I have other things I reeeeeally ought to be doing with my time right now, but I lack the motivation. So I’m going to ramble on for a bit about my own history writing fanfic.
I didn’t know what fanfic was for ages. I think I had encountered a bit of it online in high school (while searching for information on TV shows and the like), but I don’t think I knew the term or recognized the concept until I was in college. And I think everything I’m going to talk about in this post predates that, so remember that all of this was done in a complete vacuum. Not only was I not connected to the fanfic community, I had no idea it existed.
The first thing I want to talk about is Elfquest, a comic book series some of you may have read. (It was the only comic I read for many years, and still remains near and dear to my heart.) In the course of my fan-hood, I discovered there was an RPG book, so I bought it, and a friend of mine and I made characters. But we didn’t know how to play an RPG, and we didn’t have any friends who knew how, either, so we just kind of kept making characters . . . and making stories about them.
But here’s the thing: we didn’t make Wolfriders. I think they were supposed to be Wolfriders originally, but we didn’t like that, so we made up our own tribe. They eventually encountered the canon characters and interacted with them, and yeah, one of the female characters I’d created ended up being a love interest for a male character I’d always liked: a classic bit of Mary Sue-ness. (Hey, I was thirteen. But she didn’t have too many other Mary Sue traits.) But 98% of the story material I ended up with had nothing to do with the canon; I just wanted to play in that world.
A few years later, I got into the TV series of Highlander. I picked up the show somewhere in its later seasons, when they’d gotten over their urge to do episodes where things happened like criminals took over a building and killed Duncan only they didn’t know he was immortal so then he got up again and it was Highlander meets Die Hard; now they were doing episodes that dug into the philosophical issues of being immortal, like how long you can be held accountable for actions in your past that you might regret now. (Fifth season in particular has some good, chewy stuff in there.)
What I started writing so easily could have been a Mary Sue. Eithne was a pre-Christian Irish immortal, so she was Really Old, and she was friends with Duncan and knew Methos from way back . . . but I didn’t make her a love interest of either of them. In fact, in the first story I wrote, Eithne was pretty seriously messed up; her (likewise immortal) husband had been killed some decades before, and not only had she not gotten over it yet, the guy who killed him had been toying with her ever since, because he was a sadistic bastard who liked messing with her head. I never wrote the entirety of the story, but I had it in my head, and Eithne spent most of it sucking before getting her head screwed on straight and dealing with her problem. Not exactly Mary Sue behavior.
Part of the reason I never finished writing that story is, I kept coming up with other ones I wanted to play with, too. Like the story of how Eithne’s husband died. Or how she met him. Or some of the places they’d been together, and things that had happened. Or stuff she did before she met him.
I wasn’t writing fanfic; I was writing a spin-off series. And man, if they came to me right now and asked if I’d like to write a TV show for Eithne, I’d do it in a heartbeat; some of what I came up with was crap, but some wasn’t. I kind of wish I’d gotten around to writing more of my Gathering story for it — yes, I had one — because it wasn’t like the movie. I was in a less than pleasant place emotionally when I came up with it, but it really got into what immortals thought of that myth, and how they reacted when it started, and what it did to the lives they’d built and the mortals they left behind and what it meant to them to look at their immortal friends and know they were all going to die, violently, in the near future, and maybe at each others’ hands. I think I wrote a series of little snippets of Eithne meeting with her Watcher (yeah, she was friends with him) and getting updates on how many of them were left, which of her friends were dead, and who had killed them. Grim stuff, but I think I had some interesting material in there.
And that, folks, is all the fanfic I ever wrote. I wasn’t interested in playing around with other people’s characters; it was the settings and concepts that drew me, and when I learned to build my own worlds, this habit died out. (Though I still hope I find some ways to recycle some of their ideas in altered enough form that it’s my own thing, while still scratching the itch inside my head.)
I did do one other thing, though. For a while in junior high and high school, I mentally inserted my own characters into the novels I was reading. But if the writer has done even a halfway decent job, there isn’t much space for that, much room for a new character to contribute, unless you change the story. Which led to me trying to redo those novels as my own stories, names and plots altered to be a “new story” — that stuff I did occasionally write down — but I quickly realized the results were gimpy and dumb, too obviously what they’d started as, not enough their own thing. So I gave up on that pretty fast, and started building stories from scratch.
Maybe if I’d known about the fanfic community and been connected to it, the results would have been different. By the time I encountered that, though, I also recognized that time and creative energy I spent on fanfic was time and energy not spent on my original work, and I was committed enough to a professional career by then that I chose to focus on that instead. Or maybe I’m just not a fanfic writer; maybe that impulse isn’t really in me. When I started pondering a particular “what if” about the TV show The Sandbaggers, it turned into a short story about different people who made different choices; you can still see the connection if I tell you it’s there, but the thing doesn’t look much like Sandbaggers fanfic. I just don’t have much interest in doing that.
(That might be in part because of my technical eye. I can’t write Neil Burnside, or Francis Crawford of Lymond, or Trent the Uncatchable, well enough to ever be happy with any attempt to do so. I’ll stick with characters I invented, thank you; I’m mostly confident in my ability to write them. Mostly.)
So when I talk about fanfic, I’m doing it from the outside, and I admit that. I know enough of the trends within it to recognize most of the common terms, and some of the community structures, certain cultural practices, particular motivations . . . but I’m not an insider, and I don’t claim to be. And I doubt I ever will be; it’s just not an activity that floats my personal boat very far.