The Armchair Madcap

Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews

The Vast Rewards of a Thriving Fan-Fiction Community (And Why It’s Not All About the Porn)

Normally, I’d be writing about a book this week, but the one I started after George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons (which gets pretty much the same kudos and criticism as the [rest of the series]) is all kinds of awful. Awful enough, in fact, that I haven’t made it far enough into the book to give it a fair shake, so look for a review on it sometime in the future. Instead, I thought I’d take a more critical look at a subgenre of writing that gets overlooked or underappreciated much of the time. I speak, of course, of fan-fiction.

To be clear, I’m speaking not only of the written fan-fiction you can find on websites all across the Internet, but also professionally produced doujinshi (self-published fan-comics) and many varieties of fan-art. Because I’m not an art critic, however, this post is going to deal with the written word, rather than these more visual mediums.

There tend to be a few basic assumptions held by people who aren’t overly familiar with fan-fiction communities: 1) it’s all porn, all the time and 2) the quality of fan-fiction writing is overall low, and self-insertion characters and bad plot contrivances abound. Highly sexualized stories and amateur mistakes are certainly a part of the fan-fiction scene… in the same way they’re a part of any writing. Look at romance novels for sexuality; I’ll direct you to a number of teen novels for examples of self-insertion characters; as for plot contrivances, even some of the best novels contain their fair share of credulity-stretching deus-ex-machinas.

What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that there are actually a lot of very good, very talented writers working in fan-fiction, bringing their impeccable grammar and spelling skills to a community that seems represented by 1337-speak and terrible formatting. If you look in the proper places (usually adult-oriented sites, such as [Adultfanfiction.net], since older and therefore more practiced writers usually gather there), you can find examples of writing that is on the same level as, if not head and shoulders above, many of the books that have been published and sit on bookstore shelves. Even in the more mainstream sites ([Fanfiction.net] comes to mind, as well as the many meme sites scattered about), gems are littered throughout copious fan-fiction releases.

The problems with fan-fiction’s image lie, I think, with a misconception concerning what fan-fiction is supposed to accomplish. To some writers, it’s a chance to explore the (often sexual, often kinky) relationships between someone else’s characters; for others, it’s an opportunity to insert themselves into a world more fantastic than our own; for others still, it’s an occasion to expound upon the possibilities and  mysteries left unexplored by the original creator. While the first two goals have their merits, I’m willing to argue that the third option is the one which produces the best fan-fiction and which gives the most back to the fan community.

To give examples of fan-fiction that works on this level, I’m going to have to get into specific plot points of certain series. I’ll be flagging these moments with a giant *SPOILER* tag, but if you’re worried about spoilers for Tales of Vesperia, Tiger and Bunny, and Hetalia, you may want to skip ahead to the line that says //End Spoilers//.

Yes, this game again. I’ve been playing it a lot lately – so sue me…!

As an example of a fan-fiction that explores previously untouched territory, I want to present the story [The Blackest Ice] by Fanfiction.net user YamiGoddess. *SPOILER* It deals with the period of time following Yuri Lowell’s fall from the Shrine of Zaude, after which he goes missing for a considerable period of time and many of his companions believe him to be dead. The game, being a candy-colored JRPG with other themes on its mind, reintroduces Yuri to his friends following his recovery, and everyone pretty much accepts it at face value and moves on. There’s no exploration of how the other party members dealt with the near-loss of their leader, at least not beyond the usual platitudes of “We missed you!” and “Why didn’t you tell me you were alive!?”. This is where The Blackest Ice comes in: the story is an examination of how two characters adapt to having lost their closest friend, including the feelings of hopelessness and the refusal to own up to the (seemingly) inevitable. It’s a wonderfully crafted character piece that brings a depth to the characters that was otherwise missing.

Tales of Vesperia is a game with a thousand nuances and hundreds of little vignettes to help you understand the main characters, but there are still some people and some situations that don’t get enough exposition. For another example, take [Dreaming] by Black-Neko-Chan, a significantly more pornographic but still revealing look at the character of Zagi. *SPOILER* The story looks at the mindset that drove Zagi to be such a determined and rash fighter, a predisposition towards recklessness that ultimately costs him his life. What is his end-goal for pursuing Yuri to the ends of the earth? Is it really to just to challenge a strong fighter, or is it to ensure that he will be remembered after death, at least by his greatest rival?

And yes, this anime again. If you were watching it like I told you to, you’d understand why!

The Tiger and Bunny fan-fiction community, meanwhile, is a relatively young one. The show has only been running for a couple of months and hasn’t even completed its first season yet. For this reason, most of the stories that are written about it are relationship driven rather than plot driven, but there are still a number of well-crafted pieces that expand on the show’s universe. *SPOILER* In particular, stories that deal with the love-hate relationship between Barnaby and Kotetsu run the gambit between red-hot lover tales and sugary-sweet surrogate father-son relationships. The sort of stories I wish were given more attention, however, are those that deal with Kotetsu’s relationship with his estranged family: his mother and his daughter, the latter of whom does not know her father is a superhero. It’s a dynamic that the show has only exploited for comedic effect so far, but which it keeps hinting will be explored further. If that promise goes unfulfilled, though, certainly fan-fiction will be there to pick up the slack.

