I debated on whether or not I should categorize this as a Time Vampire instead of a Secret Heresy. At the end of the day, I really probably lose more of my time to the swirling vortex of fanfiction.net than any other time wasting mechanism in virtual or physical space. But, I realized, the fact that it really is my number one, and yet I cringe at the thought of putting it out as a valid time waster probably means my shame is great enough to make this a heresy.
Kristy would disagree, I’m sure. Kristy’s self confident enough that there’s not much on her list of interests and habits that she’s embarrassed about. Also, she’s in folklore, where even the most bizarre pop-culture niches are legitimate fields of study–not exactly an environment that fosters shame. But in my shady real-world job, and with my painfully practical family, just explaining what fanfiction is would be enough to take my black-sheep status to unknown heights. And even here on the web, many an elitist has disparaged those who spend time creating worlds around someone else’s fiction. But I’m ready to come clean. Completely clean. Because when it comes to consumption of fanfiction, hitting up fanfiction.net is a whole new subset of bad within bad. This is the Wal-Mart of fanfiction. Everything under one roof, and disproportionately little of it being of any quality. And yet, I not only clock hours there, I have strong opinions about my experiences. Criteria for my activities and recommendations for those few souls I share my secret with so that they can avoid the mire of crap and find the decent stuff.
Because yes, there’s quality in fanfiction. Not a lot, but it’s there. And sometimes the quality you find might not have been the quality the author intended. For example, there was a rather lengthy Battlestar Galactica AU fic that Kristy and I both read. As far as plot was concerned, it was okay, but not that stellar. But the dialog. Oh, sweet mercy, it was FABULOUS. In fact, Kristy and I can’t even remember the title of the piece, but we can quote whole chunks of the dialog verbatim and we refer to it as “The Toaster Baby Fanfic.” When I can find it again, I’ll be referring Kristy to a Bones fic that has a similar quality to it.
And you also can’t underestimate the pure entertainment in reading some of the hideous things people post. The schadenfreude of watching someone beg for feedback on a misspelled Mary Sue fic that makes your eyeballs bleed is remarkable. There’s just FUN to be had in mocking the bad stuff. Even the painful MarySue long-lost-sisters-of-characters have the potential for a little bit of “awe, look at the cute little high school student wishing she was on Castle!” When it gets to be too much, I just think of what Kevin J. Anderson has been paid to write in some fandoms, and, honestly, with that as a baseline, even some of the high-schooler Mary Sues are pretty damned good.
But there are limits. Levels of suckitude that even I will not endure. I have a list of unforgivable sins which will render a story “dead to me”:
-posting an author’s note in lieu of a chapter. If you get me all excited about a new chapter and all I get is your excuse about how you have finals, you and your story are dead to me. Explain it when you post something real. Don’t lead me on.
-any summary that says “I suck at summaries” or “Story better than it sounds.” Nothing will make me scroll past faster.
-bitchy demands for readers to R&R (Read and Respond), particularly when coupled a threat not to post any more. Yeah, because there’s nothing else on the whole site for me to read, sweetie.
-when a fanfic writer for an American TV show keeps using “Mum.” It’s one of those things that’s enough to jar me out of my tenuously suspended disbelief. Actually, I forgive that one once or twice, but–and this has happened multiple times, so it bears comment–when the the author posts a bitchy little note stating something to the effect of “I KNOW it’s American, but I’m British and WE say Mum and I am the author so I’m going to have them say Mum!!” Dead. To. Me. If I were writing a fic based on a Brit material, I’d be making every attempt to put the useless ‘u’s into words, call people “Mum” and finally figure out when to use while vs. whilst.
-(added by Kristy) putting a note somewhere at the top that says, “I suck at spelling” and then using said disclaimer as an excuse to use the grammar and spelling of a five-year-old for the rest of the fic. I have no problem excusing a typo or error here or there. But you know what? I’m lousy at spelling in English too (yes, English is my first language, but its spelling rules make no sense). This is why BabyJesus gave us spell checkers. Or get a beta reader. And don’t get pissy with me over your lack of literacy. Dead to me!
But, regardless of quality, the availability keeps me coming back. At 4am when I can’t sleep, the library isn’t open. But fanfiction.net is there, waiting to bathe me in the glow of my laptop screen and offer me new and craptastic adventures of characters from shows canceled 10 years ago that I just can’t stop thinking about.
So my secret is out. And it feels rather good to admit it. Yes, my name is Cammy, and I spend hours on fanfiction.net.