodor as “Hovor”, as I saw in one example at fanfiction.net) you may receive a comment beatdown that will leave you fleeing the community, tail between your legs. Use spellcheck!
ONCE YOU GO SLASH…
If you see a story tagged with the word “slash,” it usually connotes a romantic and/or erotic pairing between two characters of the same sex (who are not usually same sex outside of the fandom.) Many participants in the fanfic communities have postulated that a sexy pairing between Captain Kirk and Spock was the first example of slash. Once a subgenre, slash has grown to include “femslash” (same-sex female stories) and “chanslash” (involving underage characters). It can get a little creepy, but mostly slash fiction is an ideal realm to explore real/imagined tensions between characters, provide important relationship exposition, and (of course) write some really fun and dirty stuff. A lot of slash is horrible and/or hilarious, and sometimes involves real-life people (like one story at fanfiction.net that pairs the Weasely twins from the Harry Potterverse with Lance Bass of, um, the N’SYNC-verse) but some of it is beautiful, surprising, heart-wrenching and yep, even sexy.
SOMETIMES BAD IS GOOD
By now, you’ve probably figured out that there’s a lot more bad fanfic out there than good. However, there are some stories that are so fearlessly bizarre, incoherent and weird that they’ve gained their own brand of notoriety. Case in point: “My Immortal.” Posted in 2006 by Tara Gilesbie, the story is almost unanimously considered the worst fanfic of all time, depicting an overwrought relationship in the Harry Potterverse between the cookie-cutter, faceless “Mary Sue” character Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and a goth, My Chemical Romance-loving Draco Malfoy.A sample:
Draco leaned in extra-close and I looked into his gothic red eyes (he was wearing color contacts) which revealed so much depressing sorrow and evilness and then suddenly I didn’t feel mad anymore.
And then… suddenly just as I Draco kissed me passionately. Draco climbed on top of me and we started to make out keenly against a tree. He took of my top and I took of his clothes. I even took of my bra. Then he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! ” I screamed. I was beginning to get an orgasm. We started to kiss everywhere and my pale body became all warm. And then….
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU MOTHERFUKERS!”
It goes on and on, with repeated interjections from the author (“U stop flaming my story, fukers ok?) horrific spelling, ludicrous dialogue and chapters that come to an abrupt halt. It’s wretchedly awful, but part of me is delighted at the idea that “Tara” was so unselfconscious about sharing the story burning within her. If it’s a joke – and many think it is – it’s one of the best-executed pieces of comedy I’ve ever seen. “My Immortal” has since inspired its own Toronto-based web series, comic renditions and fan art. This work is living proof that even the worst fanfiction can inspire joy and wonder in readers everywhere.
USE REAL PEOPLE (ESPECIALLY IF IT’S ROB FORD)
Sometimes, certain human beings are so inherently larger-than-life that they end up being perfect fodder for fictional scenarios. Little Brother Magazine launched a zine titled Everything is Fine in June featuring various fanfiction pieces written by Toronto authors about the city’s beleaguered, possibly crack-addled mayor Rob Ford. If you’re feeling your fanfic creative juices drying out, it may mean it’s time to start “borrowing” real people (celebrities, politicians, royalty, musicians, artists) and re-imagining portions of their lives and the histories that surround them. At this point, you’ve graduated from a writer of fanfic to a bona fide fiction writer with the confidence and ability to begin creating your own worlds. With fanfiction, the joy is in the challenge – bending worlds and characters to your will, and forcing yourself to get weirder, wilder and more fearless. You will surprise yourself, and you’ll be enriching your own creative process without even realizing it.