While it was a week ago, I did want to follow up on my talks at Girls Write Now last week, because it was a ton of fun, and I did promise the program participants and their mentors I’d update with some relevant links and a summary of what we talked about.
One of the things that was really fun was none of us were talking about justifying fanfiction. Rather, we talked about both how fanfiction is entirely legitimate as an end in and of itself, but also how it functions as a gift economy, a mode of criticism, and a way to approached and even produce salable work.
We looked at the idea of given circumstances for character and story development — which is the notion that a person has certain key traits and reactive patterns and that a lot of fanfiction is taking known quantities (characters) and changing their given circumstances to see what happens. We also talked about how playing with other people’s universes is a great way to learn cadence and voice and certain stylistic techniques.
We covered Harry Potter, One Direction, Buffy, the Whoniverse, Teen Wolf, and Game of Thrones. I mentioned Glee (but am pretty sure I mostly got side-eyed for that), and Ellen Kushner‘s novels (Swordspoint is where to start, and The Privilege of the Sword is the YA-ish one with the female protagonist).
We also talked about published incidences of fanfiction, including Wide Sargasso Sea and an anthology about fictional sexual encounters with celebrities called Starf*cker. (Yes, the star is really in the title, and just so the girls in the program know, I was happy to say fucker in front of you all, but imagined a mentor or two might not have approved. But I’m sure you can handle that).
We laughed a lot (thank you!) and great questions were asked about using personal experiences in storytelling and about how fanfiction can be used to highlight the stories of characters from backgrounds and experiences that are often marginalized. In both groups people wanted to know if I’d ever met creators of work I’ve played with in a fannish context (yes, and that’s ranged from neutral but slightly weird to totally awesome).
Mostly, though, everything sort of boiled down to the joy and necessity of narrative — how it’s something we assign to the randomness of our own lives in order to make sense of it, and how it’s in imitation of that that we also learn to tell stories whether fiction or non-fiction. In one of the sessions this led me to mentioning a Clive Barker quote I couldn’t really remember, but thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I can tell you it’s from the prologue to his novel Sacrament and is
I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our story untold. That mystery is troubling to us. How could it be otherwise? Without the final part, we think, how are we to make sense of all that went before: which is to say, our lives? So we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell, by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born.
On that note, some more links I promised people in the room are below. Additionally, if there are specific resources you’re looking for that have not been mentioned here, please ask in comments, and I’ll see what I can find; I know some of the girls I talked to were particularly interested in anime-focused fanfiction archives, which was just one of those things I have no answers on.
Fanfiction.Net — Sometimes we call this the pit of voles, and quality can be challenging, but it’s there and it’s been there forever. I don’t actually recommend it as a starting point for reading and posting fic, but it may work for you.
The Archive of Our Own — a great place to post and find fic to read. Still technically in beta so you have to request an invite.
LiveJournal — no longer the hub of fanfiction (or anything else) it once was, but was definitely a vibrant pace that has/had a lot of fic communities. Depending on your particular interests it may still be a good choice for you.
Tumblr — while I often derisively describe this space as blinky not thinky, Tumblr has lots of people posting fanfiction on it, as well as lots of people telling stories through visual modes and doing criticism too. Organizationally it’s hard for conversations, but it’s grown on me as a way to be exposed to lots of random content on lots of different things. As such, it’s sort of inspiring in a pattern recognition sort of way.
If you were at this event, please feel free to say hi, ask questions, leave comments, or just be excited about your fannish obsessions below. For now, I’ll leave you with a quote that just came up on my Tumblr dash
That’s the nature of any creative activity — you’re mostly going to be rejected.
That’s from The New Yorker’s Bob Mankoff at a recent TED salon. He’s the magazine’s cartoon editor today. But when he first changed careers to become to a cartoonist he submitted 2,000 cartoons to the The New Yorker in his first year. Every one was rejected.
As long as you’re writing stuff, you’re a writer. Many days, that’s hard enough. Keep making stuff as long as it makes you happy and even sometimes when it doesn’t.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in becoming a mentor for Girls Write Now or are a high school student eligible to participate they are still taking applications for next year’s program through June 15 (I’d sign up to mentor in a heart beat if I weren’t on the road so much).