Fandom is often a bizarre place to call home. If we’re not arguing about which fictional characters are allowed to bump uglies with each other, we’re drawing those characters as cats or caterpillars or memes. And that’s just what’s happening right now. But before the coffee shop AUs and the A/B/O knotting fics and the incessant flood of chatfics, fanfiction trends were actually even weirder.
Let me take you on a trip down memory’s bumpiest lane, with a look at five inexplicable old fanfiction trends.
You think calling out fics for dodgy content is bad? Imagine having someone go through your story line-by-line and write everything they dislike about it, not because the content is problematic but simply because someone doesn’t like it, then posting the result as a fic of their own for likes and comments.
Openly mocking other fic writers’ efforts in the style of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was a popular trend in the early noughties. I don’t think I ever wrote one myself (MST3K never made it to the UK, so I didn’t really know the conventions) but I remember chuckling along to a few of them in different fandoms.
It was a truly juvenile way of dealing with fics that weren’t particularly good quality, and probably said more about the writer of the MST3K version than the original writer.
Comments for updates
While I fully understand the sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing comments on your work, this demand for validation really was too much. Effectively holding the story to ransom, this insistence of ‘10 comments and I’ll add another chapter’ was most often employed by writers whose writing probably wouldn’t have earned them many comments any other way.
Admittedly, it might feel like a good motivator if you’re posting a WIP, but to me it always felt like desperation. One can’t help but wonder how many of these multi-chapter fics were actually finished this way and how many disappeared into the void after people got fed up of commenting with “comment” just to reach the required number.
Woke Up Gay/ Genderswap fics
I’m grouping these two together because the trends started around the same time and generally followed the same format: one-shot stories about characters who woke up and found themselves either suddenly embodying every gay stereotype ever or suddenly in a body with different genitalia.
I encountered ‘Woke Up Gay’ in the Buffy fandom (where the trend reportedly started) and genderswap a year or two later in the Due South fandom. ‘Wake Up Gay’ stories weren’t around for long, but genderswap stories seemed to linger a while. I have no idea why either trend came to be, although I suspect that genderswap stories were a way of shipping characters of the same gender without actually dealing with squicky gay stuff. It’s possible that ‘Woke Up Gay’ stories were a response to anti-slash fans complaining about slash writers ‘turning characters gay’, as if to say ‘this what would it would look like if that’s what we were actually doing’.
Looking back, both feel more than a little problematic, dealing in stereotypes and gender roles, with a lot of gleeful embarrassment at the prospect of making tough manly men deal with decidedly feminine emotions and situations, and it’s partly why I still dislike any form of genderbend story even now. At the time, though, it definitely felt a little subversive.
Mid-fic author’s notes
Fanfiction, while accepted now as home to countless professional-quality stories, is also a place for young or inexperienced writers to test the waters. As such, there is a strangeness to putting your writing out there for a positive audience who can reply to you directly, rather than submitting a story to a teacher for a grade, or sending out your work in hopes of landing a book-deal. Hence the old trend for breaking out of the narration to talk directly to the reader or to insert a personal comment or remark about the story itself.
Occasionally it was used for comic effect, but mostly it was just an annoying way to break a reader out of the story and interrupt the flow (if the story could even be considered to have ‘flow’). Sometimes, it was done solely to handwave something the author couldn’t be bothered to/didn’t know how to explain. And sometimes, it crossed over with…
Authors having conversations with their characters in the notes
I think this might be the one thing on this list that I’m actually guilty of myself. Admittedly, it would have been way back in around 2001 when I was still establishing myself as a fic writer and taking my lead from other fans as to how to format things. Author notes at the start of a fic post are nothing out of the ordinary, but did you know we used to include entire ‘conversations’ with the characters about how we’d tried to get them to do certain things in the chapter but they just hadn’t co-operated? Or how the character would plead with the author to be nice to them and not torture them with unnecessary angst?
It feels like such a ridiculous thing to write about it now, but everyone did it! If it wasn’t conversations with their characters, then it was conversations with their ‘muse’. And I would cringe to see an author do it now, but it made perfect sense at the time.
I want to be able to say that the world of fanfiction has evolved and grown a lot since then, but honestly? I don’t think ‘grown’ is the best word, unless it’s grown like a twisty vine that’s taken over the whole outside of fandom’s house. The enormous spectrum of AU fics actually feels valid when compared to the childish nastiness of MST-ing another author’s work.
Chatfics still need to die, though.