Thursday, August 9, 2012

Let Your Fanfic Flag Fly!

I have to smile when I'm at the pool or the airport and I see people reading "Fifty Shades of Grey" out in the open, like it's nothing to be ashamed of. No, I'm not a prude who thinks erotic books should have brown paper wrappers. I'm amused because, not long ago, I would rather have died than let anybody know I read, let alone wrote, sexy fan fiction.

By now, most people know "Fifty Shades" actually started as Twilight fanfic. Not sure what that is? Basically, it's stories that people write about the characters and universes of their favorite TV shows, movies, novels, etc. Fanfic is fans continuing the story, coming up with new and different scenarios and, yes, sometimes, imagining the characters getting it on.

I learned about fanfic when the "Lord of the Rings" films came out. I was smitten with those movies and with the book they were based on and found an online community of fans who were just as enthusiastic. As with most fandoms, it wasn't long before I encountered fanfic. Some fans don't like it because they object to people taking creative license with someone else's intellectual property. Some fans just think it's cheesy, and that's cool, too. But for those who enjoy fanfic there's a huge variety, whatever your tastes--everything from adventures to sweet romance to hard-core sexy stuff featuring all manner of character pairings.

And, you know, that last one is sort of a hard concept for non-fandom folks to grasp."Oh, you like to read and write stories about elves doing it? Ohhh...kay." Which is why fanfic isn't really a topic most people bring up at work parties and family gatherings.

I had fun reading fanfic. I even tried my hand at it. (Don't ask me to show you any, though. Even if I wanted to I wouldn't be able to find those stories; I wrote under a pseudonym and have fallen out of touch with the sites and communities I wrote them for.) But what really intrigued me was the professionalism among many fanfic writers. I was a novelist-in-training then, and what I saw mirrored what I now know to be best practices.

For one, readers and writers of fanfic pretty much assume nothing will be shared without at least one beta read. That means fanfic writers are conditioning themselves to seek and follow critique of their work. The good writers revise based on their betas' feedback, and they appreciate feedback from readers as well.

Reader feedback is another great aspect of fanfiction. When readers let you know they enjoy a story, it can build the confidence a fledgling writer needs to keep going. And if someone says they don't like something, it can help develop the thick skin you'll need when you send original work into what can be an unforgiving market. 

In short, fanfic is an excellent training ground for writers, allowing them to practice their craft in a safe, fairly supportive environment. Some incredible writers got started in fanfic, including Cassandra Clare, whose Mortal Instruments series is wildly popular. (I adored her Very Secret Diaries back in those LOTR fandom days.) In fact, writers who gain a big fanfic following often can translate that into big book sales. They've got an established platform, which traditional publishers love. 

I suppose it was only a matter of time before fanfic found its way into the mainstream. It's cool to be a geek these days, and niche interests are more likely to be celebrated than ridiculed. Plus the digital world has exploded, allowing more and more people to connect and share their passions and creativity. Of course, "Fifty Shades" is no longer fanfic--it has its own universe which, I believe, is inspiring fanfic of its own. But "Fifty Shades" did rip the veil from the erotic aspect of the genre and - surprise, surprise - people like it!

Which makes me laugh because some of us have been enjoying that kind of thing for years as a secret guilty pleasure. Well, the secret's out now, and I hope to see more people letting their fanfic flags fly.