and then there was fan fiction

It took a long time for me to be okay with reading romance (trashy genre fiction with swooning water-coloured heroines on the cover). Then I went into defiance – head up when I checked the books out at a library, daring the librarian to judge me for it. Then I went into campaigning for the rest of my world to understand what a treasure trove my chosen genre really is.

Now I find myself at the beginning all over again…with fan fiction.

Even though I’ve struggled both internally and externally against the perceptions attached to a genre, fan fiction feels shameful. If romance is at the bottom of the genre pile in people’s estimation (and it is), then fan fiction sits in some murky water below it.

Cat gave me a Harry Potter fanfic to read, because it had a great example of the awful I love you that I was talking about all the time. So it wasn’t her favourite example of fanfic – she rated it 6 out of 10 – but that wasn’t the point.

The unintended side-effect was that I LOVED IT.

You may remember that I’ve been going through a distressing case of identity-crisis-inducing reading ennui. For the last couple of days I simply haven’t been able to stop reading.

I’m trying to pinpoint what is so great about it, but as I’m such a newcomer to the genre it’s all a bit hazy. Initially I really couldn’t understand why Harry Potter of all the books would generate more fan fiction than any other story out there (aside, of course, from the obvious fact of it being the most popular series of all time). It seemed to me like such a childish (and that’s not meant to be derogatory) story to have such an intense following.

But the whole point of Harry Potter fanfic, as I’ve discovered, is to invert the original story in ways that are unavoidably fascinating.

Maybe every story is made up of itself and, unspoken, its inverse. Going into the world that shadows it – that exists because it isn’t – feels somehow complex. Unlike the story that made it, it can’t exist on its own. It has to be made of facets, and possibility. It also seems to contain all the unanswerable yearning of the original which, as you may be able to guess, is irresistible to me.

There’s one author I’m particularly enjoying, and her Draco Malfoy is the most charming, charismatic, awful, insecure, amazing creation. I’ve often felt inadequate when writers talk about the books they re-read for inspiration. But this – when I am struggling to imbue a character with that something that makes them light on fire, I will re-read this.

Then there’s my new Kindle, which changes everything. It means I don’t have to approach these stories as Deemed Worthy of Publication and find them missing, or as a guilty pleasure I’ll kill my eyes with by reading off the computer.

It doesn’t have to be polished and thoughtful and structured and perfect. It can be an exciting idea, an adrenaline rush of potential, an over-the-top exploration of all the best bits with none of the rest.

And who says fiction can’t be like that?

About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
This entry was posted in on writing, review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to and then there was fan fiction

  1. Jeyna Grace says:

    True… fan fics are a new world on its own.

  2. Alex says:

    In theory I’m all for fan fic, but my problem is: how do I find the really good ones? There’s so much around and the few I’ve started weren’t that good.

    • Jeyna Grace says:

      Why dont you try mind? 🙂

    • anna cowan says:

      I’d say that’s the biggest hindrance to getting into fanfic. If you just wade in the results are bound to be less than great. Luckily, I have a mate who was right into it, and I’ve just been reading the stuff she recommended! Lemme know if you want some recs. (Also, I’d say enjoyment depends a little on your id 🙂 )

      • bleu_bleuet says:

        Ă–_Ă– I want some recs! I want some!

        Also, you read something of m’s… -_- I am soooooo jealous. She took everything off line the year I started reading HP fiction. And at that point I was still struggling down there in the ‘less than great’ section.

    • bleu_bleuet says:

      Well, if you are unfortunate and have to start without the guidance of a friend there is only really one relatively easy way to find good fics. And finding the ‘really’ good ones is still largely down to luck.
      You can go to a community that revolves around the kind of fic you are looking for. When you browse the recs you will undoubtedly happen upon some that sound promising. Read those. If you find them above the average writing skill in fandom or ‘moderately good’ you can follow on to some other stories the author has written. If you like these as well, you might want to look into this author’s favourites (if they have any) or their recs. If you don’t like them so well you can look at the reccer’s other favs or their fics.
      If you keep doing that, always following the route where you encounter the most skill, going from author to author, you will at some point find someone who as nearly exactly the same taste as you.
      When you have exhausted their work and their recs, you might need to wander on in the same fashion as before. Or you can try some of their friends.
      Of course this method is very time consuming, but only slightly more so than most other searching methods and the good thing about it is that the skill level of the stories can only stay the same or get better.

