When people hear the word ‘Fanfiction’, one of two things usually happens. Either, they roll their eyes, shake their head, and suddenly get very angry on the behalf of content creators. Or, their eyes light up, they grin, and probably blush as they rush to ask what fandoms you’re a part of.
I am an avid fan of Fanfiction. I’ve been reading Fanfiction since I was a teen, in the early days of fanfiction.net (or ff.net as it was to be known). It was a wondrous time, with hours spent searching out the perfect stories that would expand upon settings, plot points, and characters I had come to love so much. Like many in my generation, my gateway fandom (per urban dictionary, the community that surrounds a particular movie/tv show/book etc.,) was Harry Potter. Specifically, stories where Hermione and Draco were romantic interests for one another.
Over the last 15 years or so, my interests and tastes have grown and changed, as they do. Over the years I read not only Harry Potter stories, but Pirates of the Caribbean stories, Pride and Prejudice stories, Pitch Black stories, as well as Moonlight (the ill-fated vampire crime show of 2008), Veronica Mars, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age stories.
There are so many stories that I still remember to this day. Swashbuckling tales following a young Jack Sparrow, sprawling narratives that explored Elizabeth and Darcy as husband and wife, stories that ventured to guess how Riddick would overcome the threat of the Necromongers. Fanfiction was a place for fans to let their imaginations play with the characters and settings they already loved. And it was an outlet for budding writers to learn their craft by mimicking the style and tone of the original author, or by tweaking the established elements into their own voices.
I dabbled with writing fanfic as a teen, and though I was courageous in sharing my early work, I never really committed to it. There are a slew of unfinished stories loitering on my ff.net profile, and so they shall remain, a testament to where I started and who I was when I was 15 and finding my legs. And though my writing was riddled with false starts, I never truly stopped reading.
Now, so many years and much more writing experience later, I’m not only a reader but an author on the much more navigable Archive of Our Own (or, AO3).
This leap, from quiet fan camouflaged in the anonymity of the internet, to active participant and creator was a daring one. I was terrified to share my first completed story, but I was proud of it too. Plus, there was a serious need in the community.
Mass Effect Andromeda had just released in March, and by mid-April most of us had finished the game and were desperate for more. There was a wealth of settings and characters that we couldn’t wait to explore further, and certain developments in the game were left dangling for future sequels.
But, fandom is rarely patient.
I scoured AO3 and ff.net for anything that would satisfy my craving for more time in the world of Andromeda. And while I found several that were to my liking, it still wasn’t enough. I found myself thinking up my own scenarios and before long I was writing them. And then I was sharing them. And then, the craziest thing happened.
People responded. Like, a lot. And the responses were overwhelmingly positive.
After years of writing fiction in a vacuum, where the only feedback was found in classroom workshops, reading comments on my fic felt like stepping out into the first rays of summer sun.
Not only did people like what I wrote, but they liked it enough to leave detailed comments and to reply when I responded to them. When I admitted short-comings, readers would offer to help me through them, and one such offer led me to Tumblr.
My whole internet life changed with the decision to create a Tumblr account. Not only did most of my readers/reviewers have Tumblrs of their own, but I was able to share links to my work that they would then share with their followers. My readers could ask me questions, tag me in games, and gift me with art and creations of their own. Suddenly, I went from the solitary writer, alone in her study, to a content creator people within the fandom recognized and enjoyed interacting with.
Now, this all happened on a relatively small scale. There are fanfic series that have thousands and thousands of hits, with hundreds of bookmarks. I am not that writer. My fandom is relatively small, but it is fierce and devoted, and frequently overlaps into other mutual fandoms.
This led me to branch out from Mass Effect Andromeda, and to experiment writing other characters in other worlds like Dragon Age and the original Mass Effect trilogy. When I reached over 5000 hits on my longest fic I hosted a giveaway, and wrote stories that really challenged me. Stories that involved other people’s original characters (OCs in fandom parlance) in situations and relationships that I wouldn’t have necessarily put them in.
By posting my fanfic and sharing it in an active community I was able to interact directly with my readers. I answered reader questions, took prompts for flash pieces (known as drabbles), and my personal favorite, I received fanart of my series. People who read my story liked it enough to draw scenes or moments from it and share them with me. Waking up to a notice that one of your followers has drawn something for you, completely unsolicited is probably one of the best feelings ever.
So, obviously, I tend to view fanfiction very positively. But, there are some negatives to being an active fanfic author.
For instance, it can be very time consuming. This last year I wrote 264,850 words of fanfiction. That includes every plotted installment of my large series, every random drabble that was prompted on Tumblr, and the occasional themed weeks of stories for various holidays and fandom celebrations. I still have another fic planned in my series and another Dragon Age story I want to write. The possibilities seem to be endless when it comes to fanfic, and I honestly think it’s because writing in an active community is so social.
Writing my own original content is a labor of love, devotion, and solitary obsession. It’s something I do alone, for myself alone, until such a time I think it’s good enough to share with someone else. My experience with fanfiction has been a very positive one, full of encouragement and mutual obsession. I’ve made friends online because of our shared interests. And that makes it hard to walk away and devote less time to fandom and more time to my own content.
What started out as a small, four chapter story turned into a giant series with more than five installments, including a short story collection. I was obsessed, and had the most output I’ve ever had in any writing capacity. But, I also didn’t get anything done on my own content hardly at all last year. It’s a difficult balance to maintain.
Another potential pitfall of fanfiction is getting pulled into fandom disputes. Fans are just that, fanatics. We feel very strongly about the various ships (short for relationships) and characters. We have opinions, lots of them, and they don’t always jive with everyone else’s. So, occasionally there’s drama within the community, and I’ve seen the fallout be quite harsh. Luckily I’ve avoided most of the conflicts, and have yet to be the source of anyone’s ire. Thank goodness.
To me, the benefits of my fanfic experience far outweigh the possible dilemmas. This past year taught me how to interact with a fanbase in a direct and genuine way, and to contribute quality content consistently. Now, as I continue my long series I’m also editing my first novel, teaching myself how to juggle the two projects and keep my output on a reliable schedule.
2017 was a very educational year, one I hope to expand on this year by continuing to interact with my fandom while pursuing my writing and editing goals. With lots of hard work, and even more luck, I hope I’ll be able to use my newfound skills interacting with readers of my own original work someday soon.