The kind of literature that fan fiction is did not spring fully formed into being in the 1960s and 70s, though some journalists still seem to think so. Throughout this book I have been stressing the link, in literary terms, between fan fiction and any other fiction based on a shared canon […]. It is clear from the comments of fan fiction writers like Ika and Belatrix Carter that one major attraction of this genre for writers is the sense of a complicit audience who already share much information with the writer and can be relied on to pick up ironies or allusions without having them spelled out. Writing based on the canons of myth and folklore can do this too, though as Belatrix Carter pointed out in chapter 7, these canons have been so extensively used for so long it is becoming harder to do anything with them that feels original.
But there is another point, implied in Ika’s remark in chapter 2 – “What I like about fan fiction is that you can still get that very highly trained audience that can understand very, very complex and allusive things.” The use of “still” alludes to the undoubted fact that for the traditional canons of myth, Bible, history, and folklore, this “very highly trained” audience is not as reliable as it once was, because the canon information is not as widely shared as it used to be. […] a writer can no longer allude to Lazarus, Circe or Alexander and be reasonably sure that most of his readers have in their heads the thoughts, stories or images for which he was aiming. The human need for heroes and archetypes does not go away, but their faces change with time, and one avatar takes the place of another. Ika’s point is a shrewd one: in an age of fragmented rather than shared cultures the fan fiction audience is unusual in having as thorough a knowledge of its particularly shared canon as a Bible-reading or classically educated audience once did.
Sheenagh Pugh, The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context, p. 219 (via nihilistelektra)
Writing and reading fanfic is a masterclass in characterisation.
Consider: in order to successfully write two different “versions” of the same character – let alone ten, or fifty, or a hundred – you have to make an informed judgement about their core personality traits, distinguishing between the results of nature and nurture, and decide how best to replicate those conditions in a new narrative context. The character you produce has to be recognisably congruent with the canonical version, yet distinct enough to fit within a different – perhaps wildly so – story. And you physically can’t accomplish this if the character in question is poorly understood, or viewed as a stereotype, or one-dimensional. Yes, you can still produce the fic, but chances are, if your interest in or knowledge of the character(s) is that shallow, you’re not going to bother in the first place.
Because ficwriters care about nuance, and they especially care about continuity – not just literal continuity, in the sense of corroborating established facts, but the far more important (and yet more frequently neglected) emotional continuity. Too often in film and TV canons in particular, emotional continuity is mistakenly viewed as a synonym for static characterisation, and therefore held anathema: if the character(s) don’t change, then where’s the story? But emotional continuity isn’t anti-change; it’s pro-context. It means showing how the character gets from Point A to Point B as an actual journey, not just dumping them in a new location and yelling Because Reasons! while moving on to the next development. Emotional continuity requires a close reading, not just of the letter of the canon, but its spirit – the beats between the dialogue; the implications never overtly stated, but which must logically occur off-screen. As such, emotional continuity is often the first casualty of canonical forward momentum: when each new TV season demands the creation of a new challenge for the protagonists, regardless of where and how we left them last, then dealing with the consequences of what’s already happened is automatically put on the backburner.
Fanfic does not do this.
Fanfic embraces the gaps in the narrative, the gracenotes in characterisation that the original story glosses, forgets or simply doesn’t find time for. That’s not all it does, of course, but in the context of learning how to write characters, it’s vital, because it teaches ficwriters – and fic readers – the difference between rich and cardboard characters. A rich character is one whose original incarnation is detailed enough that, in order to put them in fanfic, the writer has to consider which elements of their personality are integral to their existence, which clash irreparably with the new setting, and which can be modified to fit, to say nothing of how this adapted version works with other similarly adapted characters. A cardboard character, by contrast, boasts so few original or distinct attributes that the ficwriter has to invent them almost out of whole cloth. Note, please, that attributes are not necessarily synonymous with details in this context: we might know a character’s favourite song and their number of siblings, but if this information gives us no actual insight into them as a person, then it’s only window-dressing. By the same token, we might know very few concrete facts about a character, but still have an incredibly well-developed sense of their personhood on the basis of their actions.
The fact that ficwriters en masse – or even the same ficwriter in different AUs – can produce multiple contradictory yet still fundamentally believable incarnations of the same person is a testament to their understanding of characterisation, emotional continuity and narrative.