  3. bleu_bleuet says:

    What you say is exactly why I appreciate fan fiction. Incessant exploration. An endless number of variations of the same idea, the same situation, the same characters. It is inspiring.
    In fact, my favourite genre within HP fan fiction is the non-magic AU. I love to see how authors apply the characters to a setting that is completely different from the original, while constructing the story in such a way that the original can still be felt in the undercurrents of the plot. Unfortunately there are very few of this kind of story.
    “Going into the world that shadows it – that exists because it isn’t – feels somehow complex. Unlike the story that made it, it can’t exist on its own.” This is true; it is what makes fan fiction great, but it is also what makes it – in a sense – insubstantial. In my estimation fan fiction gains its worth, its depth, its meaning from challenging the original, the ‘reality’. Fan fictions are like utopias and dystopias of our real world.
    This is why I don’t like ‘good ending’ – ‘bad ending’ books, where you can read both but none has been given more authority than the other. Sure, you can compare them, but they lack finality. They lack this distinct ‘what if’ quality that makes you regret and wonder *why* the story was written as it is… Or more importantly *why* it couldn’t possibly have come otherwise. It makes both possibilities incredibly easy to discount.
    In original stories there is nothing you can compare the plot development to and that might make the topic they deal with seem not exhausted enough to satisfy. On the other hand, there is a point when reading fan fiction at which you know the characters so intimately, from every angle in every situation that reading ennui is unavoidable. They simply keep circling around themselves and there is no real advancement, no moving on. Just ever more ‘what ifs’. That’s the point when ff seems to get old… like thrice warmed up bread and you simply cannot bring yourself to read on.
    Originals are still unexplored, fresh, and full of unwritten possibilities. So yes, I think every story is in part its inverse.

    “It can be an exciting idea, an adrenaline rush of potential, an over-the-top exploration of all the best bits with none of the rest.
    And who says fiction can’t be like that?”
    Can non-fan fiction be? I don’t think so. Maybe utopias and dystopias can be. They are real life fan fictions. Would “Brave new World” or “1984” have quite so much impact on the reader if there wasn’t reality to compare these books to? Probably not.
    (High) Fantasy and Science Fiction authors suffer from that effect. They try to establish an idea to something that does not (yet) exist as reality. And even suspension of disbelief cannot bring about quite the same depth that can be found in fan fiction or utopias/dystopias, simply because they are no counterparts to something.
    Not that I don’t like Fantasy. It’s ‘my’ genre and I love it… But books just feel different, don’t they?
    Maybe Harry Potter generates so much fan fiction, because it is in part a counter image of our real world, a partial ‘what if’, and people like to explore it by creating their own images of our world and the HP Universe? An image of an image…

    • anna cowan says:

      so many interesting ideas – I especially love the idea that fiction is (or can be) already an inverse of our reality. I hadn’t taken the thought to that conclusion, but it makes so much sense. (And begs thinking about.)

      I can definitely see that “thrice baked bread” moment you’re talking about. The more fanfic I read, the more used to these new permutations I get, the less thrilling it becomes every time (sort of – I’m also still at a point where every story I read I love better than the last. I guess what I’m really saying is that the “inverse” effect becomes less, because you become more used to the other side of things).

      As far as recs – I’ve pretty much only been reading Maya. I scoured the internet and managed to find the PDF of her complete works. I know she requested that it not be put around, but I wanted to read them too much, and it seems too ridiculous to ban readers from it. The friend who’s been recommending them to me has also pointed me to this one: which has her favourite characterisation of Harry. I haven’t read it yet, though. The one she originally gave me (with the awful I love you) was called The Boy Who Only Live Twice, but I don’t know who wrote it, or where to find it.

      Can you point me to any of those non-magical world fics? That sounds really interesting.

      • bleu_bleuet says:

        Okay, just a quick note to let you know that I am going to give you some pointers.
        However, I need to think about which stories to introduce you to, since there are, as I mentioned, very few that fit the description completely.

        And I don’t want you thinking I am a berk who blathers about things that don’t exist or likes to talk big. So I need to go through what I have read and try to find the most suited… It might take two or three days.

        Moreover, I feel like an idiot… I searched “Maya“, I searched „Maya + various of her fiction“ … Do you think I ever looked for „Complete Works“? >_>

        So you don’t have to wait too long: Non-magical world fiction off the top of my head, which I hope you don’t find completely atrocious:

        „Keeper“ by kabeyk
        It’s quite short (6153 words) and apart from Harry and Draco has only OCs in it. The characters are not completely ‚in character’, but I liked them anyway and found the story realistic. The characters are also not so very off as in most ffs.
        I am not sure whether it will be valuable for you at all, seeing as you have probably had far more exhaustive thoughts on romance and how to write it than I could ever imagine. That statement can be applied to any of the following… Âżrecs? I guess I am not a very… romantic… person. I just want relationships/actions to be realistic-feeling.
        Points from a rating out of 20: 18

