Although we’re currently on an unofficial break, I would without hesitation classify my relationship with fanfiction as serious and long-term. We’ve known each other for years and grown together, through ship wars and show cancellations.
It’s a relationship that overlaps with an impressionable and formative period of my life, yes, but also one that shapes the way I engage with the world and media I encounter every day. It’s influenced my feelings about different kinds of relationships, familiarity with tropes, technical writing skills, perseverance to finish stories, confidence to share my work, awareness beyond my “vision” to the potential impact of my words on others …
Yes, I know this all sounds a bit melodramatic, which probably doesn’t help support the case that fanfiction isn’t just for moony-eyed teenage girls who want their favorite fictional characters to make out. But it really is so much more than that, and I hope sharing my experiences will help convince you otherwise. (Or if you are/were a fanfic’er yourself, hopefully you can relate!)
Just so we’re clear: I’m not going to get into the argument of whether fanfiction should be considered “original” works, or the legal / moral nuances when playing in another writer’s sandbox, or any of the discourse surrounding fic and fandom culture in general. (I do have a lot of strong opinions on these topics, but I haven’t yet done the research or personal reflection to properly back them up. Maybe I’ll write a post about it when I do.)
We met when I was in middle school.
One of my friends had sent me the link to a pirate AU for the anime Mai-HiME — in case you’re curious, it’s this one which unfortunately hasn’t been updated since 2012. I kept up with it and another fic from the same author (same fandom, same pairing; different setting), but I didn’t really fall down the rabbit hole then.
There’s not much to say about this first foray except that I didn’t give it much of a second thought. While it wasn’t as polished as most published works, it was an interesting, well-told story; I hadn’t watched the anime, so the characters were totally unfamiliar to me. In hindsight, I’m amazed that the central F/F romance and mild smut didn’t even phase me, considering this would’ve been one of my first experiences with either.
Probably a few months later, I got really into Tokyo Mew Mew (first the manga, then the anime. I still tend to make a point of reading the book first). My favorite pairing didn’t end up together, in spite of one major plot moment when they easily could have, and I somehow found myself on Fanfiction.net, diving deep into the fandom.
I became very familiar with the site filters and the most popular authors. But I still wasn’t satisfied with the way the aforementioned pivotal scene was handled — i.e., there wasn’t enough canon divergent fic surrounding it.
So I started writing it myself. (No, I’m not sharing the link. I actually couldn’t if I wanted to; some of my early fics are still up, but that one’s been deleted.)
I immediately made the rookie mistakes of posting each chapter as I finished it and of writing multiple fics at the same time. As anyone who reads and/or writes fic will know, that unfortunately often means
- sporadic updates
- long waits between updates
- fics that end up unofficially on hiatus for literal years
- and more!
But at the same time, what I did post received some really lovely encouragement (reviews, favorites, and follows), which bolstered my inspiration to keep going. I felt some guilt that I could’ve been using that time to study, practice piano, or work on my original writing … though not so much that I really stopped.
When it comes to fandoms and ships, it turns out I’m incredibly monogamous. Although I adored Harry Potter for years, by middle school it was totally eclipsed by The Mortal Instruments, and in high school I was almost exclusively focused on The 100. People joke about having too many OTPs (One True Pairing, aka the top ship you would absolutely go down with), but I’ve usually only had one at a time.
(I did have background ships — one does not simply stop caring about Percabeth or Kanej — which persisted throughout, and there’s often some overlap while I wrap up some projects before moving on. But for the most part I prefer to immerse myself in the personalities and minutiae of one series at a time.)
So transitioning between fandoms is always a struggle. Even ignoring the WIPs that I promise to eventually finish [but even now have yet to complete], fandom is a very social experience. It sucks to leave your friends behind, and it sucks to go back to feeling like no one is reading your fics.
To make matters worse, I was falling out of love with my own WIPs. Ironically, my best-received fic — The Mortal Instruments, all-human high school AU — was the one I least wanted to work on, because I’d written myself into a plot hole and because the pressure of expectations started getting to me. (Also, to be quite honest, every “please update!!!1!!1!!!!!!1!!” review ignited my spiteful streak.)
I never at any point officially gave up or decided to quit, but I’d certainly lost the flow.
Although it was a slow build and I never quite achieved the same popularity I reached in the TMI fic fandom, my last major fandom has been my longest running one: I wrote and posted Bellarke (Bellamy/Clarke, The 100) fic consistently for over three years.
There were canon-compliant scenes and high school / college AUs and ambiguous songfics; I filled requests and prompts, created moodboards and playlists to go with some of the bigger projects.
At my best, I had pages and pages of ideas, half-written stories, hundreds of canon quotes to draw from. I was engaged in the fandom, with a decently popular Tumblr dedicated to The 100 and solid relationships with other fans of the show, on both Tumblr and AO3. (Just as most blog engagement comes from fellow bloggers, most fic engagement seems to come from fellow fic writers.) Every song I heard seemed written specifically for some alternate-universe iteration of these characters; every movie I watched had potential to be adapted to their relationship.
The key was probably a combination of fandom engagement and my consistent free time. I knew when I could write, so I never fell out of the flow [until I did … after a few years] and I knew with whom I could banter ideas.
For years, I had looked forward to college, where I expected to be living the Cath Avery life: staying up writing fic instead of studying, maybe finding a creative-writing professor / mentor if I was lucky. I even had a fairly popular fic in progress, so I already related to her on several levels.
Instead I went and got a social life and a romantic relationship with a real person. (And I started actually studying for exams … somewhat.) I stopped checking Tumblr and eventually I stopped checking AO3; my WIP docs were upstaged by essays and textbook PDFs. Friday nights were for Super Smash Bros Brawl tournaments instead of writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and I’m glad that I don’t have academic regrets thus far. So I don’t think I would do it any differently, given the chance, especially since it happened naturally. I missed all the different aspects of fic — the actual writing, the community, the sheer love of a specific series, the feeling of inspiration — but to be honest it rarely crossed my mind.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of articles talking about how young people today have commitment issues, avoiding serious long-term monogamous relationships. These are usually viewed negatively, but I’ve never seen a problem with it as long as everyone involved is on the same page.
So I recently started getting back into fic, experimenting with different formats and plot bunnies. It’s not a grand return; I haven’t timeboxed it into my weekly schedule or decided what to do with my remaining WIPs. I haven’t even published anything new. But I’m gradually figuring out how it fits into my life, as one of several things I love to do, and for now that’s enough. I want to make this work, so I probably will.
I swear not all my writing revolves around love and relationships, despite an emerging pattern to the contrary! But I think it’s an interesting and influential topic — and an extremely subjective one; none of the sources I consulted agreed on the stages of a relationship, though they do generally consider there to be five distinct stages.
Anyway, what books / shows / fandoms most influenced your views on romance and relationships? How familiar are you with fanfiction / fandom culture? (You don’t have to confess to self-insert OC fics, but more power to ya if you want to!)