The first Twilight movie was released on November 21, 2008, my son’s first birthday. Prior to that, first my sister and then a librarian friend of mine had told me that I should read the books, but I had resisted. I’m typically not a trendy girl so I tend to wait until things have been rolling along for a while to give it a go. When a girlfriend recommended that I join her and another friend to see the movie, I went along for a girl’s night replete with dinner and my first – and what I thought would be my only – viewing of Twilight.
I was hooked. I was so hooked that I ordered the first book when I came home from the movie that evening and then ordered the next three books before I had even finished the first one. I saw the next four movies on opening day. I bought the special editions when they came out on Blu-ray. I became and remain a die-hard Twihard.
I’m also a writer and, once the movies were done and Stephenie Meyer had moved on to new projects, I felt a vacuum. I’m into other fandoms, sure, but I still wanted more Twilight, more of Edward and Bella and their families. Sure, I could reread the series or watch the movies again, but that didn’t sate the nagging need to know what’s next. That’s when I started reading and then writing fanfiction.
I had read quite a bit of Gilmore Girls fanfiction back when I had first gotten into the show. I had even written a couple of my own stories, but I was content to read others’ more than write my own. First with Harry Potter and then with Twilight, I noticed that fanfiction began to become more mainstream. I also noticed that it had a reputation that might seem undesirable to me as a writer. Would I want to be associated with the genre if I ever became a published writer in my own right? The assumption was, at least in my understanding, that fanfiction was associated with dreamy teenage girls who wanted to write themselves into the series they loved or adults who wanted to write the characters into very adult situations. The writing was purported to be amateurish at best and terrible and sometimes unreadable at worst. That reputation is not one without some truth to it. Yes, a lot of fanfiction is just simply not well-written and not for lack of trying on the writer’s part. Yes, you can find adult stories for just about any fandom. However, what those assumptions do is deny all of the good that fanfiction can do: 1) it can allow writers a chance to practice and hone their craft; and 2) it allows fans to continue the experience of their favorite fandom beyond the scope of the product that the original creators may have produced.
Write, Write, and Then Write Some More
When I was teaching Freshman Composition at a state university, my students had to write upwards of twenty-five pages a semester. They grumbled, they whined, but they did the work (well, most of them) and soon learned the benefits of all of THAT WRITING. They got better at it. The process grew easier. They understood their own writing quirks and what they needed to do to improve. ‘Practice makes perfect’ is an axiom for a reason. Now, not all of my students were going to continue on to become William Faulkner or David McCullough, but, for all intents and purposes, their skills were improving because of all of that practice.
That is what fanfiction can do for the average writer: gain experience at writing. The advantage is that the writer is working with known characters. As a fanfiction writer, I can borrow characters from a fandom and put them in new settings and new situations or I can rewrite what’s already been done to satisfy some curiosity or need. Two stories I’ve written based on the Twilight characters have taken two minor characters from the series and put them in their own stories, answering questions that I had inevitably asked myself after reading the books again. It gives me a chance to practice writing dialogue and plotting out stories. I can get feedback from beta readers or reviews and understand what I can do differently with these stable and known characters. I can make writing a habit because I’m doing it more often and in the comfort of a fandom that I care about and know well.
E.L. James used Twilight to tell the story that started as “Master of the Universe,” fanfiction about Bella becoming involved in a BDSM relationship with Edward, and then evolved into Fifty Shades of Grey (and later its two sequels). Christina Lauren, the writing partnership of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, created first the fanfiction The Office, also based on Twilight characters, and then turned it into Beautiful Bastard, which has since evolved into a series based upon the characters from that book. While those two examples are extraordinary – most fanfiction writers will fade anonymously into the background – it does show that fanfiction has value as a jumping-off point for writers.
I Just Need Another Hit
My sister is a geek like me; in discussing writing this article, she shared that she too reads fanfiction, especially since she’s a SuperWhoLockian and enjoys the occasional good Sherlock fan story. Nine episodes of Sherlock exist currently, but a glance at Fanfiction.net shows that at least 53,700 published stories (finished and not) are available for reading on the site. Harry Potter, with its seven books and eight movies, has more than 723,000. Twilight has at least 218,000. All of this is on only one site. Google ‘fanfiction’ to find that quite a few websites are home to these stories.
As a geek girl raised on Star Wars and inspired by fandoms like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls, fanfiction allows me to continue the story even after it’s officially done. I can explore another take on the story arcs as they exist or speculate on what might have been if x had happened instead. If I don’t like that Xander and Anya broke up, I’m sure I could find a story where they did go through with the wedding. I can read a story where Lorelai and Luke’s breakup at the end of season six is resolved in a different way, in a more satisfactory way. It allows me to remain in that world, regardless of what the world might be, just a little bit longer. I can extend the experience or reimagine the story in ways that I might not have been able to imagine on my own, all because fellow fans are willing to share their ideas with me.
In the end, what fanfiction does is create a space where fans, the most important part of that term, can connect with the characters and worlds they love and with other fans in turn. The stories we create as fans become a part of the tapestry of our experience, no two fans ever having the same one. We can answer questions or ask new ones. We can see familiar things in new ways. Fanfiction can enrich that part of our lives and, for that, it has value.