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22 August 2011 @ 01:11 am
Why fan fiction?  
As a deeply serious person, I was not surprised that a number of the RL friends who have stumbled over to this LJ have said to me: 'Fan fiction, Brammers? Really?'

I usually reply, 'Look, I tried cold fusion, but it was really hard!'

More seriously, I am still surprised that the question is asked. As many people have commented, no one asks why artists draw their own variations on famous artworks, or why singers cover other people's songs.

But I think that as well as the blindingly obvious reasons, there are a lot of more subtle ones, and that not all of us have the same motivations. These are the major sets that occurred to me, mostly from the perspective of writing, but also somewhat for readers (most of the writer ones also work for artists, but I did not have enough brain to be specific all the way through). I apologise in advance for missing something obvious, I am still getting over damned influenza. Despite me dividing these groups into sets, I think that most people belong to at least a couple, if not more.

1. It's all about le jeu
There is something enormously fun about playing with a text. The what-ifs, and the between-the-lines; the previouslys and the afters ... Say what you like about Derrida but he hit the nail on the head when he spoke about the way that any story could be enriched by playing about with it. For me, this is the reason why I only do Harry Potter fandom: JKR's worldbuilding is much bigger than her seven books, and so there is an enormous amount of world there that we know nothing about. Her texts invite interrogation, as I would have said back when I was more of a literary wanker than I currently am (oh yes, it could be worse!) and they reward that, too.

The whole idea of slashing characters is a perfect example of this. On the one hand it takes small textual notes and blows them up for investigation, on the other hand it takes the great children's novels of our age and reinvestigates them in the light of one of the great political debates of our age. Ladies and gentlemen of slash fandom, you are quiet revolutionaries.

AU writers do this more explicitly than most. By taking canon events and throwing them to the wind, they let us see the strengths of the canon in wholly fresh ways. In the best of these fics, we have canon characters in worlds utterly unlike the ones that we know, and yet highlighting the character notes that make us love them and showing how much we are made by our world and how much who we are makes it.

But strongly canonical fanfic writers are also engaged in postmodern play. By taking the text out of the hands of the author and into our own, we all step away from the traditional divide between writer and reader and instead say that these are characters for everyone to invest in, both imaginatively and receptively. Of course, we in HP fandom don't want our author dead. We like her a lot!

(Though one can't help being slightly envious of the people making a living off their Jane Austen fanfic. Paid for writing about Lizzie, Darcy and Zombies, genius! (Shame the execution wasn't quite up to the idea.))

2. I didn't want it to end
I often say that the first I knew of fanfic was back in 2007 when I heard about my friend Gillian writing it and was CRUEL and boggled at her. Then I read her stories and was instead impressed and encouraging. And smitten. The rest is a history of tragically missed deadlines.

However, this is not entirely true. Looking back, the REAL first I knew of fanfic (aside from a vague knowledge that people thought that Kirk and Spock should be an item) was when I was five and I saw The Red Shoes and at the end, when Moira Shearer is being cradled in the arms of her on-screen husband, I turned to my father and said, 'But she's not dead, is she?' with a little catch in my voice. (I was very into ballet and he had form for totally inappropriate entertainment choices by then. King Lear … I ask you.)

'No,' he replied promptly. 'She had her feet cut off by the train, but she's otherwise fine.'

I then spent weeks telling him stories of the beautiful footless ballerina who did wonderful fouettes on her crutches and who eventually had two artificial feet made that had springs in them, and how she and the composer had many children who divided their energies amongst dance, music, and prosthetics manufacturing.

Having spoken with many people about the stories that speak to them since then, this seems to be normal. Stories matter to us. Sometimes the end comes too soon. Continuing the story in a discussion is a staple of after-theatre conversation. Or for films – before sequelitis rendered it redundant, people would often wonder what happened next. It's natural that some would write about it, or dress up and play it – Star Wars came out when I was 10, and children wrote themselves into that story in games across the world (as did some adults). I remember because I bloody well hated Princess Leia (I was a short brunette with long hair, but if we were going to play Star Wars, I wanted to be Han Solo!) These days there are Leia cosplayers across the internet, bless their slavey breastplates, and no doubt a thousand stories telling just what she meant by that kiss for luck.

