Niche Interests

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #131. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Examining trends in fanfiction.


There’s a fic out there where Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, the cultivator couple from ancient China that feature prominently in the hit Chinese drama The Untamed are trauma surgeons. It’s good. Between sleepless nights and shifts that don’t end Wei drinks coffee mixed with hot chocolate and “saltines, to cut the taste of dust.” “There’s a lot of unexplained medical terminology sorry,” the writer warns in the tags. The fiction gets into the gritty details, a lot of blood yes, descriptions of traumatic surgery, of course, but also a breakdown of the hours worked and lost. The way that life has been completely warped into a block around the hospital. It is a lived experience. At the end, it’s no surprise when the author mentions a specific detail about their own hospital that they work in, an oddity pieced out when they did further research.

There’s an adage in writing, a bit of craft advice so old that not only have there been significant works written on it, there have been significant works written rebutting it. Write what you know. Sometimes, in fiction, you write about your experience so vividly, so precisely, that it could not have come from anyone but you. In fanfiction circles this is the Extremely Specific AU, one where the reader can tell that the author has spent some time living in the world that they’re writing about.

What you find here are works that intersect with reality in interesting ways. KPop fandom fics where instead of being in a band, the members of BTS are instead lawyers working in the foster care system, with deep details on the failings and triumphs therein. Orchestra alternative universes that know more than the fact that there are different chairs, but also the types of movements and which pieces would be more difficult for which instruments. A Teen Wolf story where Stiles is a member of the Deaf community and has some visual impairments, and the story goes into details of what that specifically means and what those impairments actually are and how they impact his life in a substantial way rather than just saying “he’s deaf and blind.” These works are a step further than your traditional AU because they go past even the level of just “you did your research” and into, “there’s so much information here you couldn’t have known without being steeped into this on a cultural/educational level.”

Derivative works are frequently about turning the extraordinary into the mundane, about recontextualizing the things that we love into the lives that we lead and the Extremely Specific AU is an excellent example of that. This is the life of the author, the experiences they have. These are the ways that they live. They have taken these fictional characters and fit them into their lives, found them homes in the spaces where they live. There’s a beautiful passion to it, to seeing the way these two (usually) disparate things interact. To see the interplay therein.


Amanda Hudgins is an occasional writer, former rugby player and wearer of incredibly tall shoes.

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