After finishing that Lorna gifset last night I suddenly got a story in my head. It’s short, and since it deals with Amy and the Demon’s Run stuff it’s probably not very nice, but here it is anyway.
Title: Justice Rating: PG13…I guess? Fandom: Doctor Who Characters: Amy Pond, Rory Williams, Jenny Flint, the Eleventh Doctor, Lorna Bucket, Madame Kovarian, River Song Warnings: Child loss, death, and abuse Summary: Three lives that touched the life of Amy Pond on Demon’s Run.
At first Amy thought Rory might go mad with grief.
“But she was here,” he sobbed, curling up against the crib. “How could they take her away from us?”
Amy didn’t have to explain. Vastra stepped in and explained the cold hard facts, sparing Amy from the day’s final horror. Rory just wept.
“When I was holding her,” he whispered, “I wasn’t even holding my own daughter, was I?”
“Yes you were. It still counts, it still bloody counts,” Amy whispered back, but to no avail. There was a few more seconds of crying, and then a sniff, and then Rory flicked the switch in him. Amy knew that switch. It brought back the Last Centurion, and the Last Centurion had seen so many terrible things that he didn’t bother crying anymore. He just gritted his teeth and got on with it.
“People are dying,” he said in a weird and far-off voice, and he squeezed Amy’s shoulder and then got up and walked over to Lorna, who was indeed dying. But the hand on her shoulder didn’t go away. Amy looked up and it was that woman she had seen fighting earlier, the dark-haired one, the one with the sword. Amy didn’t know her name.
“My name is Jenny. You don’t know me, I came with Madame Vastra,” the woman said. “And I’m so so sorry, miss.”
“You don’t have to call me ‘miss’,” said Amy. It was all she could think of to say. Rory was running from corner to corner, his sword clanking against his leg, searching for medical supplies.
“Sorry,” said Jenny. “What should I call you?”
“Just Amy,” said Amy. It sounded wrong asking to be called that, because Madame Kovarian had called her Amy too. She had made Amy’s own name sound dirty and disgusting in her mouth.
“I lost a baby once too, Amy,” Jenny said. She didn’t lower her voice for that statement, like most people would have done. “I know how it feels. I know it’s the worst thing in the world. Cruel and vicious and unjust. I’m so sorry.”
Amy didn’t know how to answer that, or if anyone could ever answer that. Lorna was dying, and coughing whilst she did so. Strax was dying too, the Doctor was running to them, Rory was standing still as a statue. There were bodies everywhere.
“I’ll kill her,” Amy said. She was glad neither Rory or the Doctor could hear her say that. “I’ll kill her, slowly. She deserves it. I’ll kill her.”
“I understand,” Jenny said. That made Amy’s stomach lurch against her will, and she briefly touched Jenny’s hand. Just a touch, though. She could stand no more.
“It’ll be all right,” Jenny whispered to her. Eventually it’ll be all right. I promise.“
"Thank you,” Amy said, and she honestly meant it, she was grateful. But it wasn’t all right. Nothing would ever be all right again.
The prayer leaf stayed on Amy’s bedside table and no-one ever touched it, save from Rory when he was doing the dusting. But the Doctor noticed it one day.
Amy thought he was about to mention River, so she got there first and said, “Do you remember that girl? Lorna?”
“Yes,” the Doctor said, a little too late for Amy’s liking.
“She made me this. Made us this.”
“Did anyone ever bury her? Or is her body still lying there on Demon’s Run?”
The Doctor fidgeted like a caged-up bird before saying, “No, no, course not. The authorities would have come eventually. They’d have sent her body back to her family.”
“But would they have ever known? Would they have known what she did for me? Or would they have just called her a traitor and not given a s- …not cared?”
“I don’t know,” said the Doctor sadly. Amy decided she believed him.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “She was kind to me. She looked at what was happening and decided it was wrong.” She picked up the prayer leaf, something she hadn’t done in quite some time. She ran her fingers over the stitching. “She deserved better. Every innocent person on Demon’s Run deserved better.”
“I’m sorry, Amy,” said the Doctor.
Amy knew he really was truly sorry, he always was, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Lorna’s parents having to bury their daughter, having to denounce her maybe, having to plan out the rest of their lives without her. She knew what it was like to lose a child.
“You have a visitor,” the guard said.