And now, the show whose fan community has literally overrun the internet.

Love it or hate it, it seems like the Hetalia craze is starting to die down a little bit, if only because the second season has concluded and there’s a lull in new material. For a while there, however, there was no way to avoid Hetalia if you were involved in the anime scene in any way: there was fan-art all over DeviantArt, cosplay photographs all over Cosplay.com, fan-fiction all over Fanfiction.net. *SPOILER* In fact, every July since the show became particularly popular, Fanfiction.net is flooded with fan-fiction relating to the relationship between America and England. The American Revolution is dealt with briefly but powerfully in the first season of the show, and it is portrayed as a heart-wrenching loss for England and a painful but necessary step for America. What the show doesn’t deal with, however (at least according to my memory), is their relationship after the fact. There is nothing in between the Revolutionary War and World War I, at which point relations between the two countries were already somewhat on the mend. Fan-fiction fills in that gap: some stories are sappy, some are heartbreaking, but all add a new dynamic to those two characters that the show failed to touch.

//END SPOILERS//

An expanded and more fulfilling understanding of a show’s, book’s, or game’s universe is certainly the greatest benefit of fan-fiction to the reader, but there are benefits to the author that often go unnoticed as well. A lot of writers get their start in fan-fiction; it’s an easy way to practice one’s craft without needing to go through the lengthy process of fleshing out one’s own characters and settings. It’s a way to perfect syntax, grammar, spelling, and formatting long before an author is submitting their own things for consideration or publication.

Years and years ago, my first experience writing for others was in the Zoids fan-fiction community back when Fictionpress.com and Fanfiction.net were the same website. When they split, I moved over to Fictionpress and original works, and I never looked back. Still, without that humble start in the supportive fan-fiction community, it’s entirely likely that I would never have pursued my degree in creative writing.

This show changed my life. Seriously. Go figure.

My personal experience is just one of the reasons I still read and support fan-fiction, as well as one of the reasons I believe fan-fiction is more than teenagers writing bad self-insertion porn stories as a way of fulfilling their own fantasies. When fan-fiction is done right – even if it is sexual, even if it stars an original character, even if it stretches the logic of the universe to its very limit – it is a powerful tool for both the author and his or her audience, a chance to improve at writing while offering new insight into a world that people already love.

8 comments on “The Vast Rewards of a Thriving Fan-Fiction Community (And Why It’s Not All About the Porn)

  1. Tiffany
    July 29, 2011

    I agree that there is some excellent fanfiction out there. You have to do some digging sometimes, but there are truly fantastic writers who can spin the plot in a really, really interesting direction. However, it’s just difficult to get to those stories that are buried under “Then [insert CC name here], the bodacious-elven-human–half-breed-lost-ranger-warrior-princess looked up with her hazel orbs and said with her luscious pink lips: ‘Hello'”. As much as I support the good fanfiction writers and wish for them to succeed, my patience has honestly waned. Hope you’re continuing to find good stuff though!

    • AnonFleance
      July 29, 2011

      I’m sorry you’ve had such a frustrating time with fan-fiction! A lot of the really popular series are plagued by poor writing, but you can usually find better stuff on websites aimed at an older audience. Of course, once you’re there, you have to wade through PWP instead, so I guess it’s a trade off…

  2. Mairin O'Steen
    July 29, 2011

    I hope you find a better book to read next.
    As to the fan-fiction I could not agree with you more. There is a bunch of crap out there, but hopefully those people are at least improving their writing as they go along. I am rather surprised you did not mention the notoriously bad fan-fiction My Immortal. On the plus side with fan-fiction if you happen across one of the many badly written stories at least you have not spent any money on it. When I used to read a lot of romance novels sometimes I would want to punish whomever thought that the book I had just bought was good enough publish.

    On the topic of the well written fan-fiction I would like to say that I love how nicely some authors can go into the cannon and find holes in the stories and fill them with plausible interesting stories. As for me I will stick to writing academically and leave the creative writing to people such as yourself.

    • AnonFleance
      July 29, 2011

      Frankly, I wasn’t aware of this “My Immortal.” Do share! 🙂 And hey — I’ll leave the academic writing to you in turn — can’t stand that stuff!

      • Mairin O'Steen
        July 30, 2011

        My Immortal is a Harry Potter fan-fiction. It contains just about everything you can do wrong when writing: the grammar is atrocious, the characters are completely different with no explanation given, and Mary Sue’s abound. There are several readings of it on youtube and it has at least one website dedicated to just how bad it is.

  3. Jennifer Dawson
    July 30, 2011

    I considered not exposing you to this horrific pieve fanfiction but here is a compromise I can live with. Chapter 17 read dramatically. http://youtu.be/UA_VSQqn32M

    Here is the tvtropes article with links to the full fic I believe. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/MyImmortal?from=Main.MyImmortal

    • AnonFleance
      July 30, 2011

      Oh.. oh lord, I– … I remember this now… ;_;

  4. Jennifer Dawson
    July 30, 2011

    piece* 😛

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This entry was posted on July 29, 2011 by in Fan-Fiction, Literature and tagged , , , , .

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