Writing in the Cracks: The Impetus for Fanfic

by Erica Friedman

Fanfic may well be one of the least discussed, yet most popular, forms of literature.  
Fanfic is usually defined as fiction about characters from a TV, movie, comic, or
cartoon series, written by fans. While this may seem to some to be a
non-productive and silly way to spend one's time, all evidence is to the contrary.
As Chris Davies mentions in his insightful essay about fanfic, the act of telling
stories is one of the first forms of play that children engage in. These stories
usually involve the various toys, dolls and people that the child is already familiar
with. As children age, these stories frequently add characters and personalities
from television shows and movies that they have enjoyed.

Does this mean the fanfic is an infantile pursuit? Not at all. The great classics of
Western literature were also forms of fanfic. The version of "Beowulf" that we
now read, was a late collection of the adventures of the well-known personality
that went by that name. The tales of Odysseus  were originally transmitted orally,
with many additions and changes until a bard named Homer codified them
for us in the form of "The Odyssey." Throughout the Middle Ages and
Renaissance, wandering storytellers would regale their audiences with tales of
adventure and wonder starring their favorite characters from myth and
legend…and local history.

In other words, the modern fanfiction writer is nothing more than a bard, telling
tales of beloved characters, that are not necessarily "canon," (that is, the
established literary source for that character.) What does that mean to the writer
of fanfic? It means that we write in the cracks and holes of a series, filling in
details, fleshing out character development and creating new stories that allow
us to spend just a few more moments in the company of our favorite fictional
characters. Whether it is Xena, Kirk and Spock, Dr. Who or Sinclair, fanfic retains
the same freshness (and staleness) that it always has throughout the ages. The
same themes of life and death (and rebirth,) good and evil and tragedy and
triumph are rehashed endlessly. And still the fanfic doesn't end…it continues in
many forms.

The most heavily discussed form of fanfic is known as "slash." This comes from the
Kirk/Spock genre, where the two patently heterosexual characters were paired as
a romantic couple. Slash stories have been a consistent in all modern fanfic
genres, regardless of the evidence to the contrary in the behavior of the
characters. Sexual ambiguity in relationships such as Gabrielle and Xena's has
contributed to the popularity of slash fanfic. But even those characters that are
involved with members of the opposite sex are not immune. And Japanese
animation, which frequently sets up implied intimacy between members of the
same sex, abounds with same-sex and opposite-sex couples in the "hentai" style.

One would think that because an author is using an already created character,
there is little character development possible. In fact, the opposite is true. Most
series, whether TV, comics, or anime, leave character development aside in favor
of action, with characters rarely maturing, except over years - and only if a series is popular
and the writers good enough. This is where the good fanfic author can shine -
taking what is given and adding a deeper level of mental and emotional development. Tales of the hidden past, or the unexplored future often fill out what started as a small,
self-contained storyline. The many "Star Wars" books illustrate this…as well as
the literally hundreds of "Star Trek" books. If you don't believe these are fanfics,
you're kidding yourself. And now even Japanese mega-cartoon "Sailor Moon" has
novels written for its younger audience that rehash early episodes, adding in the
thoughts and motivations of the characters. If that ain't fanfic - what is?

In short, fanfic is the work of modern bards. We retell stories, recreating them for
a hungry audience, exploring unexplored territory, and filling in holes. Sometimes
we create new continuities simply in order to continue the series long after it is
over - or after it should be. We fulfill one of the first needs we develop as humans
- the need to tell a good story.  And like the drive to provide ourselves with food,
clothing and shelter, the need for a good story is neverending.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I just had a good idea for a story....