Fanfiction: a literary genre?

This time it’s a short and thought-provoking article. If you have read the title, you have almost certainly visited this page for two reasons: to laugh or because you have ever read/written fanfiction and appreciate it enough to be interested in a reflection on it.

In any case, I hope you don’t end up laughing, because this is a very serious dissection of the art of fanfiction.

What is fanfiction?

To begin with, as we understand it now in the Internet era, fanfiction is the product of a fan who takes aspects or characters from a work, regardless of the medium to which it belongs, and works on it. Specifically, the word fanfiction usually refers to the written format and does not include other elements such as music, drawing, video games, etc.. In other words, we understand that it is a sort of novel that places favourite characters in certain circumstances that have not occurred in the original book or medium. It is often more about couples than a single character.

Unlike a novel, however, its terrain is the Internet, specifically certain fanfiction sites like Fanfiction.net or Archive of our own, where fanfiction is catalogued by duration, theme, characters, etc. Therefore, and it is important to remember, it is not created with economic intentions, but it is a way to show how much you like a product. Enough to sit down and spend your time writing about it. Let’s face it, if you’re trying to make money off Bandidas fanfiction, you’re crazy.

Then we find traitors like the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James, who ended up traditionally publishing her work. But in general every fanfiction has a disclaimer where they claim that they are not her characters and do not intend to make any economic profit. It’s pure fun and a way to promote, in their own way, the story that has inspired them so much. Whether you love Gumwin stories or Fleabag fics, most are doing it for the love of writing.

But perhaps one of the most surprising and most definitive elements about fanfiction is that it is usually written by women. In particular, very young women.

That’s what fanfiction is today.

Actually, it’s something much bigger because if we think of the word itself, fan fiction, it can be any project done by a fan in relation to another work. That is… practically anything can fall into the category depending on the flexibility of thought we have.

But let’s focus on the big topic and ask ourselves a question:

Why is fanfiction so denigrated?

Well, as usually happens in everything, the bad is known more than the good. Surely more than one is familiar with the name of Perla Shumajer and cannot mention a specific decent fic.

But I wonder: why this persecution when someone sees a fanart and considers it – if it is good within its standards – a work worthy of retweet or hanging on its wall? Why can you go see a mini-comic from a film or a book between jumps of joy and share it smiling from ear to ear and writers rush to laugh like fanfiction hyenas when basically it’s the same idea?

Every time I read critiques of women’s literature, with certain topics that it’s hard to escape from, I can’t help relating it to this: Most authors start out very young, with grammatical and orthographic flaws and without much idea of narrative structure. They misrepresent the characters and go on to very basic ideas, often related to sex, that field so forbidden to women but so well dominated by men. It’s not that I can blame them because many professional authors still don’t know how to write no matter how old they are. What blows our minds is that we still buy the works anyway.

Fanfiction is as old as time and, going back to a well-known example, we can read Virgil’s Aeneid and smile at how he recovers the Trojan War and invents a story for Aeneas to justify the birth of Rome. There is nothing that has not already been done and the authors of today are no exception.

It could be said, then, that it is a question of rights and that when these are liberated, it is no longer about fanfiction as such. And it would be true. But the idea is still there. All the classical artists have made fanart of the Bible and a thousand different stories. Sometimes they charged for them and sometimes they didn’t. And today we exhibit them in museums because of their quality, and not because of what they are representing. Historical literature invents characters that existed and uses them for commercial purposes, including magical elements or Shakespeare plays, and today it is considered a genre as worthy as any other.

I suppose, then, that we can affirm that the problem lies in how we use labels today and the tendency to generalize. I’m not going to deny that a big part of fanfiction is bad. Just to say that the same thing happens with literature for which we pay an eye of the face.

The fact is, assuming there are millions of fanfics in different languages, shouldn’t it be considered a genre? Badly seen or not, there are thousands of people sharing their writings without expecting anything in return except comments and finding friendship or a sense of community. With it they contribute to elaborate theories, alternative worlds -as Marvel and DC do charging for it-, more or less toxic, but always from the passion and without the “read my book”. I’ve seen this especially true for the Star Wars universe on Commaful, where writers dive deep into the depths of theories and alterate universes.

If there are still people who think that writing about someone else’s work doesn’t deserve recognition, I ask for a little reflection and that we remember the dissatisfaction produced by playing a video game, watching a film or, why not, reading a book that is an adaptation of a work we have adored. And they don’t manage to reflect the character or the world well. What frustration and we have paid for it to get shit in return! Eragon’s film, gentlemen? What about the whitewashing of the American adaptations, which copy the plot and the name of the characters but leave their essence aside because they don’t care? And those second parts where it seems like we’re dealing with different characters?

But when is the work good? The happiness we experience?

All this is the same work that is done in fanfiction.

A genre that focuses on the characters

Writing about other characters and a world already built has its challenge and requires a great analytical capacity and adaptation. Is it easy to play an original character? No. What about someone else, who can think in a way that is radically opposed to you? Nor is it. Those who laugh at the fanfiction is because they have never tried to write one or because they have done it and it hasn’t come out. And it’s difficult. It demands respect – there isn’t always, as there isn’t in many commercial books – love, attention and effort. Especially because writing a fanfiction implies moving away from the original work but without losing its spirit. It’s a practice that gets young writers much more practice than simply joining a writing contest, and makes it fun to boot.

In general, fanfictions are a genre apart because they don’t focus on the story, but on the characters.

Except in certain cases, in general a fanfiction author wants to see his X character in a different situation than the book/movie or deepens what the author didn’t do in his original work. There will always be some character that makes you cry and ask why you’re reading the story of the main character in turn and not this particular person – I get a lot with Harry Potter and Snape. Guess what story he would have wanted to read – and that’s when you can get into fanfiction. They’re also the great terrain for what if. Wouldn’t you have wished Sansa and Arya could get along? Then you have to sit down and think about what it takes to make the case. Perhaps a less macho author of Martin, who knows. Or fantasize about what would have happened if Ned hadn’t died? What would have been necessary so that events wouldn’t lead to his death?

What about stories where the Slytherin are not the author’s scapegoats? Or a version where Jack and Kirtash fell in love instead of Victoria’s kettle? Or a version of Star Wars less macho where Leia had friends or she would simply have been the one who grew up in the desert and Luke the prince who needs help?

What if Darth Vader/Anakin had been a woman and Padmé a man? Are you sure the story would have been the same?