Fanfiction at its Worst
“Then kill me.” he hissed back, and she lifted her face away, taken aback. “That’s right, Granger. You got me here, on the ground. You say I killed someone, so why don’t you kill me right back?”
She stared at him, but didn’t say anything.
“That’s right, Mudblood. You won’t because you’re too scared. You’re not brave enough.” He coughed from the pressure of her foot on his chest, but managed to flash a malicious smile. “Come on, kill me.”
Hermione shook her head with a tinge of sympathy, then said very calmly, “Accio wand.” Draco’s weapon flew into her hand. She pocketed it. “You don’t deserve the glory of death,” she said, making sure her foot was still firmly on his chest.”
-Excerpt from “The Last Year is Always the Hardest”, a fanfiction by RussellGrl15
When I discovered Harry Potter fanfiction, I was beyond excited. I was at the peak of my Harry Potter craze, and fanfiction only heightened it. I imagined it as something made to fit me like a glove. It combined two of my favorite daily activities: writing and Harry Potter. I saw Harry Potter fanfiction as a way for me to build my writing skills, and to receive feedback from complete strangers, which I saw, and still do see, as some of the best criticism. And when I began my journey through the crazy world of fanfiction.net, it was just how I wanted it to be. I was able to share my writing with others, and they were able to tell me what they liked and disliked about it. But now, after only two and a half years of writing fanfiction, I’ve developed a different opinion of it and its uses. No longer is it helpful to my growth as a writer. Now, it’s a strange form of entertainment.
I’ve been known as RussellGrl15 on fanfiction.net for two and a half years, and have completed nine pieces of fanfiction that range from 425 words to 105,970 words. Much like other fanfiction writers, I began with one very unsuccessful story and became addicted to building up and improving my stories for the sole purpose of receiving praising reviews. In the time that I’ve been writing fanfiction, the world of Harry Potter fanfiction has grown considerably and has become more popular than ever. From this popularity, unwritten rules and regulations to how fanfics should be formed, displayed, and shipped (as in romance) have developed, making this interesting new phenomenon have an uncanny resemblance to high school at its worst. We’ll get to those rules later.
At first, writing Harry Potter fanfiction DID help me with my writing skills. Before entering this strange world, I had only written stories involving my own settings and characters. There were those who thought I was doing great with my writing and encouraged me to keep going, but fanfiction was too tempting not to try. What better way to improve my writing skills than to use someone else’s characters and settings, and challenge myself to keep their world alive using my own original use of plots and word choices? For a while, it worked. But slowly, without realizing, I was working on my previous non-fanfiction writing less and less, and being pulled further into the fanfiction world. To say the least, there’s a nice feeling of being wanted when complete strangers praise you for writing Hermione exactly how they pictured her. And after all this time, I believe I did a good job at keeping my stories real and keeping Rowling’s characters true to their personalities. I held myself back from going past sacred boundaries made by the mastermind herself.
Even so, my original goal to improve my writing skills stopped at a certain point and turned into a goal to think up even more original plots, to try and write different ships (I’m a diehard Ron/Hermione shipper, but I’ve also grown into a Harry/Luna shipper), and to please my returning readers who kept asking for more. I needed to please them. And not only was it fun for me, but it was fun for others to read! I kept telling myself it was all to improve my writing skills, but I couldn’t fool myself for very long. Two months ago I completed my last Harry Potter fanfic.
What eventually drove me away from fanfiction? It was the harsh reality that this once new and exciting world of creativity had turned, in such a short time, into something so popular, that it was tainted with too many defects made by the writers themselves. This often happens to popular, new trends, and is most of the time, inevitable. What exactly happened to make me say, “Wow, I need to take a break and get back to reality“? It happened when the responses for my stories, though still giving me happiness just by being there, weren’t giving me any more real criticism. I didn’t seem to be displeasing ANYONE. Now, I know that at age eighteen, I can’t have perfected my writing ability. Seeing that my fanfics were pleasing my readers made me stand outside the enormous box of fanfiction and look in. What I saw was something I was ashamed of being surrounded by.
First of all, the happy, friendly, diversity of shipping I had walked into two and half years ago was all of a sudden a massive war between Hermione/Ron shippers, Hermione/Harry shippers, Hermione/Draco shippers, Draco/Ginny shippers, Hermione/Snape shippers, and the list goes on forever! When this war became a well-known fact among those not even involved in fanfiction, I laughed along with everyone else who thought it was ridiculous. Then I realized I was part of this! The majority of my stories involve a Hermione/Ron, Harry/Ginny romance, which automatically labels me as a Hermione/Ron, Harry/Ginny shipper. But what’s not taken into consideration is the possibility that I may also be a Hermione/Draco shipper, a Draco/Ginny shipper, and a Harry/Luna shipper…which I am. I had no desire to be a part of this fanfiction war. But this was the least of my newfound skepticism.
Not only did I write fanfiction, but I read a lot of it too. In most cases, reading other people’s writing helps you become a better writer. I would casually search for a pairing I was favoring at that particular moment, and I would read the beginning of a few stories to see if any were interesting enough to continue with. In the beginning, I found a lot of stories I really liked. But as more and more members joined fanfiction.net to try their bit at writing, the good stories became harder and harder to find. This is due to one factor: bad grammar. Bad grammar is one of my major pet peeves. I’m not saying I am an expert at perfect sentences (I’m sure this editorial has a few defects of its own), but I think I’m good enough at it to not distract the reader with my repetitive bad spelling and awful sentence structure. No matter how bad or good a story is, bad use of grammar makes it unreadable. And the people you WANT to comment on your stories, are the people who know how important good grammar is. It’s gotten to the point where every other story I click on has major grammatical problems, and the author doesn’t seem to care. This means that I can’t rely on reading other fanfiction to help my own fanfiction, unless saying to myself, “Don’t do that” is helpful. It was at first, but now it’s just plain annoying. Every person has a right to write fanfiction. But if they don’t take time to make sure their writing is grammatically correct (which may mean asking someone else to edit their stories), no one will take their work seriously, and their writing will not improve.
