If I were to put myself in a box fanfiction-wise, it'd be a pitch black box with jagged red stripes across it, wings taped to the sides and a horn glued on the front. I would call this box the OC box, and within its foul depths, I'd happily tap away at the fanfiction I write most commonly – stories about original characters.
You see, until very recently (around eighteen months ago) I did not like fanfiction at all. It always used to be something I imagined I might like – perhaps in an ideal universe where everyone who writes can write and Firefly got six seasons and another movie – but every time I tried to read some I managed to find the worst tripe imaginable. Eventually it got to the point where seeing a cartoon character's name in the middle of a wall of prose made me reach for a sick bag.
But, well, there was a time in my life where I didn't think I'd be unironically watching a cartoon about colourful horses learning about friendship. Things change in the most unexpected ways, and a few months after I started reading fanfiction (mostly six-star fics on EQD) I got this idea in my head that hey, I could probably write some of this stuff decently well.
So I tried to write a fic. It was gonna be an episode-style adventure or something. I tried to type out the name "Twilight Sparkle" and have her do stuff on the page. I felt as dirty as the thoughts you just had about the second half of that last sentence. Try as I might, I simply could not bring myself to play with Studio B's toys.
That might have been the end of it, but I kept on reading fanfiction, and so the desire to write it stayed with me. Eventually, I gave in and attacked it from another direction. Instead of using the characters, I'd just use the setting. I'd invent my own characters, just as if I were writing an original work, and put them in Equestria.
The result was Long Distance, a novel-length adventure story that's had modest success. Amusingly enough, it's more about my extrapolations of what the lands around Equestria might be like than Equestria itself, based on the small details we've been given in canon. From Spike's rampage in "Secrets of My Excess", I invented a dragon culture that highly values self control and has an aversion to the exchange of gifts or currency. From Zecora's rhyming, I created a zebra culture that emphasises the importance of thinking before you speak (and drove myself crazy writing all those couplets).
Demetrius, a friend and Long Distance's editor on /fic/, called this "making mountains of molehills", and it's one of my favourite things about writing fanfiction. Even in my original works, I generally need a prompt to get going, but once I have that prompt to wrap my mind around, I can grow all kinds of things from it.
And what is Equestria but a
What's more, because of the show's delightful mish-mash approach to setting (princesses and dragons in one episode, DJs and fashion shows in another), you can be perfectly justified in answering any of those questions with a lot of different types of fics. Everything from serious fantasy like It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door to slice-of-life storytelling like Tangled Up in Blues to zany comedy like Do Not Serve These Ponies fits pretty snugly.
In his guest post, John Perry called fanfiction an act of writing within constraints. I take the opposite view – your fanfiction is like a plant that grows outward from the fertile soil of canon – although some fics are more like weeds (zing!). It boils down to the same thing, of course – ultimate freedom is often just as paralysing as a total lack of freedom, and you can't build something out of nothing. No-one can work in a vacuum, and what is fanfiction but normal fiction that's more blatant (honest!) about where its inspiration comes from.
So go out and ask the questions those little bits of the show pose to you! Take a scene, or a snippet of dialogue, and completely blow it out of proportion. Then dig a monocle out of your Halloween costume box, warm up your best posh British accent and call your Derpy/Madam Le Flour shipfic a "thought experiment".
Because that's fanfiction.
Thank you, Ezn, for sharing your thoughts. The way in which inconsequential asides from the show can inspire sprawling visions of literary artistry (or of any other medium, for that matter) never ceases to amaze me.