It’s hard to believe that, only a couple of years ago, I swore off fan fiction.
No, it’s not because I’m a literary snob. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never read The Great Gatsby or The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a bit sad given that my day job is a bookseller. Fan fiction simply flew right over my head. The strange thing was, I was in fandoms, but the nagging sensation to obsessively read and even write fic never tugged inside of me.
I was simply a passive observer, smiling and commenting to the occasional fic, but ultimately taking more stock in canon, such as the Tenth Doctor’s heart eyes with Rose, or Sherlock’s melancholy violin playing.
And then Tumblr happened.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am a Tumblr addict. In fact, when I’m not watching Ghost Hunters on YouTube or occasionally updating my Facebook status, most of my online time is dedicated to simply refreshing my dashboard (much to my own chagrin). I’ve even tried giving it up, but the truth is, Tumblr is something of a vortex that sucks you in and never lets you go, particularly if you immerse yourself in the spiraling rabbit hole that is… the Glee fandom.
Like I said, I had read the occasional Doctor Who fic as well as a half dozen Sherlock stories, most of which left me destroyed, in tears, and crying for my mommy (mostly for the better). But then Glee happened. I had yet to experience a fandom quite like this before, which not only embraced fan fiction of every single type, time period, character, kink (trust me, you name it, it’s there), and pairing, but seemed to elevate said fan fiction above the actual series canon. Which, for Glee, who are we kidding, let’s face it, isn’t too hard to do. Because as much as I dig the show and embrace its characters, it’s got about as much continuity as a two year old’s attention span.
That’s where the land of make believe comes in. Much like the vast world of Harry Potter fan fiction, it’s hard to believe that so much can be cracked out of a show about a dozen or so high schoolers. But that’s where “alternate universe,” or AU, comes in. Don’t like canon? Rewrite it. Dreaming of Rachel and Quinn finally saying “I love you,” getting married, and having four kids? Piece of cake. Lasciviously waiting to read kinky fic prompts under the guise of anonymity? There’s a Livejournal community for that, too, with spectators and contributors spanning into the thousands. And this is one just particular fandom. Imagine the reach for fandoms such as Doctor Who, Sherlock, Supernatural, or hell, even My Little Pony or Tangled (yeah, I’ve read it). Yes, if it exists, there’s fan fiction.
The ratio of bad fic to good fic is getting better, too. For every crappy piece of drivel you can scrape up on fanfiction.net, there’s an actual fic that stands above the rest, taking on a life of its own beyond the original canon. Take Little Numbers by heartwolf, for example, an AU based around a very You’ve Got Mail-centric plot, with e-mails replaced by texts and Meg and Tom replaced by Kurt and Blaine from smalltown Ohio. Unlike canon, they were never high school sweethearts, but over a series of twenty chapters, fall head over heels in love with each other without ever meeting face-to-face. I know a number of people, not even in the Glee fandom, that have experienced this fic — yes, experienced it — and loved the hell out of it. And to its own credit, Little Numbers has gone on to spawn fan art, additional headcanon (yes, headcanon within an AU fic… it happens more than you think), and several fan videos, including this one, made by yours truly.
On the flip-side, there are more than enough examples of less-than-brilliant fan fics being elevated to a higher level. Have you heard of Master of the Universe, a little known AU Twilight verse? Probably not. But how about Fifty Shades of Grey? Yeah, that ought to ring a bell. E.L. James’ popular (and often laughable) erotic novel has gone on to sell over a million copies, making it one of the best selling paperbacks of all time, with talks of a movie adaptation already in the works. Was E.L. James expecting this sort of reception when she sat down at her computer and wrote a kinky Dom/sub power play fic with Edward and Bella? Probably not. But through the use of self-publishing, a viral rise to popularity, and the sex-craved minds of women across the world, Fifty Shades is a beast on its own, whether or not you identify it with its original roots.
I talked with Kelsey, a mutual Tumblr friend and frequent fan fic reader and writer within the Glee fandom, about the draw of fan fiction. Of the experience, she told me, “I read it almost every day now, it’s a nice way to escape the world for an hour or two and gain an accomplished feeling similar to when you finish a book.” She added, “In fandoms, there is an audience that already understands the characters, so writers don’t have to spend a ton of time on background. They can just write a few words and learn to develop their writing skill with something that’s just for fun and without a grade.”
For every Wall Street Journal or Entertainment Weekly editorial on the “decryption” of fan fiction and online “shippers” (which is a whole ‘nother topic for a whole ‘nother day), there’s a piece about a chick that vocariously reads, and even occasionally writes, fan fiction. And coming from my personal standpoint, it’s not weird or taboo or anything to be ashamed of. It just is, and with the force of social media networks and online resources such as Tumblr, Twitter, LiveJournal, online fic databases stretching into every fandom, Skype, AOL Instant Messenger, MSN, message boards, and even old fashioned e-mail, the force of it is only getting stronger. And, thankfully, better.
When you stop and think about it, most of the readily accessible pop culture pieces could be defined as fan fiction in their loosest terms, from Titanic to Star Trek XI to hell, even Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Real-Person Fic, or RPF, anyone?). Gone are the days of Spock and Captain Kirk slash written and passed around through the use of First Class Mail and loose fandom ‘zines.
If anything, fan fiction has been on the rise to become the biggest little online secret that no one actually talks about, a household name for a hobby still wildly viewed as taboo, strange, or just plain amateur. Yet, at the root of today’s popular culture, fan fic infiltrates into our nearly day-to-day lives even without us consciously knowing it, depending on how closely we keep a thumb over the pulse of the latest movies, television, and yes, even books.
Let’s face it, I could keep going for ages and ages, but one or two of my favorite, updated WIPs (that’s “work-in-progress,” common lingo for an unfinished fic) have been beckoning my call in the short time I’ve spent writing this piece. So I’ll catch you on the flip side.
Photo: Kurt and Blaine, a.k.a. the stars of literally millions of fan fiction across the web, from FOX’s Glee. FOX Flash/Adam Rose
- Now ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has its own fan fiction. Where does it end?! (popwatch.ew.com)
- Fan fiction returns to the mainstream with a vengeance (theverge.com)
- Fifty Shades prompts new interest in fan fiction (teleread.com