Fanfiction: in the Oral Tradition

As I embarked this past week on my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, I found myself thinking back to the writing I used to do. Fanfiction. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the impulse to re-create and participate in the fiction I consumed naturally led me to writing fanfiction; also, the only story I ever considered myself to have “finished” was in that same category. I began to realize that the process of writing all that fanfiction informs and guides what I already know about my own creative process.

So I’m going to blog about my fanfiction career (in three parts!), so I can further reflect on how all three chapters and forms are visible in what I’m trying to do now.

Part I: Fanfiction in the Oral Tradition

Like societies themselves, my first stories were spoken aloud, and were never written down.

When I was in late elementary school (about 4th grade), I made friends with some other girls in the neighborhood who were homeschooled. One of the major perks of hanging out with them was that I felt zero pressure to live up to the standards of what kids at my public school would think were cool or uncool, so I was freed to be as imaginative as we liked. We were all readers (although now one has grown up to be a chemist, the other got her MFA) and story lovers in our own different ways, and I felt safe enough with them to share a habit I had that, if not for their listening, I might have ceased and forgotten about as I grew older.

I used to daydream, usually in that time after having put down the book and turned off the light but before falling asleep, but this dreaming also could happen anyplace and anytime. My daydreaming included actively re-imagining stories — usually the book I was reading at the time, or a movie I liked — with myself as an added character.

This is known in the fanfiction world as a Mary-Sue, but you gotta start somewhere, and if you’re 11 years old, I’m not gonna hold it against you.

Because they agreed that they also did this (or perhaps agreed to start?), we began spending some of our time together relating our tales. We started calling this time “DM*” which was sort for “Dream Meeting,” and wove ongoing tales about ourselves in other worlds. (So in that other post, when I said I had a “character husband”? This is what I meant.) We even had particular locations were preferred for this activity around the neighborhood.

We worked our way into a lot of great stories this way, and although nothing is recorded, I know that this prompted some really amateur analysis of things like plot structure and character development. As we continued, we also were able to make our “selves” more nuanced and less idealized. We had to alter the plots to accommodate our presence, so we got better at tweaking the details. This may be one reason I still find it a lot easier to adjust to a set of rules than to build from the ground up. I have fun making characters and it comes a lot more easily to me, but worldbuilding is much more laborious. It may also, I hope, be much more rewarding when I eventually accomplish it more fully!

We also were able to share more of ourselves with each other, and I think this is one of the strengths of that friendship. Built into its foundation is the fact that we were able to continuously share with each other not only what we really were, but what we wished we could be.

We were less and less able to spend our time in DMs as we progressed in school, and also as they moved to a new house. They still lived in the same town, but too far away now for me to sprint across a couple of lawns and be there.



*For most other nerds, DM has a totally different meaning. But anytime anyone uses the term, my own personal style of “Dream Meeting” is all I can think of!

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