The first fan fiction I ever wrote was inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television series created by Joss Whedon about a blonde superhero who turns the tables by killing vampires instead of being killed by them. Then, having seen every episode of the series, I wanted something more but wasn’t sure what.
I bought an Xbox 360 solely for the purpose of playing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer video game. As my partner’s grandson can attest, I am usually incapable of keeping an avatar alive for more than thirty seconds, but I managed to keep Buffy’s avatar alive through the first level of the game. Buffy was victorious in her first few encounters with individual vampires. In the second level, however, multiple vampires ganged up on her, and she was eventually slain.
I knew that if I started the game over, Buffy would return for another attempt, but instead I began thinking about the scenario I had inadvertently created. How would Buffy’s death affect the other characters, and how would it play out in the “Buffyverse” where, after all, the dead do not always stay dead? It took me a few weeks to write a novella entitled The Sunnydale High Massacre and, subsequently, a somewhat less focused sequel called End of (School) Days. The two novellas together became a sort of novel, which I gave the not entirely satisfactory title Reversal of Fortunes.
I learned a lot about storytelling from fan fiction. Through reading others’ fan fictions, I found out what I did not want to do: Wordy descriptions and characters that are extremely self-reflective. I aimed for a no frills approach, as if I were writing a screenplay in which there would be no internal dialogue, just a description of what an audience would see, along with the dialogue that they would hear.
Because fan fiction is essentially self-published, there is a sometimes overwhelming temptation to make exceptions and I have to admit to the occasional bout of self indulgence. In The Sunnydale High Massacre, I indulged myself, for example, by having nerdy high schoolers Oz and Willow discuss a class assignment because I am a nerd myself and their topic interested me. But I knew that readers have short attention spans. If they are turned off by even a brief digression, they might stop reading and miss the fight between a vampire and a werewolf later in the chapter.
Fan fiction began in fanzines, but in the age of the internet it has gone digital. In the 2000s, I initially uploaded my stories to one fan fiction site and was well chuffed when I was tapped by the curator of another site that was invitation-only. Eventually, both of those sites dropped off the internet, but I later discovered www.fanfiction.net where I set up an account and uploaded my old stories.
Fanfiction.net provides statistics on how many people over the course of a month read each story, as well as how many read each chapter if there are multiple chapters. (It also tells what countries readers are from.) Some months go by without most of my stories getting a single read, but my two Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories always get hits, if only a few. That may be due less to their merits and more because of the popularity of Buffy. The most popular franchises among fans are Star Trek and Star Wars with Buffy the Vampire Slayer slightly less popular but still competitive.
I later wrote a short story based on the Bob Newhart Show, the 1970s sitcom in which Newhart plays a psychologist. My inspiration was simply that I had a funny idea that I thought would work within the Newhart premise. Only one person read my story, and she asked me to read her Bob Newhart fan fiction. I was surprised that her story was more melancholy than funny. Like many fan fiction writers, she was more interested in the relationships between characters, even fanning romances that were never developed in the original series. The trouble for both of us, perhaps, is that few readers feel invested enough in Bob Newhart to read either of our fan fictions.
If there is an unfair stereotype about fan fiction, it is that it is entirely about sex. Soft and hardcore pornographic subgenres exist within fan fiction, although fanfiction.net discourages hardcore material. Lodging my tongue firmly in cheek, I did write a short story in this vein entitled When Sam Met Joel, based on The Maltese Falcon, but it is just one among the dozen—often experimental—fan fictions I have written.
I last wrote a new fan fiction in the middle of 2017 and, before that, not since late 2015. I don’t know whether I will be writing any more. Occasionally, I look at my statistics on fanfiction.net. Once again, High School Massacre was the most popular story in February with fourteen readers, including nine from Russia. I do not want to speculate what that’s about.
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