Behind The Walls: Pushing The Boundaries Of Fan Fiction

The world of Fan Fiction is a curious one — an intimidating mass of yaoi, wish fulfilment and sprawling non-canonical fandom. But the reasons for writing Fan Fiction are as extensive as the reasons for writing fiction itself. In this feature, we explore the curious world of fan fiction — from the beautiful to the bizarre.

**********

Sora and Luka once again listened to their father stumbling around the apartment, slurring and shouting for their mother. Their mother was no better, already deep in a drug-induced sleep on the couch. Every night it was the same, Earl came home, found Wanda asleep, and went into a rage. Sometimes he beat her, whether she was awake or asleep. Other times, he chose to beat Sora or tried to beat Luka. Sora never allowed that.

Clutching his legs tighter to his chest, Sora strained his ears, listening to see who would be his father's victim tonight. Though it was rotten of Sora, he hoped his father beat his mother as she had already slammed Sora into the sharp corner of the coffee table causing the deep gouge in his chest. Sucking in a deep breath, Sora held it and listened harder.

As luck would have it, luck was not on his side tonight.

**********

"I've been through some dark times in my life."

ParadiseAvenger, is 18 years old. By her own admission she doesn't really do much for a living. In her spare time she plays a lot of video games. She's currently working at a retirement home while she figures out college.

She also writes extensive Kingdom Hearts Fan Fiction.

Fan Fiction: according to Novelist Lev Grossman, Fan Fiction is what literature would look like if it was "reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies", a response from an audience eager to engage in some sort of dialogue with the media it adores.

Fan Fiction: a broad term that defines work written by fans, typically an attempt to stretch stories beyond canon. Wish fulfilment, consumed by other fans.

But those definitions don't really apply to ParadiseAvenger.

"I started writing Fan Fiction for Kingdom Hearts before I'd even played the game," she says.

"And I'll never understand how I managed to find Kingdom Hearts, because I really only like horror survival video games. I have a shelf full of Fatal Frame and Haunting Ground and Silent Hill and then, what, Kingdom Hearts?"

ParadiseAvenger is barely a fan of Kingdom Hearts, but still she writes. Her work is 'Alternate Universe' — writing that doesn't expand the original in any canonical, traditional way, but exists in and of itself. Her goal is to raise awareness of issues we usually don't want to confront: child abuse, drug addiction. The fact that her stories use characters from the Kingdom Hearts universe is almost of secondary importance.

She has been through some dark times in her life.

Behind The Walls

********** Kairi's naked body was wrapped in a robe one of the policewomen had brought from her bedroom for her. It was thick terrycloth in deep blue and Kairi's shivering soon stopped. Then, Rebecca allowed Namine to come and cradle the young girl since they were gazing at each other desperately from across the room.

Then, she continued waiting for the return of her son...

**********

"To say Fan Fiction is merely an outlet for fandom is very naive."

Christian McCrea is the Games Program Director at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. One of his specialties is Fan Fiction. He believes that one of the most overlooked aspects of Fan Fiction is the act of creativity itself. Fan Fiction is as much about the fiction as it is about being a fan.

"Many people write Fan Fiction because the fandom is for writing itself," says Christian. "Writing has a relatively low threshold of entry and we're all told how to do it at some level in our education. It's about the power of writing."

ParadiseAvenger's Fan Fiction is very powerful. 'Behind the Walls', her most widely read work, engages with the issue of child abuse, and explores an alternate universe where Kingdom Hearts protagonist Sora is beaten by his father and Kairi is routinely abused. The work is dense, uncomfortable, and extremely confronting.

It's a story that bears little relation to the original Kingdom Hearts, but the distance between the two creates a strange dialogue of its own. Part of the appeal of Fan Fiction is the instant audience it provides, alongside the expectations that ParadiseAvenger's fiction so expertly subverts.

For the most part, ParadiseAvenger writes Fan Fiction for the instant audience it provides.

"I find that most Fan Fiction is, frankly, not a story at all," she says. "Most of it is terrible sex that comes out of left field.

