Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Introduction to Fan Fiction

In all this talk of shipping, I've kept mentioning Fan Fiction, also lovingly known as fanfic. It's possible that you may have no idea what fan fiction is.

Ms. Marvel, Issue #1
At its most basic definition fanfic is fiction (short stories, novels, and everything in between) written using characters and worlds from already existing fiction--so not original to the writer.

Mostly when people think of fan fiction, they think of unpublished, poorly written works. Some people might think of Fifty Shades of Gray, recalling that originally it was a popular piece of Twilight fan fiction. I myself have neither read Twilight nor Fifty Shades of Gray so I can not attest to how good either is, and therefore, will not be talking about them here.

Fan Fiction should not be synonymous with poorly written and bad. I know I've succumbed to this connotation at times, but its simply not true.

The best and saddest piece of epistle fiction I've ever read was fan fiction. If you know me well, you know I don't read a lot of romance novels, but I will admit, the one romance story I re-read the most is fan fiction. And of course, one of my favorite television shows is fan fiction.

That's right, my definition of fan fiction--fiction written about characters/worlds not owned by the writer--includes things like Sherlock and Elementary. (In fan fiction terms, Sherlock is a Modern AU--alternate universe--and Elementary is a Modern AU + fem!Watson.) My definition would also include things like Wicked, (heck, Wicked is two layers of fanfic deep, since the musical is basically a fan fiction of a fan fiction) and the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Look, if it's not canon--it's fan fiction. Plain and simple.

So why do people write fan fiction?

Out of love.

As much as I rant and rave against Moffat--and boy, do I rant and rave--the man LOVES Sherlock Holmes. He loves him. And Sherlock is nothing but a labor of love, an ode to one of his favorite characters of all time.

It's also written with a mentality of "What if." What if Sherlock Holmes lived in the modern era? How would that be different? How would it be the same? And Moffat does a lovely job of exploring that.

But point of fact, Moffat did not invent Sherlock Holmes. Nothing he writes is Sherlock Holmes canon. Nothing he writes changes or has any bearing on the original stories. It is not canon. It is fan fiction.

Beautiful fan fiction that he's getting paid for, but fan fiction nonetheless.

And it is no different in the works that fill the different fan fiction sites of the internet. People write Avengers fan fiction because they love the Avengers and they want to explore the questions, problems, and situations that the comics and movies either can't or won't.

"Can't?" you gasp. "What kind of problems can't they cover?"

A lot of times it's the mundane ones. A published story has certain expectations of plot and appealing to a massive audience associated with it. It doesn't have time to answer the question "How does Steve Rogers react to a microwave the first time he sees one?" There just isn't time to answer that question in a movie or a comic. But a fan fiction writer can write a 1,000 word amazing short story on the topic. (I actually don't have an example for this, BUT I AM SURE it exists. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've read one, I just can't find it. I'm sorry.)

Loki: Agent of Asgard, Issue #1
But sometimes it's not the mundane problems. Sometimes it's questions of "what if" that leads to Alternative Universes--like Sherlock. What if Sherlock Holmes lived in the modern era? What if Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were dating? What if the Avengers were in high school? What if Loki had taken Coulson instead of Hawkeye in The Avengers? (Answer: Loki would have taken over the world quickly and efficiently. Seriously, read this fic. It's good.) What if Coulson wasn't dead? WAIT! THAT'S RIGHT! FANDOM WON THAT ONE. COULSON LIVES! And then you get these amazing, often well written stories that are just as plot and characterization heavy as any published novel.

So yes, I read fan fiction. Mostly Avengers fan fiction: full of shenanigans, crazy super villains, team building, and roombas. Yes, I said roombas. (Seriously, read the Toasterverse. I cannot express enough how awesome it is. Also I can never look at a roomba the same way again.)

If you have a fandom you love that you're curious to check out fan fiction for, I recommend Archive of Our Own. The stories are free, the writers are very good at tagging* their fiction appropriately, and the system is very searchable. Whatever you're looking for, you can find it. Also let me recommend--especially if you're new to fan fiction--a good way to figure out if something is good, is to look at the number of kudos. My usual rule of thumb is that if the kudos to hits ratio is around 10% than it's probably a good read. Anything better is of course better!

Fan Art of FanFic. It's a thing. By KeesdemonSource
Though if you are new to fanfic, and like the Avengers, I really am going to have to recommend you start with the Toasterverse. The first story is Some Things Shouldn't Be a Chore by scifigrl47, in which Steve makes a chore chart for the Avengers and Tony makes a roomba army. It's rated teen, it doesn't really have a romance (just some background relationships and a little bit of pining if you read it with the right frame of mind, but that could be ignored if you're not a fan of romance), and it has a sentient toaster. What more could you want?

*Tagging: On the one level I mean "rating" like G, PG-13, R, etc (though Archive of Our Own uses "Gen", "Teen", "Mature" and "Explicit"). On another level I mean the tags that let people know what the story is about. If something is tagged Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, you know that ship is in the story. If it's in addition tagged "Established Relationship," you know that they're already an item when the story starts. If it's tagged "Get Together" you know they're not together when the story starts but will be at the end. If it's tagged "pre-slash," you know they don't actually get together at all, there is just some pining and maybe hints at it. But it's not all relationship tags. Sometimes it's types of stories (fix-it), sometimes its warnings (if the story contains violence/rape/abuse, etc), and sometimes it's silly things like angst, cookies, or shenanigans. But the moral of the story is that reading the tags can give you a very good idea of what a story contains, and that the writers on Archive of Our Own are very good at tagging their fiction.

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