Why Fanfiction, Part Two

As promised, today’s topic will be about why I’m writing a multi-chapter serial backstory for Raphail. If you missed the first part, in which I explain who Raphail is and why he’s taking up so much of my time these days, you’ll want to read that first.

Everyone comfortable? Good. Let’s begin.

Beneath all the many, MANY things I have to say about the messages and themes in the game world of FFXIV (and their relevance to everyday life in the real world,) it is still a game at the end of the day. Like the memorable novels, television shows, and movies that we’ve been all watching for years, that means you and your character progress through a story that’s been carefully crafted by the game’s creators. You are given some limited freedom on how your character will respond to the things that happen to them, but you don’t have a lot of freedom to shape the game world and events to your will.

As a spoiler-free example: in the story, the inevitable moment where your hero faces his life-long rival in single combat for the future of the world cannot be avoided. But you’re given a choice about your hero’s final words before the battle begins. He can beg him one last time to stop this nonsense and return to his side as the friends they once were. Or he can tell him he’s dead to him, and he’s going to enjoy every minute of taking vengeance for the betrayal. Either way, the fight happens and your hero emerges victorious — at the cost of something dear. Everything happens exactly the same way, but the context of how you and your character view the outcome will depend on the choice you made.

You might make the choice based on what you would choose in real life. You might make the choice that seems the most fun or dramatic or cool. Or you might make the choice you think your character would, based on who they are and the life they’ve lived. We will be discussing the latter here.

The introduction to the game — which takes place right after you finish designing their appearance — heralds your character’s first steps into the world of adventuring, ready to make a name for themselves in an unfamiliar land that has no idea of who they are or who they will become. In fact, the people living in the world your character is hoping to save think of adventurers like you as little more than strangers and outsiders worthy of their suspicion and distrust. Working with them to change that misconception for the betterment of all is most of what makes up the game’s first chapter.

Since most player characters in FFXIV appear to be around voting age at the youngest, that leaves a LOT of room for curious minds to want to fill in the lengthy gap of time before their heroes arrived at that point. There are some hints during later expansions that point to some potentially uncomfortable truths about the hidden origins of those characters, but until something concrete emerges, telling the story of how your hero got to where they are is your business and yours alone.

Again, as a reminder — none of this is necessary or asked directly by the game. It’s something that many people enjoy doing once they’ve grown attached to their characters over the course of the story.

That attachment is typically the main reason that people write fanfiction in the first place, though most of them stick to using existing characters from their favorite franchises. Original characters in fanfiction are frequent but don’t get as much recognition, since readers most often want to see more things in the vein of what they already loved. It’s tough to get people interested in some muggle they’ve never heard of when they showed up to your story for more Harry, Hermione, and Ron action!

Plenty of fanfiction exists featuring the delightful cast of characters that FFXIV introduces for your character to meet over the course of the game. But for me, and many others, our own characters take on larger-than-life status over time, becoming the eyes by which we view everything that happens in the game world. Telling stories about them makes as much sense as telling stories about the background characters that impact them (and us, by extension) every day that we play. And so… we do, and we hope that others will enjoy hearing about the paths our characters have walked.

The truth is that despite a lifetime of loving games, online role-playing, and writing, I’m pretty new to the fanfiction scene. I’ve read a few things here and there over time, but writing it myself was limited to a few dramatic retellings of in-game events I did as a child. I tried my hand at starting more in-depth things a couple times, but the communities I was part of that inspired them fell apart; I never had the heart to finish on my own or make anything else of them other than practice.

Part of what held me back was the belief that fanfiction could and would never get me published, which was still true when I was growing up. (These days, one can typically self-publish fanfiction, though making money from it is one of those things our copyright system still disallows.)

Part of it was not wanting to admit what I was reading, much less write it myself. There are a lot of good fanfiction stories out there that feature… mature content not suitable for children. In the hands of a good writer, these romantic and sometimes naughty stories can be truly beautiful and well-written… but finding a writer whose style you enjoy and manages to portray your favorite characters in ways that speak to your tastes is tough. That’s true of regular fiction too, after all! But seeing the work my favorite writers did every day inspired me, and I always wished I could do the same. But.

