Fan fiction is a fascinating phenomenon.
(Okay, I’ll stop the alliteration.)
Writers, generally, want to be read. They want people to see their work, read their work, and like their work. (Ideally also buy their work, but I’m setting that aside for right now.) Most writers, however, experience a wide gap between themselves and their audience. They’ll get beta reader and editor feedback, of course, and getting published is a kind of feedback too (they like me, they really like me!) but for traditional authors it can take months for reader reactions to trickle down. Write the book, edit the book, sell the book, give it away even, and hope for those Amazon reviews to start rolling in. (Along with the dollars of course.)
Fanfic, on the other hand, has instantaneous response. Post a work on AO3 or other site and within minutes the hits start happening – followed by likes, kudos, comments, whatever form the site’s feedback takes. It is fast and it is – or can be – massive. Popular works may have hits in 6 figures. Some have hundreds within their first hours of being posted. And fic readers, when they like something, they say so. They are effusive in their praise. They gush. And that reaction has an effect on the writer.
I have some small experience of this.
I don’t write fanfic to be read. I write it because sometimes, when a story ends, I’m not done with the characters. I want more of them; I want to spend more time in their world. Sometimes I want to delve into a character’s thoughts and feelings, to explore their experience in more detail. Because I have an extremely low tolerance for either bad writing or erotica, reading other people’s fanfic is an unsafe choice for me. If I want more, I have to write it.
The pieces I put up on whofic, back when I first started this little writing game, got limited response: a few hits, an encouraging comment or two. Nice to hear, but it didn’t change anything I did. Then, I posted my first Broadchurch fic on AO3, and received this comment:
“Good start! Looking forward to the next installment.”
I wasn’t planning a next installment. The piece was a standalone, an epilogue, an extra moment of resolution to an emotionally harrowing series. It was enough. And yet, when I saw that comment, my brain began to spin: what if there were more where that came from?
That brain-spin resulted in an entire series of fics, some of which have received over a thousand hits. For a dabbler like me – particularly one who doesn’t write that staple of fanfic, erotica – that’s pretty impressive. They’ve also received some rave comments. Readers love the stories and want more. Even after I closed the series – S2 made the entire plotline moot – commenters expressed hope that I would resume.
It is a little bit hard to say no, even when I know the story is over.
I continue to write fics here and there as inspiration strikes. Most of them, like my whofic contributions, get little attention. Every now and then, however, one of them will surprise me. In the middle of Broadchurch‘s second season, a moment with Ellie’s thoughts as she waited to see Alec in the hospital received 25 kudos in its first 24 hours online. In the aftermath of Daredevil, Matt’s chance meeting with the Ninth Doctor and Rose had a similar response – and now has the highest kudos-to-hits ratio of anything I’ve ever posted. An exploration of the dissolution of the Ponds’ marriage received startlingly high praise, given the number of similar fics and the exacting tastes of fans.
It makes me wonder if I’ve got more of those in me.
Writing fic is fun. Writing known characters true to form is a challenge that helps me become a better writer. Getting inside characters’ heads helps me become a more empathetic person. Writing fic is a great exercise and a great opportunity.
And every once in a while, it’s really really good for the ego.