"Most people tend to stick to the original plot with just hopeless amounts of guy on guy sex.

"Personally, I write Fan Fiction because more people read Fan Fiction than actual books. It's so popular and with the reviews you get, you can get feedback. Before I wrote my first novel, I wrote a ton of Fan Fiction to find out what people actually like to help develop my own writing style."

Believing It's Possible

********** Roxas's eyes met Namine's while Kairi's welled with crystal tears.

Sora was nothing but blood, but he managed to smile for her.

Namine went quickly into Roxas' arms, clutching him tightly while Sora staggered into Kairi's. She reached out for him, holding him against her chest. She could feel his pounding heartbeat through his chest, slamming against his bones as if trying to escape. She felt the hard knob of the corkscrew press into her stomach and shivered. Sora cupped a hand over it, hugging her weakly against his chest.

**********

ParadiseAvenger's primary goal with Behind the Walls was raising awareness.

"I wrote Behind the Walls because something like 68 or so percent of people don't believe child abuse is possible," she says.

"It pissed me off so I wrote a big story about it. I just wanted people to know what goes on in the world. We're all blind."

More than Final Fantasy VII, more than Pokemon or Zelda — Kingdom Hearts has one of the most active Fan Fiction communities in the world of gaming, and within that niche, ParadiseAvenger's 'Behind the Walls' is one of the most widely read, and discussed, pieces of Fan Fiction created.

Not everyone is a 'fan' of ParadiseAvenger's Fan Fiction, but her work has created a compelling dialogue, one that transcends Fan Fiction and what is usually expected from it.

"The reaction was fairly mixed," she claims. "The response to the first few chapters was quite vicious: 'How could you write this? What's wrong with you?' But I kept writing it and people kept reading.

"As I got deeper into the story, a lot of people said they cried and people got into the story. Now it's my most popular Kingdom Hearts story.

"A lot of the controversial stuff I write gets mixed reviews. Some people love it, some hate it. I think I write it because a lot of people like to pretend it doesn't exist, but I know about it and I think everyone should. If everyone knew about child abuse, maybe it would be caught and kids could be kept safe. I like to think I'm making a difference. With Behind the Walls, at least 2,320 are more aware of child abuse."

Not Accidental... Designed

********** "You saved me," she whispered and put her lips against the blood on his throat in a hesitant kiss because he seemed so hurt.

"It was… nothing…" he whispered back and then, he collapsed in her arms.

They both slammed to the ground, corkscrew crunching sickeningly in Sora's flesh. Kairi took the brunt of the fall, her head slamming against the thin carpet. For a moment, she saw many faces looking down at them and then someone was taking Sora from her. She wanted to protest but she was suddenly so very tired.

**********

The allure of Fan Fiction starts with the characters — consumers develop an affinity and want to continue their stories. This pre-existing relationship is what makes Fan Fiction so compelling to read and create. Part of it comes from design — ParadiseAvenger remembers being entranced by Sora's "captivating" blue eyes — but part of it comes from a shared understanding of pre-existing characters. Placing these characters in unique and confronting situations only serves to heighten the impact of a story like 'Behind the Walls'.

According to Christian McCrea, this sort of character investment is welcomed by creators.

"Deep emotional investment in games is not accidental - it is designed," claims Christian.

"This is done through concept and character art, soundtracks, high drama, careful control of plotting, and so on. This allows kids growing up with say Pokemon - where a normal save file might be 100 hours, and there might be another 100 hours of Pokemon television, to have the universe figure very heavily when they sit down to write their first fiction.

"Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts are designed by teams with tens of millions of dollars at stake, reliant on character art and game design that will allow people to invest in multiple bits of merchandise and go on to create Fan Fiction and fan art.

"You know this is how it works because when a character is interesting and unique, Fan Fiction explodes."

This 'deep emotional investment' in Kingdom Hearts is partly responsible for the intense reaction to ParadiseAvenger's Fan Fiction. Placing Sora and Kairi in the stark, shocking context of child abuse serves to heighten the intensity of the fan response. This is happening to characters they are invested in, characters they've played a part in reinventing.

