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Hi, friends! When I saw the call for signups, I figured I didn’t have much reason to do one, largely because I write fanfic and I don’t think my work is very interesting outside of my fandom. But then, as I thought about it, I realized that what is interesting to me–and might be interesting to others–is highlighting, through my work, some of why I write fanfic. So that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
First things first, this is real long, and may or may not interest you. If it does not, that’s cool! Please consider the following optional discussion question and just head to the comments: how did you start working in your current medium, and what about it appeals to you?
Second, a little background. I’ve been reading and writing fanfiction for most of my life. My brother introduced me to Gargoyles fic in 1996 or so, when I was ten years old. I started writing my own a couple years later, for Babylon 5, but (blessedly) few of those actually made it to the internet, and none now survive. These days, I write a lot of fic about The 100, specifically Bellamy/Clarke fics, and those are the examples I’ll be using. I’m not particularly interested in selling anyone on fic–in my experience, if you want fic about a particular canon, you’ll find it on your own–but more in talking about why it appeals so much to me as a creative outlet.
So, what do I like about fanfic?
Fanfic as Supplement
This is basically where I started, back when I was ten. I liked the thing, I wanted more of the thing! I had seen all of the episodes there were to see, but I wasn’t tired of the characters. So my brother told me of a magical place on the internet where I could read so many more stories starring my favorite characters.
Supplemental fics tend to be canon-compliant for whenever they were written. This means that, over the course of my time in The 100 fandom, I’ve written a bunch of canon fics, but almost none of them are still valid with current canon. I think this porn I wrote before episode 506 hasn’t been directly invalidated? But it’s not like it’s going to happen anyway, so it’s only a matter of time.
These days, most of the supplemental fic I write is either episode tags (fics taking place directly after an episode) or future fic. I don’t consider anything I write particularly speculative; there are fan authors who write stories that cover what they think might happen in canon, but mine are generally straight-up wish fulfillment. My most popular canon fic starts with the note “This takes place after season three, but ignores the whole nuclear meltdown thing because, honestly, I just don’t care about it,” which is a pretty good summary of my feelings on not only that plot point, but canon supplemental fic on the whole. Yeah, I’m on the show’s playground, but I’m basically playing Calvinball. I take what I want and leave the rest behind.
Fanfic as Criticism
Speaking of my general not caring about certain plot points, I think a lot of people think that higher quality canons have bigger fandoms, and that’s often not true. I’m not saying that good things never have active fandoms, because some do, but the driving force of most large fandoms–or, rather, fandoms with a lot of fanfic, which isn’t all large fandoms–is lack, at least in my experience. For me, this lack is usually romantic; shipfic is what I write. There are two (or three, or however many) characters, and they are not making out, and I want them to be, so I have to make that content myself. This isn’t all that fic is, but I think the imperfections of the source material, the difference in what it focuses on versus what we want it to focus on is the beating heart of fandom, for better and worse.
(I’m not going to talk about worse here; we all know plenty of terrible things fandoms have done because they aren’t getting what they want. But I’ve found it’s much harder to discover the good parts of a fandom from outside because if you’re not already invested, why would you ever go looking?)
Criticism often isn’t my primary objective with fic, but it’s one of the very commonly used defenses of it. Fanfic is transformative work, and even if critique isn’t the author’s actual intent, it’s often implicit. That’s where the lack comes in; I love Brooklyn 99, but I’ve never felt like the show isn’t giving me what I want enough that I need to do it myself.
That being said, I don’t really want the things I write to become canon, which is part of why I think I don’t think of my fics as criticisms. Sometimes I use fic to explain away parts of canon that don’t make sense to me (I did this a lot in the third season), but I rarely sit down and write a fic that I think of as a direct callout.
But “rarely” doesn’t mean “never!” Sometimes, my rage must become manifest, and I have both a mature, thoughtful example of that and a, uh, weirdo example.
Until There’s a Word For It starts with another author’s note I stand by: “Do you spend a lot of time being salty about how the writers put no thought into sexuality worldbuilding? I sure do!” Which admittedly doesn’t sound much like the start of a mature, thoughtful story, but as a biromantic asexual, I get really annoyed with the way the creative team waves away the issue of sexuality in their future world by saying that no one cares about that stuff anymore. It’s a common frustration I have with people who just aren’t interested in thinking about this part of their own settings, and so I decided to take it into my own hands. And while it’s no longer canon-compliant, I still like it.
And then, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s Make No Friends.
Up until this point, I’ve been talking about fics that are fairly easy to explain to people who aren’t in fandom. They take place in the canon universe, they explore things that happened or could have happened. If someone said they liked The 100 and Bellamy/Clarke but knew nothing about fandom or fic, I feel like I could explain it pretty easily.
