Fanfiction at its Best

by Jenna

After reading RusselGrl’s editorial ‘Fanfiction at its Worst‘, I have to say I felt rather wrong-footed. While the author made a few good points, it presented a dim view of the world of fanfiction, and I felt the need to cast light on what the world is really about.

For those who know nothing of fanfiction, and for those who are only wading in the shallow waters – it all seems rather straightforward. There are many stories that fall quickly into the generic categories. Some of the most common general fictions are the Trio-Era ‘fifth year’, ‘sixth year’, and [now most common] ‘seventh year’, before the ‘canon’ stories have been released. They are usually just imitations of the books written to predict the next installment or just have fun while we’re waiting. Then you have the romances, which are about little more than the pairing they ‘ship’: Ron/Hermione, Harry/Hermione, Hermione/Draco, Harry/Ginny, Remus/Tonks, etc; also very popular. Then you have your ‘Marauder Era’ stories [let’s not forget Lily/James!], some of which are also written as ‘year’ stories to imitate Rowling’s work. The last of the more generic categories would probably be Post-Hogwarts tales of the Trio and their families, as well as parodies.

But there is so much more. Fanfiction writers don’t just sit down to write interesting plots for Harry’s world, they write ideas. Romance isn’t always about Ron and Hermione finding their way to each other, or Harry and Ginny being reunited after Voldemort’s fall. And ‘angst’ isn’t always about Harry’s loss of the ones he loves, or his burden to help bring an end to the war. Fanfiction writers don’t just ‘keep the characters true to themselves’ – they examine the characters, test them, and take them to new levels.

But you have to step outside ff.net if you’re going to find that. This is because, though there might be diamonds in the rough, ff.net is just a mess – too many authors, too many stories, not enough enforcement. You’d be better off with a moderator-run site to begin with – MuggleNet’s own MNFF being my Harry Potter fanfiction website of choice. And then, you can go smaller and look in the LiveJournal fandom community. One excellent community ‘wizard_trauma’ centres on stories that deal with real-life issues, where topics range from sexual abuse to eating disorders.

Believe it or not, there are writers out there challenging themselves with fanfiction, and not getting lost in that world, not getting sucked into it by the temptations of ‘praise from strangers’. [Another pitfall of ff.net and most popular fanfiction sites, as RusselGrl stated – the reviews are often nothing more than fluff.] Writing that explores death, life, love, fear, darkness, light, loss, growth, the need to escape, the need to hold on – the fan fiction world is a multi-faceted community. I’ve read writers that move me to tears in only one hundred words, because that’s all it takes for them to mold words into a message. And it’s not so easy to do with ‘original fiction’, where you have to create nameless faces. In fan-fiction, there is a world your readers are familiar with, and you can simply draw on that for a moment to write something amazing.

As for reviews and improving your skills, well, I’ve been involved in the realm of fanfiction for less than a year, and I know I’ve increased ten-fold with my skills. Not just from continuing to write – but I sought out a fine group of individuals whose goal is to improve writing, and to improve constructive criticism. The group, SPEW, is proud to call MNFF its home, and is a part of the MNFF Beta Forums which is a Writing Help forum to help authors with their writing, characters, plots, stories and ideas. And there are plenty of people out there who actually value the ‘writing process’ and not just the initiative to fill in a few of JK Rowling’s blanks.

There’s a lot fanfiction can teach you without pulling away from original work. Writing is more than just a good grasp of grammar and the ability to give nice description. I’m finding that I’m challenging myself in different genres, working on new concepts and more abstract methods, and even testing out plot lines that I plan to modify with new characters in original stories (I know of at least two other writers who are doing/have done the same thing).

And there aren’t ‘rules’ for responding to your reviews in your chapters, nor do I know anyone who thinks it’s appropriate to put miniskirt-Hermione in anything other than a parody of bad fanfiction. Maybe there are trends and unspoken expectations and guidelines at ff.net, but I don’t see them written anywhere, nor do I know anyone who follows them or expects others to.

It’s not that I feel the need to ‘suck’ people into the world of fanfiction; I just wanted to do it the justice it deserves. There’s a whole world out there, and it’s at its best.

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