Friday, October 10, 2014

Getting My Fics

2:33 AM

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A friend asked me once what my favorite part of Harry Potter was. I’ve always been kind of scatterbrained, so I casually said, “that one where he and Draco are, like, secretly soulmates and try to reconcile that with their, like, hate of each other.” (I’m not joking; this is an actual thing I actually said.) Then I realized she meant something that happened in the actual, canon universe of Harry Potter. Not fanfiction. (Which I have never read and/or written in my entire life, excuse you!) Cue the backtracking, and the jokes about the angst in Half-Blood Prince ha ha ha, but I knew it was too late. She knew. She knew I was a fic reader. My life was ruined.

Melodrama aside, I was always afraid that someone I knew from school would find out that I spent a generous(ly reduced so I can save face here) 70% of my time reading fic. I felt like a junkie, in that I always need to get my fix (pun intended). I always felt that it was something to be ashamed of, though, like I should be reading real literature, real stories; not stories about characters from other stories. And god forbid anyone find out how much time I’d spent writing my own.

The thing is, back then I was reading all the Drarry, and the (don’t look at me) NaruSasu, and the whatever-else-I-could-get-my-hands-on. I was so transfixed by all these stories but I could never really appreciate them. This was back in grade school, way back when I thought it was a phase. I mean, I’d definitely grow out of wanting to read about Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter make out, right?

I’m in college now, though, and I think it’s safe to say that I spend a good 90% of my time reading fic online. The feeling that I should be reading “real literature” still comes up every now and then after a not-so-good 100K fic that ends in my notp getting together, but not as much as I did when I was, say, 11, on Internet Explorer, clearing my history after every chapter I’d finish on ff.net.

I’d have thought that I’d be even more ashamed of fic reading as I was back then. I mean, I’m a lit major. The common assumption is that I’d be trained to be a literary snob spouting Eliot at the top of my head, but tell you what: I can probably quote my favorite fics at you better than I can my favorite literary classics. A part of me is saying I should hand in my lit major membership card for admitting that, but it’s true.

I mean, the world of fic has so much to offer you. Have you ever wanted a rewrite of Tangled except with everyone as assassins? It exists. Have you ever loved a character to bits but just wished that one terrible arc be erased from existence and replaced with something completely different? Choose your poison. There are works with your favorite assassins as babysitters, works with your favorite characters re-worked to be (?) fairytale characters, works based off of single lines from your favorite pop songs. I fully believe that there is a fic for everything. (Trust me, I’ve seen some dark corners of the internet.)

As I floated in my sea of self-shame over the years, I’ve occasionally tried to cling onto some line of thought that would “justify” my enjoyment of fic. Along the way, I started to wonder: why all the shame? Why the need for justification at all?

There’s this idea that fic is this whole separate entity from “real literature.”  I mean, if you want to get technical about it, “literature” is defined as written work with “artistic merit.” That argument, though, comes back to the whole “art vs. Art” argument which goes around in circle. There’s no objective basis from which to distinguish the two (except the capitalized A). Within literature itself, there’s the whole battle between literary fiction and genre fiction where again, one is considered “superior” to the other. It all just comes back to elitism and outright snobbishness when it comes to art: a purely subjective debate.

Others would define “real literature” as actual published work, to which I have one rebuttal: Fifty Shades. (Though the work does have its eternal defenders. See? Subjectivity.)

Speaking of, said novel probably has a lot to do with the current perception of fanfiction held by the majority. By which I mean it’s probably half the reason most people hear fanfiction and think sex. (As if kinky literature that isn’t fanfiction doesn’t exist.)