This next fic , on the other hand, is the fourth in a series I did about characters from The 100–a show about teenagers committing genocide in a post-apocalyptic wasteland–living in our time and starring in a Disney Channel TV show.
And it’s a pretty good story, if I do say so myself! I had a ton of fun with it. But it’s not the kind of thing I can really show to someone and go, oh, you like The 100? Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like if Clarke and Bellamy were on the Disney Channel? Because the answer is most likely, in order, no, what, and how did you get into my house.
I’ll get more into AUs in the next section, so we’re just going to cover the critique angle of this. In this fic, I was real unsubtle with using the TV show I made up to critique the direction canon was taking at the time. I was just non-stop salty in season three, honestly, and this was a fun way to vent. There are some (in my opinion) good points about TV-show writing and the tonal issues in the third season of the show. But it’s mostly just a fun way to blow off some steam.
So yeah, let’s talk about fun.
Fanfic As Recreation
Whenever I am asked why I write fanfic in public settings (which is more often that you would think), I make it a point to say, “Because I want to see them kiss.”
It’s not the statement I’ve always made, and it’s not, generally, the party line. The party line is about the history of fanfic, all the works we regard as classics (or at least good) that are some form of fanfic, the value of it as transformative work that gives marginalized authors freedom to write whatever they want without editorial oversight, etc. etc. And, look, that’s all true and important and I agree with it.
But fanfic doesn’t have to be good, in some cosmic sense, to be worthwhile. It doesn’t have to justify its existence to keep on existing. You do not have to “get” fanfic; I don’t “get” football, but it keeps on happening anyway. And not to go off on a capitalism rant, but so much criticism of fanfic is structured around the fact that you, legally, cannot make money off a lot of it, which makes it a waste of time or effort or something, and that is, again, some capitalist BS.
Anyway. The reason fanfic exists, when you get right down to it, is because people hear stories and get inspired, and decide that they want more of that. Which is at the heart of a lot of art, honestly. And it’s easy to understand why you’d write fic when you’re using it to explore canon. But that’s not most of what I do. Most of what I do is alternate universe–AU–fic, where the characters are removed, to a greater or lesser extent, from their actual canons, and that’s when people tend to start going really hard into, well, why don’t you just write your own stuff?
To which there is no real answer, except that I don’t want to. I started reading and writing AUs in the Gundam Wing fandom, which was an AU-heavy fandom in part because large parts of the fanbase hadn’t actually seen all or any of the show. But I’ve kept on writing AUs simply because I like them; there’s something endlessly entertaining to me about taking characters and reimagining them, taking things that happened in canon and twisting them into other plots, finding the perfect character to fill the perfect role. I have written about Bellamy and Clarke falling in love in a high-school Latin club, over ok cupid when one of them thinks he’s being catfished, at Hogwarts (more than once!), in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall, as police vampires, in space, and on a reality TV show about gladiators. And there’s no way to explain this except that it is fun, and I like it, and other people like it.
And I should note that, in all of those stories, there are things that I consider to be important and valuable and meaningful. I get messages from people about things I’ve written that have resonated with them, that rang true to struggles they faced with sexuality or family or friends. I don’t think I’m writing literature, but I don’t want to be, and I reject the idea that something has to be literature to matter.
So, at the end of the day, I write fanfic, and especially fluffy AU fanfic, because I enjoy writing it more than I enjoy writing anything else, and I’m trying to do better at just owning that. It’s been three years and over three million words, and I’m still not tired of just making them kiss over and over and over. And that’s pretty cool all on its own.
Fanfic as Community
I mentioned up there that other people like fic, and it would be disingenuous to act as if that isn’t a major motivating factor for a lot of us, myself included. Writing is, by nature, a solitary pursuit, and getting people to read your stuff can be a challenge. Fandom has a built-in community of people who love the thing you love and want to interact with it more. For all that fan communities are shitshows full of people you hate (I cannot stress this enough; fanfic is not all happiness and light), I’ve also made life-long friends, and I get a ton of validation from writing fic. And the gratification, it must be said, is way, way more immediate than it is with traditional publishing. That’s not everything, but it’s also not nothing.
Examples of community are hard to find, but I’m getting married on Saturday to a woman I met because she liked my fic, so here are all the fics I’ve gifted to her over the years.
Fanfic as Straight-Up Porn
I don’t remember how, exactly, my parents found out I write fanfic, but I think it was just that my brother never really felt like it needed to be a secret, so he’d mention it to people, and it just ended up as a known thing, among both family and friends. I’m not sure I would have made this choice myself, given my druthers, but here we are, and it did make it easier to explain how I met my fiancee.
