Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why Fanfiction Made Me a Better Writer and Gave Me Self-Confidence Growing Up

It's a guilty pleasure, fanfic.

Everyone loves it. You know you do, too. And everyone loves to write it. What is it about taking characters we love and are established and twisting them into our own little worlds? Why do we want to borrow them and play with them and make them our own--temporarily, of course?

When I was a very, very little girl, maybe eight or so, I read this story about a girl who traveled back in time and met this girl named Suki (that's all I remember) and ended up leaving to go back to her time at the end of the book. I was very crushed at the ending, and I took it upon myself, my number two pencil, and my sheet of wide-ruled paper to make it better. So I spent the next couple of hours working on a two-page continuation of the novel, appending a better ending onto it, where Suki is actually brought forward in time to be with the girl again so they can continue their fun and adventures.

At the time, I had no idea what fanfic was. But since that time, whenever something in a book or story didn't go the way I wanted it to, I just took it upon myself to "fix" it.

I remember when I first discovered what fans had termed "fanfiction." I was around thirteen or so, and I was a huge fan of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. I was surfing the internet, collecting Buffy quotes and screen caps (because that was all you could get back then--no cool fan vids!) and I found The Slayer Fanfic Archives. It was like stumbling on the holy grail, only cooler. I had found my place in the world. It combined my two favorite things: writing, and Buffy.

I remember spending hours convincing my dad that he should let me upload a story to the site. He was very skeptical. First I had to comb the site and the rules for submission and learn them thoroughly to explain them to him. Then HE had to read them and spend just as much time, if not more, reviewing the site.

And then he smiled at me in our computer room and said, "Sure, why not? Go for it."

I was ecstatic. I had already been writing Buffy fanfic (without calling it that, of course, because I had never heard the term) so it was just a matter of deciding which one to upload to the site. I poured over about thirty different stories, found one I had finished, and decided to submit that.

A few days later, it was up on the site.

And then the e-mails started pouring in.

One-by-one, my inbox slowly started flooding with fan responses to my stories. I was dumbfounded. I remember the first one I got, I started screaming and ran to my dad and cried, "I got a fan mail! Someone liked my story!"

"Good job," he said to me, smiling. "Guess you should keep going, huh?"

Of course I should! He didn't need to tell me! I immediately started writing more, inspired, and began pounding out more stories. More chapters. I learned that cliff-hanger endings would get more responses, so I started ending all of my chapters that way. Pretty soon I had even more fan mail. And I made it my mission to respond to each one individually, because when I would write authors on the site and tell them I enjoyed their work and they responded with a form-letter thank you, it made me sad. (I had taken the time to write them, couldn't they take the time to write me? At the time I didn't realize I was one fan out of probably a dozen+.) Sometimes it would take me an hour to write everyone back, but I would always personalize each e-mail I wrote.

And I loved it. I could go to school and have a horrible day, and go home and have this little secret life that no one knew about. By day I was Vivian Marie, but by night I was this fanfiction author with lots of fans who enjoyed her stories!

It was that encouragement that instilled in me the belief that I could be an author. It was all those e-mails saying, "I love this story! Keep up the great work!" and, "You are such a great writer! I love this!" that made me want to keep pursuing my dream. That made me feel like maybe I did have a chance at making it.

(Of course, much, much later, it dawned on me that they really probably just liked that I was writing about their favorite characters getting together, but I don't let that get me down. <3 )

So while I think fanfiction has this "dirty little secret" quality, I have to say... I love it. I'm proud of it. And I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. So who knows... Maybe the next fanfic you read will actually be written by an author you like...