“There are no visitors in Stormcage,” said Madame Kovarian.
“And yet you have one,” said the guard. “Place your arms and legs inside the restraints, please, and hold still.”
A few long, dull minutes passed and then River Song walked through the door. Kovarian wasn’t surprised to see her, not really, but she thought it would be a good move to pretend she was.
“River! You must understand how sorry I am for what happened to you.” But River stood there emotionless. “You must understand how sorry I am for my part in it-”
“Shut up,” said River Song. There was a seat in the visitor’s room, but she didn’t sit in it. “I have just come from my mother’s funeral.”
“Oh?” said Kovarian. She felt a small stab of guilt, but could barely identify it for what it was.
“Yes,” said River. “Perhaps you’d like to know this: She had a long and happy life. She did what she loved, and she died surrounded by people that she loved. So did my father, actually, and so will I. I came here to tell you how utterly and completely you failed to break my family, Madame Kovarian.”
“That was never my intention!”
“You took pleasure in it,” River said. She hadn’t raised her voice once since stepping into the room. “You took pleasure in hurting my mother and me. But we overcame it.” She reached into her pocket and took some things out and put them on the table. Photographs. In each of them, Amy was smiling.
“I hope her happy face torments you until your dying day,” said River. Kovarian looked up and tried to think of a cutting rejoinder, but words failed her.
“I’ve only got one other thing to say to you,” River said. “There’s a timeline out there where my mother kills you. As revenge. And you know what, eventually she felt guilty about it. Your abuse never warped her. And it never will.”
Kovarian slid her hand across the table to take the photographs, but River picked them up again before she could.
“Lots of people died because of you,” she said. “They didn’t die in vain. Justice has been done.”
Pre-internet era: You walk into a room and sit down at a table. Someone brings you a turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda. Perhaps you are a vegetarian, or gluten-free. Doesn’t matter; you get a turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda.
Usenet era: You walk into a room and sit down to your turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a soda. Someone tells you that over at the University they are also serving BLTs, pizza, coffee, and beer.
Web 1.0 (aka The Great Schism): You walk into a room. The room is lined with 50 unmarked doors. Someone tells you, “We have enough food to feed you and a hundred more…but we’ve scattered it behind these fifty doors. Good luck!”
Web 2.0 (present): You walk into a room. Someone points at the buffet and says, “Enjoy!” You turn to see a 100-foot-long buffet table, piled high with every kind of food imaginable. To be fair, some of the food is durian, head cheese, and chilled monkey brains, but that’s cool, some people are into those…and trust me, they are even more psyched to be here than you are.
Tumblr (a hell pit): You try to serve yourself a baked potato. An angry child runs up and slaps the plate out of your hand. “NIGHTSHADE PLANTS ARE POISONOUS,” the child yells. You are hungry. The child gives you a turkey sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a kick on the shin.
That Last Man on Earth fanfic. Ha, Idid it! And mostly without crying!
Title: Our Godawful Lazy Remake Culture Rating: God knows. PG-13? It gets kinda gross in its descriptions every now and then. Also, well, you’ve seen the show Fandom: The Last Man on Earth (TV) Characters/ships: Mike, Erica, Mike/Erica (well, sort of) Summary: Mike forbade his brother to watch him die, but he didn’t forbid Erica.
The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.
Actually, most of that statement is inaccurate. Mike wasn’t the last man on Earth, although it would have been easier if it had been, and it wasn’t a knock, it was more like a pounding. He was in a room though. Hey, it’s a good opener, just go with it.
“Phil?” Mike asked. It came out as a sort of croak. It wouldn’t be Phil, he had promised. Maybe it was Death. Maybe it was the Terry Pratchett version of Death, which Mike had always hoped to be the real one. That would be pretty cool.
“Mike?” a voice called from downstairs. Whoever it was had opened the front door. Also, it was a woman. It was Erica. “Mike, it’s me.” A moment of silence. “Are you dead?”
“No,” Mike called back. It took most of his remaining strength to say that. Erica raced upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, and flung the door open.
“Christ!” she exclaimed on seeing him. “Oh, christ.”
“Sorry,” said Mike. He thought about making some joke about he wasn’t used to having that effect on a woman, but the words just didn’t come.
