Sunday, 1 November 2015

The transformative power of Fanfiction

Why write fanfiction? What is the purpose, and what does it do? In my opinion, fanfiction has the power to transform society.

One thing that it's understood you don't write fanfiction for, is money. The sole purpose of fanfiction is to tell a story to the best of your ability. There is no need to write for a specific market, to worry about revenue streams (there are none, no I'm not counting Amazon or Wattpad. No, really.)

Fanfiction writers are usually respectful of the source material, which is not the same thing as accepting it without challenge. Henry Jenkins' work on Textual Poachers is something to give a try, if this is something you'd like to explore more of.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SwRI/R.Gladstone et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (AURA/STScI)
As I've found out in discussions with other fans, and by lurking online, the writing and sharing of fanfiction also serves an important transformative purpose. This comes from the chance to indulge in self exploration in a safe and supportive environment. Browsing through online forums such as AO3, I've come across ideas and concepts that are new to me, and must be just as new to some of the writers. It's difficult sometimes to come to terms with parts of your identity, either through not being able to "come out" to your friends or community, or sometimes not even understanding what it is you feel. By writing and exploring these ideas, its possible to explore parts of your identity, desire, feeling. This transforms lives, promotes understanding and acceptance. If you let it - it's a challenging experience at times.

I was concerned that parents wouldn’t want me working with their children if they knew that I’m the kind of person who engages in complicated debates about Omega reproductive organs and reblogs drawings of Sherlock Holmes tied up and getting rimmed by Dr. Watson.
The use of pen names to protect the identities of writers may seem pretentious, until you remember the impact the introduction of legislation such as Clause 28 in the UK, banning the "promotion" of homosexuality as a "normal family relationship", has on free speech elsewhere. This specific legislation may have been repealed, but there are plenty others that are similarly harmful still in place. Here's a piece from the perspective of someone who felt the need to remove evidence of their fanfiction online once they started working with special needs children.

Another aspect of the transformational nature of fanfiction is related to visibility. Though you might enjoy a work, it can't help but reflect the worldview of the creators. This won't always be as inclusive as it could be. Fanfiction offers the place and opportunity for the exploration of stories and characters marginalised for whatever reason in the source material.

There are some issues though. The platform for fanfiction appears to have moved from paper printed zines to online, though most are OK, this has led to some heated exchanges. The Mary Sue has an interesting article in Defence of So-Called Bad Fanfiction. How did people abuse each other before the Internet?

You think you haven't read fanfiction? Some of the finest writing has come in response to other works, reworking the material. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys throws a different interpretation of Jane Eyre through the simple device of telling the story through Rochester's first wife Antoinette Cosway. Or how about the Good Man Jesus and The Scoundral Christ? Other examples are listed here.

Fancy giving fanfiction a go, but don't know how? TV Tropes has a terrific page showing you where to start. There's another good article on the Mary Sue called How to Offend Everyone and Make Yourself Cry: Writing Diversity in Fanfiction

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Picture courtesy of NASA, their royalty free resources are available online here