I started out as a writer by writing fanfiction.
That’s not necessarily strictly true – I wrote a few scattered stories (even poetry!) and chopped up bits of a novel as a kid and younger teenager, and I started writing (and sharing) fanfiction seriously during my first NaNoWriMo, which means during the time I was also writing my first completed original first novel draft.
But I have spent a lot of time writing and reading in the realms of fanfiction, and I did fall into it at around the same time I was beginning to seriously start writing. I think that has in some ways changed or broadened my perceptions (or even simply my vocabulary) when it comes to writing even in the arena of original works.
I off-handedly describe things I’m writing via the fanfiction-standard (more or less) terms, explaining that it is fluff or angst, or H/C – crack, WAFF, PWP, UST. Sometimes these are easily understandable outside of the fanfiction realm and sometimes they require a bit more explanation, but to some degree it is where I think first for definitive words.
Fanfiction often categorises and defines itself with emotional words – how will this make me feel, what are the characters feeling – and that shorthand can be useful when describing your work. (Besides, maybe I want to know whether that short story is going to leave me teary-eyed, awwing, or righteously satisfied.)
I think fanfiction has the opportunity to define itself by the genre of emotion rather than plot/setting in part because fanfiction is in a pre-created world. You already know what kind of setting you are walking into when you click on a fanfiction, because you are already familiar with the world and the characters. (Leverage fanfiction will involve hijinks, Harry Potter is full of wizardry, Doctor Who has aliens, danger, and lots and lots of running. Etc.) You’re reading something new, but within the realm of a familiar land.
(AUs are not uncommon, of course, but their difference of setting is almost always made clear right beside the ‘alternate universe’ tag – coffeeshop, spaceship, soulmate, historical, etc.)
So we already know whether a story is likely to be fantasy, science-fiction, mystery. (Romance is generally obvious as well, if there’s also a/multiple pairings listed.) That leaves the way clear for a different kind of sub-categorising based on what is in a story and how it is supposed to make the reader feel.
Of course I can’t really pinpoint the genesis of this difference, as intriguing a concept as it is, but I wonder than one reason for it might be that the writers (those categorising these stories) are readers here, not just in the general but the immediate sense. They are immersed in the web of fandom, creating and appreciating fanworks and interacting with other fans and fan-creators just as much as the audience of their stories does. It allows for a much more immediate juxtaposition of feeling between creator and reader than many channels, and lends a different perspective.
Which is a situation that cannot really be so easily duplicated in original fiction (not that it necessarily should be) and yet the vocabulary I use when describing my writing, and even the way I approach it, are coloured by these words and themes. When I have a bad day it often makes me feel better to write a hurt/comfort themed story, and when I describe the novel I essentially wrote as a conglomeration of NaNo dares saying it is a cracky idea sums it up quite well.
I’m not saying I expect to be able to pick up a novel in the bookstore and read epic, fluffy, eventual HEA, some angst off the jacket any time soon, but it is a useful addition to the array of ‘talking about writing’ terminology, in my book. That’s good enough for me; I like my vocabulary and I’m happy with my writing roots, so to speak!
What do you think of emotion- rather than (or in addition to) setting-based categorisation of stories? Do you borrow any fanfiction terms to describe your non-fanfiction writing or reading? Do you think original fiction could benefit from borrowing some of fanfiction’s more standard terminology?
I talk about genres borrowed from fanfiction and some similar musings in more depth on my blog from time to time. If you’re interested, you can find all my fanfiction-related posts here.