Though I’ve explored fan fiction a bit before, I’ve been thinking about it lately thanks to this article, which focuses a great deal on the gendered factions of fan culture as well as the reasoning behind those divisions. It’s stuck in my head partly because I’m not sure I agree with all the reasoning or assumptions.
I certainly agree that a lot of the criticism of fanworks tends to be heavier against females, particularly teenage girls. It’s peculiar and quite sad when a group of people who have experienced ostracism, because of their interest in a niche topic like comic books or sci-fi or whatever, will turn around and ostracize a smaller group for not being “true fans” and other such hurtful gatekeeping. Stepping on people beneath you, so to speak, isn’t going to prevent those above you from stepping on you. Stop spreading the poison!
But in any case, why is it that female fans are overwhelmingly more likely to write fan fiction? Lots of theories have been thrown around. That article leans toward the assumption that females, and other under-represented groups, are more inclined to see a need for transforming their fandom’s stories into some more inclusive. I understand that inclination, but it can’t be a universal motivation — it doesn’t really reflect my own engagement with fanworks, for one thing. My fan fiction is less likely to focus on alternative scenarios or original characters and more likely to portray missing moments (what happened in between scenes, as it were) or the same events as experienced by a different point-of-view character.
In other words, with a few rare exceptions I tend to hew pretty close to the original canon, rather than transforming it dramatically. Am I in the minority? Maybe so. You’d have to take a pretty tremendous survey of fan fiction to collect sufficient data, and I’m not about to embark on a study that vast or labyrinthine. I think, mostly, I want to point out that there are probably as many reasons for creating fanworks as there are fanwork-producing fans. We all approach our fandoms in a different way. While there are obviously trends, hence the dramatic preponderance of women writing fan fiction, each individual will have their own varied reasons. For me, it doesn’t feel as much a feature of my womanhood as the simple fact that I’m a writer, and writing is how I engage with almost everything.
There is also something that appeals to me in the inherent challenge of creating something new within an existing framework of parameters. Yes, I really believe that in some ways fan fiction — at least well-written fan fiction — is more challenging to create than original fiction. I’m not even talking about pleasing the audience (although a fandom audience, however eager, will possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the story’s details and will pounce on you if your fic doesn’t match up). No, I’m talking about my own personal determination to keep my work canon-compliant. It’s a sort of exercise in finding solutions that are consistent with established boundaries. In the world of Harry Potter, you can’t resolve a problem by having your characters fly off in a spaceship. It wouldn’t be in keeping with the worldbuilding. However, it’s quite reasonable in a Star Wars fan fic. If you were crafting a Harry Potter/Star Wars crossover, of course, we’d have to revisit that, but let’s talk instead about an entirely different sort of crossover that I embarked on last year.
The idea of tackling a challenge was probably the primary motivation behind one of my most expansive fanworks — setting the story of the Star Wars saga to the tune of songs from Les Miserables. It was a massive undertaking, and utterly useless from any practical standpoint. So why did I do it? It started out, of course, from a mutual love of Star Wars and Les Mis, and the realization that a song like “Stars” could be easily modified to portray Vader’s search for Luke. But why did I continue writing songs until I had covered pretty much the entire six episodes? Why did I go on and create videos with still clips from the films and recordings of my shaky voice singing every single part? These were not short videos. And it was never an easy project. I had only just learned how to use iMovie, and my amateur skills led to a lot of frustration.
And yet I had so much fun, overall, that I find myself wistfully recalling those hours and hours of work and wishing I had a similar project to throw myself into now. Overcoming the challenges was part of the joy. I wanted to find a song for every single significant plot point or emotional beat. I wanted the song choices to be consistent with the individual moments as well as mirroring similar moments at other points in the saga, just like the motifs that recur in the original movies and in the original musical. I put a lot of thought into writing every lyric. I studied the libretto of Les Mis and used a rhyming dictionary. Then I selected literally hundreds of screencaps from Star Wars to correspond to the songs.
Why? Because, simply, I enjoyed doing it. Yes, I would like it if hordes of people complimented me on my songwriting/video-making skills and listened with rapt attention as I explained every one of my choices with the music and the rewritten lyrics (I’m still too nervous about trolls to post the videos on anything but the unlisted setting) but just making the thing was a source of joy.
So — make the thing. Don’t worry what anyone else assumes about your motives or your relative geek status or any of that nonsense. If the process of creation brings you joy — and as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else or impede your general functionality as a human being — go ahead and make the thing.