Fan Fiction, better than fiction ?

June 27, 2012 6:00 pm

It’s no secret. Fan fiction is out there by the bucket load, for every film or television programme imaginable. Whether it be gay or straight, fantasy or soap opera there is something out there for pretty much everything and it ultimately serves as a creative gateway for what you don’t get to see on screen.

If there are two characters on your favourite show who aren’t getting together, you can more than likely find a fic where they are. Or perhaps they’re not getting it on quickly enough or in the right way for you, then there will be a fic to sort that out, too. Just about everything imaginable in the world of popular drama or science fiction will be explored in the realms of the fan fiction writer and for the gay and lesbian community, this is gold.

Just ten years ago an adequate on-screen representation of a gay/lesbian relationship was like that elusive four-leaf clover. It just didn’t happen. Aside from the odd foray in Queer As Folk and Bad Girls, an ongoing gay relationship never came to fruition and would just be the simple experimentation for a lead character who would later decide they were straight after all. The answer to this would be to delve into fan fiction, a place where people can write whatever storylines they want about their favourite characters, and publish these online for all to read who find themselves in the same frustrated boat. Here gay and lesbian characters come alive, often finding themselves attracted another character of the same sex for the first time. Written serial dramas offshoot these relationships into a kind of alternate universe. Even in shows where another same sex character wasn’t available in which to develop such a relationship, one could easily be created or even imported from another show. And so the world of fan fic was widely established, generating show crossovers and even alternate reality stories where characters are borrowed and new back stories created.

For instance when The X-Files was at its peak and everyone was waiting for its protagonists Mulder and Scully to sizzle, some fics were created that explored Scully’s sexuality and put her lack of male interest down to her homosexuality, and thus crossovers were conjured between her and other strong female leads like Carter in Stargate.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a show that broke many boundaries, and one that saw its fan base grow much bigger and wider when one of its main protagonists (Willow) became a lesbian in series 4. Perhaps for the first time, a female lead character was depicted as falling in love with another women and the relationship they shared was ordinary. Not in the way vampire slaying or witchcraft is ordinary, but in the way that neither character was evil, had a dastardly awful plan to end the universe or was about to decide that they weren’t gay after all and go back to men. It was almost revolutionary that these two females were able to walk side by side, hand in hand and go to college together being outwardly gay and accepted by those around them. Because of this, they were arguably one of the first honest and open portrayals of lesbian life, anywhere. So why the need for fic in their case?

There was a lot of it too, especially around the Willow/Tara storyline but also between Buffy and Faith, the lead in the show and a ‘bad’ slayer whose feisty attitude and disregard for the rules made her Buffy’s stark opposite. A romantic relationship between the two never existed on the show and so fans dreamt up many scenarios to satisfy such a pairing but with Willow and Tara, who’s relationship was developed on screen while refreshing and at the time exciting, was slow in its formula and especially in the beginning lacking in any intimacy. In this case a lot of fan fiction was created to build their relationship around what was seen on screen and in most cases take it much further so that their relationship became the focus and the vampire slaying theme secondary. Obviously this was never going to happen in the show. Willow was a sidekick and her relationships were secondary to that. However, the other side characters’ relationships saw much more familiarity with each other than Willow and Tara ever did.

This was not uncommon, in other shows such as Bad Girls and South Of Nowhere where the central themes did surround lesbian relationships, there was still a limit to what they were able to show on screen. This gave many fans a reason to write their own work in order to represent the intimacy in real lesbian relationships. It’s well documented in both Buffy and South Of Nowhere where actors central to the lesbian relationships have clearly stated the limits to how much touching they were allowed to do in order to represent their characters’ relationships. In Buffy there was only one kiss between Willow and Tara up until series six when the show changed from the WB network to UPN who seemingly had freer restrictions. Similarly in Bad Girls when Nikki escaped prison for one night and was able to be with Helen (her wing governor) properly, a scene where they got slightly more intimate on Helen’s sofa was cut to them kissing and Helen starting to take Nikki’s shirt off. At the time a great scene between two women for ITV, but still a relationship that was restricted by broadcasting rules on what could be aired when two women get physical.