I bring this up because my family is, for the most part, proud of my achievements, even if (aside from my brother) they don’t quite get why I’m happy writing for free when I could be trying to write for money. But my mom will sometimes bring up my fic, and one time she actually got into a fight (at a work function, with a person she was trying to get to donate money to her cause) about how I didn’t just write porn. Obviously, my mother is a hero and I love her, but it also feels important to address porn as a general part of fic.
My mother was correct that I don’t just write porn, and, proportionally speaking, I don’t even write that much porn. About ten percent of my fics are tagged as Explicit, and adding in Mature fics as well brings it up to just under twenty. I would not identify myself as a smut writer, just a writer who sometimes dabbles in smut. It’s not really a priority for me.
But fanfic as a whole has a certain reputation, so let’s look at that. The 100 fandom as a whole has a slightly lower percentage of Explicit fics than I do (although a much higher percentage of Mature, for whatever that’s worth). Harry Potter and Supernatural are both at about 20%, with Marvel clocking in at 15 and Star Wars somewhere between them.
So, does fanfic deserve its reputation for being a bunch of porn? Eh, I don’t know. It’s easy to go into a fandom tag on Archive of Our Own and check out percentages, but even that’s a limited sample size, and I can’t conduct a similar survey to see how many explicit sex scenes appear in, say, detective novels. So, once again, I’ll just talk about myself.
I tend to write two kinds of smut fics: fics that are about smut, and fics in which I feel like not having smut would be a letdown in some way. A lot of the time, when I get prompts, the person will just add in, “And make it smutty!” which is a great way to drastically lower my chances of writing that fic, because I’m generally not interested in throwing some porn in for funsies. But if I have a fun idea that’s built around smut, I’m all over that. For example, this fic revolves around accidentally giving a roommate a dirty coupon book as a present, so sex is pretty much a given, and I had a ton of fun with it! But that tends to be the exception, not the rule, at least for me.
Obligatory smut is more complicated; sometimes it’s a length thing (that’s what she said), where once I’ve written X words, I feel like sex needs to happen or my audience will be disappointed, but there are also times when I do feel a story calls for sex, even if it’s not about sex. If You Can Hold On is a series focusing on a Clarke who is inexperienced with romance and dating, and the reason I made it a series was that exploring her sexual insecurities as well felt important. But there’s also a decent amount of, oops, this is over 20,000 words, they better fuck.
At this point, fanfic a medium in its own right, with its own conventions and quirks. I think of it as kind of like animation; it contains many genres and style within it, but you also need to be at least somewhat on-board with what it’s putting down in order to enjoy it. Some people don’t like animation, or think that it’s strictly for kids, or whatever, and that’s their business. But I don’t get the vitriol some people have for others liking things they don’t like, and fanfic often gets that paired with some unfortunate misogyny, which I’m never here for.
Regardless of how you feel about fic, I hope you had fun with my rambling, or have skimmed to the end of this post and are relieved to see it’s over. If any of this has made you curious about my work, but you don’t know if you would really have any interest in any of the bizarre links I have supplied you with, here’s a list of five fics of mine that I consider to be both pretty decent and accessible to people who are not familiar with the show because, again, they take place in completely alternate universes.
- Weary With Right Angles (Ten parts, 66,750 words total, ratings vary) – Soulmate AU, which is a popular fic subgenre. This one takes place in a world very much like ours, except that when you’re eighteen a tattoo with your soulmate’s name appears somewhere on your body. This started with me wanting to write about Bellamy experiencing bisexual panic and evolved from there into probably my favorite of my stories.
- And You Can Have This Heart to Break (Two chapters, 37,597 words, explicit. Seven additional works in the series) – A modern take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion, told in two chapters with a seven-year time gap between them, to give the regret time to marinate.
- And Hides Her Somewhere in Herself, Safe From Harm (Oneshot, 15,936 words. Four additional works in the series) – This is a pretty different kind of story for me, focusing on Bellamy’s little sister coming to live with him after their mother dies. Still got some romance in there, because I have a brand, but it’s more of a family/character study.
- I’m the First to Get Trigger Happy (Oneshot, 6,095 words) – I don’t have much to say about this one, but I wanted a couple shorter things in here, and I like it. Just a quick little story about two people who go on a spite date.
- Mutual (Oneshot, 6,033 words. Three additional works in the series) – Speaking of my brand, this is pretty much it. Someone’s an actor! They meet online! Fandom is involved! As a bonus, the last work in this series is the one that made a bunch of people think I was maybe proposing to my finacee, which led to me actually proposing to my fiancee, so that’s cool.
And that’s it! Thanks for coming to my TED Talk, hope everyone is having an excellent creative week.