I never wanted to risk offense or misunderstandings, either from strangers or from those I loved. I never wanted to risk putting my own emotions (or those of my fictional characters through me) on paper or a screen. I could never lay eyes on my own work when I tried in private, to be honest. I still have trouble reading emotional or risque scenes that I write after the fact, even if they’re otherwise some of my best work from a logical standpoint. It’s a bit like standing naked in a filled lecture hall and waiting for the first boo. (I’m an Aquarius and socially anxious, if I haven’t mentioned it, y’all.)

It took me until a few years ago, writing the plot for The Looking-Glass Girl, to start to break down that fear and let my heart guide what I wanted to write instead of only my head. I’ve also started to leave behind a personal past that encouraged me to think and speak as little about my emotions as possible in order to serve those around me, which means I’m remembering a little more each day what it feels like to be a human being with feelings that impact my life. Learning to be vulnerable after years of priding myself on being emotionally bulletproof is yet humbling and will remain so for some time.

So here it is: I like good love stories. I think I’m actually pretty good at writing them. It just still burns to do either. But… how can I reach others with my writing if I can’t reach myself?

In the past, when I’ve wanted to trust myself and my feelings more, I’ve done so by reaching out through fictional characters and stories that I write. It gives me the chance to explore things that I’m curious about, engage with situations that I find compelling and interesting, and take risks that I am still too afraid to take in real life. And as I’ve mentioned before, Raphail is nothing if not my exact opposite when it comes to emotions. I made him what he is, at least in part, to test my own limits.

And now, in order to write his journey, I spend hours behaving on a screen as if I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve for my entire life. I pretend that I’m someone that has warmed every bed in a fictional universe. I grit my teeth and try not to blush like a little girl when I write about his many bedroom adventures (for a mercy, he is the romantic and kind sort, even during one-night stands.) I make choices that I know will break my heart because he would do so, regardless of the pain.

Any actor does the same, of course, to play a role — that’s what role-playing and writing is. It just takes a lot of bravery. And it will take far more by the time his journey ends.

I’ve loved every moment of FFXIV based on the story its creators have told, and outside of personal interest, my main goal in writing this long fictional memoir is to give back to the game’s community as much as it’s given to me. If others can share in Raphail’s journey and find things that make them “hear, feel, and think” that inspires them, then my work is done. (That’s what he wants, too.)

But for me, it’s all that and more. It’s giving myself a chance to spread my wings and take a chance on sharing myself with the real world, regardless of what does or doesn’t come of it. I know the odds of “hitting it big” or “getting noticed” are slim. They always are when it comes to fanfiction. As ever, what I want for myself and my work is a community of people that enjoy the things I produce. I’m happy if that’s ten and not ten thousand — and I’m hoping someday it’ll be more than zero.

The story I want to tell through Raphail is the story of a simple man surviving impossible odds to become a powerful force for good without losing the essence of what makes him human. I need him to suffer more than his fair share because so many men don’t show pain in the real world; he is strong both in spite of and because of his feelings and his friends. I’ve always believed that a true hero isn’t someone that manages to be bulletproof — even if my own path in life has not reflected this. It’s someone that manages to rise again and again despite countless failures and errors to try again.

If he isn’t bulletproof, then what he does when the trigger is pulled matters more, doesn’t it?

What he does is learn. And grow. And emerge better than he was before.

As we all hope to do.

Next time: I’ll be talking about the romance plot that’s been causing me (and Raphail) such grief — and why it has me working on multiple stories at once. Please be warned that I will be discussing topics including bisexuality and homosexual romance. I won’t be getting into anything graphic here, so I hope that you all will feel comfortable reading my post at least, if not the final work itself.

That said, your choices are, as always, your own.


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