I’ll have to figure out how to get a subtitle field, because I would subtitle this entry “Another defense of fanfiction”. In my first post defending fanfic I addressed some of the common misconceptions and stereotypes about people who write fanfiction. But another defense came to my attention earlier today, and it is that aspect I wish to address now.
I checked my email this morning as usual, and found I had a message from someone on the BioWare Social Network. It was another person who’d entered the fanfiction writing contest, and she wrote to let me know of her own forays into fanfiction. I highly suggest clicking the link, because she shares her thoughts about her own fanfiction journey in a very eloquent manner. But what I realized as I read her work (which she’d written because of mine) was that we don’t just write fanfiction because we enjoy the subject matter. Fanfiction writing gives us an opportunity to create community while we craft our stories.
Fandom in general is its own community, and it’s a necessary aspect of my life and the lives of those who idendity as geeks or nerds. It’s our social outlet; it’s where we can meet and discuss our interests and hobbies without getting raised eyebrows in return. The internet has been wonderful for fandom, because it means we fans can find one another easily, and come together just as easily. I discovered this my senior year of college and it changed everything for me as a geek/nerd, fan, and eventually as a writer.
I fell in love with Lord of the Rings and all things Tolkien during the second semester of my senior year of college. My excitement knew few bounds; but one of those bounds was the fact that there were very few people around me in school with whom I could speak about this life-changing work. My usual social group hadn’t read it, and my friends just sort of smiled while I tried to explain it to them. I turned to the one place I thought I might find some outlet: the internet. I found message boards, AIM chatrooms, and websites all devoted to my new love. And most importantly, I found other fans with whom I could chat and discuss any and everything Tolkien.
This became monumentally important when I graduated in the spring of 2002 and came home. Suddenly I had no social outlet. If I went down the hall to ask someone to do a late-night CVS run… well, I’d have found my sleeping parents telling me that there was no 24-hour CVS nearby. I’d drifted from many of my high school friends, I hadn’t started a new job, and in short, found myself slightly alone. So I turned to our dial-up internet.
It’s images like this, of someone staring at the blue glow of the computer screen in the wee hours, that gives nerds the label of being antisocial loners. Like any stereotype, there are those examples that lend credibility to it. But in reality, I think a lot of fandom members, and particularly writers, are actually being incredibly social mentally and psychologically even though they are physically alone.
That year I went back to my old online haunts and felt far less lonely being able to chat with the people I’d come to know about the subject that brought us together. Time passed and I discovered Harry Potter. By then I’d started a new job and had some coworkers I was social with, and even some who knew about my obsessions, even if they didn’t share them. As I dove into the Potter books, I discovered fanfiction. At that time, late 2002/early 2003, the fifth Potter book was on the horizon, but wasn’t yet in sight. Fans all speculated on what would happen after the climactic ending of the fourth book, and took to writing their version of events. I was as curious as any of them, and joined the throng.
Now, fans need other fans. That’s fact. But fans who are writers don’t just need other fans, they need other writers. Writing appears as a solitary activity, but the fact is, it’s intensely communal. Feedback is a valuable and necessary aspect of the writing process. Without it, we can’t grow. As a result, writers build communities with other writers. They find people whose opinions they trust. The overall goal, ideally, is to improve, grow, and develop through the mutual giving and receiving of feedback.
Of course this is the ideal. It can go wrong, as in the case of flaming or trolling, but like anything, it’s a matter of accepting the bad with the good, and looking more specifically for the good. In her book Toxic Feedback, author Joni B. Cole explains that feedback needs to be balanced. Scathing criticism can destroy an author, while nothing but glowing praise strokes an ego, but doesn’t help improve the writing. As writers we want to look for that balance, and try to be a part of the balance ourselves. This becomes especially important in fandom and fanfiction writing, where most authors aren’t professionals and many aren’t even considering a career in writing. With the ease of internet publishing for fanfiction anyone can post, which also means anyone can comment. This can tear community apart, but thankfully that’s the minority. In general, it allows for a give and take of writing feedback that can end up building community between fans and writers.
The shared experiences of fandom bring people together, but writing about it keeps them together. I saw this most clearly throughout the duration of the Dragon Age fanfiction contest. I have a BSN account, but I don’t really use it. I dug it up when a friend told me about the contest, and did participate a little bit in the thread. Over the course of 70+ pages the conversation ranged from our writing processes, to languages, to curiosity about the contest, to our literary and writing influences. The thread opened in late December, and by mid to late January, members who rarely posted crawled out of the woodwork and jumped into the conversation. Other members expressed a desire to remain together and encourage each others’ writing endeavors. Our love of Dragon Age brought us together, but it was the community of writers that emerged that kept us together.
Perhaps my favorite example of how fanfiction fosters community is that of me and my best friend. Shooting back to that fall and winter of 2002, I remember reading a Harry Potter fic that popped up in the “just in” page on fanfiction.net. It was different from what I normally liked, but I read it anyway and enjoyed it. The author had her email and AIM name in her profile, so I shot her a message to say I liked it. She messaged me back, and we started talking. We discovered we had a great deal in common, and through frequent and extended conversations became friends. She read my fics for me before I posted them, and was always there to bounce ideas off of. I read her work and gave her feedback before she posted. Eventually we met in person; she came to visit me, then I went to visit her. And it continued. She was one of the first two people who ever saw new content for my MFA thesis, and was always there when I needed to vent about it. In 2009 I was a bridesmaid in her wedding; two months after that she and her husband came to my MFA graduation. We even share the same birthday. She’s my best friend, and if it hadn’t been for fanfiction and the community aspect it creates, I wouldn’t have her in my life.
Our motives for writing fanfiction may vary, and our writing styles will differ. But as fans we will always seek out the fandom, and as writers we crave a community in which to grow and develop. As we craft our fanfiction, we wind up creating a community held together by a mutual love of the fandom itself and our urge to write about it.