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January 16, 2004

fan fiction: why I like it

For most people, fan fiction has a simple definition: a story about a fictional character (Spock or Buffy or Scully or one of a thousand others) and/or setting (Moya or Eerie Indiana or The Matrix) written not by the original authors or screenwriters, but by a fan (or, to use a less loaded word, a viewer). Fan fiction is mostly, but not exclusively, about film and television storylines.

But there's a lot more to fan fiction than the obvious. It has to do with storytelling in the first line, yes, but far more important: fan fiction has to do with communities of storytellers. People who get together (symbolically, of course, and mostly on the internet) and starting with a character they all love, they spin tales. Then they write back and forth about those stories, exchanging ideas. Five hundred years ago people sat together around fires and told stories about the gods, about heroes they all knew and feared or loved, about Coyote, about ancestors. That was a kind of fan fiction, too.

It's a simple thing, really: the writer of fanfic (RobynBender, for example; see below) follows a character (John or Aeryn) off the screen and out of the script that was written so beautifully (by David Kemper or Rockne O'Bannon or Ben Browder or one of the other talented screenwriters). She then goes wherever the characters lead. She observes things they think about and do. She spends time contemplating John's background and motiviations and what he's feeling when he sees Aeryn grieving or injured, what it's like to love that particular woman. And then she tells that story. Robyn and others who take the time and effort to tell these stories do so because there's only so much Farscape on film, and the story is much bigger than can be contained in any hour-long episode. And also, you'll see if you delve into these stories, writers of fan fiction can go places where television screenwriters cannot.

This is probably the right place to point out that a goodly portion of fanfic tends to the explicity sexual. Such things are usually prominently flagged, though; there's a whole vocabulary, and dictionaries too. The Writers University explains everything you might want to know about slash fic or het fic or smut. Just don't read fic marked with those abbreviations, if it's not your thing. If you'd like more of an introduction to the fanfic phenomenon before jumping in, the BBC has a good introductory site here.

It's true, of course, that not all fan fiction is good. Not even most of it. Often times people bring more raw enthusiasm than finesse to their fan fiction. Fan fiction can collapse into parody or cliche or mindless repetition -- just as there are some pretty awful novels out there on the bookstore shelf, there is poor fan fiction on the web. You've got to look for the good stuff. So here is some fan fiction that I recommend highly. I'll start (how did you guess?) with Farscape, because for those of us who love it and who are still operating in the complete faith that it will in fact come back from this unwelcome and undeserved hiatus, fan fiction is a way to get through the waiting. If you haven't seen Farscape (yet), these stories might well convince you to do just that, but be warned: they will also give away a lot of the plot. They will certainly make you curious.

Robyn Bender
handskissRobyn writes stories that have to do with John Crichton and Aeryn Sun and their world, and she writes very, very well. The pieces I'm going to recommend here are of two types: The Work of Her Hands is, simply, a hard, unblinking look at grief. Any woman who has lost a well loved partner will see herself in this story. The second type of story Robyn writes is strictly, absolutely, adult-only. It has to do with longing and love and confusion and sex, and it's graphic. But it's also beautifully written, insightful, thoughtful, thought-provoking. I recommend it highly, but only for those over age eighteen and mature enough to handle it. Here they are:

The Work of Her Hands (R; stands alone)

The Talyn Suite (in three parts):
Where You Should Be (R)
The Space Between (NC-17)
Sauce (NC-17)

The Well-Known Act (NC-17; stands alone)

Silver

Silver has one story to his/her name that I can find, but I wish there were more. It's called "In One of These Dreams" and it's striking, sharp, and a little rough around the edges. If you happen to be Silver and you're reading this, would you please get in touch?

Ann Harrington

My favorite of Ann's fanfic is "24 Hour Pass", but she's got other great pieces to look at, too. Tightly written, suspenseful, great stuff.

And to prove that I do live in a universe that is wider than Farscape:

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

Roz Kaveney

Buffy fanfic is a galaxy where anybody who loves a good story can get lost. Try Roz's vignette of the First Slayer: "Bed of Bones"

Laura Shapiro

Laura's fic about Buffy's relationship with Willow and Tara (rated PG) is "Closed Circuit".

Jessica Walker

Robyn pointed me to this "Many Loves" fanfic -- which she refers to as the Definitive Spike site (warning: NC-17 in a b.i.g. way). The summary gives a pretty good sense of what you're in for:

A not-so-brief history of William the Bloody, including a hundred and twenty years, two girlfriends, three doomed obsessions, four continents, nine haircolors, four parties, three torture scenes, two blowjobs, twelve consecutive shots of whiskey, forty-three thousand eight hundred packs of cigarettes, and a car theft. RATING: NC-17 for violence, het and slash sex, and industrial-strength angst.

The Obscure Fandom Secret Santa Project has to be looked at to be believed. There are hundreds of pieces of fanfic over there, written as a part of this project. Have a look at this foot-noted wonder, "The Galactic Miscellany", from Hitchhiker's Guide fandom, by Rhianna.

Such goodliness out there, waiting to be read. Go to it.

January 16, 2004 06:48 AM

Comments

Thanks for the link to the BBC article - what a fascinating read. I have found, as a viewer, that fanfic can be something of a mixed blessing...when it's done well it can be absolutely brilliant, but I find the majority of it can put a taint on the canon that can be hard to shake off. The copius amount of slash fanfic websites that grew out of Buffy are one example - not because I have an objection to slash, but because I find very little in existing characterisations and canon plots to support particular pairings. The Hornblower fics are another point in case: the continual slashing of Archie and Hornblower amazes me, as their relationship is complex enough material for any writer without the need for sexual contact that neither character would seek.

Then again, that is *my* characterisation, and that is the beauty of fanfic, isn't it? That as writers, and readers, we are no longer bound by canon...

Posted by: Meredith at January 19, 2004 12:07 AM

I've been thinking about this issue a lot myself (the preponderance of slash in certain fandoms); thanks for the input.

Posted by: sara at January 19, 2004 03:35 AM