How to Read Only Good FanFic in 7 Steps (Almost)

I spent a lot of this summer’s free time reading fanfic. A little bit of this was professional: I wrote a module for law students on the laws around fanfiction which I will post about once the H2O website goes public (that was part of my summer gig with Harvard’s Berkman Center). Most of the time, I was reading it for fun. A lot of the reasons why people dismiss fanfic are boring: they think it’s deritivitve (everything is and that’s cool) or they think it’s ok to hate on something which teenage girls like (it’s really not). It can be hard to understand if you haven’t been reading it your whole life, but so is Dostoyevsky or e.e. cummings.

The one criticism which bears speaking to is that a lot of fanfiction is poorly written. True; a lot of published fiction is also, but that doesn’t mean it’s any ore fun to slog through 50 Shades of Grey to get to Monstrous Regiment. Getting right to the well-written, well-conceived, well-edited stuff is always the goal.

I’ve read a little bad writing this summer, but the vast majority of what I’ve read has been “vivid and continuous,” how Anne Lamott  quoted John Gardner describing good writing. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Find a rec list* of fics in that fandom,
  2. Read through it until you find one fic you like,
  3. Read everything that author wrote,
  4. Read everything that author bookmarked,
  5. Read stuff written by the people who commented on her writing,
  6. Read fics they wrote and fics they bookmarked,
  7. Repeat steps 3 – 6 until you run out of time/bandwidth/feel the urge to write your own rises up in you.

It is a network analysis approach to finding good fiction. Because even good authors have bad writing days, and even great authors sometimes go down tangents I don’t like (mpreg anyone?), I still occasionally run into poorly written, uninteresting, or squicky pieces. But I’ve had that with published writing and so try not to judge fanfiction more harshly than I would Terry Prattchet (Unseen Academicals did nothing for me).

I read fanfiction for the same reason I read books. As Carl Sagan says, books take us “inside the mind of another person” and are capable of “binding together people who never knew each other”:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

Maybe you don’t like to read fanfiction: that’s cool. But just so you know, if you ever want to, there’s some great stuff out there.

*Googling “[fandom name] fic recs” is the way I did this.

Inspirational Quote:

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.

Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power.

“Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling . . . stories, twisting and flowing through the darkness.”–Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

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