In these cases, fan fiction became an extension of what was seen on TV. It delved deeper into an already established pairing and examined their relationships in greater detail. Being a lesbian viewer you get used to reading between the lines of what is going on, so to read it with greater emphasis on characters you are interested in is a fantastic outlet. But does this mean that fan fiction is any good?

If you have ever read any fan fiction, or visited fan fiction sites and seen some of the stuff that is out there, then you will know that a lot of it is second-rate. Finding a great story that is well worked out and well written is quite hard, but there are some out there. Take a look at fanfiction.net and you might be surprised, but it may take some searching to find something you like. Finding a great writer who keeps writing is quite hard considering that they get nothing in return apart from (hopefully) good comments appreciating their work. Of note I remember reading one Bad Girls fic and one Willow/Tara fic quite a few years ago that were both exceptional. Finding them now would be inconceivable, but it does prove that some fan fiction is very, very good.

I came across some Star Trek fic around Seven of Nine and Janeway from Voyager that was serialised, and produced more than three series of twenty episodes that were all well written and had individual story lines. The central theme was the relationship between Seven and Janeway. The writer of this fic took the relationship to another level. She analysed what was on screen and took it to a place where its lesbian fan base could relate to it and enjoy it as they never could by watching the show. It was the longest piece of fan fiction writing based on a TV show that I have ever seen and it was extremely well written. This kind of fan fic provides the reader with a lot more payoff than the smaller one-shots of only a few thousand words.

So why do people want to write fan fiction? They will never see a penny for it, and there are many critics out there who will slam the writers if they aren’t good, and writing good fic does take time. Of the course the writers are going to love their subject matter, and to write something that will appeal to others within your community is appealing. When the Sophie/Sian storyline started in Coronation Street I can safely say there was absolutely no fan fiction out there for it. Obviously all fan fic has to start somewhere, just as the storylines on TV have a beginning so does the off-shooting fan base. Corrie was great for portraying this young, emerging lesbian relationship and for the most part showed it realistically. But again with the restrictions imposed upon it by the networks and with the show being pre-watershed, there was a lot it couldn’t show. Personally I get really frustrated when a lesbian couple aren’t represented on screen with the same amount of physical contact that straight couples are able to do. Being able to write something that removes these restrictions and perhaps being one of the first to do so, is quite liberating and to get praise for doing so from your own community is very rewarding.

A lot of the first Sophie/Sian fan fic writers emerged around discussion boards and posted on Live Journal, writing their stories frequently and  in chapters, they built up their own fan bases who lapped up the work. Even when a show goes the way a lesbian viewer would fear, their much-loved protagonists going back to men (as in Home & Away or Emmerdale) or dying and ending a beloved and respected pairing (as in Buffy) fan fiction can continue it, re-write storylines or even re-creating them from scratch. I have seen many Sophie/Sian fic’s based in the future, where the couple meet up again and inevitably end up back together.

This is the joy of fan fiction, where there are no restrictions or limits. Find one that you like and you can enjoy it over and over. Find an author that you like and you can enjoy their work on your favourite characters and even enjoy their other stories that will be as equally well written, providing they don’t disappear into oblivion and stop writing (no looking at me!). Whereas it is frustrating that many fan fiction sites are full of stories that you might prefer never to have read, I can testify that some are worth your time. They represent what we never see on screen: lesbian relationships that are well-rounded and well structured, lesbian plotlines that take centre stage, and no curfews on the amount of intimacy that is displayed. For this reason fan fiction can be better than what we look forward to on our favourite shows each week, and we won’t have to read between the lines. Even in shows like The L Word and Lip Service there are relationships that we wish would happen or go further. So ignore the stigma, remember that show you loved and get a fresh take on it. Read something original and stick your favourite characters into google and see what you can find. There will always be a need for good fan fiction and take it from me, although it can’t be often but sometimes, it does end up being better than the original.

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