Self-Insert
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Ultra-Long

Unwinnable Monthly cover with Commander Shepard tossing gifts to elves.

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #146. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Examining trends in fanfiction.

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Fanwork can be deeply long – browse fandom TikTok and there’s bound to be a few jokes about slow burns and 100,000-word fics that the reader has decided to start at 2 AM. But in fandom there is long and then there is the ultra-long, the kinds of fics that are frequently still ongoing.

If you were to ask a vaguely informed person about what the longest fanwork is, they’d probably guess something in one of the bigger fandoms – Harry Potter or Twilight or Star Trek. If they paid attention in the early 2010’s, they might answer Super Smash Bros. It was around then that major sites found out about the largest work of fanfiction (and arguably the longest work of fiction), a four million plus word fanfiction called The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest. That is no longer the case; in 2017 Subspace Emissary was surpassed by the Kantai Collection fanfiction Ambiance: A Fleet Symphony. Neither of those have topped the five million word mark at the time of this writing, though – an exclusive club that includes a Lord of the Rings fanfic with two writers that opens with the author’s note “Welcome to the world’s longest English language narrative fanfiction, 5.x M total words and counting!” It isn’t. As of writing, the longest on Archive of Our Own is a Sarah Connor Chronicles Season Three rewrite called Future Shock, which clocks in at 5,486,006 words and 1500 chapters.

Long fanworks are interesting both for their clear amount of dedication to the craft and how much of an outlier they actually are. Some of these works are still hosted on fanfiction.net because they’ve been working on these pieces since 2008 – on a site that clearly doesn’t have the intended functionality for something of that length. The word count at the top of ultra-long fanfictions list things in the thousands so these ultra-long works have numbers that read 4,102k. There isn’t a sort by length in Archive of Our Own’s incredibly rigorous search functionality; most of these works are known outside of their fandoms explicitly because of their length.

Take, for example, another five million plus word fic – Everything Changes. Based on a ship in the Formula 1 racing community featuring drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, from talking to fans it sounds like the writer follows along with the season as it goes, adding in their narrative to the real-world events. While the series is ongoing at 465 chapters (which equates to about 11,000 pages in a traditional published text), the writer has stated that there is a natural ending of sorts at chapter 54 if you are not willing to continue reading.

The endurance for reading these works is quite intense – most of the comments on the ultra-long fics are not the standard ones about liking a chapter or lamenting a character decision, but rather about their length. The longest work talked about in this piece, Future Shock, has only 36 comments on 1500 chapters. The writers of At the Edge of Lasg’len, the ultra-long Lord of the Rings work, have cultivated a Discord community where they talk about this work in specific.

The comments that touch on the length also sometimes bring up the white whale for ultra-long fics – finishing them. What does that look like at three million words? At four? Five?

Looking at AO3, the longest work that appears to be completed is for the NCIS fandom and clocks in at 2.8 million words. While the writer there says that this is a “novel length” work about Timothy McGee and Abby Scuito, a book at this length would be over 6000 pages. By contrast, the Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas is considered to produce quite long books, but they are usually only between about 4-700 pages.

These works speak to a level of dedication that you do not see in a lot of fandoms. Most of these works have been in progress for years, some over a decade, and that is a lot of time to care deeply about something. Consider for yourself the thing you were passionate about a decade ago – is it something you would still pour hours into today? When you factor in that these works are frequently in very small fandoms, you can see more the dedication it takes to write and produce one. It’s unfathomable. Beyond that, it’s honestly impressive.

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

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