Rants

On Fanfiction and Its Value

Before I begin, I would like to explain myself. I am a writer.

I won a poetry contest when I was 14. I published my first short story when I was 19. I graduated from university with a degree in Creative Writing. I edited a 600 page book about the Vietnam War. I submitted to the New York Quarterly so many times I eventually cranked out a poetry rant that was published in its 64th issue. I’ve been the acting editor of the oldest entertainment magazine in the US for about four years. Recently I stepped off the magazine to become chief editor of said publication’s first original comic book line.

I literally tell stories for a living. I Get Paid To Make Words.

This is not to brag or make myself seem awesome and important, but to give context to what I say, ward off criticisms that I am “just a blogger”, and make people aware that anyone who belittles me with bullshit derogatory terms like “crazy fangirl”, “horny teenager”, “insane Larry shipper”, or anything that involves the word “deluded” will receive a prompt and very personal punch to the nuts.

Now, on to the topic at hand: fanfiction. Or, as I prefer to call it, fiction.

I have several points to make, but that’s the first one. Nearly all fiction, at one point or another, has been fanfiction.

“Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.” –Natalie Goldberg

Fanfiction comes from obsession, from passion, from being so involved in someone’s life or narrative or story that you feel the need to fill in the gaps wherever you can. Love breeds creativity, after all. Fanfiction is love.

I have seen professionals discount or condemn fanfiction and it makes me sad, because if they took one look at their own catalogue, they would understand that passion for certain people and things is what gives rise to their words in the first place.

Fanfiction is invasive, people say. It’s disrespectful, dirty, and creepy.

Oh really? What about love poems?

“Hot blood begets hot thoughts, hot thoughts beget hot deeds, and hot deeds is love.” –William Shakespeare

Don’t tell me you didn’t have somebody in mind when you wrote that Petrarchian sonnet with solar explosions as a glaring metaphor for orgasms.

After all, classic authors are never shy about it. Dante’s INFERNO? Virgil fanfiction. PARADISE LOST? Bible fanfiction. Hell, any story featuring Jesus as a zombie, rockstar, or hippie pothead is fucking fanfiction, because Jesus himself is a pre-existing canon character from Christianity. (I can almost feel the orthdoxies yelling “OOC! OOC!” in protest.)

Every History play that Shakespeare ever wrote is technically fanfiction in that he took historical figures and imagined scernarios in which their lives could create compelling narratives.

I’ve even made a case for why superhero comics are sanctioned fanfiction.

If I ever found a fic online of myself or one of my characters having creatively kinky sex with a werewolf, do you know what I would do?

Fucking throw a party because somebody actually gave enough of a shit about me to extend my work beyond the printed page.

Of course, it is not all a Shakespearean masterpiece. Fanfiction is where young writers tend to exercise their chops, working with established worlds to concentrate on prose, giving others an entrance they might not otherwise have with familiarity in personality.

And there are tropes. Oh, the tropes. Some good (discovering alternate sexual feelings! going back to right wrongs after years of misunderstanding!) and some frankly ridiculous (exploitation of minors! somehow being able to have five orgasms every twenty minutes!). Some situations are those most people might even find “offensive”.

But hey, anybody here read LOLITA?

Of course, you say. It’s beautifully written!

So is so much of fanfiction.

“If you watched a documentary about philosophers, what would you want to see in it?”
“Their sex lives.”
-Jacques Derrida, philosopher

Do you know why so much of fanfiction is gay, or male/male? Do you really? Because it’s not really about how same-sex relationships are fetishized, or even “hot”.

It’s because enough of us want to see our lovers charge into battle, side by side, as equals.

Nobody wants to be relegated to a background love interest. Nobody gives a shit about “the one he left behind”. Such marginalized characters have nothing to do with the principal story. What gay fanfiction does is reject romantic expectation in the most beautiful way possible: by suggesting that main characters, regardless of sexuality or political position, may just fall in love because they are complementary souls, not because an author or society designated them as predictable sex objects.

Much fanfiction gives young people a more pleasant and modern view of sex, where the two partners are on the same plane and it’s never quite clear what will happen. Will they fuck? Will blowjobs happen? Which part will go where, and for how long? It’s so much more fulfilling and surprising than a mainstream romance novel of the week that seems to idealize a strapping young lad pounding into a submissive woman in missionary position.

Yawn.

Using stories to explore sexual desire is absolutely natural. And for fanfiction authors, what better way to do that than to use their idols and favorite characters—the people who make them happiest in the world?

I mean, I enjoy mainstream porn, to some degree. Sometimes I even find it sexy. But it’s all the goddamn same, and often catered to straight white people with little imagination. Like romance novels, like supernatural thrillers, like so-called “literary” bullshit that doesn’t dare touch surrealism or sex with a ten-foot pole because it would de-legetimize its well-earned clout.

“and you ask, is this okay? is this okay?” –Nicole Blackman, “Brooklyn”

Fanfiction, on the other hand, is brave.

It gives people wings. It allows for male pregnancy. It covers years upon years of turmoil and still relishes a happy ending. It makes fairy people show up naked in fields; it takes science fiction stereotypes and reverses them; it sympathizes with everyone from mafia members to murderers to miffed teenagers. It makes mutants of pop stars, gods of B-list actors, ghosts of characters past. It may be tagged with too much information, but what you find inside is almost always a surprise.

Many writers could learn from fanfiction, because it lets anything be possible. The classic writers did, and so should you. It is not so far off as you think.

“You have to have somebody to write for. You can’t just open the window and make love to the world.” –Kurt Vonnegut

Focused creativity is the most valuable thing on the planet. This includes odes, elegies, and yes, fervently written fanfiction.

Trial metaphors aside (if I read one more Homerian epithet in place of a name—“the younger man”, “the older man”, “the green-eyed guitar player”—I will barf), who am I to discount a glorious sentence when it occurs (all too rarely)?

There are problems, of course, in fandom. Narrative ones. (I’m an editor, and it shows.) Miscommunication is not a plot device. Acts of sex between two consenting individuals are often awkward, and rarely perfect (especially the first time). Your characters should probably have a concrete reason for saying the exact opposite of what they mean.

And yet, the landscape!

“Roy runs and Nathan follows, into the waist-high weeds behind the barn, into the flood of moonlight that pools within the pokeweed and broomstraw. Roy is laughing from deep inside his chest, and he runs ahead into the white, glowing world.” –Jim Grimsley, DREAM BOY

I wrote a novel over a decade ago that is being adapted into a comic book. Said novel was inspired almost wholly by several bygone rock bands. I thought of their very selves while writing the scenes, even if the names and settings were altered, because it’s what I needed for motivation.

That is fanfiction.

I knew someone once who made me wish I were fictional, and when I wrote about it, imagined what would happen if I’d asked him the truth. The story rang true enough to be published.

That is fanfiction.

It is inspiration beyond name.

“A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all. Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else undertands? Because it is up to you.” –Annie Dillard

Write, lovelies. Hone your craft on Hogwarts, if you must. Create your own wish fulfillment whenever mainstream media ignores you.

You are powerful. You tell stories. And when all the media bullshit is over, the stories are the only things that will matter.

The stories will survive.

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