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Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Importance of Fanfiction

As you probably know by now, I am a writer. Not by trade or profession, but I write novels so, in my mind, I am a writer. But, I didn't start out writing original fiction. Let's face it, original fiction is hard. Writing, in general, is hard. My first story was about my friends and me. We were ten-year-old weather chasers chasing everything from tornadoes to floods. Some of the things we were experienced also included natural disasters like earthquakes and avalanches. I live in Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, and a place where avalanches will never occur. I know that now. But, as a kid, my imagination was limitless. Now, I am aware that sometimes imagination needs the constraints of reality. In reality, Toronto won't experience many of the things I put it through in that story; avalanches and volcanoes are simply things we only see on the news. However, events such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, though not all too common, do happen. Every year, the Toronto area experiences several tornadoes. Every hurricane season, there is a decent chance that we will get clipped by the tail end of a storm. (We were recently hit by Superstorm Sandy, which resulted in one fatality.) We also experience earthquakes every two to five years. Toronto is situated between three fault lines, and on a layer of bedrock and sediment. Because of the geological makeup of the ground Toronto sits on, if any of those fault lines move in the right places, we will experience a quake that's about a 3-4 on the Richter Scale. I know, 3-4 isn't really anything to snuff at, but they're big enough to rattle windows and make our buildings sway back and forth. I've been through a few in my lifetime to know what a 3.0 quake feels like in a third-storey apartment. But, natural disasters are not the focal point of this blog. Writing is.

The story in the above paragraph was my first serious story, and the first one I completed. It wasn't long after this that I turned my writing attention to fanfiction. At the time, I didn't realize that's what I was doing. I just thought, “I want to be a Power Ranger!” I wrote it, and it was so. And Lord, it was fun! I still write fanfiction to this day, and it's still ridiculously fun. In my years of writing – fanfiction and original fiction –, I've heard mixed reviews on fanfiction. I've heard it said that someone who writes fanfiction is not a real writer. Well, I disagree wholeheartedly with that statement. Some writers write only fanfiction, and that's awesome. Other writers use fanfiction merely as a stepping stone. That is just as awesome. And then there are those, like me, who do both. They have used fanfiction as both a stepping stone and as a means of writing. I use fanfiction to simply keep myself inspired, and to keep myself writing. As long as I am writing something, I am happy. But, fanfiction is more than just a means to write.


Fanfiction, regardless of what people think of the medium, is a great way to learn about character development and world building. Writing is hard. Writing believable, well-rounded characters is even harder. If you can write Tony Stark, Professor Xavier, or Dean Winchester just as they appear on screen, then you're awesome. If you can add layers to those characters, believable layers, that may not have shown up on screen, you're fantastic. If you can set an original story within the confines of Xavier's School and keep it as true to the setting as possible, you're golden. It's not as easy as one may think. There are rules that depict what you can do inside Xavier's Mansion, or the Enterprise, or Dean's 1967 Chevy Impala. Of course, those rules can be bent. Trust me; I bend them all the time! Now, you may have noticed that I said, “If you can set an original story within the confines of Xavier's School.” I can hear some people telling me that there is nothing original about fanfiction. Well, I beg to differ. Even though you are writing about the Winchesters or Wolverine, you are creating a scenario, a situation for them to be involved in. Perhaps it's something as simple as the moments after a particular episode, or film, but it is still going to be YOUR ORIGINAL IDEA. Or, maybe you're plucking Professor X and dropping him in the middle of the Australian Outback. Why? Why is he there? What has he done to deserve that? Who did it? How are you going to get him home? Is someone going to rescue him, or is he going to get out merely on his own devices? Most importantly, how is Professor X going to react to all of this? See what I mean? You might be writing about characters from a particular film or television, but they are merely your play pieces. The story is your own. In spite of this, you need to have these characters react in a realistic manner, a manner that is true and unique to them. All of this is important, and just as it's important to fanfiction, it's important to original fiction.


Now, you can also take fanfiction one step forward, and bend the rules even further. You can add an original character *GASP*! Those who know me know that one of my guilty pleasures is adding myself to a particular piece of fanfiction. I do it all the time. I get a thrill out of inserting myself into a world that I wouldn't otherwise be able to be a part of. It is also an amazingly fun challenge to make myself, and my interactions with the characters, real. I love figuring out what my reasons are for doing the things I need to do and what my reasons are for interacting with these characters in the first place. Writing original characters (even if they are, essentially, me) has helped me figure out just who my characters are in my original fiction.


I was talking to a friend, and fellow writer, about fanfiction and how important it is. She had been at a writing event and sat in on a panel with the writers of Degrassi. One of the audience members asked about script writing. One of the writers responded with something along the lines of, “You need to be able to write a Degrassi episode exactly the way it would appear on screen.” It was this response that spoke to her, and it is a very true response. To write something believable, you need to know your characters inside and out. I started with fanfiction for this very reason. I knew who the Power Rangers were, I knew their different personalities. I know the Winchesters (as far as about Season 7), and so I know how a typical conversation between Sam and Dean might go. I just like to have fun figuring out how a conversation between Sam and me, or Dean and me, might go. What would they find funny? What would they find annoying? What, if anything, would they simply tolerate? Would Dean let me drive the Impala? If so, why? If not, why?


I'm glad I've written fanfiction. I'm glad I still write it. Fanfiction has prepared me for my Trilogy and my other original fiction. It has helped me figure out what makes people tick, and has helped me come up with believable back stories for the characters I create.


Like I said before, writing is not easy. It is the most thrilling, beautiful, horrendously frustrating thing I've ever embarked on. It's like a garden; it needs patience, and constant tending and looking after if it is to become something beautiful. The same can be said for fanfiction. Some people only write fanfiction. Some people only write original fiction. Some people write both. Not everyone is at the same level. I've read a decent amount of fanfiction in my lifetime. I've read some amazing ones, and I've read ones that were in great need of improvement. However, I cannot trash an author just because he or she isn't at the same writing level I am. That's simply not fair. I've published some of my work on fanfiction.net, and I know just how scary that can be. That author who wrote that fanfic you felt wasn't up to par is one very brave soul for putting that story out there for all to see. That fanfic is their baby, their child. It is a piece of their life. It is a part of them. Every author puts a piece of themselves onto the page. Those words you're reading on your computer screen contain the author's sweat, tears, blood, mind, and soul. Maybe that story took up a week of their life, or maybe it took up six months of it. I have some that have taken up years of my life. Every story is special and unique to the authors who have written them. For that reason, a fanfiction writer is no less of a writer than Stephen King is. Speaking of, did you know that Stephen King started out writing fanfiction? He may never admit it, but he did. And if Stephen King can start out with fanfiction, so can you.


So, to all of my fellow original fiction writers: You are awesome. To all of my fellow fanfiction writers: You are awesome. To all of my fellow writers: YOU ARE FUCKING FANTASTIC!!! Keep doing what you're doing.