Posted on | February 15, 2014
I love fanfic writers.
Fanfic writers break the rules. Fanfic writers let their characters say “I don’t know.” A lot. Fanfic writers let the plot take forever to get to the point, there’s none of this wham “get the story moving in the first 100 words” bullshit. Characters have no relationship at all to their originals except a name and, if the writer is very good, a fairly accurate description.
Fanfic writers actually are saying things about the ambiguity of daily life, and the pace of it, and what they’re telling me is that a lot of the whole “modern sensibility” stuff about what editors and audiences want is a shared delusion. Fanfic writers want to tell stories, and they enjoy the clay of ordinary storytelling. Fanfic writers expose just how wrong the expectations and standards of mainstream publishing are by writing stories that are so “poorly written” yet so inexpressibly compelling they crowd out and overwhelm the supposedly “carefully edited” stuff that lines bookstore shelves and on-line epublisher outlets.
Alyssa Rosenberg, in her review of The Lego Movie, praises the film for stabbing at the heart of media homogenization. “Awesome” isn’t the only reaction we should have to a film, or a piece of music, or a book. Rosenberg also points to the story about how the hero’s discovery that he is not The One, he is not Neo or Katniss or Aang or whatever, allows those around him to be free to solve the problems on their own, no longer fearing they’re standing in the way of the messiah fulfilling his destiny: “When creativity is available to everyone, the things they create turn pleasure and joy into a kind of infinitely renewable resource.”
And thus it is with fanfic. Yes, a lot of fanfic writers are reaching for the brass ring of awesome. But many aren’t. They want us to feel something else. They want us to get into their own minds, where their stories are so much less about saving the world, and so much more about saving some small piece of themselves. Ordinary struggles with our own demons, in the vernacular of ordinary people.
More importantly, this tells me that my own fiction still has a place in the world. My stories are often about characters trying to figure out how to preserve themselves against an onslaught of new emotions, finding themselves in new and difficult situations. And often they’re “about” something in the real world, be it the ongoing struggle to find a working “coming out” narrative or the inevitable commodification of human affection as our machines get better at satisficing our sexual and emotional desires. Fanfic writers tell these stories. That’s what they’re living. And they live it, and write about it, better than Peter Watts did in Blindsight or Gary Shteyngart did in Super Sad True Love Story, both of which addressed similar issues but felt like retrofuturist fiction by the time I’d read them, missing the precious immediacy.
Charlie Stross is fond of reminding writers that a science fiction story is never about the future. It’s a well-told story about the present with (sometimes) imaginatively chosen furniture. Fanfic writers borrow furniture, and they borrow characters, and settings, and sometimes everything else. (Oftentimes not; the whole AU genre is about answering the question, “What if Rapunzel [insert your favorite character here] worked at Starbucks [insert your favorite setting here]?” and running away with it, creating new conflicts, new plots, new emotional value. Those are some of the best fanfic stories.) But fanfic writers live in the present better than anyone else, and that’s why I love them.