I’ve been involved for the past few months with a fanfiction work. First I was mostly an outsider writing a portion freelance as a favour to a friend, but then I started getting into it and helping out on the planning end. And it’s really a lot of fun. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I believe fanfiction has a lot of worth to writers; particularly newer writers who want to hone their skills before creating whole worlds on their own, but also writers with experience under their belts who want to try something else. So, though the other writers involved would probably not use the word to describe it, thanks to the sitgma around the word, I feel no shame in it.
This particular project is taking on a series that has itself been handled by many, many different writers, all with different agendas and interests. It’s had alternate universes, new timelines, changes in the rules of the universes, What If? stories. It’s based in comics, but has had movies and animated shows and video games based on it. The only real difference between fanfiction and the official work is that the copyright owner paid for the official work. This ‘verse is The X-Men.
To be specific, I’ve been writing for my friend Tom East’s X-Men: Rebirth, a script-only webseries that takes the familiar ground of the X-Men world and plays with it, tweaking it enough to make it something new and interesting. There are some iconic stories here, but played with and reworked in this new story: elements of the Hellfire Club are used in the first volume, which has been released, and future ones look at things like Genosha and the Mutant Registration Act. But what Tom’s done is that he’s adapted those stories to the one he’s telling, rather than telling the same iconic stories over and over again the same way. Characters aren’t the same, their relationships to each other have changed, all the while taking place in a familiar world that could easily be one of the X-verse’s many alternate timelines. Tom’s also gone on record to say that the Phoenix arc is not in the cards, either.
I love this approach. Original creation is great, but there’s something different about the world of playing with characters that everyone knows, and re-interpreting them. It’s, I think, exactly the impetus behind those What If? one-offs. Telling new stories, ones that can’t be told in the original either because it’s a mass-audience form, or because of attitudes in the industry making it hard to tell different stories, or just because hey, I don’t work for Marvel. It’s not sustainable for professional writing, but it’s a great way to practice and play with character development from a new angle.
It’s also interesting to see how different fandoms and influences interact. For example, Tom’s more a fan of the traditional X-Men stories, and favours characters like Xavier, Iceman, Jean Grey and Angel. Meanwhile, my approach is heavily influenced by Joss Whedon‘s run on Astonishing X-Men, and my favourites are Emma Frost, Wolverine and Kitty Pryde. Another staffer, Darren, is a big fan of exploring the massive universe Marvel has on offer. Instead of a tug of war, it all seems to mesh nicely so different characters and influences mesh together in waves.
Playing with characters with so much history, and so much baggage, is a lot of fun. It also allows you to stretch your storytelling skills in new directions. Give it a shot.