Fan Fiction Helped Me as a Writer and I’m Not Embarrassed by That (Part One)

I used to get flustered when I told people I was a writer and they asked if they could read what I wrote. The idea of fan fiction, even though it’s been around for centuries, is still ridiculed in some circles. However, I wanted to share my personal experience with fan fiction, as well as the fandoms within, because it helped me hone my skills as a writer and helped me heal. This series will look at each fandom I have written for, why they’re important to me, and why I still write fan fiction to this day.

Part One: Finding Myself In Harley Quinn

(CW: mentions of abuse)

As an English major, I was always writing, but there was one thing that I wasn’t taught by my professors: how to write creatively.

In my university, the students who took creative writing courses had a strange sense of superiority about them and I didn’t want to be in their company, so I never took a creative writing class.

I have never been so regretful of anything in my life.

In my literature classes, whether it was Victorian, Romantic, Feminist, or even Horror, I was solely geared on writing analytically. Don’t misunderstand me; analytical writing can help you not just in your writing, but in how you engage in deep conversations with your peers. And I was great at analyses, especially in my Film as Literature courses.

But as far as coming up with my own stories, characters, and plots, I was clueless as to where to begin. Until I discovered the wonderful world of fan fiction.

I began writing ‘fic’ after I graduated college when I finally had the freedom to write something that wasn’t assigned to me. Fan fiction was easy for me, too, because I was familiar with the characters and their world(s). All I had to do was create my own stories that featured them, and I had the choice to keep it inside canon or steer away from it entirely. Many fic writers choose the latter.

I started with DC Comics, creating dramatic, romantic, and always violent stories centered around The Joker and Harley Quinn.

At the age of five, I saw Jack Nicholson’s interpretation of The Joker in Batman (1989), and he became my favorite villain. However, my love for Harley Quinn wouldn’t come until the animated series when Mark Hamill claimed The Joker as his own and Arleen Sorkin was the boisterous “not even a real blonde” Harley Quinn.

“Mad Love” is a classic episode of the animated series and comic of the same name, giving the reader the sordid details of their budding romance (through The Joker’s deception) and the continuing perils of Harley trying to keep their tumultuous relationship alive.

Panel from The Batman Adventures: Mad Love (1994)

This couple is dominant in the Batman fandom, and when I started writing stories about them, fan fic sites were full of Joker/Harley stories set in different time periods in Gotham, sometimes crossing universes with Marvel. The iterations of The Joker were different, too, from the comics to the animated series to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). I wrote the ‘Nolanverse’ Joker because, after seeing the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal, it sparked my interest in the character again, but on a whole new level.

There’s a lot of debate in the Batman fandom about ‘shipping‘ these two characters. While they are both violent and reckless, many in the fandom (including myself) side with Harley Quinn.

Thinking back on my fics about their relationship, I realized that I was writing about my own emotional trauma. While I was not physically abused by my ex-husband, he did play a lot of mind games and caused me emotional pain, enough for me to question my self-worth as a human being. I projected all of this pain onto poor Harley when I wrote my fics, and I’m ashamed to say that I made her abuse even worse.

I found myself in Harley Quinn because I was being manipulated and ridiculed by someone I thought I loved.

So I would steer the plots of my Joker/Harley fics to ones where she was stronger than I was, despite the abuse she suffered. In my last fic, I portrayed a Dr. Harleen Quinzel that was not so easily won over by The Joker. I never finished writing it, however, and it could be because I didn’t know how to since I was still in a loveless marriage.

Their relationship makes for a great comic series plot, but even though I don’t read the comics anymore, I’m glad that Harley Quinn is getting more of her own stories without The Joker, whether they’re featured in the DC Universe or posted on Archive of Our Own (AO3). However, I personally don’t feel the need to write fic about her anymore because the way I wrote her is part of my past, and like Harley Quinn, I’ve moved on from that dark period in my life.

(Spoilers to Birds of Prey film from here!)

Harley Quinn is canonically bisexual, and you have no idea how happy that makes me. The comics used to give subtle hints, mainly through her friendship with Poison Ivy, and as someone who struggled with her sexuality for many years, I latched onto this idea, something I rarely do with canon. I was especially thrilled when I saw the film Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) casually reveal that Harley had a girlfriend in the past.

It may seem like a small detail to most, but speaking as a member of the LGBT community, it’s nice to see even the smallest bit of representation (although more would be even better).

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey (or the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)/Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

Even though I am elated at the fact that Harley is a fellow bi, I don’t feel the need to write more fan fiction about her. It isn’t that the Batman fandom is lost to me; I’ve been in it since I first saw Michael Keaton don the cape and cowl in 1989.

Perhaps it’s because Harley was an outlet for my emotional abuse, and I feel that nothing I can write in the future can add to the strength of this character because my fan fiction version of her helped me harness her strength.

I won’t deny about aching for something I used to want. I went into a marriage that I thought would last forever with someone I thought I loved. We see that longing in Harley every now and then, even in Birds of Prey when she laments for her Puddin’…until she blows up the chemical plant that symbolized their connection to each other.

That scene, in my opinion, is the best middle finger to an ex I have ever witnessed.

So, do I still like The Joker? After all this time and how I wrote him in my fics, I admit I still find the psychology of the character intriguing due to his multiple origin stories. As he once told Batman in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke: “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.”

I continue to enjoy interpretations of the character, and more recently was excited to see Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal that, surprisingly, offered a woeful examination of who he was before he let madness and violence take over. The film was also a great commentary on the lacking mental health system, so I felt sorry for Arthur, not The Joker.

I’m not saying that Harley Quinn isn’t flawed. She’s impulsive, careless, and sometimes downright selfish. But under all those imperfections, one can see the harlequin with a heart of gold who’s trying her best. A great example of this, and one of my favorite Harley moments, and is when she stops a fight with Black Canary when she finds out Dinah is pregnant. We then get a heartbreaking story about Harley’s own pregnancy.

Panel from Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year 2, Issue 13

I stand beside Harley Quinn because she was the one who helped me through my dark periods. Through my avid consumption of her story through comic books, movie series, and especially fan fiction, I saw my own emotional struggles and attachments in her, and it inspired me to write stories. Even though I inflicted my pain and frustration on her through my fics, I would like to think that Harley would understand, being a survivor herself.

But Harley has grown, too. She no longer wants be a door mat. She strives to step out of the gaslight and reclaim the independence she had when she was Dr. Harleen Quinzel.

Like Harley Quinn, I’m still healing. Because of the mental toll my ex-husband had on me, and that of the partners after him, I am still searching for stability. I have been in therapy for five months, and it’s already helping my confidence. I’m becoming more at ease with the imperfect person that I am, but I know I still have a long way to go.

But Harley’s unstable life has shown me that anyone is capable of finding moments of happiness.

This is canon and it brings me joy. Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn share a kiss in Harley Quinn, Volume 3, Issue 25

I haven’t read the comics in a while as DC continues to disappoint me. As far as current canon is concerned, I will take the fic writer’s route and ignore it completely.

Coming up in Part Two – Star Trek: The Next Generation – Are Androids Capable of Love?

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