So my brother and I were debating about the relative merits of fanfiction. His stance seemed to be that fanfiction wasn’t very interesting in general because chances were that if he was reading fanfiction for something, he’d already seen/read the series, and thus the content of the fanfic couldn’t be anything new or interesting. But I beg to differ. What I find most interesting about fanfiction is the exact opposite. Given an already established setting, characters, and context, authors seem able to expand infinitely on what they’re given. These new stories can put characters in unexpected situations or explore in further detail a canonical scene; for people that are already fans of a series, it’s renewed life and the opportunity to keep enjoying something beyond its official lifetime.
Of course, this is hardly saying that every fanfic is good or that there isn’t tons and tons of shitty fanfiction out there. Indeed, I would venture to say that there’s probably one good story for every horrible ten. Maybe even twenty. The trick is finding the ones that don’t suck.
There are a lot of self-indulgent authors out there that drag the name of fanfiction down for everyone else. Everyone’s entitled to write what they want, but when it’s a Mary Sue fic that’s obviously written for your own self-gratification, what’s the point in even sharing that with the rest of the world? You don’t masturbate in public, do you? It’s fanfiction. Use what’s provided and don’t try to mix and match with your own crazy creations. No one cares about or wants to read about your OC protagonists. Especially in a romantic context. There are exceptions, naturally, and so maybe once in blue moon when the planets are in alignment, there will be a story involving an OC that doesn’t make readers want to gauge their eyes out. Maybe.
And then there’s the ever riot-worthy topic of slash. I get so sick of seeing people whine and bitch about slash. Or hell, any pairing they don’t agree with, be it yaoi, yuri, incest, lolicon, shota, or whathaveyou. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. It’s not that hard. Now a lot of people might consider those controversial sorts of pairings as falling under the previous category of “self-gratifying” fanfiction. Certainly this is true to some extent, and really, pretty much all fanfiction authors are guilty of some degree of self-indulgence. The difference here is that no matter how obscure, random, or downright offensive the pairing is, there will always be some number of fans that endorse it, thus, an audience. If you aren’t a part of that audience, don’t read it. See? Not hard.
Another big, universal gripe about the controversial romances is the lack of realism, but I see that as more as a matter of skill than anything else. If an author is good, s/he can make ANY pairing work, and I do mean any. Somehow, some way, they will be able to bend characters to their will and make situations work, all while pumping out perfectly believably circumstance and characterization. Their words will flow so well that by the end of it all, you would swear that the pairing, whatever it is, is totally canon. And that’s really one of the darndest things about fanfiction. It’s impressive, really. And certainly this would contribute to the experience of something new and different.
I find that the best fanfiction don’t really have ideas that are all too outrageous. They’re more modest, simple works. Perhaps they detail a familiar scene from a different perspective, or they’re taking an AU route about what could have been or what will be. Changing up too much and it becomes hard to recognize what the original was. The most important thing of all though, is characterization. No matter what the story’s about, regardless of genre or setting or a thousand other little components that go into a story, if the characterization sucks, then all the other efforts will be for naught. A story can be well-written with perfect pacing and spotless grammar, but if the main character is completely different from how he was in the series, then why should your fan-filled audience care? If he isn’t the character he’s supposed to be, then why should a fan want to read about him? May as well change his name, tweak some settings and bill it as an original work.
Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to tell how well characters are written from just a story’s tagline or an author’s summary. My trick is usually to skim the dialogue of a story — it’s fairly simple to judge if dialogue is out of character since verbal cues are so much easier to latch onto than body language or reactionary development in anime and manga. Sadly, for introspective stories, where characterization is even more crucial than usual, there usually isn’t too much dialogue, and you’ll just have to wing it. Or judge based on other things, such as spelling and grammar, but you should be doing that anyway.
For a fan that’s finished everything officially available and left unsatisfied, fanfiction is a simple answer. It can serve as a substitute while you wait for next week’s episode or chapter, and it can potentially fill you with the same silly fangirl/boy glee. Just avoid what you know you won’t like (probably more than half of all fanfiction available for your chosen fandom, though it might be good to try new things sometimes), filter out the poorly-written dribble (another quarter) and crappy storylines (maybe another 10-15%), and hunt down those few gold nuggets at the bottom of the pile. If you look hard enough, there’s usually something down there that’s worth your while. Oh. Don’t forget to try out some crack fiction now and again. It’s good to be ridiculous sometimes.
So yeah, that’s me on reading fanfiction. Writing fanfiction can probably be another post entirely.
You know what? I should have named this blog tl;dr. In fact, I want a shirt that says that. It’s entirely too true for virtually everything I write. Bummer.