What’s fanfiction? Like it says on the tin, it’s fiction written by fans. And it can be about anything – TV shows, video games, anime, movies, wrestling, even the Bible.
In my early exploration of the Net when I was fourteen I read tons of it. To me it was nothing short of amazing that people could love a fictional work so much that they would write stories, poems and plays (sometimes whole novels more) about it, with absolutely no notion of profit or remuneration in mind. And some of it was good! Fantastic, in fact. You could do things that were next to impossible in published fiction – stream of consciousness mixed with character interludes with songs and other weirdness thrown in. There was stuff inspired by alternative rock, tributes to authors and characters, and crossovers galore.
I was hooked. I read late into the night. I read everything I could get my hands on. It was unlike anything I had ever encountered before. There was playing your favorite games and watching your favorite shows…and then there were people writing about your favorite games and favorite shows. Pretty amazing stuff.
Of course some of it was crap too. One of my favorite authors (Nora Jemison) put it better than I could have – “Fanfiction ranges from third-grade scrawl to epic masterpiece.” I trawled through a lot of muck to find some diamonds, but those that I found were usually worth it.
Looking back it was also like I was connected to the US again (at that point in time most fanfic authors were Americans) – that I had left but I had never really left. That world inside and beyond the screen was a lot more real and peaceful than anything in my so-called “real” life.
I felt a great kinship with these people. Finally, FINALLY I found people who seemed to understand, who had the same dreams and played the same games and thought the same way I did. I felt so proud and happy that I could talk to the older ones on an equal level and have them respect me as I respected them – so different from school in which I was forced to do the same things in the same stupid way every day and to bow and scrape to teachers that I didn’t think knew much at all just because of their age.
I learned interesting things. I was a young boy curious about everything around him and I emailed another of my favorite fanfic authors (in this case, Katrina Spencer) and asked what this yaoi thing was all about. She responded quite angrily and said that it had been around for some time (Star Trek slash I think is the earliest recorded instance) and why were people only getting upset about it NOW?
I asked again, saying that I wasn’t for or against it, that I was genuinely curious. She mellowed somewhat and explained things to me. That and reading her fanfiction was probably my introduction to what homosexual relationships and sexuality was like – through Dragonball Z and YuYuHakusho. There are worse instructional texts out there!
I also learned that asking honestly and without prejudice can open up a lot of doors, a lesson which has remained with me till this day. She also gave me some of the best writing advice I have ever received when I asked her how she managed to write so much while doing a degree and studying. She replied that if you really want to write, you’ll MAKE the time. She was right.
There were other authors and other stories – too many to remember or name them all. I think at one point I had read every Ranma ½ fanfic in existence. Try doing that nowadays.
Fanfiction was also quite instrumental in my sexual education. There was the exchange with the author that I mentioned above. But of course there were also “lemons” – the slang term for fanfiction that was explicitly sexual in nature. I tried my best (really I did!) to avoid succumbing to temptation but I ended up reading some eventually. Scratch that – I ended up reading a LOT of them.
By today’s standards the lemons of 1998 or so weren’t anything to get excited about. But to a fourteen year old with little to no previous sexual education (except from what I learnt from fantasy novels) they fucking blew my mind. (no pun intended) I don’t really think my parents would have quite approved of their son learning about the birds and the bees from American college students writing about Japanese cartoon characters fucking, but that was what happened.
Nowadays EVERYONE writes fanfiction at some point…I think? It’s become a lot more like cosplay, mainstream instead of fringe. There is even published fanfiction, but only for really popular Western works like Dr Who and Twilight. In fact I believe there is an entire sub-industry of writers who basically write Twilight fanfiction and earn a decent living doing so. How the world has changed.
I wrote my fair share of it as well, mainly for one series and one series alone, which has its own section below.
I continued to read and write fanfiction until maybe after my depressive period was over. Which would have been around when I was eighteen to nineteen I guess. I definitely stopped reading it at some point – there was just too much of it and there was no easy way (short of reading) to know what was good and what was trash. Besides which there was a lot more of life to live.
The barrier between fan, amateur and professional continues to break down, and I believe fanfiction has been and will continue to be a part of that. There are now organizations like An Archive of Our Own which seek to preserve the integrity and copyright of fan works.
Companies and industries recognize fan contributions in a variety of fields (music, cosplay, translation, software modding, reviews) in a way that was inconceivable in the past. We’ve come a long way from those days in which I read story after story at night, hoping they would drive away the demons haunting me.