Where the writer stops, the fan continues writing. A whole community of like-minded people are spinning tales to keep alive their most beloved novels
Can a story ever end? Does a story die? Young Arundhati Das, 21, says no. Not wanting stories by her favourite authors to ever end, she continued where the writers left off. And lo and behold, there were people who wanted to read her fanfiction.
The world of fanfiction provides endless possibilities that the fan population cannot get enough of. And it turns out that the writers and creators of the original works are enjoying capitalising on this decade long phenomenon that is still going strong. Fans use the characters from original works like the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, the Sherlock Holmes collection, among many — to create their own fiction. They put these characters in worlds and situations that they want to, and spin out an entirely new story. They give life to all that they wished the creators of the original works had spun out, but never did.
Arundhati Das, an avid fanfiction writer and reader, says that the obvious point of fanfiction is to continue the story. People get so caught up in the fictional worlds and the representations that they keep wanting more. “Fans wanted more, and the writers are done writing the story, but fans think that they can actually write more and make a story LONGER. They can write what happens NEXT!” And that is what portals like Fanfiction.net, Wattpad, and Archive of Our Own provide for these amateur writers. “Most of it is due to how people interpret these storylines and what they WANT to see,” she says.
Websites like these present a strong community of writers, some of whom have their very own manuscripts in the works. Fanfiction writers range from varied age groups, from 16-year-old writers to 50-year-old authors. Students, working mothers, corporate officials, IT specialists — all indulge in reading and writing fanfiction. Some of these stories are short, while others are 20 chapters long and take years to reach completion.
One of the first times fan theories were openly acknowledged was probably in an episode of BBC’s Sherlock series, The Empty Hearse (Season 3 Episode 1). The episode started with a small convention of followers of Sherlock Holmes’ work theorising on all the ways he may have survived his suicide as shown in The Reichenbach Fall (Season 2 Episode 3). Bringing to life all the speculations and endless debates on Tumblr. The Sherlock fan community went berserk over that little sequence, where Mark Gatiss the writer, actually represented the avid fan community of the Sherlock series on television.
Arundhati’s most popular fanfiction has had over 9,000 reads. The fanfiction community, she says, is “super accepting.” Her readers from all over the world have gotten in touch with her through Facebook and Tumblr. However, she goes on to say that the freedom to write their own tales with their favourite characters does not make the community a silly or illogical one. Some of the long form stories are so well written and thought out that it’s difficult to believe that they aren’t actually published in their own right.
JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, also caters heavily to the constantly growing fan base. She started this website after the books and movies had run their course, but the interest and constant questioning of the fans never changed. The fans found loopholes in her storyline and demanded explanations and backstories to the tiniest details in the series. Hence, Pottermore was born. It is a digital platform where she regularly releases new updates and articles on her books. She provides details that were never there in the original series, explains sub-plots, all for the demand created by the fans. She capitalises on the tremendous fan base by keeping the intrigue about the Potter world alive. The website has its own Instagram handle and YouTube channel as well. Harry Potter is the most popular fandom on Fanfiction.net with over 7,96,000 stories written by fans, and the number keeps on growing.
Another example of fans taking their fanaticism too far would be the series released on Wattpad called After. It got so famous that it had hard copies of it published and printed. The author of this series had admitted that her story was fanfiction based on Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James – but the book still got the traction it needed to sell. Moreover, Fifty Shades of Grey itself was a fanfiction that sprang from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.
Ramya Sambamurthy, a proud fanfiction follower, says it suddenly gave every fan a chance to be a writer themselves – to contribute to the universes they fell in love with. Ramya goes on to speak of a few of the downsides of the allowances made by fanfiction. “There is often a repetitive pattern to these stories, and while some stories have original themes and plot twists, most of these stories remain ambiguous as to the amount of plagiarism involved in them,” says Ramya. She admits that the fanaticism sometimes interferes with the natural course of the story, due to the pressure it creates on the writers themselves. To cater to the fans’ demands they sometimes take the more popular course over what they had originally planned.
According to Arundhati, a lot of these writers are very socially aware people — “You will have people writing about communication, relationship building, empathy, safe sexual practices, kinks that couples share with each other. You don’t have ill-informed stories like Fifty Shades of Grey. And even if you do, writers usually give disclaimers or warnings, so you know that the writer is telling you that this is NOT how it should happen, so be careful.” She admits that given the hush-hush culture in our society, she probably learned the most about safe sex from reading fanfictions.
The fanfiction community is strong and supportive. The readers get access to new content on their favourite topics on a more or less regular basis, and the writers get to write simply for enjoyment. They don’t get paid for it, but they do get all the appreciation and criticism any writer would get. All the fanfiction websites allow feedback and open communication between the writers and readers. People get to leave reviews, comments, suggestions and requests for the writers, as well as have personal conversations with them from anywhere in the world. It even helps you make friends over common interests.
“There is literally no END to what you can create. You can make anything out of anything,” says Arundhati in closing.