“Oh god, you do have it,” Erica said. She was wearing a hazmat suit; somehow Mike had missed this. “Oh god, I was hoping – I was hoping everyone was wrong. I had to come, I had to see-”
“Sorry,” said Mike again.
Erica was crying. “Oh god – you just look so terrible -”
Can we please ship Mickey Smith and Reinette? Just do yourself a favor for a second and imagine:
it’s Mickey’s first trip to outer space in the TARDIS. They find the fireplace, and good old tin-dog Mickey knocks the wrong thing and wheels around into 1700s France
he sees this little girl (and Mickey is good with kids), and he hears the clock—and he’s a mechanic, he knows a six-foot sound when he hears one—he is scared out of his mind, but Mickey Smith is not one to leave scared little kids, his grandmother taught him better than that
and there’s THE AUTOMATON. Mickey Smith, panicked in trying to protect this kid and not get killed in his first outing, catches the Automaton’s attention and gets it over by the fireplace and hooked to the ledge
Frantic, he smacks the thing that got him here and he’s back at the spaceship, automaton in tow, Ten mildly shocked but happy to play with more robots if Mickey will go get them
Ten is so distracted by the robot that he doesn’t notice a certain somebody pressing the thing again—Mickey wants to make sure the little French girl is okay—Rose’s “wait!” falls on empty air.
and oh shit, Mickey is met by this gorgeous woman, who calls him her imaginary friend and seems to remember him as a hero, an angel, not a scared guy—and oh no, this woman is Madame de Pompadour, isn’t she?!
quite a start for your first adventure
And when Mickey gets back through the fireplace, Rose and the Doctor have wandered off—of course they have, that’s what they do—so Mickey, looking for them, wanders through another door and into France again, and meets Reinette some more
and more automatons, of course; but Mickey’s a mechanic, he knows his way around those; delicate parts snap easily
Reinette is a delicate part, and wants to dance
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Rose are working it out from the ship—Reinette being 37 is what the droids want; and oh, no, the droids are about to strike.
Mickey doesn’t consult them. He has a horse (after all, he’s let Rose keep the Doctor), he has a mirror, he has Reinette—
Reinette, the only woman who has focused on him, and seen the hero he could be.
Reinette, so loyal that she rejoices even if he only shows up every few years.
Reinette, who is treated as an object by the droids just as much as he is treated as a tin dog by the rest of his life.
Mickey Smith jumps through the mirror, riding a horse. He and Reinette drink wine, and count the stars they would like to visit but never will now.
One wrong fireplace and Reinette is gone forever. Mickey reads her letter in the TARDIS. The Doctor and Rose leave him alone (alone, again). Mickey decides he will be the hero Reinette saw him as.
Next adventure, Mickey defeats thousands of Cybermen.
So, when I was doing my thesis on whether or not fanfiction should be considered a legitimate genre of literature, my advising professor asked me for examples. I gave him the generic ones, of course – “Pride & Prejudice and Zombies” is a horror fanfic of “Pride & Prejudice”, “50 Shades of Grey” is an erotica fic of “Twilight" – and that seemed to make him understand what fanfiction is, but not how it’s useful. So I thought about it, and, after about a minute, I said, “Paradise Lost is basically a fanfiction of the Book of Genesis. And The Divine Comedy is an epic self-insertion fic for Catholic doctrine. So, basically, you were teaching us fanfiction last semester.” I had never before seen a grown man’s eyes widen with such fear, incomprehension, disgust, awe, and understanding.
Man I ADORED Michelle. I hope she later gets held up as as good a sci-fi heroine as Furiosa or Rey, because she really is that good.
Here’s my take on what happened to her after the end of the movie. I have no idea what to title this: suggestions are welcome
By the time Michelle reached Houston, she had forgotten the sound of
her own voice. It had been a journey fraught with fear and danger – on
more than one occasion she had buried herself deep down under the car
seats and held her breath and heard her heart. Being unable to make a
noise, being unable to sob or scream, had been an advantage then.
your name and where you came from,” the soldier at the first barricade
told her crisply, pen and paper at the ready. Michelle’s voice came out
as a bubbly croak: she was afraid that any words she did manage to form
would be Howard’s and not hers. The soldier rolled her eyes, and pointed
her to the nearby medical tent. Michelle did not go there. Other people
needed it much more.
