In this installment of Q&A, Minerva Magazine talks to popular LOST, Fringe, and Hawaii Five-O fanfic author Thatwasjustadream about the fanfic community and advice on how to write a good fic.
MM: What is your fanfiction pen name? How did you come up with it?
Thatwasjustadream—it’s from the REM song “Losing My Religion.” It captures how I feel about the fandom stories we all write; that they’re kind of reveries. It’s also an angsty song, and fanfic often thrives on angst.
MM: What type of fanfiction do you write? How long have you been writing for that fandom(s)?
I write gen fic and slash. I’ve been writing fanfic since 2011. At first I was a single fandom writer but now I write across a number of them, mostly Supernatural, Hawaii 5-O, Fringe and Suits. I’ve written a little Sherlock, Trek and Marvel, mostly for reward and gift fics.
MM: What are reward and gift fics?
Fan art communities are collaborative, and use prompts and challenges a lot. The community I’m in has monthly and weekend challenges; anyone who completes a challenge is rewarded with fic or an artwork in return. Friends write gift fics for each other’s birthdays or for the fun of it—and on AO3 you can tick a box to add a work to another user’s gift queue.
MM: What led you to fanfiction?
I was a hardcore LOST fan and after the show ended, I missed it so much. I missed the beautiful scenery, the characters, the ritual of sharing it with friends and theorizing about it together every week. For a lot of people it was a show you took part in, not just something you watched. When that went away it was, for me, almost literally depressing. Rather than just re-watching it ad nauseum, I decided to write about what happened to the surviving characters over the rest of their lives. It kept that little world alive for me for another year and helped me say goodbye to it.
MM: Which fandom is it easiest to write about? Is there one that’s more of a challenge?
I think for anyone, the fandom that’s easiest to write is the one you “get” the best because you really enjoy it. Everything stands out to you: the character motivations, the show mythology, dramatic and comedic devices that the writers of the franchise use. BBC Sherlock is hard for me to write. I enjoy it, but mostly for the characters and the visual styling whereas the actual casefic? My attention slips as I watch it, honestly. Fringe is easier for me, as are LOST and SPN and H50.
MM: What was the first piece of fanfiction you ever created? What did you learn from it?
That LOST fic was my first creative writing in a long time. I learned that there’s an entire world of fanfiction that I wasn’t aware existed. I knew that there was a history of fanfic, I knew about the Trek ’zines in the 70s and such—but had no idea it’s a flourishing medium now. I also learned (or re-learned, really) that writing muscles are like any other; the more you use them, the stronger they get. When I read some of my early fics now, they seem so simplistic and in need of a good reworking. I’ve gotten much better at dialogue writing and at putting out pieces that flow and are engaging.
MM: Are there “rules” for writing fanfiction? What are the standards that you like to follow?
I don’t know that there are rules specifically for fanfiction. I guess the same ones that apply to all writing/art work/etc: Have something to say. Have a point and don’t be boring. Be respectful of the feedback you get, but don’t take it too much to heart, either. Play nice with the other kids.
MM: As a reader, what is your criteria for a good fanfic?
If the writing style itself isn’t clear and enjoyable, I won’t read past the first few paragraphs. Beyond that, like any other story it should say something either about the characters, the world it’s set in, or life in general. And then there are fanfic-specific things it should do; if it’s set in canon the characters should act as they do in canon. If it’s alternative universe, they might act out of character or it may be intriguing to see them as we know them but maneuvering through this other existence. If it’s fluff, it should be “fic comfort food,” and if it’s angst then it should be wonderfully angst-filled and aggravating. After a while, you can pretty much tell from a synopsis whether a story is worth a shot or not.
MM: How would you describe the fanfiction community to a friend who’s unfamiliar with it?
