21st Century Brontë #22 by Brontë Bettencourt
Let’s Talk Fanfiction
For many years I revered Anne Rice. I read The Vampire Chronicles in the moments of my life when I understood what it was like to be the “other”, harboring crippling fear of mortality. When I learned that Rice forbade fanfiction of her work, I accepted her decision without question. I didn’t understand why a writer would spend so much time crafting a story with another artist’s tools for no notoriety or monetary gain. To witness the train wreck of some inexperienced writer diminishing Rice’s complex stories into smutty sex scenes was unforgivable.
Then again, after her third vampire novel, she seemed to be doing as much damage as any fanfic writer to her literary legacy.
In college, I thought it was weird to partake in a structured regiment in order to engage in freeflowing, creative writing. With papers, readings, short stories, and critiques coming with hard deadlines, the last thing I wanted to do was write for my own enjoyment. As a result, I started feeling guilty over not using my free time adequately. I stressed over the individual elements of word economy, depth, story advancement, and forgot how to simply tell the story.
In all of my undergraduate creative writing workshops, genre fiction was at best discouraged, and at worst banned. The professor’s intent was to focus on the multi-dimensionality of the character, which should drive the story on its own. A compelling character doesn’t have room to breathe with over-complicated plot and genre tropes. For newbie writers, juggling elements of alternate world mechanics such as magic or history is an arduous task, especially due to the limited space of the short story form, favored in creative writing classes on fiction.
There were a few students who attempted to incorporate fantasy into their stories, and these peers squandered the full page limit just to establish the universe. And those students were still bombarded with questions about these constructed worlds, not the effectiveness of their characters.
In between writing high-pressure assignments, I turned to reading fanfiction, which alleviated the pressure of story crafting. I read stories littered with spelling errors, but the story’s focus remained on entertaining the reader, not executing literary techniques. These writers allowed me to err in my own craft since their works were not polished, and I was reminded of the universal struggle of writing, usually hidden beneath the veneer of published novels.
Fanfiction is a valuable way to practice writing a character-driven story because the writer doesn’t need to spend time establishing a world that the readers are already familiar with. We’ve already accepted that Steve Rogers is Captain America, and that Hogwarts is a school for the magically inclined. The writer can instead focus on telling a story with such characters.
The intrinsic desire to create overrules the monetary impulse, since fanfic writers cannot make money with other writers’ properties.
I’m aware that there are radioactively terrible works of fanfiction. However, poorly executed works also exist on bookstore shelves, hidden beneath an enticing hardcover. Also, considering that we’re in a time overrun with movies being made from books, or remade from earlier movies, or television shows, as well as video games and comic books, couldn’t those also be considered fanfiction, just instead made by someone who’s authorized and getting paid to do so?
In the Marvel Universe alone, there numerous alternate universes (although the recently released Secret Wars have limited all of the numbered comic-book universes down to one). Arguably, the most mainstream of the universes is Earth-616, the Ultimate comic universe, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone there have been different directors, pulling from the comic source material in order to create a compelling story, much of which deviates the source material. And in this deviation, those working on the story are making educated guesses on how the characters will act. These are different people writing for established characters who need to remain consistent within the universe and the archetypes that have been established in the respective comics’ initial debut.
These movies are condensing decades of character development into films that some could argue are better executed in the comic books. But the movies are also drawing new fans into a medium that wouldn’t have been explored if not for the movies.
Just because the source material is what established a particular fictional universe, that doesn’t automatically make it immune to critique. I’m currently seeing this play out in a series that I loved as a kid, because the staff took so many liberties with the universe.
Sailor Moon is an early 90s anime adaptation of the magical girl manga by the same name featuring, at the base level, girls who use magic. Every week, the heroines would come across a new monstrous enemy, to which they would then transform via a long, glamorous montage and vanquish their foe in a flashy display of passion of determination. The repetitive nature of the episodes helped the show refrain from getting too far ahead of the source material that was still being published. As a result, there were many filler episodes, as well as episodes that ended up deviating from its original source material.
In 2014, Sailor Moon Crystal aired as a more faithful adaptation of the original work. The art style was gorgeous and the popularity were never a question since it’s all fueled on nostalgia… That is until the episodes continued to air.
There were many issues with the execution of the beloved franchise, from poor animation to rapid pacing, and plot points not … making sense. There’s a part toward the finale that varies drastically from the original anime, where Sailor Moon has to battle her brainwashed love interest. In “Crystal” her friends watch as she stabs her love interest and then herself in order to reincarnate from the tragic situation they were placed in. The fans were up in arms about this scene for all the character development thrown out in that moment; a season of the heroine maturing and learning to be a leader, gone. So many were bothered by the poor writing, only to find out that the moment was pulled directly from the manga.
In the original anime, Sailor Moon actually fights her love interest, taking a multitude of physical blows before snapping him out of the spell. He is then killed by the antagonist while trying to protect Sailor Moon. She does take a moment to mourn, but she refuses to kiss him since all of her friends have died without knowing true love. So after making a very mature decision she marches forward to confront the antagonist in an epic standoff that’s still pretty exciting today.
The original Sailor Moon was a role model I could look up to as a kid. As an adult, I could admit that the writing was sappy, but the storytelling was paced well and entertaining. Just because an adaptation remains true to the source material doesn’t mean that it’s automatically good. The company who created the original anime had to write their own ends in order to tie up a story that wasn’t available to them. Fanfiction also often makes these kinds of deductions, minus the payment.
I can understand why an author would not want to see her work as any less than her specific ideals. But regardless of whether an interpretation of the work is written down or kept within oneself, every individual will develop their own idea of what develops from the source material. No matter how well a writer or artist can convey his or her initial vision, the reader can always find a new and even drastic interpretation, supported by evidence.
As a writer of original fiction, I have no reservations about young writers availing themselves of my characters and fictional worlds, if it helps them grow their craft.
Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.