You know fanfiction. You’ve heard it in whispers from the grimier corners of the internet and you’ve heard that it’s poorly written, explicit sludge hatched together by greasy nerds and manic fangirls frothing at the mouth.
I humbly beg to differ.
Fanfiction is often shot down as being the uninspired work of slimy fangirls, but can we talk about the amazing fact that it even exists? No one is paid or asked to write it, it’s just created for the love of it as a tribute to the impact the original work had on its audience. Someone somewhere watches or reads something and it sticks in their brain and stirs into their imagination, switching on a light that was not there before and setting the creative process in motion.
It’s the ultimate compliment to the creator—one day, hopefully, I shall be published, and I’ll lie awake at night wondering of somewhere in the world my characters and story are rolling around in a reader’s mind, soon to come out again in a piece of creative expression.
There is much debate about it, but I think fanfic is great; it’s an opportunity to practice writing and express adoration for a series, and with characters and setting already in place, hone in on the skills required to create convincing characterisation and compelling plots.
Of course, the concept of fanfic can keep people up in the dead of night for other reasons. Naturally, if a set of characters and fictional universe have taken root in someone’s mind and are borrowed into a tribute work of their own, there comes a point where they realise: hey, this is a whole new universe I’m adopting these things I love so much into, a world of my own, where I am in control…
I CAN DO ANYTHING!
Fanfic exists so that imaginations ignited by the canon (official work) can explore the whatifs the creators left in their wake, speculations can be fleshed out into whole stories of their own and characters can be taken on new adventures into different times, different opportunities, different universes… and occasionally (cough) each other’s pants.
This is what people often associate fanfic with: the romance genre pocket of it (which, admittedly, is a bit more than a pocket). Those aforementioned frothing fangirls are at it, creating a myriad of scenarios to pair up characters regardless of gender, age, species, sexual preference, hero or villain status, relations and whether or not they have ever met. Anything goes because the newly inspired fan/author is now in control of a world of their own with their borrowed characters in place. It’s a godly power… and, typically of human beings, it is used primarily to make people get it on.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Many connoisseurs would argue that some pairing-based fanfic is better written than some things on the shelves of your local romance section. And some of it becomes the gaudy novels in your local romance section, to the delighted and pink-cheeked “ooh!”s from middle-aged ladies and a collective groan from the internet.
Yes, you know the horror of which I speak, and if you don’t, first of all I’d like to say congratulations for finding a quiet piece of utopia in society which I am now going to shatter for you. Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotica novel series by British writer E.L. James, about a waifish, wide-eyed and innocent heroine and her dark and deep romance with an intoxicatingly attractive and fabulously wealthy businessman. Their relationship is explored and developed over the course of the books as they have frequent, graphic and terribly written BDSM sex.
Now, if you have read and enjoyed the book, I apologise. Far be it from me, eloquent as I dare to be, to tell people not to read things that they like (especially things I myself have not read). Clearly the series is doing something right, as it’s overtaken Harry Potter as the fastest selling paperback in recent history. You can’t walk into a bookstore without being bombarded by a looming wall of silver and grey, the books engulfing you with their catchy name and pretty cover art. And they got there with little help from anyone in the paperback publishing world, self-published and publicised virtually only by word of mouth and social media. Truly an invention of the modern age.
This begs the question… this piece had a huge following when it was online, and so it was instantly recognised when it hit shelves—but it makes you think, how many other novels are fanfics in disguise, with their character and place names changed to avoid copyright infringement? They could be everywhere and we wouldn’t know.
I have not delved too deeply into the world of romance novels myself, be it original or fanmade, but I can safely tell you that the snippets I’ve read of Fifty Shades have left an expression on my face I’d usually associate with discovering a cockroach, in my shower, openly perving on me with his antennae waggling, and wearing a bright orange top hat. I am not going to quote it here, for my own cleanliness and sanity if nothing else, but let me leave you with the assurance that some of it is disturbingly ridiculous.
What is interesting here is not the horrible writing and wide and inappropriate use of a thesaurus on E.L. James’ part, but the fact that the series has blurred the lines between two mediums. It is, technically, officially published fanfiction, which is meant to be against the law. Otherwise, a lot more people would do it, and some of the talented writers in the fandom community would be significantly richer. But that was always meant to be the divide—fanfic stays on the internet with the fellow fans and peers, and the money is left to the creator who made the story universe up in the first place. Now that the Fifty Shades series is so popular and is carrying its origins around with it on its parade through the world of bestselling literature (sob), what does this mean for that holy divide? It will be very interesting to see.