It’s not one cohesive community. There are communities that are location based (AO3, Livejournal, Dreamwidth, others I’m sure), and there are communities around specific shows/movies/franchises/etc, and those built around genre or other interests. I’ve picked up some readers who follow me from fandom to fandom, which I consider a real compliment. If someone’s not interested in a particular franchise but reads your stories set in that world, that’s a nice feeling. I also take part in a small, multi-fandom, members-only community on LiveJournal—about 85 to 100 of us who write and draw and who share ideas and encouragement. We have a lot of laughs and fun together and support each other when a story or a week or life in general feels like a struggle.
MM: How does the instant feedback you receive from reviewers affect your writing? Have comments ever changed what you planned for a story?
I’d be lying if I said the instant feedback isn’t rewarding and motivating. Part of me wants to spend more time on original fiction, but it’s a much more lonely pursuit. I don’t let comments or requests determine what I write, though. I did let that happen a time or two, and realized the results are often subpar—you really can’t do as good a job with creative writing when you’re fulfilling a request rather than following your instincts/heart. I don’t take random prompts, either, because those almost never result in good fic. Often the person requesting something has the story half fleshed out already, and what they want is almost never what they get.
MM: How is writing within the fanfiction community different from writing for traditional publications?
Well, from the perspective of a consumer the quality of the content is obviously all over the place. You have to pick and choose; find the good fandoms and authors to follow. You need to look for the signs of a bad fic, so that you don’t waste time clicking in only to hit “back” asap. As a writer it’s different in that you’re very much writing material that’s of interest to you to satisfy yourself. You have no editor to please, no revisions to make other than those you choose to. I edit methodically as I write and again before I post, but I don’t have to please anyone or make changes I’m not happy with.
Has anything you wrote as fanfiction turned into something more, such as a novel?
My first fic was novel length. I looked back at it recently, and realized that it was not nearly as good as I thought it was at the time. Ha. But it couldn’t have been all that bad—it had a lot of followers and comments for a fic in a fandom that was dispersing. I’ve thought that picking it up and re-writing it as a novel might be fun. Maybe someday. I have started an original fic that wants to be a novel—but it’s very slow going.
MM: How has writing for fanfiction affected your other writing?
It’s made my writing much more powerful and concise. My ability to set a scene, to write a story that takes you somewhere and makes you lose track of the room you’re in and what’s going on around you is stronger.
MM: What fanfiction story of yours would you like us to highlight?
I wrote a Fringe fic that has a spot in my heart. It’s a fill-in fic, set in the months after the Observers invaded and Peter and Olivia’s daughter disappeared. On the show, they only make brief reference to Peter and Olivia having been separated during that time. It jumped out to me as a story begging to be written. It’s not my most visited or kudo’ed—the Fringe fandom really scattered fast after the show ended—but I feel like it came out pretty well! It’s also entirely SFW.
MM: You have the opportunity to share “New York, 2015” with J.J. Abrams. He’ll read it and give you feedback. Do you give it to him?
Oh, God, yes! Sure, you’d have to be prepared to hear, “This is awful, what were you even thinking?” but I have a feeling he’s good at giving constructive criticism. There’s a chase scene I know could be improved, and I expect he’d pick up on that. I’d love to hear if he thinks the Observer invasion is handled in an interesting way, and also if it shows how the characters came to understand themselves better during the narrative gap it addresses.
MM: What fanfiction story (other than one you created) would you recommend?
It’s a Suits fic. It’s explicit, definitely not SFW, but there’s something about it that just knocked my socks off. It’s AU, but works in so many canon details. The writer’s take on the characters as we knew them to that point in the show was very apt. It lags a bit near the end, but ends well—and endings are hard, so I appreciate that. I don’t know the writer; I’m not sure that she even writes anymore. The number of kudos on the fic says something; there was a bit of lightning in a bottle going on with this one.
Thatwasjustadream’s work can be found on AO3. She’s a longtime fangirl of many a TV show, movie, band and comedy troupe, and has traveled the world to chase after a story, a song, or a laugh. Most recently, fandom sent her to London for the Python reunion of 2014 and to a specific beach that used to house a group of fictional plane crash survivors and some sketchy Others.
Featured image via Joel Montes de Oca.