As I edge more and more into the world of ‘legitimate’ writing, should we like to think of published writing in such a way, I’m continuing to learn new things with each class, meeting, workshop, and encounter I have in the Writer’s World. One awareness I have uncovered and an experience I cherish comes from my fanfiction writing. To write fanfiction is not writing a novel or any other sort of traditional writing. But not in the ways that are probably jumping into your head right now. Let me show you.
How do you write a novel? Or short story, or whatever format you like. Pantsers sit and just have at it, plotters plot and polish characters and their arcs into stories. Then you edit, submit, edit… Until you publish. There’s likely research involved, you subject close friends and fellow writers to some of your ideas and struggles. And while today’s authors hardly exist in a vacuum, the story is still largely all on you.
Fanfiction, almost exclusively on the whole, is serialized. And not in the sense of pieces published in magazines today or even a hundred or more years ago. The fanfiction writer writes a chapter and publishes, often times almost immediately. There are a few (yours dearly included) who need to pause and come back to edit it, send it off to be beta-read, but it usually goes straight to the internet before another word is written. Does this contribute to the perceived lower quality of the writing? Maybe. But I will tell you what it does do.
Think of the length of time, the distance, between an author and the reader in the publishing industry. Six months. A year? Your perfect parcel is packaged and handed to the reader. They in turn read it. If they love it or hate it, it doesn’t much matter to the story. It’s a one-way street at this point. The distance is large between reader and author.
With fanfiction, the reader and writer are practically walking side-by-side. You give them a few thousand words at a time, you watch them react; there is an open channel of dialogue. Ask after something you were trying to accomplish, tease them with an idea, ask for help even. To show examples, I have two case studies.
My current work-in-progress for fanfiction is titled “What Do You Believe In?”. One mechanism I wanted to play with for this story was having each chapter title in a foreign language. If possible, I wanted to avoid Google Translator. So what did I do? I asked my readers for help, of course. At this time, I’ve written and posted 28 chapters. I’ve never used English or repeated a language yet. All because of my readers.
The most amazing and beautiful example of the impact and details a closer reader/writer relationship can yield comes from my fanfiction “Love You Some Day”. A large section of this story has the heroine running away to live with her father and attend school in Paris. I’ve never been to Paris. Scratch that, what do I know about schools in Paris? Sure, I googled and wikied, but I was still left with questions. I can’t remember now if I asked at the end of a chapter, or if it was Twitter, or what other means it had conspired through, but one of my readers was French. And a teacher in Paris. Could it be‽ Not only did she answer my questions, she came to lend nuanced, fine details to the story that articles and Google Maps could have never given me. Which club might they go to for this music? A girl her age would carry this type of bag to school. Would this character go to college at this university or a different one? She taught me meanings that aren’t widely know, like if a boy gives you a scarf and you wear it, it means you are his. I, in return, beyond my endless thanks and gratitude, wrote her into the story. Her character even remarks on the scarf the heroine wears, which would never have been without her.
Since then, many other readers have had special cameos in the stories. It might seem silly or juvenile, but think what it means to them. Few fans ever get to meet the actors, artists, or writers they enjoy, and even fewer are ever included as an extra, out of frame or fuzzy in the background. But this? This we can do. And it makes the story mean even more to me as well. One of my oldest readers appears once in each of my three biggest stories. Talk about fan service. For me, or for them?
It’s an interesting filter to ponder. Our art is the sum of our experiences. Has there been bad things to come from this closeness? Of course. But the stories I’ve written are undoubtedly richer from the love and passion my readers have helped bring to them, through simple support, but also through their own knowledge and experience. It no longer becomes my journey, but ours. And I wouldn’t trade that for bestseller charts any day.