        „Yorkshire Puddings“ by Karina4
        Quite enjoyable. The start is very funny. I sometimes felt it was a bit far-fetched later on and made unnecessary use of cliches (eye colours, big house, etc) but if you don’t take it completely serious, the cliches even add to the story.
        13 807 words.
        14-15 out of 20

        „Black Coffee on a Lonely Night“ by femme
        I read it some time back, so I don’t remember clearly.
        21 675 words.
        From what I remember I would rate it at about 15-16. At least it sits in my favourites.
        Then there are these ffs which are not exactly non-magical:

        „Oscilliate Wildly“ by V. G. Marks
        This one is very intense and heart breaking. Harry gets to choose between two realities, one of which is muggle.
        No idea how many words, a bit longer though.
        I’d say 17 out of 20.


        „Algebra in der temporären autonomen Zone“ and ist sequals „Vanadium I-Ching“ and „Coda 2.3“ by Liriaen
        Which is in German as you can probably tell from the title. Since I don’t know how good your German is I thought I might as well chance listing it.
        (Universe time-wise „Vanadium I-Ching“ is a prequal, not a sequal, though.)
        In this there is magic, but the author was trying to imitate William Gibson’s style and while it is not a Crossover (but only just about; you could probabply say it is) there are lots of elements form „Neuromancer“ in it.
        Resulting in Voldemort being a self-learnig artificial-intelligence that aims to attain world domination. The author even managed to include Horcruxes and the relationships beteween *all* characters are complex and intriguing.
        This is everything I could want form a non-magical AU, only I never found one that took things quite that far.
        41963 words.
        20 out of 20.

        All of the English ones are quite well known.
        Well, hope you like at least one of the above and don’t think I am a total idiot… heh.

        On a totally different note: I wanted do apologize for my grammar and spelling.
        It is annoying, I can tell good and bad English apart and recognize stylistic devices and evaluate them… but I cannot apply what I have learned in such a way that my English would seem like my first language… *sigh*

      • anna cowan says:

        Believe me, I know the desire to come across as a native speaker (I used to stop talking to people after a couple of minutes to preserve the impression that my German was perfect. Heh, lame.). But really, your English is excellent, and I’m happy having a German-speaker on here, so no need to apologise ever. Also, props for getting the word “berk” in there.

        Pretty excited to check out some of these recs! My reading-German’s pretty good, but I’ll see how I get along with the German-language one. Ta!

  4. bleu_bleuet says:

    Oh, ah, well… I only just remembered:
    I should probably have mentioned that I mainly read slash, so if you didn’t want that sort of story thrown at you, you can still tell me to not bother going through my old reads.
    Which you could tell me anyway…

  5. bleu_bleuet says:

    Sorry it took so long.
    My father wanted to ’try’ something with our laptops, and did something to the passwords in the process and I didn’t want to go to the neighbours to ask whether I could use theirs.

    So, here is the rest. This time I am going to say why I like the fics in question and what I don’t like about them. This is because there are different reasons to like a story: characterisation, dialog, style, idea, world building, etc. Also I noticed that I am more likely to criticise characters behaving OoC/situations being unrealistic the nearer they are to the goal of being IC, because why bother if everything is already so fannish there is no chance of it ever being improved enough to look like cannon?

    “Un Dieu Anonyme“ by switchknife
    4600 words.
    Unfortunately discontinued. Set in the Muggle world, with Harry still living at the Dursleys’, as if the Hogwarts Letter had never come. There are hints that switchknife planned on a real background story with intrigues and everything, but maybe I am reading too much into it.
    Her style is nothing extraordinary but has a very concise, smooth, cool feel to it, which I like a lot. It produces real pictures, rather than the mushy haze of blurted out responses and stereotyped behaviour that is so common in fan fiction.
    The starting scene is a bit strange but she can pull it of thanks to the coolness of her style.
    Since it is not finished, I will not rate it.
    There are also two one shots that were written by other authors set in the universe. One is called “Un Dieu Imaginé“ (fairly useless, if you ask me) and the other “Variation on Un Dieu Anonyme“ (this one is alright, but lacks in style).

    “A Town Called Whinging“ by switchknife
    3200 words.
    Also discontinued. HP set in a Western scene, with Tom Riddle leading a corrupt railway company. Looking mainly at what the characters would be like in this environment.
    Only one chapter that I know of.

    “The Moon’s Significant Tremble“ by setissima
    5700 words.
    Now this is one that is worth reading due to style. I like the imagery the author uses and how she creates a removed, dreamy, unrealistic feeling. The story itself isn’t so remarkable but the way it is presented is quite unique when compared to the majority of fan fiction. It isn’t really interesting due to the world it is set in.
    16 out of 20.

