October “Toby” Daye was in many ways my first “real” protagonist. She was complicated, she was sad, she was bruised and refusing to break, and she was not afraid to put her duty ahead of her desire to be liked. She bullied her way through the world she was created to inhabit, looking at every complication that stood in her way and saying “No, you move.” After a lifetime spent moving dolls through stories, it was like I finally had a real person to follow and document. I started writing her adventures, and sending them out to people I trusted to read and review. Midway through either the second or the third book—I don’t remember anymore—I got a note from one of my proofers saying “You can’t have Toby do this, she’s always been a little bitchy, but this makes her a total bitch. No one will like her if she does this.”
I panicked. I couldn’t write a series about an unlikeable character! I’d never get published, no one else would ever meet my imaginary friends, and everything I’d worked for my whole life would be over, all because Toby was unlikeable.
Then I took a deep breath, and wrote back to the proofer requesting that they do a find/replace on the .doc, and plug in the name “Harry Dresden” for every instance of “October Daye.” They did, and lo and behold, what had been “bitchy” and “inappropriate” was suddenly “bold” and “assertive.” A male character in the same situation, with the same background, taking the same actions, was completely in the right, justified, and draped with glory. He was a hero. Toby? Toby was an unlikeable bitch.
The proofer withdrew the compliant. I have never forgotten it.”
If I had the power, I would ask all the authors in the world to do Yuletide or something like it every year. Sign up for a fic exchange and write some porn for a stranger; tailor your stories to an audience of one, let go of the long-form plots and the careful wide-spectrum appeal, embrace the joy of spending a hundred words on Carlos’s perfect hair or Buffy’s perfect shoes or Jo’s perfect knives. Remember the joy of waiting for one person to open a story and see what it contains.
Because fanfic is joy. Fanfic is fixing the things you see as broken, and patching the seams between what’s written and what is not, and giving characters who got cheated out of their happy endings another chance. There was a time, not that long ago as we measure things, where all fiction was what we would now call “fan fiction.” Shakespeare didn’t come up with most of his own plots. He wrote plays about the stories people already loved. We didn’t get a thousand versions of “Snow White” accidentally: people changed that story to suit themselves, and no one said they weren’t storytellers, or looked down on them for loving that core of red and black and white, of apples and glass and snow.”
Seanan McGuire, “Let’s Talk About Fanfic.”
(hat tip to kassrachel for the link!)
Fanfic is fixing the things you see as broken, and patching the seams between what’s written and what is not, and giving characters who got cheated out of their happy endings another chance.