The first copy of Othello… or is it? (Source: Public domain; copyright expired)
This was originally a speech I did in 2011.
This past week I’ve been reading a great story recommended to me by a friend. It has an engaging plot and a naive but faintly ironic style, somewhat like Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl’s. But I can’t describe this one as a page turner. I have to scroll down, and click between chapters, because it’s on fanfiction.net.
Fanfiction. Noun. The stuff people write when they can’t think up their own story, and have to steal someone else’s. Okay, I guess it’s a bit of harmless fun – it’s just not, you know, something you’d ever read in English.
Unless, of course, you go back four hundred years. You read a short story, and this story doesn’t just make you think, “Well, knocked that off my reading list. What’s next?” This story inspires you. You wish there was more, and if you can’t read more of it…
You will write more of it. (Copyright hasn’t really been invented yet.) You add a few characters and a lot of scenes, and use your characteristic writing style. You’re Shakespeare, and you’ve just completed Othello – epic tragedy, an incredibly insightful look into human nature and perhaps, the best fanfiction of all time.
What? Is that any more unfair than stating, correctly, that Pride and Prejudice is a novel, and that Twilight happens to share this particular literary form?
I think this prejudice against fan fiction has a lot to do with the fact that it’s almost always read on the Internet. And whether it’s blogs, fanfiction or original fiction, writing that’s posted online is seen as second-rate.
And that is completely ridiculous. Whether something is first seen on the Internet or in print has about as much relevance to its quality as the font that it’s in. There is one reason that so much of what’s posted online is rubbish. And, despite popular belief, it has nothing to do with
a) LOL technology, like, rotting teenagers’, like, brains, like ROFLCOPTER dude!!
b) the inherent inferiority of typing as compared to writing by hand or even
c) the UNSTOPPABLE DECLINE OF LITERATURE!!!!
It’s simple. When you hand over your nineteen dollars fifty for a paperback, you’re not just paying the author – you’re paying editors and publishers for going through the hundreds of rubbishy manuscripts they receive every day and picking out this one well-written, interesting story. On the Internet, that’s your job.
Anyone can post a story on fanfiction.net. Anyone frequently does. How someone can read an entire book and then write a fanfiction on it, without learning how to spell the title is something I will never figure out.
But you’ll also find amazing fanfiction, as good as the original. Or maybe it’s an incredible novel, but it’s not going to sell, so no publishing company will touch it… and posting online is the only way anyone will ever read it. I say this without doubt: some of the writers out there are better than many published authors.
So why don’t they seek publication, that stamp of approval from the “real” literary world? Perhaps one day they will. Or maybe, everything they want out of writing is satisfied in the community online. A community which isn’t, really, that different from the Inklings (CS Lewis’s writing club) or Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury Group.
It’s a world where writers cut their teeth writing fanfiction as all kids act out their favourite superhero stories. They grow in confidence and learn to create their own, realistic characters and settings. It’s like one big, voluntary, peer-marked English class.
“MeganDaWriter”, from Canada, and Sydneysider “Rose93” discuss characterisation in poetry, while “Nibbles” reviews the first chapter of “Blossom”’s first novel, posted with the disclaimer: “Sorry, this isn’t very good”. But it is.
Literary society needs to get over prejudices and look at the value of this online world. Every new development in literature has been met with suspicion, including that most “novel” of literary forms: the novel. Yes, once the novel was the terrible new thing that was going to destroy literature.
I’m not saying we should stop reading the classics. The question is, where will we find the new classics? In the cutthroat, commercialised publishing industry? Or online, where writing is free of commercial interests and bestseller lists?
Unless “literary” society starts to take notice of what’s happening in writing online, we risk missing an entire generation of writers and stories. Sure, you won’t have great literature served up to you on a platter (or a reading list). The only question here is: how much rubbish are you willing to sift through to find that one diamond?
If you’re curious, the fanfic I reference in the intro here is Inverarity’s Hogwarts Houses Divided, an epic next-generation Harry Potter fic. I know there are loads of fanfic sites out there, but since it was a speech, I kept it simple and only mentioned fanfiction.net.
What’s the best fanfiction/online work you’ve read?