    “Draco’s Boy“ by empathic siren
    I have no idea how many words. But it has got 31 chapters. I am including it because many people feel that it is one of the best stories they have read and it is definitely a classic. Harry moves in next to Draco’s with the Dursleys and they become friends.
    I don’t like it so very much, although the writing is good. Maybe I have got misguided taste or I was too tired while reading it, so don’t let me make this story seem not worth your while.

    Stories that can only be considered non-magic AUs because they take part mostly in the Muggle world:

    “Fade to Silver“ by Furiosity
    11 200 words.
    I generally like what she writes. Some of her stories are better than others, as is to be expected. I would say this one sits in a low middle range. It is relatively realistic, but the ending is weak in that regard. Also it only slices at the characters emotions and doesn’t quite take the potential of the idea to the full. However, I like how Furiosity describes action (not the plot, but the actual movements of characters). It is certainly one of the better ones with this kind of plot.
    13-14 out of 20.

    “Flight“ by Sushi
    4 900 words.
    This is the only one that is worth reading due to world building. It takes the idea and of Muggles finding out about the Wizarding World relatively far, although, I would like it to have taken it even further. Narrated in diary-style.
    17 out of 20.

    As I told you, there are very few non-magical AUs that are excellent or which might have an inspiring side effect. There are quite a lot that are a nice read but not difficult to stop reading and forgetting about. There is “The Loft“, “Porcelain“, “Interpreting Draconis“, “Somebody’s Darling“, etc, which are certainly not bad fic but still make me rather reluctant to read on.
    Oh well. I guess the i-net provides enough possibilities for the searching mind to make a find.

    What is so frustrating about the whole situation is that there are so few fan fictions that are not character based, especially in HP fandom.

    • anna cowan says:

      excellent! I’m looking forward to checking these out 🙂 I just read one I really enjoyed called Bond – it’s a kinda basic premise (Harry/Draco cursed into unwilling marriage) but it’s played out really well, especially all the implications of their differing beliefs, and the complications of sex and intimacy.

      • anna cowan says:

        urg, sorry the link didn’t work, but the url should be right

      • bleu_bleuet says:

        Hi *waves akwardly*
        There are two reasons, well, three really, why I answer only now:

        1) It might just me being stupid once more… but I don’t get which url you are talking about.
        Therefore I assume you are talking about Anna Fugazzi’s Bond, of which I have only read three chapters, I believe. This leads to the second reason:

        2) I *hate* disapointing people. Which I feel I am doing, if I cannot tell you what I thought of the later chapters. Obviously I cannot assess the value of a story I have not read. So I was thinking about reading it now, before answering you. Which then leads on to number

        3) I am trying really hard to leave HP behind me at the moment, preferably all fan fiction, because it eats up too much of my time (being a very solw reader and such) and makes me lose perspective.
        Incidentially, this is the reason I stopped reading Anna Fugazzi’s Bond after the third chapter.

        Seen in that light, asking for recs was probably one of the silliest things I could have done… -___-° because, oh, the CURIOSITY!

        However, I think it is better to concentrate on your other posts, revive my creativity a bit. Because what fan fiction does for you, it fails to do for me any longe and I need to get ‘out’.
        I hope you understand this. I am really sorry to have … kicked of a discussion. : /

        I have actually read ‘The Shadow of His Wings’ and it is beautiful. I love how all the characters are characterised, not only Harry. The story is well thought trough and has such realistic turnabouts. So many great surprises. Among other I liked it very much that Mirabella paid such attention to Percy and Goyle and to the politics and different views of all these persons.

      • anna cowan says:

        my god, I can totally understand needing to go cold turkey on the fanfic! (I’ll probably need to do this soon…) No worries on not reading it – it just happened to be the fic I was reading at the time. I agree that Mirabella’s fic was great – oh how I wish she’d finished it!

  6. bleu_bleuet says:

    One last question that occurred to me reading this post for the upteenth time: WHY is Romnace not well respected? It doesn’t make much sense looking down upon a genre, especailly this one. It is nearly impossible to write a book without some of its elements, isn’t it?

    • anna cowan says:

      heh, this is a massive topic! 🙂 The main reasons seem to be that it’s concerned with “women’s business” and so isn’t considered to have a very broad range. It’s also mostly highly escapist, so it’s not considered serious fiction. There’s also A LOT of it out there, so yeah, that means there’s a lot of badly written romance out there. It’s a bunch of elitist crap, mostly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s