You don’t have to like fan fiction to appreciate what it stands for. Fan fiction, for many, is the ultimate form of demonstrating your fondness for a particular franchise: book, movie, or video game, among others. Fan fiction can be serious, it can be lighthearted or it can be just plain strange (sometimes, all of the above). But no matter its kind, fan fiction is just that: fiction written by fans. And therein lies the universal appeal, because everyone is a fan of something.
I sat down with fan fiction author Laura Elson for a little chat concerning her own work. Some biological facts: Laura is a 22-year-old, born-in-Michigan-but-raised-a-Wichitan, who currently resides in Colorado
traitor and is as tall as a beanstalk. She’s also been diagnosed with Stage IV Awesome.
(Prior to the interview, I asked Laura to write a haiku about her favorite fictional villain. She wrote three
Lost his mind in that damned war
Now he has no one
Smaug the Terrible
Is King Under the Mountain
The dwarves cannot win
Wants to understand the world
Hates the nothingness
PHILIP: Let’s start off simple. What’s your favorite book? Ha! I lied, this is a hard question.
LAURA: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
PHILIP: Of course.
LAURA: Shut up. I couldn’t really tell you why I like this one the best out of the other six. And don’t look at me all disapproving–
*I’m looking at her all disapproving.*
–I know picking a Harry Potter book is cliché to begin with, but when this book came out, it was around the time I first started reading Harry Potter at all. I read it over and over again, waiting for Order of the Phoenix, so I guess it’s got a special place in my heart. Also, I really loved the graveyard scene, for whatever reason my ten-year-old mind had at the time.
PHILIP: You’re probably a serial killer. So, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is your favorite book. Out of the stories that you yourself have written, which one is your favorite?
LAURA: Probably Men and Angels, if we’re going for novel/novella length. I’m not sure what it would be classified as, as it’s about 60k words, but it’s pretty much the only story I wrote years ago that I can look back on and say, “Well, I guess I really did all right there!” I just reread it a few weeks ago for kicks and giggles, and the emotions I was trying to convey were all there. It’s a Fullmetal Alchemist story where teenaged Ed and Al swap places with their four- and five-year-old counterparts, with all the emotional baggage and angst that would come along with that. I remember really enjoying writing it, and I still quite like it today.
If we’re going oneshots, I’d say Elysium: a Hobbit story that explores Thorin’s madness at the end of the book and the effect it has on his nephews. I’m quite proud of the way the language in this one turned out, and even though Thorin is a difficult character to get right, let alone an insane Thorin, I think I nailed his personality, as well as Fíli’s. Of course, Fíli happens to be one of my favorites from the Hobbit, so that might have helped!
PHILIP: Freak. Just kidding. Moving on: this one’s a doozy: in your own words, how would you describe your body of work—as a whole?
LAURA: What kind of question is that!? Okay, um…
I’d say my works—especially the more recent ones, from 2010 on—are mostly an exploration of characters and how they would react to certain situations in a specific setting. I’d like to say that they’re plot-driven, because those are generally more interesting and better received, but as a whole I’d say that what I write is fueled by emotions: mostly, those stories in which I’m able to feel for the characters and get down those feelings onto the page. That’s not to say I don’t have humorous stories, or ones that are plot-focused—it’s just that stories are usually spawned from my thinking, “Well, what would she think in this particular situation? How would he react to this specific thing happening?” and then I do my best to really get into that character’s head and express what they would think. And, in my opinion (and that of the people who leave me comments), I’d like to think I do a pretty good job.
I’m doing my best to start combining emotion- and plot-based stories into one, because that’s the type of story I most like to read myself—the next story I’m planning will definitely have a bit of both. We’ll see how well I do with it!
PHILIP: So, how did you start writing fan fiction?
What trauma did you suffer to make you begin such a strange and foreign habit?
