So, maybe you’ve heard about this fanfiction thing, eh? I remember when I first did, because it was in an article in the Sunday Times, and it was opposite a review for Jurassic Park 3. Nothing dates a moment like a reference to a tired film franchise.
The idea always intrigued me- the presence of a large base of readers and writers of amateur fiction out there seemed like a positive thing. But, by and large, playing in other people’s universes did not really appeal to me. These writers were stuck on using characters and situations that were not their own. Fanfiction.net is the biggest collection of this stuff out there, but it’s got its own sister site for ‘original’ fiction too at Fictionpress.net.
Fictionpress, then, is probably the motherload for all amateur fiction written for the Internet. And compared to other user-driven sites (the complexities of being a loyal Newgrounds follower spring to mind) it takes a very pared-down approach to storing and cataloguing its material. On FP, there is no editing procedure of any kind, no weeding out of entries because of bad spellings, lame plotting or general inability to write. But what this effectively means is that FP acts as a sort of finger-on-the-pulse for whatever cultural detritus is currently floating about in the heads of the net generation (a LARGE percentage of the budding creative types who contribute to the site are teenagers).
I sometimes like to trace a fictional idea or convention (or trope, if you’re a fan of TVtropes) back to its beginning to find out how it first came about and how it first became prevalent. Every day we’re bombarded with storytelling conventions in books and movies. They’re sometimes used as shorthand to get ideas across, but we seldom think about how this came about.
For example, everyone recognises an image of a pale man with dark hair, a cape and fangs as a vampire, and will immediately have a whole bunch of associations to attach to it. This works with even very simplified of cartoony versions of the image. But the evolution of this image and idea is long, beginning with the original Slavic folklore of people who returned from the grave. These were originally ghost-like creatures who sucked blood from the living, but they were grotesque, and certainly not desirable. In the middle ages, they became associated with the bloated corpses of people who had been buried alive. It wasn’t until the 19th century that this myth became wrapped up with the image of a cultured nobleman (Varney the Vampire), and not until as late as 1897 when Bram Stoker added the finishing touches (aversion to crosses, sunlight and garlic) and popularised the idea across the English-speaking world. It was this version of the vampire that perpetuated itself in movies and comics throughout the 20th century.
Almost any person today will recognise the image, despite most likely not being aware of the original folklore, not having read Dracula or seen the 1931 film version that gave the vampire its particular accent. But the image is deeply ingrained in our culture; these original sources have been imitated and parodied countless times.
Before the advent of movies and mass media, it was relatively easy to trace the influences of a writer. Whenever a writer came up with an interesting new idea in fiction, it wasn’t too difficult to find out what books he/she was likely to have had access to and which ones contained similar ideas.
Today, the world is as full of people bursting with the creative fires as ever. And as in previous centuries, they are influenced powerfully by the kind of media that surrounds them. But we are now dealing with people who have a burning desire to tell stories the only way they have access to- with words- despite being largely influenced by media other than books. They are, in their thousands, writing fiction that owes more to movies and video games than to any written fiction that has gone before. Some good, much bad, and many full of tropes and conventions that do not stem from any literary tradition.
So, in this brave new world where the kids get to exercise their imaginations, unfettered by the rules of taste or grammar, what exactly are they coming up with?
Common archetypes include:
-teenagers who have super powers and are persecuted because of it. Very influenced by the first X-men movie and Heroes, and also by Harry Potter, though not as much as you’d think.
-many, many stories that begin with a teenager waking up in the morning, and then go into nauseating detail about what they're wearing and what their hair looks like, and what their home life is like. Its sometimes implied that they will be plucked from this normality into some exciting adventure, but these stories almost never get finished.
-thinly-veiled ripoffs of Alien and Alien-influenced horror/scifi.
-at the moment, lots of Twilight-themed paranormal romance.
In fact, romance period seems to make up a good chunk of the FB archive. I think it’s because of the high percentage of young female writers operating on the site. For example, to compare Twilight with other recent publishing phenomena like The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter, they simply don’t compare. Professional publishing is still overflowing with DVC-influenced works, so obviously these ideas are in the public consciousness in a big way, but this hasn’t registered on the amateur circuit. Perhaps the teen writers aren’t interested in replicating the labyrinthine plots of these books, or the historical research. Harry Potter-influenced stuff too is strangely lacking, though HP himself is HUGE in the fanfic arena. I think its because readers and writers like the HP characters more than the ideas in the books, so there’s less impetus to produce homegrown ripoffs. Twilight, as even fans will admit, has rubbish paper-thin characters, but operates on a central idea that’s clearly very powerful to a certain demographic (something that’s been very worrying to a lot of us), and so has inspired countless imitations.
So that’s my two cents. Why not dive in yourself and see what you find? There are certainly a few diamonds in the rough.