Hi, my name is Tony, and I write fanfiction.
It’s my longest-lived hobby, except for collecting comics, and it has a massive stigma attached. So why do I keep doing it? Why do I keep writing?
My first memory of creating fanfic was actually when I was around 7 years old (give or take a year). I was a massive GI Joe fan, and was in speech therapy to help me with a stutter. One of the exercises was to take three images and create a story out of it. I remember two of the three images- a laboratory and an invisible man. From that I crafted a story about Stalker from GI Joe being dosed with an invisibility serum to stop a Cobra plot.
That continued through the years. I remember a third grade grade assignment given by a substitute teacher to describe where our teacher was (Shredder kidnapped her, leading to a daring Ninja Turtle rescue). I wrote an epic Star Wars and Star Trek crossover in 6th grade (never mind it was only 12 pages- it was epic).
Then I discovered the internet my sophomore year. At that point, my primary fandom had graduated into comic books. I discovered fanfic forums first. Then some dedicated sites (FanFix.net, iirc, a Star Wars site was a particular favorite). Then a full blown group of authors writing in a shared universe- Marvel X. The site’s long defunct. I couldn’t even point you to a link via the Wayback Machine as half the site was hosted on Geocities, Tripod and Angelfire sites with obscenely long domains. But to my teenage geek mind, it was crack.
Suddenly, I was in the thick of it, collaborating with others in this massive alternate Marvel universe.
I’ve been doing it ever since, over sixteen years later.
I’ve always been the sort to simply write alternate takes on my favorite characters or to write my own adventures in my favorite universes (such as Star Trek and Star Wars). I’ve never been one for erotica. And I’m not the biggest fan of cross universe crossovers. But even with those personal restrictions, it’s a lot of fun.
So why do I enjoy writing fanfic so much?
1) It’s practice.
I do a lot of original writing. I have about half of an original superhero novel written. I have the roadmap for a space opera. But I do just as much fanfic as I do original work. When I find myself banging my head against the desk, trying to overcome a hurdle in the battle between good and evil in my original worlds, if I take a step back and step into the life of Peter Parker or Clark Kent, it keeps my writing muscles strong. Meanwhile I can take the time to break through the block I’m facing in my own world, without losing my edge.
2) It’s inspiring.
Following the previous point, as I’m writing about the adventures of Oliver Queen, suddenly as idea can hit me for my characters. If I were to approach a problem this way Ollie just did, it would break through my block. It happened in my novel Catalyst, as I was faced with suddenly having to go extremely exposition and mythology heavy. It literally blocked me for a year. At one point I was plotting an X-Men story with a friend, and we brought up the idea of Destiny’s diaries never being used in a satisfying way. It hit me- using another character’s diaries as the way to include the exposition without having a massive info dump midway through the story.
3) It’s fun.
You can’t tell me it’s not fun to type the words “Clark Kent sat in front of his blank computer screen with a scowl. He drummed a pen on his pursed lips, ignoring the chaos of the Daily Planet newsroom.” Or “Superman hovered in front of the alien ship, his arms folded and his eyes glowing vaguely red.”
Come on, it’s freaking SUPERMAN. That’s a blast.
4) There are lower barriers to entry.
Simply put, I wouldn’t be writing my original work without fanfic. If I hadn’t learned how to write ship to ship combat in Star Trek stories, doing it in an original story would be a lot harder. If I hadn’t figured how to describe Electro’s powers as he fought Spider-Man, I couldn’t describe two superpowered beings beating on each other with sparks flying nearly as well. By jumping into something “easier” to begin with, I had a lot of work done for me. I could picture the comic book images of Electro as I wrote about him, and that translated into being able to do the same with my own characters later.
5) You can explore the what ifs that always bothered you.
I’ve brought Ben Reilly back from the dead, several times. I’ve explored why those alien parasites never came back to haunt the Federation after Picard and Riker stopped their emissary (short answer- they did, you just didn’t know it yet). I’ve killed Aunt May (peacefully in her sleep). I’ve pitted modern day Superman against Solaris the Tyrant Sun. There’s nothing like crafting your own ending to stories that never had the ending you wanted, or an ending at all for that matter.
6) You can take your favorite characters down a path they’ve never been been before.
Let’s be honest, Peter Parker is going to be a New Yorker forever in the comics. But exploring his life after he’s moved to LA? That would be fun. Or how about killing Bruce Banner, for real. Permanently. Never to return. Those are stories that would be fun, radical status quo changes, and in fanfic, it really COULD be a permanent change.
7) Minor characters finally get their time to shine.
Let be honest- a comic book series about Ollie Osnick, the Steel Spider, is never going to make it past issue 6. A Star Trek show about an ensign’s day to day is going to get refocused to the bridge crew or cancelled before the season’s over. We’re not going to get a book series focusing on Snape’s childhood or young adult years. But don’t all of those things sound great? Personally, those are some of my favorite stories to write too.
8) Collaborating is fun.
By finding a community of like-minded individuals, I can not only get feedback quickly, but I can plot stories with others. I can bounce ideas off another writer, and vice versa. I can have my perspective changed on a story I want to write. And it all comes from a like-minded community that love the same things I do.
9) It’s a release.
Last of all, I love getting home after a stressful day and writing about Spider-Man beating a bunch of Mysterio’s androids to scrap. It’s a great way to take the real stresses of the day out on a fictional target, in the same way you can with video games.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Spider-Man is about to start beating up on some malfunctioning life model decoys of the Avengers, and I need to help him through it.
Tony Thornley is a Mormon geek dad, blogger, Spider-Man and Superman aficionado, amateur novelist and all around awesome guy. He was born and raised in Utah and has been reading comics since age five. His first comic series was GI Joe and he was doomed from there. You can follow him on Twitter @brawl2099.