Several of my blogger friends have directed me to read this piece on Screen Crush that attempts to explain the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey. For the most part, it’s a delightful skewering of the book, especially since I’m close to finishing this uneven piece of erotica. However, there was one line that I couldn’t help but take exception with:
Fan-fiction is the written word equivalent of taking two naked dolls and mashing them together to make what you think sex looks like when you’re 10 years old. And it’s written at that level.
OK, sure: Fifty Shades and its author E.L. James (formerly of the cringeworthy online moniker Snowqueens Icedragon) have made fanfiction look like a creepy pastime undertaken by socially-awkward folks not talented or imaginative enough to write their own stuff. But that generalization describes only a subset of fanfiction authors. Many were incredibly gifted writers who — at least in the early ’00s when I was involved in online fandom — likely didn’t believe that they had the time or ability to write an original novel from scratch. Furthermore, most of them were in their twenties and thirties.
Yes, using someone else’s characters and pre-established relationships is a bit like writers’ training wheels. But these writers exemplified the best part of fanfiction: Building upon what the material that already existed and bringing their own spin to relationships we’d seen play out on TV episodes and in novels. And considering their ages, these people had surely had sex and had probably also fallen in love at least once. They weren’t hormone-addled kids grasping at what they thought sex was; they were adults transmitting those sensations and emotions into words.
I first joined fanfiction forums around the age of twelve, so I joke that everything I learned about sex I learned from fic. I’ll say it now—I was that weird kid who tried to understand this intimate act by reading other writers’ adult stories and reworking those details into my own, like someone who turns an object around in her hand until she’s investigated every angle. I learned a lot about the clinical and emotional details of sex through these fics; and over the past ten years, I’ve picked up several that are a hundred times better written than this BDSM Twilight fantasy that got published.
So, please don’t let Fifty Shades of Grey define what you think erotic fanfiction is. Instead, check out these five stories from various fandoms, encompassing different sexual orientations and tastes. These are what you should be downloading to your Kindle for the morning commute.
‘A’ Game by svilleficrecs (How I Met Your Mother, Barney/Robin)
This is one of my favorite fanfics, hands down. Back in season 3, when the show still had several surprises up its sleeve, it came as a total shock when Barney and Robin slept together. And while the creators made us wait another whole year before that romantic drama even started to get resolved, this fanfic fills in what we all really wanted to know: What happened after the fade-to-black in “Sandcastles in the Sand.”
Unexpectedly, it’s from Barney’s point of view; it takes a lot to accurately capture his character, the mix of lewd humor, sexual energy, and genuine emotional depth. And even though we already know that Robin Scherbatsky is awesome, through Barney’s eyes we see her as an incredibly complex, frustrating, alluring woman. I have to say, no episode of HIMYM has made the case for Barney/Robin as effectively as this story. Plus, the fact that it’s told out of order reflects the show’s narrative style, making it feel like a lost episode in and of itself.
Forty-Four Times Bruce Banner Has Sex with Tony Stark by Ark (The Avengers, Bruce Banner/Tony Stark)
Within hours of seeing The Avengers at midnight, I decided that Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (The Hulk) totally wanted to do each other. Every once in a while I develop these theories about movies — see my posts on The Rock/Vin Diesel and Michael Fassbender/James McAvoy – but I haven’t been able to find much fanfiction that matches those dream pairings. Not so for Tony/Bruce! Turns out this new couple is all over Archive of Our Own, a fanfiction archive that rivals LiveJournal for the breadth and quality of fanfic you can find.
“X Times Y Happened” is a commonly-used trope in fanfiction, a helpful way to present a series of vignettes while also adding poignancy with the sense that you’re counting up or down to something. This fanfic, tracking the evolution of Bruce and Tony’s relationship from hook-ups in the lab to more tender encounters all over Stark HQ, deftly captures both of their characters with scary accuracy. Here we get the story through Bruce’s more vulnerable POV, but considering that Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo made him one of the movie’s most compelling characters, it’s incredibly illuminating. Not to mention hot. I’m not a huge slash fan, but this story makes me root for these two.