As she walked through the streets, not
meeting the eyes of anyone, a woman grabbed her. “My husband!” she
shouted. “Have you seen my husband? He-” But she didn’t get much
further, as Michelle grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her
against the wall. The woman fled screaming, and Michelle felt guilty,
but also immensely relieved that she had not grabbed by the woman by the
No-one seemed to have noticed the altercation, and
Michelle slipped quietly into one of the thousands of tents scattered
down the street and slept. When she awoke there was a man next to her –
not touching her, but next to her – and she screamed.
“Christ!” the man yelled, getting up and running away. “Jeez, what is your damage, lady?”
Michelle would have loved to tell him.
In the morning she prepared herself to do what she had come to Houston to do. Swagger into the turmoil with the arrogance of an action hero, and announce I’ve come to help you fight aliens! But she didn’t do that. She told herself she needed to prepare, even as she picked at the skin around her still-weeping wounds.
She found her way to the Texas Medical Center, eventually. Half of it appeared to be missing, but it was still open, in some sense. People both inside and outside were lying on beds with their skin peeling off, missing arms or legs or eyes, screaming at anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Other people were running from bed to bed, from sheet to sheet, trying to find their lost loved ones.
Michelle wanted to look for her brother, she wanted to very badly, but she knew he wouldn’t be there. He was long dead.
A woman with her bones showing clawed at Michelle’s arm as she went past. “Water,” she choked out. “Please. Water.”
Michelle knew there was nothing she could do to prevent the woman’s death, she seemed to be halfway out of the world already, but she did try. She nodded at the woman and ran outside, hoping against hope that there would be an unlooted vending machine sitting in a corridor somewhere, or a water cooler, or anything. There was nothing. She hurried back to the woman’s bed, stepping over people lying on the floor, and saw that she had already died. Her face was grey, and when Michelle checked her pulse she found none.
Michelle pulled her out of the bed – she weighed almost nothing – and carried her to the side of the room. She used the side of another corpse’s sheet to cover her face, and stood up. It wasn’t much, it was almost nothing, but it was something.
She hoped the bodies would be taken out and buried soon. It hurt her heart just to look at them, and of course they were starting to rot. She thought of Emmett, who had of course never gotten a proper burial, even though he was technically still under the ground.
When she turned around the woman’s bed had already been taken by someone else, and screams were still filling the air.
Heavy weaponry – tanks, airplanes, machines Michelle had never even seen – made their way down the streets of Houston at night. Every so often, an explosion could be heard. It made it very hard to sleep.
Michelle had found a large tent, nine other women inside it, that she had been allowed to sleep in for the night. There seemed to be no enforced rules as to sleeping arrangements, none whatsoever, but she had gotten lucky. “No men?” one of the tent women had asked as she had approached. She didn’t seem to speak much English. “You, no men?”
Michelle had nodded. She had been let in.
In the morning Michelle had been offered an apple and a can of Coke from the woman sleeping next to her. Michelle had been soul-achingly grateful, but she could show it only by gingerly touching the woman’s hand.
On exiting the tent, Michelle stepped over a pile of guns. The woman who had spoken to her before was sitting on a rug and cleaning one, and on seeing Michelle she picked a small handgun from a bag and thrust it towards her. It took her a few moments to realise that the woman was offering it to her, not threatening her with it.
Michelle managed to croak out a word that might have been ‘no’, even though she had no idea why, and then she walked away. She ate the apple she had been given, right down to the core, and spat the pips out onto the ground.
It didn’t take long for her to find a hub of activity that was probably a military base, or some sort of checkpoint at least. But there were barricades around it and long, long queues of people. They could be asking for food or information or anything, Michelle didn’t know. So she simply got in line.
A little way ahead of her in the queue there was a man holding a little girl by the wrist. Michelle watched them, saw the tightness of the man’s grip, saw the expression on the girl’s face. She left her place in the line: no-one seemed to particularly notice.
The queue of people moved forward and the man pulled the girl, a very hard and angry pull. The little girl fell over, crying, and almost pulled
the man down with her. Michelle saw it all.
The man swore at
the child and raised his hand for a slap across her face, but he never
got to do it. Michelle caught his arm and bent it back, bent it back far
enough for him to let out a satisfying scream of pain, and then she let
him crumple to the floor.
“You leave her the fuck alone, you sack of shit!” she screamed. “You leave her the fuck alone!”