Remember how I mentioned that this increasing popularity with Harry Potter fanfiction resembles high school? High school, you say? What’s wrong with high school? Whether you know this now, or whether you’ll find out in a few years, high school is full of unspoken rules that must be followed, or else you are destined for unpopularity. That is, if you care. If you don’t care, then power to you. But for those of you who know what it feels like to be forced into following a certain trend, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when I connect high school with the present state of fanfiction.
Rule #1: Mary Sues are SO last year.
That’s right, the ever-popular Mary Sues (new characters introduced by the author who are strikingly similar to other Mary Sues by their appearance, purpose in story and relationships with other characters), who were once accepted, are now too overused to be taken seriously. Sorry!
Rule #2: Keep Rowling’s characters IN CHARACTER! Unless you’ve written the story really well.
I agree with the fact that Rowling’s characters should be kept in character (which means to make sure their actions stay within the limits that Rowling has created in her books), but that’s where it should stop. Let’s say an author takes Hermione, straightens her hair, puts her in a tight miniskirt, and has her be voted Biggest Flirt of Hogwarts, and writes a really good story. It may be well-written, but it’s not Harry Potter fanfiction because that is NOT Hermione.
Rule #3: Separation of paragraphs and/or scenes by use of asterisks or dashes is acceptable, and encouraged.
We all know published books do sometimes use this method to make a transition between scenes because it’s not exactly easy to keep a story flowing for pages at a time. But in the world of fanfiction, this technique is used so often, it’s become excessive. Whatever happened to challenging yourself into finding ways to write smooth transitions without separating scenes completely?
Rule #4: Review responses are not mandatory, but are greatly appreciated, and in some circumstances, expected.
Review responses are when an author takes each review received from a chapter and responds personally to each one at the beginning (or end) of the next chapter. I know from experience that having the author respond to my review makes me feel good; it has a personal touch to it. But this has gotten from the point of experimental to the point where reviewers can feel rejected if their reviews are not personally responded to by the author. This puts a lot of pressure on the writer.
Rule #5: If you don’t want to be flamed, make sure to inform your readers so that flamers will know who to flame and who not to.
Is it just me, or is this the most ridiculous rule EVER? Flamers, if you don’t know, are reviewers who take a story, and leave a very mean, very outspoken review that usually involves far too many swear words, and a lack of explanation for their dissatisfaction. They complain, complain, complain, and tell you how awful a writer you are. But most won’t flame if you kindly ask them not to. I think the real problem is not that the author needs to mention that they don’t like flamers (goodness knows they’re already under enough pressure and responsibility from the first four rules), but that there is such a thing as a flamer. I don’t know where they came from, or why they’ve evolved, but there is something seriously wrong when people who take joy in insulting someone else’s writing without any good reason are treated with respect. I won’t even try to get into this, it’s so absurd.
There are probably many other rules other writers could add, but I think these are the major ones. I have to admit that I’ve fallen into a few of these rules at least a little with my fanfics (I avoid Mary Sues, but I have altered canon characters slightly before, I’m an expert at separating my scenes with little O’s, and I’ve responded to many reviews), but I think I’ve stayed normal enough to be appreciated for my effort for originality.
What drove me away completely was that I knew I hadn’t improved my writing skills. In fact, I’ve gotten worse in some ways. After two and a half years of fanfiction and only fanfiction, I’ve had problems creating my own characters, something I was once very good at. I feel like I’ve had to start from the beginning again. Currently, I am working on a novel-length original story with my own characters and my own settings. The change feels good but challenging. Where is all my feedback? Where are my critics? It’s made me see that fanfiction really wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be. I don’t regret spending all that time writing fanfiction. Not at all! There are some things I learned from it, and it’s not all bad.
Although I don’t write fanfiction anymore, I still read it because there are still some very good fanfiction authors out there who deserve their work to be read and appreciated. It’s just more difficult to find them now than it once was. I still have faith that fanfiction can help a writer’s technique, but this can only happen if all writers, good and bad, are given honest and courteous feedback. Because no matter how bad or good the writer, they all deserve courtesy and honesty. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem likely to happen.
I still receive reviews for some of my stories, and I appreciate them even more now because it’s good to know that there are readers still interested, even two months after my last fanfic was finished. There’s a chance I may write more fanfiction in the future, but before I can do that, I need to accomplish my goal to be the best I can be at creating my own stories; every little bit of it. Once I am comfortable and confident in my own writing abilities, writing Harry Potter fanfiction will be a fun hobby.
It’s not something very easy to accept, but if you are practicing your writing abilities on Harry Potter fanfiction because you are striving for a career as a writer, you’ve gone in the wrong direction. The present-day world of Harry Potter fanfiction has developed into something of a mutant of professional, published writing. It’s no longer safe to assume that all feedback given to fanfiction is honest, and how can writing be improved when it’s surrounded by all these strange rules, absurd trends, and feedback that may or may not be honest? Try to imagine a person writing their own novel using fanfiction as their model. It will not be published! Of course, there are trends for novel-writing these days, but not to the extreme of fanfiction, which is its own world, instead of just part of a world.
For those who aren’t looking for a future in writing, who don’t take it as seriously, who write fanfiction just for the heck of it…have fun. Fanfiction.net is probably the perfect place for you. And be reassured, if you receive anything from RussellGrl15, it won’t be a flame. Just a polite, honest review.