Fanfiction and the art of retelling stories
The term 'fanfiction', self-explanatory enough, describes amateur fiction pieces written by a fan, based on popular literary works. Its writers are devoted members of their respective fandoms—be it books, television shows, a film franchise, or a video game; these fans spend considerable amounts of time revisiting the universes of their favourite characters. So much so, that continuing the narrative to their own liking becomes the next logical step.
Despite the great effort that often goes into these works, writers do not really emphasise on putting it through a publication process; they are mainly published on online platforms like Wattpad, and shared via their personal social media accounts—should they choose to circulate it.
In commercially published works, there is always a name, a face and biography attached to the book; book-signings and interviews take place where the readers can glimpse at the person behind the work.
Fanfiction writers, in contrast, mostly write their content incognito: their profiles are devoid of their photos and their real names hidden behind aliases. So the questions remain: Why do they take such great efforts to create new, additional plot-points and storylines of content that have already been sufficiently discussed and explored by the original creators themselves? Why not develop their own new story/universe? Why put in so many hours into writing about someone else's work?
To appreciate the 'fanfic' writer, one must understand how a fan's mind works. Fans are not just passive consumers. They do not finish reading a book or watching a show and move on with their lives. Instead we spend hours reimagining scenes, wondering about other possibilities and contemplating pivotal moments from within the fictional world that we have grown to love. And sometimes, in our obsessive devotion, we let our minds run wild, and this is why we create fan-clubs, the existence of which often prompts activities such as cosplaying and multi-day fan conventions and expositions. And when our imaginations continue to overflow with possibilities and our minds keep churning out newer ideas about the source material, the only way forward is to write it all down.
I believe fanfiction is written for a number of reasons. Some fans want to explore other possibilities by expanding on certain ideas from the source material that they most cherish. Others seek to answer questions that were left unexplored, and many others seek to change elements in the story to result in an ending to their satisfaction. Some ambitious fans want to explore the possibilities of combining two or more franchises to form crossovers.
Personally, my mind has often wondered what would have happened if Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar from Six of Crows escaped to Novyi Zem instead of coming back to Ketterdam, or how the story of Lord of the Rings would have progressed if Boromir managed to snatch the ring from Frodo. These are questions that can only be answered by fanfiction writers.
No matter how many reasons there are for writing fanfiction, they all intimately coalesce into a simple fact: fanfiction is written and read because it allows fans to spend a little extra time with the characters they have grown to adore. What fan would not want to prolong their time within a story surrounded by the fictional characters, whose joys and struggles have moved them, characters that they have rooted for and characters that they have lost?
Despite this kind of sincere devotion, many critics dismiss fanfiction writers as being too lazy or lacking in active imagination, stemming from the concern that the content is based on borrowed characters and plots (even though all fanfiction comes with a disclaimer that gives all content ownership to the original creators). Simply explained, fanfiction is just a devoted fan's mind asking, "What if?"
The genre means that the author or the creator of the fictional work has touched the hearts of their fans, it means that they have given their fans hope and vision, causing positive ripples in their lives. Fanfiction is the greatest love letter a work of art can receive from a fan.
Sameirah Nasrin Ahsan is a mechanical engineer in Dhaka. She aspires to be an author someday. For now, she is content with reading and sharing the stories that make her think beyond herself. Instagram: @booksnher.