LAURA: What’s funny about that is that when I first started out, I didn’t even properly know what fanfiction was. I was rereading Goblet of Fire in seventh or eighth grade and had a thought—what would have happened if there were muggles in the graveyard when Harry and Voldemort were dueling? So I started writing out a story, Through a Muggle’s Eyes (yes, with several badly-characterized OCs [Original Characters] loosely based off my friends—but everyone has to start somewhere, right?), from a muggle kid’s point of view, as he and his friends get caught hiding from these weirdo psychopaths in their local graveyard. I was posting it to a Harry Potter guild I used to be a member of on Neopets, when one of the other members said, “Hey, you know there’s a website for this kind of stuff, right . . . ?”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
And I still fondly remember the days where fanfiction.net looked a lot shittier—even more than it does now—with text spanning the entire screen, no cover art or avatars, no font options, no page break option in the document manager—ah, the good old days.
PHILIP: You’ve mentioned Goblet of Fire twice now. My question is, why do you write about the particular franchises that you write about? What I mean to say is, why Harry Potter, for example?
LAURA: Most of the time, my story ideas come from my understanding of the characters, because I really think characters are the most important part of any story. So, essentially, I write for fandoms whose characters I empathize with, because that makes it easier for me to write them well. I’m a pretty empathetic person in general, so if your character is well-written, believable, and interesting, chances are I’ll take a liking to them. Even if they’re not the best people. Like, Peter Pettigrew: one of my favorite characters in Harry Potter. But that’s a discussion for another time.
My favorite fandoms at the moment are Harry Potter, Fullmetal Alchemist, and The Hobbit. HP and FMA have compelling, excellently written characters set in an immersive setting with incredible plots. The Hobbit (in book form, at least) is lacking more than a little in character development if you’re anyone but Bilbo. However, the movies (and the back-story mentioned in interviews and behind-the-scenes) have made up for that in spades—even if some of the pacing and plot decisions they’ve made have irritated me to no end. So, some odd combination of book-and movie-canon has caused me to fall in love with the story as a whole, because every dwarf has that spark to him that I can kind of play around with and see what happens within this expansive world and the rather typical, but excellently spun adventure plot.
So, I guess the short answer to your question is that characters and an interest in the world around them are what inspire me to write about a particular fandom, because I like investigating the way they can bounce off each other and react while in different situations!
PHILIP: Super-duper. This question’s a bit more open: what does writing mean to you?
LAURA: I feel like I’ve been writing for so long that this question is kind of like “what does pizza mean to you?”
I mean, for God’s sake, I have a binder full of hundreds of stories I want to write at some point,
PHILIP: Aunt May knows.
*she’s glaring at me, but ignores my interjection*
mostly based off of (or inspired by) my own personal experiences. I spend a ton of my downtime brainstorming plot points for my next major story, or thinking up new ideas for oneshots I could write in the meantime.
Seriously, writing has become such an integral part of my life that I honestly don’t know where I would be without it. And yes, that’s corny as all hell, but it’s the truth.
It’s a weird cascade of events that has led me to exactly where I am now. Posting my original writing on Neopets (in one guild of thousands that I happened to join) led me to fanfiction.net; following one author by chance many years ago introduced me to Harry Potter/Fullmetal Alchemist crossovers; haunting the Harry Potter x Fullmetal Alchemist archive led me to three good friends who I still communicate with on a regular basis. These friends led me to Tumblr, where I expanded my fandom-base, my knowledge, and the depth to which I delved into characters, improving my writing skills a fair bit. In addition, I’ve met at least half a dozen good friends on Tumblr whom I text or message regularly. I actually got to meet one of them last month when I traveled to Chicago!
Hell, writing for Fullmetal Alchemist has literally changed my future. I was looking up how automail worked in order to more accurately portray it in a fic, realized how awesome it is and interesting it would be to do in real life, and consequently changed my major. Now I’m working on a PhD in bioengineering, in a lab that works with advanced upper-limb prosthetics . . . all because I did some research for a fanfic four years ago.
In short, I would be an entirely different person if I wasn’t a writer. I wouldn’t have as many great friends as I do now; I wouldn’t be as open-minded and empathetic as I have grown to be–thanks to stepping into the heads of so many characters. Though I’m not a writer “professionally”—I don’t have an English major, and doubt I have the patience or skills to get one—it’s still a huge part of my life, and I honestly can’t envision myself as a non-writer, simply because it’s been such a big part of my existence for so long.
PHILIP: Well, I think that’s as good a place as any to stop. Danke mucho for your time!
LAURA: Haha, thank you.