For people who are not ready to let go yet, fanfic is a perfect place to hold on for a bit longer to the story, and to see the original afresh through the eyes of others.

3. I want to know what happened
This is another one that I identify with and that I think is particularly pertinent to Potter fic. Sometimes, there is a lot more to a story than on a page. JKR gives us about 100 pages all-up about the First Wizarding War, and then about 40 pages about the Ministry itself (there's a lot more when you include action that occurs inside the Ministry). To which I say: 'You are a genius, but I want a whole lot more of the Marauders and the Politics!'

She, of course, needs only enough to make the rest of the story happen. Now I have no doubt that she has oodles of detail tucked away about the rest of her world and that one day so much will come out in Pottermore that I will never again need to write another word of fan fiction, but until that day, the only way to puzzle out what was happening in the periods and places outside the main text is to take the clues that exist within canon and then make like a Hercule Poirot and use our little grey cells to laboriously piece together a plausible story to make sense of the facts. And done well, this is what gives us the fanfics that resonate with readers (er, obviously most of those are not about politics. That's just me. And byblythe, My Glorious Leader For Whom I Am Grateful.)

4. I want to fix that
When I see a bad show or film, or read a bad book, my natural response is to feel tremendously sorry for everyone involved in that travesty. Nicer people pick out the best bits and then rewrite the rest around them to rescue the possibilities of a story from the clusterfuck that happened the first time around.

In my perfect world, these people are employed in Hollywood and Snakes On A Plane was every bit as good as the title suggested.

The fix-up writer can also be of the type that fixes problems that not everyone thinks are problems. For example, some people write H/D because they cannot stand the idea of Harry Potter marrying Ginny Weasley and they want to rescue him from such a fate. I can see how the lengthy Oedipal issues and singular lack of chemistry between the film actors could lead you in that direction. There is room in this broad church of fandom for all such thinking – as long as no one behaves like the Westboro Baptists. I am glad I missed the Ship Wars Of Whispered Legend, as they sound like a whole lot of crazy to no purpose. We're writing fanfic, kids, none of it is more 'real' than the rest of it.

I do suspect that the writer and (perhaps especially) the reader motivated by 'fixing' could be prone to a little over-investment at times. The two large outbreaks of HOW DARE SHE? that I have seen directed at writers in my time here came about when stories seemed to be possibly about to end with one pairing and then ended with another. In one case, I could sort of see the point if I squinted, because it had been listed as X before it became Y, in the other case I was stunned, because blind Freddy and his dog could see that it was Y all along, but in both cases there was genuine outrage in some camps. Most surprisingly, not one of the people complaining wrote fixup fic to fix the fic. NB that I am all for people having a winge about not liking an ending if they want to, it was the outrage directed at the writer that was boggling.

5. It's all about the community
Fandom is mostly a lovely place to hang out. Quite literally, I have met some of my dearest friends in fandom. One or two of them I might have come across in other ways, but never the others. It's a source of great joy to me to know them.

There is a sufficient diversity of people that you are very likely to find a small set at least with whom you rub along well, and if you are a keen organiser, you can make a significant difference to the community and see it improve as a result of your efforts (far faster than in the real world, most of the time).

For people who are shy, fandom doesn't place huge expectations on you to be forward, and for people who are forward, there are others who will always be happy for the company or for the entertainment.

Your life experiences are often in line with those of others, or else valuable for giving advice, comfort or support to others. There is a real sense of sharing and giving that is respected and well-regarded, and these are all very positive aspects of the community that make it a valuable place for us.

Occasionally people act like complete bananas, but that's true of everywhere. Usually they go back to being fine after the bananadom passes, which is not always the case in many other aspects of life. And if you have irreconcilable differences, you can always defriend them! So much easier than in RL!

The other good community aspect of fanfic is finding writers and artists who function together in a mutually supportive way. I am reading a story at the moment from a fest last year, which was written by one friend of mine and then beta-ed by two others (and some other people). I can see the pen of the author, but I can also see the other two helping her to shine in ways that might have been a bit less obvious had she worked without their influence (which is not strong enough to be a collaboration, while being beyond a simple edit). I know that thousands of miles separate the author and one of her betas, but thanks to the magic of fandom, they were able to come together and make something that is so far very beautiful (I feel sure it will be all the way to the end, but I like to hedge my bets!)

