I know what you’re thinking. “Fan fiction?! But that’s a cesspool of Mary Sues, horrifying slash, and rampant orgies thinly veiled as alien rituals!” And you would be correct to some degree. There is some really bad fanfic out there - I know because I’ve read quite a bit of it. My favorite was a Star Trek TNG fic where the main character, the most Mary Sue-est of Mary Sues, commits suicide with an eyelash and a thumbnail clipping to force Capt. Picard to forget his love for her and be comforted in the pillowy bosoms of Dr. Beverly Crusher. That is a thing that exists, and if I knew where to find it I would link to it because it is a treasure.
But I have also read some really good fan fiction in which the authors voiced the characters with more loyalty and believability than some published writers. But still the practice is pretty overwhelmingly condemned as a waste of time, or the haven of uncreative minds - something I find I can’t agree with. Fan fiction can be an excellent writing exercise - trying to slip into the mind of characters that aren’t your own is a great way to develop character writing skills. If you have to constantly check yourself to make sure you are staying true to who the original creator made that character to be it tends to bleed into the rest of your writing. The idea of a character starts to become more fleshed out than just a string of foibles constructed for the sake of the plot. I say this because the way I define fan fiction in my head is exclusively tied to characters. Most fan fiction I’ve come across happens because the author asked the question “What if Character X found themselves in Situation Y?” or “I wonder what happened between Character X and Character Z after Major Plot Climax Theta?” These questions can make for some incredibly entertaining reads, but more than that they’re an expression of love. Think about it - in order to write a good fanfic you have to love the characters you’re writing about enough to truly respect who they are, what they believe, and what they are capable of. There’s nothing shameful about that. However, if you treat those characters like your own personal love-muppets to be thrown into each others arms and beds without thought or reason - shame on you. These are people. At least make it plausible.
Also, writing fan fiction can be a good way to break yourself through a creative block. Imagining your favorite characters in new and possibly funny scenarios is entertaining, and I know the more entertained I am by what I’m writing the more likely I am to keep going. It doesn’t have to even be a whole fleshed-out story, either. Sometimes when I’m stuck, and because I am possibly the biggest Dragon Age fangirl who ever lived, I’ll write little vignettes that take place in between the long marches between cities in Origins, or flesh out the consequences of something you did in DA:2. Maybe Shale accidentally kicked over a poison Morrigan was brewing and wacky hijinks ensued. And what if Hawke got knocked up from that one-night stand with Fenris and has been hiding a kid from him this whole time? Emotional stuff there. If you’re trying to get into the habit of writing every day, fanfic is a good way to get into that habit. Its light, fun, and occasionally turns into something great. I don’t know if Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy started out as fanfic, but that’s pretty much what it is and without it we wouldn’t have Mara Jade. Life without Mara Jade is not a life worth thinking about if you ask me. So when people ask what you write, own it. Say “Oh, I mostly write urban fantasy, a lot of sci fi, and a fair amount of Halo fanfic!” and then skewer them fearlessly with your eyeballs and silently dare them to say anything about it. Because those words of Halo fanfic are still words that you wrote when you found yourself in a creative way, and that makes them worth mentioning.
For the record, I don’t write Halo fanfic. If I played Halo I probably would, however, and shame on you for judging parallel-universe me for that.
Judgement is the other thing I’ve been thinking about lately, and the related ugly habit we in the geek culture are sometimes prone to fall into. Being a geek is all about loving something to a degree that might be considered abnormal to those on the outside, but its also about sharing that love with others and accepting those who also love that thing. In that last bit we sometimes fall a little short - or at least I know I do. When someone tells me they’re watching Death Note or FMA on Netflix, there’s always a little tiny part of my brain that feels superior because I saw them back when you had to download fansubs directly from Japan. Its completely irrational when you think about it. The reason I’d already seen those and other series’ before they popped up in the mainstream was because of an intersection of friends and interest that was specific only to me. I can’t be superior to someone basically for being in the right place at the right time, and judging someone for not knowing something earlier is just silly-pants.
We joke and poke fun at people sometimes with phrases like “Have you been living under a rock?” when we find out they haven’t experienced some game or movie or whatever that we literally can’t imagine our life without. Sometimes its good-natured and we offer to come over post-haste with a couple DVDs and some camaraderie. But other times (and I unfortunately have experienced this) it is completely the opposite, as though lacking a particular set of experiences suddenly makes a person’s opinions invalid. For example - it’s one thing to ignore someone breaking into a conversation about comic book movies who either hasn’t seen the movies, or took their kids to see one and didn’t pay attention and is suddenly handing out opinions like they’re condoms. But what about someone who did see the movies, loves them, but hasn’t read any of the comics? Is their input worth less because they didn’t have a group of friends to go down to the comic book store with every week? It shouldn’t be, but sometimes people are treated that way. A person is still allowed to think The Last Stand is a rubbish movie even if they’ve never heard of the Dark Phoenix Saga.
Even when we talk to each other, we talk about our Geek Shame - some thing that for one reason or another has passed us by. Its not shameful to have not experienced something. Here’s one for you - I have never played a Zelda game. Not one. Through a series of circumstances mostly beyond my control, I’ve never owned a Nintendo system. Should I have to hand in my access to the nerd treehouse over that? No. And it shouldn’t matter what your time frame for experiencing something is. A person is not less of a fan because they read Lord of the Rings after they saw the movies. Being a geek isn’t about shame, that word shouldn’t be in our vocabularies for any reason. We should be about acceptance no matter what someone’s road to nerddom was. Its tough sometimes because a lot of us geeks have dealt with social exclusion, and the desire to feel superior to others is a natural one. But I think this experiential superiority is something we should try to get rid of in ourselves, and gently refuse to tolerate in others.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna try and kickstart my creativity with some Hawke/Fenris preggers drama.