Let’s be honest here, though: there’s subjectively good literature, and there’s subjectively bad literature. It doesn’t matter whether it’s literary fiction or genre fiction; there’s always going to be some group of works with sub-par writing, or messed up narratives, or works that are just downright unlikeable. The same goes for fanfiction. Yes, there are a lot of kinky fics out there. Yes, there’s a lot of (honestly) pathetic writing. (Yes, I have contributed to this.) But there are also a lot of gems out there. There are fics that have hit me harder than any novels I’ve read ever have. There are fics that have sent me into stupors that lasted days because my favorite character died, or my ship didn’t end up together. I’ve personally gotten so immersed in some fics that sometimes I forget that certain events never actually happened within the work’s canon universe.

There’s the idea that fanfiction is not “real literature” because it steals the universe and characters of other authors, to which I like to respond with a rousing game of “Which-Works-Are-Actually-Fanfiction?” Some of my favorites include:

  • “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys, fanfic of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jean Eyre.”
  • “Ulysses” by James Joyce, fanfic of Homer’s “The Odyssey.”
  • Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald,” crossover fic that places Sherlock Holmes in a Lovecraftian universe.
  • Jules Verne’s “An Antarctic Mystery,” fanfiction of Edgar Allan Poe’s work.
  • A solid 90% of the musicals you see. “Phantom of the Opera,” “Love Never Dies,” “RENT,” “My Fair Lady,” “West Side Story.” All fanfiction.
  • Jose Saramago’s “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” is pretty much fanfiction of the bible. Another good example is “Jesus Christ Superstar.” 
  • There’s a whole Wikipedia page for “literary adaptations” (read: fanfiction) of Pride and Prejudice.
  • “The Aeneid,” fanfic of “The Iliad.”

When it comes down to it, fanfiction is an interpretation of a universe used in previous work, and isn’t that what our Disney movies are? Adaptations are everywhere. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is fanfiction. BBC’s Sherlock is fanfiction. I’d say embrace it, but you kind of already have.

We’re people. We’re innovators. To innovate is to make changes in some pre-existing object or concept, and isn’t that what we do with fanfiction? Fanfiction is interpretation. Interpretation is a natural response to media. Creation is the next step, and isn’t art creation? If we were to completely stop interpreting and creating, art would cease to develop, would cease to exist.

So call it a phase, if you will. A phase for a writer transitioning to writing "real literature," a phase for a teenager that isn't satisfied with the way her favorite characters are being written, or a phase of an art form, finding its backlash before achieving acknowledgment for what it really is: art.


Article by Shea
Art by Mika
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Shea is a lit major whose talents (according to her friends) include drinking terrible coffee, knitting anatomically accurate genitalia, listening to angry rap music whilst standing on her head, and crying (sometimes all at once). She is similar to a cartoon character, in that her only wardrobe choices are either plaid or pink.


Mika likes to draw giraffes when her mind's wandering about. In school, at home, in the stars, in front of the computer; all giraffes. She has also confessed recently of being guilty of reading a few fanfiction of the fluff/angst variety, where she can assure you there are no giraffes at all.

2 comments:

  1. Exactly. No to genre shaming. Yes to fanfiction, and Drarry! <3

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  2. Hello, as an avid fanfic reader from various fandoms (KPOP OTPS, Anime OTPS and TV series OTPS) I would like to say that this is so accurate! I started reading fanfiction when I was 12 I think, then got into slash fanfiction when I was 15, I was so ashamed of telling to my friends what I am reading because the hype when I was in HS was wattpad, and when I'm holding my phone reading fanfiction *whispers lemon ff* and my friends asked me what I'm reading, I just shrug them off and pretended I'm reading something what's on their hook. Then college comes and I was very overwhelmed that I'm not alone in this world, that people actually read fanfictions! And I'm not a junkie, everyone has their one "guilty pleasure" I guess, for me, it's reading a fanfiction. Somehow I think that I should be reading a real novel like you also stated, but reading fanfiction gives me a lot of satisfaction and you can't deny there's a ton of publish worthy ffs that we want to be published, and if someone ask me what's my favorite novel so far, I would not say "Perks of being a wallflower" or any John Green books, I will be proud to say that my fave lit work is a fanfiction that still hunts me until now.

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