The Stories We Tell

A few weeks ago I was privileged enough to attend a seminar about converting fanfiction to original fiction. I was very excited for the opportunity—as a prolific writer of both fanfiction and original fiction, I was eager to learn more about ways to utilize the many (nearly half a million) words of fanfiction I had written in new and creative ways.

I have spent many years of my life writing fanfiction, and for many reasons. I began when I was young, and the only path available to me to be a writer was through fanfiction. No one else would have me at the time, and with good reason—I was not yet very good at telling stories. I knew I wanted to tell them, but not how it was done. In school, my language arts classes had focused primarily on reading, or on the craft of essays. And I wanted to write fiction. So when I found fanfiction, it was a revelation. A way to write whatever I wanted to, publish it myself, and grow as a writer. It helped that fanfiction is based on familiar stories and characters, because this allowed me a way to practice craft and plot and style without getting caught up in all the other parts of storytelling. I didn’t fall down any research holes; I didn’t get distracted writing the biography of a character; I didn’t have to submit my writing to a publishing house and hope desperately that it would be accepted. I just wrote, and the act of writing brought me pleasure.

In the seminar I attended, the moderator spent a good amount of time explaining what fanfiction was, and why people wrote it. It soon became apparent that of those attending, writers like me (experienced in the world of fanfiction) were a minority, and the majority had never written fanfiction before. And if they had heard of it, all they knew was that it was Porn. 

I say Porn with a capital P because that was how they said it—as if it was something dirty and illicit, something to be ashamed of. 

I admit I have spent a good deal of my life ashamed of writing fanfiction. I was aware from a young age that fanfiction was considered to be second class, not “real” writing. There are many reasons for this. Fanfiction is based on another creator’s characters and worldbuilding, and so people assume that writing fanfiction lacks creativity, or that fanfiction writers are just lazy. Fanfiction is self-published, and while there are often brilliant works of fanfiction on the internet, there are also works that lack editing and skill. And yes, quite a lot of fanfiction is Porn. 

For years I hid my pastime from the world. I was personally interested in fanfiction as a way to write without barriers, as a thing of joy and revelation. But I was terrified that someone would find out that I read and wrote fanfiction, that they might think I was a “freak” for enjoying stories about characters I loved. For enjoying stories about sex. 

As I sat in this seminar and listened to people ask thinly veiled questions about fanfiction and its provenance, I began to realize that all those years of shame and anxiety were foolish. 

My writing—my fanfiction—is not second class writing. Sure, it may have lacked skill at first, but the world of fanfiction allowed me a venue through which to write and continue writing, and so my skill has improved. I may have based my fanfiction upon stories that others had created, but this meant that I studied those original stories and learned them inside out, so I could begin to build original stories of my own. 

And yes, I wrote Porn. Not exclusively, but a healthy dose of it! And from writing that Porn, I learned some wonderful things: how to write action with a balance of description and clarity; how to reveal a character’s feelings through subtle details; how to use bias and point of view to shift the narrative. I talked to other writers of fanfiction about the craft, and I learned that sex is a normal, physical thing. Desire is a part of life, and there are many shades to it—from asexual love without physicality, to the passion that can be found in a pure friendship, to wild sexual desire that takes all forms. I learned about consent, and power dynamics in relationships, and the tropes of both romance and suspense (because romance without a hint of tension tends to be boring, I have found). I learned how to subvert traditional narratives and upend convention. I learned that love is valid, and a worthwhile thing to desire in life. 

These were not topics discussed in school, or among my friends, or in my home. The media portrays love and desire in a very singular form, as if there is only one way that one person can possibly love another. Fanfiction, and the wonderful people I met through the world of fandom, taught me that love comes in many shapes and colors. It is more diverse and beautiful than we can imagine, and just because your love doesn’t look like the kind projected on the movie screen, does not mean it is invalid. 

All those years of anxiety were misguided. I had spent my time worrying about being judged by what I wrote, when I should not have worried at all. Fanfiction is not something to be ashamed of; it has been a blessing in my life. I am proud of all the stories that I have written and the ways in which I have improved as as writer. I love the friends I have made through the writing of fanfiction, and the diverse worlds I have been privileged to explore. Fanfiction shaped the way I view the world, and I know now that the greatest thing in the world is not what you achieve, but how you love.

Did I learn much from this seminar about “converting your fanfiction” into original stories? Not really. Nothing new. Just the things that I had known all along, and forgotten along the way:

That your story is valid, no matter how or where you choose to tell it. You just have to keep writing, and never let them tell you you aren’t enough.