I have a secret.
I use to write fan fiction.
Oh, that’s not a sexy secret. It’s not in the caliber of say, I use to smuggle dope into Miami or I engaged in an illicit 9 1/2 Weeks style affair with Jennifer Lawrence. As far as secrets go, tis what I got.
Fanfic might be a sin for a writer but it’s also a forgivable sin. Forgivable, like caging the last Twinkie in the icebox at one am because you know that you’re evil mini-mes never respect your delicate blood sugar balance and will scarf that sucker the first chance they get.
I would also argue that I learned a great deal about real writing from engaging with the spoiled and entitled twits of fandom. Spoiled, because there’s always somebody who bitches cause they’re not getting exactly what they want from a show or movie. Entitled, because the world must care about their great suffering due to that fact. Twits, because if somebody demands that you read their Chewbacca/ Han Solo slash fic with a straight face, that’s just not being fair.
So here are some of my observations gained from a couple of years in the fic trenches. I’ve avoided some of the obvious things including horrid grammar and a poor grasp of Mechanics. When your brainy kid corrects what you write, you can’t afford to judge.
Many writers don’t understand how the human body works
There is suspension of disbelief, such as what you’d give a comic book when it screws with the laws of physic and what you often give horror films when people act in unrealistic ways in the face of grave danger. There is even the sort of suspension of disbelief that enables you to believe that Roy Schneider can hit a moving oxygen tank with a crappy rifle and blow the shark roaring like a rocket through the water straight to hell. If the people in charge have been doing their jobs, that sort of suspension of disbelief is completely attainable and welcome even.
Then there is batshit what the fuck disbelief! This is what you encounter in many fanfics. It makes you wonder why the hell people can’t seem to pull off a Google search on basic human anatomy, at least. And this failure is most apparent when they attempt to write about the fanfic author’s favorite subject: sex.
No offense to some, but not even Edward Cullen’s “smouldering gaze” can bring a woman to the brink of orgasm, nor can Bruce Wayne’s “rough, battle-scarred” touch (on the chick’s elbow). And those are the small examples of anatomical cluelessness. Characters in some stories engage in sexual positions that would throw a gymnast’s back out and put people my age in the emergency room.
Some would say that this sort of thing is to be expected when clueless 14 year olds write about the bow chica wow wow. I counter that sure such is to be expected but I also deeply suspect that many of the “clueless 14 year olds” are actually clueless 30-somethings. I give that an ick factor of about 25.
Many writers use established characters as proxies for themselves
Most people who participate in fanfic are aware of the Mary Sue character (Marty Stu, if a dude). This character is simply an idealized version of the author, overly idealized. The character is perfect, can do no wrong, and is wanted by everybody, including dark and brooding vigilantes who previously only wanted to stomp ass. For some odd reason, they all have some kind of major talent, usually singing—just don’t ask me why that is. Some how, Mary has started to crossover into mainstream fiction (Anastasia fucking Steele). Mary is everywhere.
Mary is something that tends to be mocked by the fic intelligentsia (people in glass houses, that sort of thing). I assure you that those types really do exist. Picture literary snobs who wish that Sherlock Holmes contained more hot male on male action and you’ve got a really good picture of them. In response to the Mary loathing, some writers simply borrow a character and dump all their bullshit into him or her.
Now, all characters can be reflections of an author, that’s sort of part of the game. What I mean is that a proxy character ceases to be a character that audiences have some familiarity with and becomes the writer.
I once was involved in a fandom in which a certain female character exhibited all kinds of hitherto unknown traits and dealt with all kinds of weirdness in stories precisely because that sort of thing was occurring. The writer couldn’t get her dream guy, didn’t get asked to prom, was stood up on a date and BLAMO …this female character’s life was just as miserable, even though there were no canonical factoids making that case. Add to that the fact that that the proxied character would soon get to kanoodle with whoever the female writer was crushing on at the time, and the true motivations were made perfectly clear.
Many writers cover inconsequential things with insane levels of detail.
I read a story once in which the writer spent paragraph after paragraph describing a character getting ready for a date. Seriously, if the actress who portrayed this character ever vanishes, his basement would be a good place to start looking. The actual climax of the story was dealt with in about three paragraphs. I soon discovered this was not an isolated incident and more widespread.
Actual writing becomes an exercise in self-editing especially when you’re attempting to revise something. It takes some experience, and some critical spanking, to understand that whatever doesn’t serve the plot has got to go. Maybe the reader doesn’t need 16 paragraphs dealing with a character’s outer or inner anything if the story moves like snails trying to breakdance. An author can learn this pretty easily yet the problem with much fanfic is that there is never really much of an emphasis to improve skills. A big part of that is because
The criticism of your peers can never be trusted
Most fanfic reviews offer little other than some variation on the statement “Great job! Hope you write more soon!”
I understand that not everybody has the skill needed to provided serious constructive criticism and nobody likes getting the crap tore out of something they have written. Most of us have been there and that sort of thing hurts. Yet, that sort of thing can help you improve as a writer. The main reason you don’t get that in fanfic is because everybody wants you to read their stuff.
What you have is essentially a social activity, an online popularity contest in which people hold back what they really think like this
The future of literacy is clearly in peril.
The Audience is way too obsessed with fictional people
Fans of anything can be a little intense. I have my own nagging interests. Catch me on the right day, I’ll bore you to death with them. The sort of fandom that correlates around fanfic are equally intense and they usually divide up amongst whoever their favorite characters are. And trust me, they pay special attention to how these characters are dealt with by writers.
I’ve seen frothing at the mouth rants dealing with everything from Superman being a virgin until marriage, Hermione being denied her rightful place in the grand scheme of things, how Aragorn wouldn’t really be interested in Arwen (cause what would the guy who actually wrote the damn thing know), to whether or not Fox Mulder was an abused child, and on and on.
I remember reading once that Conan Doyle’s mother asked him why he killed off that “nice Mr. Holmes,” coupled with the more recent outcries involving the Harry Potter books, and I never really understood how people could get so caught up in stuff that wasn’t real. Then I got lots of first hand experience with it amongst the fiçcers.
I know a nice lady who became known for writing stories of a certain type. She became bored with doing that and decided to try something different. You’d thought she had assaulted a character with a baseball bat by the time the screeching ended. And if you pointed out that maybe they were overreacting, they screeched at you!
When you become so entangled with a fictional character it might be best to unplug for awhile, go out, get some air. The real world can be crazy but its also more exciting. I promise.
Something else that can be crazy but more exciting is writing your own original work. Nothing much matches the feeling of starting your own story and completing it. You might not get instant gratification, and the rewards might be small, but it’s a lot more satisfying.
It beats the screeching.