For The Love Of Writing

********** He laid his palm over hers. "I'll be alright," he whispered.

She inhaled deeply, trying to keep the tears at bay. Her throat was closed with a knot of anguish and sorrow. She didn't want to leave him! "Sora," she choked out desperately and flung her arms around his neck.

Sora hugged her tightly and then they finally stepped back from each other. Kairi's violet eyes were filled with tears and Sora's were shining.

Behind them, Namine and Roxas looked on, holding each other tightly as well.

"You'll write us, won't you?" Namine asked as she wrapped her arms tightly around Kairi. "Whenever you can?"

Kairi nodded. "I will"...

**********

“I love how your story is not only mindless sex like other fanfics and it has a deep detailed plot concerning sex/child abuse,” reads one comment, from DearlyBelovedAngel. “It brings awareness to the readers.”

Interestingly, many comments on Behind the Walls refer specifically to the portrayal of the Kingdom Hearts characters, characters that Fan Fiction readers already have some kind of personal, pre-existing relationship with.

“Poor Kairi, she didn’t deserve that. And I'm super upset about Cleo too. Behind all the rape and abuse, Sora and Kairi's relationship is so beautiful. I love, love, love Sora in this fanfic and how he never gives up on Kairi.”

However, as ParadiseAvenger mentioned previously, not all feedback was positive.

“I'm sorry,” reads another comment, “but I have to take you off of my author alert list. Your first Fan Fictions were what I admired, but with the same subject material from your last few stories, and now for you to write about child rape, is too much for me. It's not necessary.”

Bryanna Vickers, who posts as Sora93Kairi, Behind the Walls was a transformative experience.

“It affected my thoughts,” she said. “I've always felt strongly about child abuse. It tears people apart, and ruins lives.

“I enjoy stories that stray from normal topics.”

Christian McCrea believes that, when it comes to fan fiction, there is no such thing as 'normal', there are no limits.

"Fan fiction," says Christian McCrea, "is written for as many reasons than fiction itself is written.

"Some pieces are done for the love of writing, others for the love of the lore of a game, others again because of a personal obsession with a character. The same logic of multiple origins applies to other fiction, and of course, games themselves."

It just so happens that ParadiseAvenger's Fan Fiction is written to raise awareness, and as a mild form of catharsis.

"I've been through some dark times in my life," says ParadiseAvenger, but insists her stories are pure fiction.

"I can bounce back from anything without much difficulty. It's either get over it and deal with it. And I like to believe I can literally choose what I want to do with myself."


Comments

    Wow... pretty insightful stuff. I kind of presumed most of it was the aforementioned man on man thing myself :/

    I wouldn't really count her work as real Kingdom Hearts fanfiction if she's never played the games, she probably doesn't have a good grasp of the characters and they only represent the character in name sake. For that, she should just write her own book with characters for her outlet. I understand bring awareness, but not with characters you have no idea about.

      Actually, she has. If she writes a fan fic, she always does her research. You should check her out, she;s awesome!

      Besides, didn't it say she played the game? Not, Is She An Avid Fan, but she did try it, so she does have a brief concept. Plus, Kingdom of hearts is difficult to make serious like this! :D

    The problem with most fanfiction is that the small liberties taken by the writers and their mary sues often mean the stories stray further and further away from the original content until it gets to the point that the association with existing characters is so vague it is pointless.

    This story is a classic example of ignoring canon, theme, and tone of the games and characters [outside of the most superficial of nods like recreating iconic scenes and etc] and reworking them for the writer's personal agenda. There is no reason this story needs kingdom hearts as the avatars, it's basically just 'cashing in'.

    I'm all for creative writing, and did a lot of fanfiction myself, but in it I also see the laziness and convenience of using such iconic archetypes to thinly veil an irrelivent story.

    This is a meaningful story in it's own right, why does it need the kingdom hearts characters? Worse, at what cost to the characters themselves, being manipulated in such ways? I know I'd be upset if someone took my characters and used them in a context that was so alien from the original.

