Columnists / Emily Waddell

‘I was a teenage loser’

By aphra evans, Wednesday Nov 30, 2016

Telling someone that you used to write fan fiction, is just like any other admission of teenage loser-ness. 

Like saying, I can speak Klingon, or I know the inside leg measurements of My Chemical Romance’s frontman Gerard Way. There are a few stages of emotions you see flicker across people’s faces before it typically ends up in laughter and then “What was it about?”

In 2016, being a loser is pretty cool. You can know openly express enjoyment at board games, going for a walk isn’t lame, if you snap some nicely filtered Instagram shots. People seem to be perhaps a tad more accepting of niche and fringe interests.

However, the process of unravelling the plot to a non-canonical story you wrote about the beloved children’s hero Harry Potter when you were 13 gets weird, very, very quickly. Suddenly, that smile turns slightly stilted as you explain your theory behind whether Lily Potter was actually meant to be a Slytherin and you realise you’re still that 13-year-old loser inside.

There’s nothing wrong with realising you’re still a little odd by normal standards, it’s tricky to explain to outsiders the insane obsession one would have to have to spend their free time when they were a teenager writing nearly 100,000 words about Harry Potter.

Fan fiction has oddly resurfaced as a topic that’s been dissected for its pop-culture references in the mainstream press recently. A Buzzfeed long-read looked at the celebration of black female characters and narratives through fan fiction by black women, citing the recent Walking Dead coupling of Rick and Michonne. Something fanfiction writers have been shipping, dreaming and developing for years online. Fan fiction is a creative outlet for many people, but it’s mostly written by women, and with WOC being so underrated in films and TV it’s easy to see why fan fiction has become a beacon for young WOC writers to expand the horizons of their favourite characters, if screenwriters are unable, or unwilling, to do it themselves. 

I wasn’t unrepresented when I was younger and I’m not now. As a white-straight-cis-women my privilege is pretty set in stone in television and film. Don’t get me wrong though, women have their tropes in TV, Films and Books, but my fanfiction was not setting the world on fire of equality and better representation. 

My fanfiction was firmly about cute boys. 

Cute boys at Hogwarts and how they fancied the new girl who happened to look exactly like me and who was excellent in every way. Simply referred to as a ‘Mary Sue’ character in the fanfiction world, and a term that’s been (somethings unfairly) given to modern characters like Bella from Twilight or Anastasia Steele in 50 Shades of Grey.

Fun fact: 50 Shades of Grey was originally born from Twilight fan fiction, so I may be sitting on a potential goldmine. 

Fan fiction isn’t just a medium for people who feel like they have right wrongs on their favourite shows, films and books. It’s also not just about cute boys and making yourself the star in your favourite show.

It’s pure pop culture obsession. Simply put, if you love something you need more of it, so create it for yourself. Typically, the narratives and themes revolve around romance, although they can involve world building, spin-offs or more niche plots that writers and authors spent minimal time on, they still tend to be driven by a romantic theme. 

If you’ve ever rewatched arcs of television shows just for a brief interchange between two characters that you desperately want to get together, but know they never will, you’ve experienced the main desire behind an obsessed teenage girl. 

I was nearly 13 when the fifth Harry Potter book came out. The word obsessed doesn’t really cover it. I was desperately unhappy at school and wanted to escape to another world where it seemed like people only bullied the good people and there were clear distinct lines between good and evil. 

I didn’t have really anyone to talk to about my obsession, my friends were sort-of, kind-of reading the books but even by 13 I was duly informed that it was rather childish to be so interested in these books. They were more interested in Sawyer from Lost. Yes, Lost came out in 2004. I know. So, I went searching for kinship elsewhere. 

2003 was an interesting time for the internet, it wasn’t as sophisticated or sleek but it wasn’t the early 90’s days of HTML coded sites with little-to-no interface. I stumbled upon forums, websites and blogs discussing in detail minor points about the books; conspiracy theories, predictions and stories. I was very confused at the time by the story I found online, had I stumbled upon an unreleased book? I printed it off and read it before going to bed, delighted to find all my magical friends which I knew so well being more, well, cool. 

The story even expanded on a burgeoning barely hinted at romance between Harry and Hermione, I was shocked and fascinating with a non-JK Rowling take on my beloved characters. It wasn’t until I did more sleuthing and discovered harrypotterfanfiction.net (now .com) before I realised that this story was the tip of a huge iceberg. 

Alana Bennett covered this time perfectly in her long-read for Buzzfeed, The Harry Potter Fandom is at a Crossroads. In the early 2000s people had taken this universe and had run with it, there were huge complicated novels that ran into the 100,000 words covering every pairing, theory and character arc you could ever imagine. 

It’s hard explaining the history, commitment, passion and community around fan fiction writers. It’s also odd to think of a hobby you once had that you never really tell anybody about IRL.

So, this Sunday I’ll be purging myself of my secret stage, live, on stage, for the first time I’ll be reading our a chapter of my 13-year-old secret novel. Not only that, I’ll be joined by others who also share this oddly generation defining secret life.

It’s going to be terrible, please come and share in the laughter. 

Emily Waddell and others will be reading their fan fiction at Bristol’s first and only fan fiction storytelling evening, Dear Harry/Spock at The Crofters Rights on Sunday, December 4.

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