6. I need the practise
For me, this is a brilliant reason to write fanfic. Whether someone needs to learn how to write, to work on a particular element of story work, or else to just practise the discipline of sitting down and doing it, fic gives a supportive framework that lets anyone form the novice to the published writer slot in at a level he or she feels comfortable with.

This is one area where I think Fests are a really good idea, because most act like supportive workshops for writers -- indeed, many actually come along with comms that function as workshops. Novice writers can be paired up with betas who can hold their hand and help them to get the words down on paper, and then fest feedback tends to be overwhelmingly kind and encouraging, which is a good thing on the whole, as writing is like singing in public or declaring your love for someone – quite soul-baring for most!

The one area in which fanfic is not as helpful for writers as practise is in looking for serious criticism, because it's bloody hard to find. And sometimes the criticism you are given is not 'this is what is flawed with your story', but rather, 'this is what I wish you had written instead'. Luckily, the fanfic community also comes with a beta-ing community, and most people who beta are brilliant and adept at telling writers what could be better in ways that encourage them to be better rather than to sit under the shower crying for half an hour.

Alas, I am the unhelpful and inappropriate sort of beta, ask chantefable.

7. I need the praise
There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing a good solid bit of encouragement!

Praise is not common enough in the real world. We hear all about it when we cock up, but there is not enough 'YAY! Good work!' when we do some things well. One of the nicest things about fandom is the emphasis on comments and recs, which make it clear that your work is appreciated.

And it's not just writers and artists who are appreciated. People who make comms, produce podfics, make translations, run fests, who are generous with their praise or encouraging to others are all celebrated within fandom, which is something the real world could do with more of. In my industry, we have awards for the best editor, best art director, best headline, but not for the best cleaner, the best prepress person or the best editorial asssitant, despite those people all being essential to what we produce.

Some people in fandom do make more of a performance out of everything than others and can come across as praise-focussed, but seriously, we live in the age of Lady Gaga: is it any surprise that a layer of theatricality can be desirable to some in their connections with the internet at large? (Remember that you are being asked this by a woman who not-infrequently refers to herself in the third person, using a pseudonym.)

I do sometimes wish that some people in fandom stretched themselves more in their writing and art, but this is because I am greedy and when I see someone who I think is amazing sticking to fairly safe audience pleasers, I greedily want to see what they would produce if they tackled something tougher, because I am fairly sure they would be brilliant. But that's my problem, not theirs.

Unless they're sticking to safety for fear of failure rather than just because they enjoy it, in which case, failure is fun! You should see me play tennis, it's HILARIOUS! (Well, unless I am playing doubles, in which case it is frustrating for my partner, but they will have bullied me into it after being warned, so it's not my fault. I am good at sport, I am wretched at tennis. Ergo, tennis is a Dark Art and not a sport. QED.)

8. I really just want to read
Fandom is a great place for this set who just stick to reading. Things are free, there is a seemingly endless supply, and some of the works are of truly brilliant quality. Laughing!

Some of this set has surprisingly felt that they weren't 'doing enough' in the past. They were people who really loved to read and wanted to be involved at a higher level, so felt pushed to writing as a 'contribution'. Since Glompfest was invented, I have not read a single person say that this was why they were writing fic, while before it was a rare but definitely seen motivation.

I love the fact that Glompfest makes people feel appreciated without making them feel they have to produce things. At the same time, some of the people who complained that they felt they had to produce something ended up loving it and being brilliant at it. While I am never one to make people feel they have to do anything, I do think that if people have even an inkling of an urge, they should give it a go. And then post it somewhere like ffnet or deviant art where there is a bigger audience than on LJ so you won't be miserable if you have the bad luck to put it up on the one day when all your flist has the flu, finals, and work deadlines and so misses it.

9. I'm here for the porn (though what I am doing on this journal is a mystery)
My dear and brilliant friend calanthe_fics assured me this category of writers and artists exists and that there are many in fandom for whom panty-melting is a desirable quality and not a warning to stay well away from heaters while wearing nylon scanties. I replied that they were doubtless interested in pursuing the idea of character being revealed through sexuality and extremity that is so brilliantly explored in her work and that of others. She patted me on the head and asked me when I was going to confess to being a nun and making up Mr Brammers.