      That said, if the intention was to raise awareness then choosing characters that already exist and are popular can greatly enhance the audience you receive. Yes, it strays a long way from the original context of the characters but by using such well-established innocent children for this sort of purpose helps carry the tone more effectively.
      If instead of Sora she had made it some random, let's call him Bob, then we don't know if maybe Bob is a bit of a d**k sometimes. Sora, on the other hand, is well known to the Kingdom Hearts community as a heroic goody-goody type. As such, his personality is assumed immediately instead of taking a great deal of time and effort establishing it to the same degree from scratch and detracting from the nature of the story at hand.
      I agree that sometimes people just take an iconic character and throw them into a pointlessly alien setting for the sake of having that character (and I've seen it done "well" before too) but it's a fine line. If you stick too close to the original plot people call it uncreative, but if you stray too far people say it's irrelevant. There's an audience for both ends of the spectrum though, and for every degree in between, so it's best to just ignore what you don't like and enjoy what you do.

    Is it fan-fiction if we tell a story that is told in a video game, but in narrative form? Is that what we define it as?

    I'm a self confessed fan fiction addict. Ever since I discovered it, I think I've barely read a "normal" novel. Most of what I read is Harry Potter, but I mix it up with some Mass Effect, Pokemon, Final Fantasy etc. I'll be the first to admit that a lot of fan fiction isn't all that good, but when I find the right story I get sucked in so much it's scary. I dont mind the altering of characters and storylines in most fics, that is of course the point of it being "fan" fiction - everyone has their own interpretation of events. I haven't read any Kingdom Hearts fics, mostly because I haven't played the games, but after this I'm going to look into it. Although I may start with something a bit lighter than jumping straight into this specific story.

    Self-confessed fanfic addict. I'm not a big fan of most of the slash or yaoi stuff - with the very occasional well-written exception - but I've always really loved the 'what-if' stories, i.e. 'what if this one detail in canon was changed, how would that change everything else?' Or the stories that explore the unexplored parts of the world, covering the time jumps or speculating about what happened before or after. I like the ones that try to incorporate game mechanics and try to make them make sense to reality - sometimes it's hilarious, soThere's even a couple of them that I think are probably better written than their source material.

    I did try reading the fanfic linked at some point, purely because it was so popular, but it was a bit melodramatic for my personal tastes. The great thing about fanfiction though is that there's sub-genres upon sub-genres of stuff. If you like time travel, there's a time travel story for every fandom. If you want something serious and gritty dealing with real-world issues, there's that too. If you want tragic romance, hey, there it is.

    But it's important to remember that nowhere else is Sturgeon's Law more apparent.

    I have been reading Fan Fiction since it first appeared on the internet. I really became a fan with X-files and Xena (that dates me!) fanfic--and the authors posting were excellent. I far preferred to read fan fiction over mainstream novels. I think there is a fine line in fan fiction when it comes to OOC stories, and stories where authors manage that delicate balance of maintaining the character's integrity while writing a believable departure from canon. I've read many amazing Fanfics that took the characters away from canon, but they were so believable that it didn't matter. I guess those What if...? stories are some of my favorites.

    "My Immortal" is by far and large the greatest fanfic - nay, the greatest literary opus - to have ever graced our collective eyes.
    Behind The Walls? Pah.

      Everyone's entitled to their opinions. Stick to yours and I'll stick to mine.

    I personally read all of ParadiseAvenger's stories, and even followed her to AO3. When I tell my family I love abuse/angst stories, they look at me weird. But I read these stories for one reason "They're not generic." They tell real stories, real issues, it's REAL.

    It isn't "Sora is happy no matter what Kairi is barely seen Riku is an emo" crap."

    Her fanfiction explores things PEOPLE DON'T SEE. It broke the boundaries I had in my mind about how all stories have to be like this or they don't hold up to the KH Formula.

    "Behind the Walls" were one of the first stories I have ever read, and I'm personally glad, because she inspired me to right what I like/love, not what fits the status quote.

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