Friendfiction: Shameless Indulgence, Playing God, and Gift-Giving

I’ll preface this by saying that I did not lift the term “friendfiction”—here defined as stories in the style of fanfiction that feature fictionalized versions of real people as characters—from the show Bob’s Burgers. I happened to come up with it before I started watching the show, let alone seeing the episode where it was a major plot point. While the concept was alive with me since my adolescence, I started to refer to it by that name within the last year or so and was more surprised than I should have been when it appeared in such a mainstream way. So while I didn’t take the term from the show, I’ll concede that they probably had it first and therefore have more right to it than I do.

So here I am, owning up to writing things that, when described, sound a bit pathetic and more than a little bit creepy for everyone concerned. The only thing I can say in my defense is that, unlike in Bob’s Burgers, I’ve never written anything erotic in my life, let alone friendfiction, so hopefully this takes some of the awkwardness out of the idea. So how did I get into this “genre”?

I took up writing friendfiction when I was about twelve because I was already on the social outskirts and just needed one more thing to cement my reputation as a weirdo. I had written some fanfiction, but didn’t really share it with anyone: being twelve, I only really had an online presence on Neopets, and while Fanfiction.net had been online for several years at that point I doubt that I knew it existed. Somewhere along the line, I made the jump from using other people’s characters to using other people as characters, and I can tell you that it happened as a result of being a fan of the Harry Potter series.

I was at that weird age where I felt like I was too old to “play pretend,” but I still needed to exercise my imagination. What resulted was a narrative that I eventually wrote down wherein a group of my then good friends, crush at the time, and I were attending a Hogwarts-style magical school. Some of the elements of the story were more obviously lifted from Rowling than others, but as the series evolved my own ideas creeped in and an immature version of my voice was born. I even shared it with one of the friends who was featured under the guise of her being my “editor.” I was having a blast, getting in some wish fulfillment in the form of my fictional self’s interactions with that crush, and deciding that writing was what I wanted and needed to do.

And then other people at my middle school discovered it because my editor-friend brought it to school. I don’t hold that against her, and frankly I deserved the teasing I got, but at the time I was way more sensitive and took it personally. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my writing until later in high school, and unfortunately I picked the wrong people to share it with and became more self-conscious.

I continued to write friendfiction alongside straight fiction, but that was never shared with anyone. By this time, it had developed a darker edge, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think. My teenage social life was severely impacted by a then-undiagnosed health problem, and while the friendfiction was still blatant wish-fulfillment it became less fun and more of a cry for help: I was using it as a way to regain control of something and to compensate for how lonely I had become during the time I was sick. The darkest part of these, though, is that you can see how my self-image decayed and how desperate I was to be better for these people that I missed despite being around them nearly every day.

Stay with me, because there’s a happy ending here. I went away to college, found some great friends, got that health problem mostly under control, and began dating the guy that I’d end up marrying, who was actually the only reason I ended up sharing my writing again. He didn’t laugh away the idea of friendfiction, and that winter I took up the reins again and wrote a novella-length piece featuring him and a few other people from our friend group.

For whatever reason, one of those other friends-turned-characters didn’t run screaming from me when he learned about it. In fact, he thought it was a pretty awesome idea, and to this day I blame him for encouraging what would end up becoming a holiday tradition. We were all poor college students, and I thought that giving the gift of friendfiction was the perfect, most thoughtful, least expensive, and definitely not at all creepy solution. It actually worked out for me as an artist, because really, it was a fun way to experiment with ideas that I knew I couldn’t sell anywhere else and have a dedicated test audience for those ideas that I wasn’t sure about (and besides, “What better gift from an artist than the art they produce?” I may or may not have thought at the time). I wrote two more pieces with slightly different casts as my social circle evolved, each around 150 single-spaced pages, and started a few others that never took off. The gift-giving component only really took place during college: upon graduating, I quit writing friendfiction in order to dedicate my energy to serious projects, some of which might actually evolve from those pieces, because why let an idea go to waste?

At least, that was my plan until this last year. That same friend that I blame for starting the tradition is in graduate school for cancer biology at the moment, but he was interested in writing as a hobby. We developed a pact to do what became known as a “Story-Off” that would conclude in December, where each of us would write friendfiction in what was a competition in name only, thinking that this would motivate us both. Unfortunately, this idea crashed and burned before it even left the ground: he became way too busy with grad school things, and September’s computer-frying incident robbed me of everything but one scene of my project. Maybe we’ll pick this up again, but definitely not until 2016 at the earliest.

I really do like the idea of my planned project, though. It had the working title Friendfiction: The Musical! It’s more or less exactly what it sounds like: I was experimenting with blending poetry/song-writing into a prose-based narrative. It spawned from me thinking a little too hard about musicals and how exactly that world works: I went with the “song and dance are real phenomena caused by strong compulsions” interpretation and decided to play it for horror rather than comedy. This is one of those ideas that I know would never sell no matter how I published it (maybe as a Kickstarter campaign where I work with a composer and some vocalists to develop a companion album, but even that’s wishful thinking) but I just really want to write for the people that are the most likely to appreciate it. I do plan on continuing it at my first available opportunity.

Back to the main point, though. Thinking about my relationship with friendfiction got me thinking about what exactly my relationship with writing in general is. At its core, everything I write is for me first and foremost, and while the audience is a close second I still care about what they think and feel. It’s tempting to use writing to play God, but this isn’t healthy. And all in all, everything I write must be fun, no matter if I plan on showing it to three people or three thousand.

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