This is an addendum to last night’s post fueled by the conversation I had with Hanna on our walk to work (which, more often than not, constitutes gossip about fanfic).
One of the defining features of fanfic as a genre, for me, is that it is character-driven. Fic, the way I read and write it, is primarily about individual characters and their relationships (erotic or platonic) with other characters. It’s not about establishing the rules of the universe or about the suspense of the plot. It’s about asking “What would these individuals do if they were presented with X situation?” either in canon, in the canon ‘verse, or in a completely different setting (an alternate universe or AU).
I would actually argue that most if not all characters are independent of the authors who write about them. I struggle with the idea of characters as the intellectual property of an originating author. I feel like characters develop independent lives, such that they are bigger than one single author’s interpretation of those characters. We collectively narrate pieces of their existence. They become more real, in cultural terms, the more people tell stories about them in different iterations.
So this is another reason why I can come to fanfic that considers characters that I never met before in the source material. The fanwork becomes, for me, that first encounter, that source material. In some cases, I end up reading backwards to the “original” source material because I’m interested in that dialog between fic and canon. Other times, all I care about is the intra-fanwork conversation, the characters as collectively presented in the body of writing considered to be fannish vs. canon (however we define that). It’s about falling in love with the characters, for me, and becoming invested in the characters. And I can get to know those characters through a million shards of fic almost more intimately than I can get to know them through the singular voice of a specific published author or the narrative constraints of a television series or film.
I think of the fanworks that introduced me to John Sheppard and Rodney McKay from Stargate Atlantis. The very first fic I ever read in that fandom was the X-rated illustrated story in which John and Rodney are girl scout cookies. I cannot look at adverts for girl scout cookies without blushing to this day.
You laugh but this is porn. Image from Fanlore.
Hanna and I joke that SGA (for which we have still only watched a handful of episodes, all post-dating our introduction to the fanworks around the show) is “the land of a thousand AUs.” There is a whole list devoted to the alternative universe narratives about John/Rodney, all of which interpret the characters in slightly different ways, with different backstories and damage and reasons for ultimately getting together — or in some rare (and more abhorrent!) instances, not.
I have gotten to know John and Rodney through fanworks. And while part of my pleasure in the narratives is the way in which the fic is in conversation with the original ‘verse of the show, my fierce attachment to Rodney and John as individuals predates my knowledge of the television show and is wholly independent from knowledge of that version of the story.
So. For what that’s worth. Another piece of the why #fanfic? puzzle.