By Heather Todd
Hi, I’m Heather and I write fan fiction.
There. I said it. Or rather, I admitted it. In public. And lightening has not struck me—yet. I offered to take the reins and guest blog for the indomitable Rhonda and Amanda and delve into the mucky waters of fan fiction, and why some choose to write it. No, I don’t write Duran fan fiction (anymore). But since this is the Daily Duranie, let me talk about that for just a second. Fan fiction was a very vital part of my experience as a Duran-fan in the mid-eighties. I had the good fortune of living in a corner of North America where Duran shows were quite literally, a fantasy. So, my best friend and I spent hours, locked in our poster-plastered bedrooms, playing our tapes from start to finish, reading, writing, critiquing, giggling and generally having an awesome time. We went to great lengths for our fan fiction. Besides doing all the necessary research in every teen magazine that we could get our hands on, we wrote away to the British tourist authority and got maps and pamphlets of London and Birmingham, so that we could be that much more accurate. I think when all was said and done, I had amassed a yarn-bound dossier of loose leaf that was at least six inches thick. One summer in 1987 I threw it in the woodstove and burned it. At the time, all I could think of was the potential damage that its discovery could inflict upon my carefully constructed reputation. I think it was an appropriate funeral. I’m not sure my forty year old self could endure the cringe-inducing prose.
Fast forward thirty years.
As I said, this is not about Duran fan fiction. I write fan fiction for a video game franchise, called Dragon Age. And now that the words are staring back at me, it does appear awfully weird. Maybe I need to back up a bit first. There are a couple of factors that helped me down this rabbit hole. First, for years, starting at about the time that I started writing Duran-fics, I wanted to write. But I’ve struggled with dyslexia, which, in my particular circumstance, makes grammar a challenge. I adapted, coped and made it all the way to graduate school, where I had a program director take me into her office and express her deepest concerns that my writing was not quite up to snuff. In fact, I got the distinct impression that was really bad, and my place in the program, at the time, was tenuous. That’s another story, but certainly part of this one. Writing, or rather, writing well, became a goal that slipped through my fingers like dry sand.
Fast forward twenty-five years.
I love video games and have logged just as many hours as my kids in some franchises. I’m particularly drawn to dark fantasy RPGs, preferring a two-handed sword over a machine gun. I suppose if there was a Dungeons and Dragons club at my high school I would have been part of that too, but my school only contained 100 kids. Obviously, I had some catching up to do. Within the last ten years, where technology has made incredible leaps and bounds, storytelling within games has also evolved and become more sophisticated. So, innocently, I picked up the first Dragon Age title and started playing. Within hours I was obsessed. I created a character and set her upon a quest to save the world. Since this is a multipath branching scenario on steroids, players are presented with a good deal of choice in who they wish their hero to become, and the NPCs (non-player characters, which is nerd talk for the other characters in the game), react to those choices accordingly. I easily logged over 40 hours of gameplay, and as I neared the end-game I had my crew and I had a handsome virtual boyfriend. He and I were going to usurp the throne and rule together… Rah! Except at the end, he DUMPED ME. It’s a very long story, one that I am sure you didn’t come to the Daily Duranie to hear, but in essence, it was because my character was a mage, and there were some very complicated political situations between the humans and the human-mages. After so many hours of developing this love story, which is very explicit in the game and not just part of my imagination, I felt like a teenager. Which got me thinking.
That’s powerful stuff. I got feels from a video game. That’s not supposed to happen… is it? So I started investigating the Dragon Age stories on fanfiction.net. As of today, there are over 12,600 Dragon Age stories. That’s a lot of words. And it varies from the awful, to ingeniously crafted smut, to brilliantly crafted epics that deserve attention and praise from Bioware, the franchise owner. As I read, I thought, I can do this. So I did.
I started writing in a ready-made world, where the rules of magic are defined, where there are maps, plot holes, characters, history that are organized in a massive Wiki. “Real” writers, who oppose fan-fiction often suggest that fan fiction writers should just make up their own worlds. Yes. One could. And many do. However, I know how I learn best. I learn by doing. And I know that I wouldn’t even get started if I had to build or adapt a magic system from scratch. I’m lazy. And since Bioware encourages and supports fan fiction, off I went. I learned how to develop a character, write a scene, explore showing vs. telling, as well as dabble in other aspects of publishing, such as building a following and dealing with criticism. For me, fan fiction is like training wheels for writers.
My first piece of fan fiction came in at just over 113,000 words and took me about six months to write and has about 10,000 views (compared to other fan fics, these numbers are quite modest). After I finished, I found a beta reader, went through reviews and edits and then posted it on fanfiction.net. And just like with Amazon, if you post it… they will not automatically come.
So, I joined a Dragon Age writing community, which I have actively participated in for about two years. At first I was shocked that the group mostly consisted of women between 25-45. I thought I was an anomaly. Apparently not. As a group, we’ve been through births, divorces and deaths, we share filthy jokes and recipes, our favorite fan art and pictures of our families. And somewhere in all that socializing, I’ve learned about writing. I also get to experience the joy in creating characters that other readers get excited about. We encourage each other through writer’s block and provide feedback. It’s a great place to be a fan. It’s also a great place to be a hobby writer. No one has any illusions about what we do.
What does Dragon Age and Duran Duran have in common? No matter what the “source” produces, it’s the fans that keep the art vibrant. This particular fandom is also in its equivalence of Durantime. The last game was released in 2011 and the newest in the series is expected out at the end of this year. (My inner fan girl might not be able to handle it—new Duran material and a Dragon Age game?) While the developers are very hard at work, it’s my writing group that has kept my enthusiasm going.
I suppose some of you are wondering, will I take the leap and write something original, and distinctly my own? Probably. I am in the middle of writing an epic right now, which I have promised myself to see through.
Heather, builds online learning for the military to support her diverse interests. She describes herself as a fan girl of many dimensions, which includes an intense love of Duran Duran, an obsession for dark fantasy, and a passion for knitting. She lives in New Brunswick, Canada, with her husband, three kids and two cats. She can be found on Fanfiction.net under the pen-name EasternViolet. She never turns away a new reader.