There is one term which appears to incense people who regard themselves as ‘real’ writers. I am referring of course to the infamous fan fiction. There are those who see it as puerile and nothing short of plundering the ideas of others whilst some regard it as a compliment of the highest degree. I’m not honestly sure how I would feel if someone took characters I thought of as my own and re-wrote them; hopefully I may find out some day but one thing I do know: If something affects me enough to put pen to paper (metaphorically of course) then it’s achieved its purpose. The only bad story is one which elicits no response at all.
I’ll come clean and admit I’ve written fan fiction for years, not under this name and never using characters from books, always television or film. For the most part it’s simply fun, a little self-indulgent at times but with no harm or disrespect intended. The groups I belong to wish only to extend the limited life awarded to our heroes so that we can lose ourselves in the make-believe for a little longer. On a slightly more serious level the exercise has lifted bad writer’s block on several occasions. The frustration of not being able to write can be helped enormously by actually completing something and the fact that your characters are already in place makes it on par with finishing a jigsaw or crossword puzzle. It clears the mind and frequently sparks off an original idea.
As with all things internet, the sheer quantity of fiction out there means that a lot of it will be diabolical and that’s not even referring to the APPALLING level of punctuation, grammar and basic spelling in some cases, but every now and then amongst the interminable lumps of coal, you will stumble across a diamond. I imagine it’s the same feeling most slush pile readers experience when a story leaps out and grabs them; just when you are reaching for the sick bucket/ brandy/ razor blades you find someone who does understand how to portray a character properly. They understand dynamic and plot and (far more importantly) in the case of humour understand that making a character shout rude words and behave like an imbecile is not the way to go.
Comedy is bloody difficult to write and I openly admit to envying those who can do it. They are few and far between and of course, laughter is subjective anyway. Even more difficult is romance. How do you avoid the cheesy soup of cliché whilst still managing to hook your reader into a sincere love story? That in itself throws up maybe the biggest bugbear even amongst the already shadowy group which is fan fiction: Slash/yaio. Same sex fiction makes up the majority of stories out there. I don’t know why because I don’t get it. Doesn’t mean that some of it isn’t good, doesn’t mean I have a problem with same sex stuff per se but when the original characters have very obviously been written as heterosexual then I guess it has more to do with the author than the story.
Anyway, the reason for this blog is because lately I’ve been going through one of those times when you just can’t seem to find a good book. I’ve tried really hard to find something which might keep my attention and it says a lot when I tell you that fan fiction has made up the bulk of my reading lately apart from A History of Ancient Britain by Neil Oliver at bedtime (and that’s only because it’s easier to hold lying down than a laptop!). Disappointment after disappointment has followed starting with A Round Heeled Woman by Jane Juska all the way through to The Exmoor Files by Liz Jones with a dismal diversion through Clive Barker, John Harding and Keith Donohue along the way. There was a brief burst of brightness when I stumbled upon Shel Silverstein’s the Giving Tree but at just over 600 words it didn’t last very long and made me cry into the bargain. I’ve actually forgotten several other volumes which rather validates my comment about no reaction being the worst reaction. So, back to fan fiction.
The really good writers on these sites are taking characters and adapting them, in fact with very little effort many of them could be sending the stuff out as original pieces, and before the clamour starts up let’s be honest here: There is no such thing as an original story any more. Everything out there is derivative in some way. In fact if there was any sense in the world of publishing someone out there would be licensing these amateur writers within the canon they are using and selling the stuff because the demand and the talent is there. Love it or loathe it fan fiction is a very real part of the modern literary world now and I for one look forward to the day when we can all creep out from under our rocks and say proudly: Yeah, I wrote that!