I have no idea what she means. Mr Brammers totally exists. treacle_tartlet has met him!

I know that these people exist, and that they are focussed on their fandoms beyond the abilities of mere mortals. But regardless of how much some of my flist loves Potter, I've seen the Twilight people, and this set has its spiritual home over there.

Being unable to focus on even my own essay for 10 whole points, I will just smile nicely at this set, and agree that it must be lovely to have a boyfriend who sparkles, and then back away, slowly, maintaining eye contact until I am at an appropriate point to …

… run!

Emmaemmacmf on August 21st, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
I do love you so.

I will never be a writer. This realisation would have crushed 12 year-old me, when I was huddled under the blankets, scribbling down Quantum Leap fan-fiction with lofty dreams of writing my own stories someday.

33 year-old me, however, is old enough and wise enough to realise that even though the desire is there, the ability isn't, and you know what, I'm fine with that. The technical side of writing isn't the issue - it's the creative.

Fan-fiction lets me write and dream within the safe and secure confines of a pre-established universe. I don't have to think up characters or a world - they're already there, just waiting for me to tinker with.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 22nd, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
I was going to be a prima ballerina, so I hear you :-) The trick is not to stop if you're not going to be the best, but to hold onto the love. The beauty of fandom is that there is so much love ;-)
leaf_lightleaf_light on August 21st, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
I've been quite disgustingly busy for a few weeks and so though I've skimmed your posts I have either been too tired or too time deficient to reply to them as I should, but today by happy chance I was lying resting when I saw this. And laughed, a lot, because your comments are always so accurate on the amusing human condition called life - and in this case fanfic. I think you have the groups covered to a tee.

I must at some point go back and comment properly on your very last part of Fathers, which still sends a happy glow when I remember some of the excellent lines in it. Genius I tell you.

So forgive me for my recent silence which must have looked like I dropped you the second Fathers was finally done. As it was it merely happened to coincide with the beginning of dramatic changes in my life (almost within minutes weirdly, though I know that was pure chance).
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 22nd, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
Oh silly billy, I'VE skimmed my posts! I know all about the busy, and I hope that the dramatic changes have all been of the good sort, or at least the sort that ends up good after a bit!
Dedicated Escape Artist: Escapejadzialove on August 21st, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)

Number 2 = coping mechanism. You poor thing. Though you came out of it quite well!

I think I'm 1, 2, 3, a little bit 4, a little bit 5, a little bit 6, definitely 8 and occasionally 9 *blushes*.

Seems like you wrangled your flu-boggled brain cells quite nicely!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 22nd, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
After King Lear, I was prepared!

And I am assured that most people like the porn -- clearly I used up all that part of my brain with the politics!
Potteresque Irepotteresque_ire on August 21st, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC)
Brammers, I ♥ you!!!!!! It's , intelligent, elegant and funny. Much like I think you are.

I think everyone should write a story of Why Fan Fiction, in their perspective.... to be collected for a comm so that everyone can read each others. Mine is ... quite simple, actually. I'm bored, I want to escape... if my mind vacation locale had some hot men frolicking in it, all the better! :)

Cold fusion is like fanfiction. Place a device on your table top. Fuss with it, at room temperature I assume although with the current climate of the world the term "room temperature" may demand further definition. Write down what you... think you see. Hopefully, it *is* very hot, with chemistry enough to solve the poor reaction rates between precursor H and precursor G. Then hide what you write from the mainstream folks, who'd wanked the hell out of the concept but don't believe it can be any good...

P.S. We need to play tennis together. I am bad at any sport, but anything that offers an opportunity to break something, I'll do the breaking with flying colours. If anyone laughs at us, I'll see who's laughing in the end when I smash his car window ....

Edited at 2011-08-21 04:57 pm (UTC)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on August 22nd, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
If be elegant you mean mostly stylish but wearing Gothic Fair Trade Converse Clones on my hooves, then YES, yes I am!

And it would be SO COOL to read everyone's take! Someone should run a meta fest :-)

Oh the poor cars ... I am the queen of wedging balls into the fence mesh. ALL about the power, not so much with the direction ... Let's do it!
Seshetasesheta_66 on August 21st, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC)
I think I started out reading because of 1, 2 & 3, and writing because of 6 (with a healthy dash of 1 & 2 for flavour). Now 5 overshadows the rest, but 6 is still a top runner. 1, 2 & 3 will always be a part of my experience, or I would have moved on from fandom.

And when I'm feeling really shitty about [writing, life, insert whatever] I will admit to 7. I'm shallow that way. I admit it. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.
Potteresque Irepotteresque_ire on August 21st, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
I want 7 too. Totally owning it :))))).
(no subject) - blamebrampton on August 22nd, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Fire Jugglerfire_juggler on August 21st, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC)
♥ Awesome post! Can I add a #11?

As a lesbian woman, a lot of the reason I love fandom is that queerness is under-represented in mainstream culture. Fandom is where I can take a world that I love, but see it turned around in such a way that my community is represented, even featured. I often wonder if other people who are part of under-represented groups feel the same way. Whether they use fandom to find that minority character lurking in the corner and bring them into the light, so that they can relate a little more readily to world they already adore.
bare_memabonwitch on August 22nd, 2011 05:31 am (UTC)
Yes to #11! When I first came out and wanted stories about queer characters, I was really upset by how many pieces were filled with depressing themes and endings. (Mental instability, suicide, murder, homelessness, losing the love of your life, etc.) Fanfiction has been a haven of gay characters doing all sorts of wonderful things for me. I love reading queer characters being the hero, the spy, the outsider who gets what he wants in the end, having adventures, being confused, falling in love. And though it has been awhile since I've thought about it, it is incredibly affirming to have all these people responding with overwhelming positivity to LGBT characters.
(no subject) - blamebrampton on August 22nd, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
secretsolitairesecretsolitaire on August 21st, 2011 07:47 pm (UTC)
What a great list! A lot of these are why I read as well. :-)
goddessrissgoddessriss on August 21st, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
Hello, you. I'm back (for a little while, having a week off from studying. Passed 2 exams! Final one next month!)

As is fairly obvious, I like to read. I was always the girl with her nose in a book and fandom has given me a home filled with like-minded and generous individuals who write and fill in the gaps in canon and give me new perspectives on almost everything and did I mention the almost never-ending supply of things to read? Yes, I am grateful for fandom, fanfic and friends.
rickey_arickey_a on August 21st, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC)
It's your manifesto! It needs a hot link on your sidebar and/or profile page:)
suttonwriter: albussuttonwriter on August 21st, 2011 08:42 pm (UTC)
Awesome essay
I like all of this, but especially number 6. Writers only get better if they write. Fanfiction helps with that, and the community is supportive overall, and the exceptions are clearly marked.

My few attempts at fanfic have been pretty wretched, so I'm more in this for #8 myself. There's such great stuff here, and I don't think it matters whether or not the subject is "serious." (read the quotes as sarcasm of a level that would impress and humble all of the Malfoys).

By the way, I apologize for not posting a reply about the finished Fathers. Things have been a bit crazy for me lately, and I've been waiting until I have a chance to re-read and properly savor the whole thing so I could say something semi-coherent.
rubyemerald_1 on August 21st, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
I have bookmarked this. You have so articulately phrased what has been mush in my head...since I don't write about it...So I thank you.
lyraslyras on August 21st, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
Great list! I've tried to articulate some of these to the boyfriend at various times; I'm tempted to just send him to read this post now. :)
embolinaozembolinaoz on August 21st, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC)

You are thoroughly marvelous - how easily you articulate the essence and meaning of the world of fanfiction.

For me the opportunity to play with stories that mean something to me is a welcome respite from the banality of adult life! I haven't yet found the way to create my own ff worlds, but writers like your wonderful self open up so many doors to magical new places and as a reader i cannot thank you enough.

Whenever you want to play Han Solo in my backyard I'll put my best Chewie voice on!!


Jaeenchanted_jae on August 21st, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC)
What a wonderfully evocative post!
mrsquizzical: potter memoriespenseivemrsquizzical on August 22nd, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)