On the wintery second day of 2014, moderators writcraft and mab posted an ambitious prompt on LiveJournal. They named it the “Harry Potter Big Bang,” a year-long challenge to write a novel-length fanfiction about J.K. Rowling’s infamous protagonist. In fandom, “Big Bangs” refer neither to cosmological phenomena nor mediocre CBS sitcoms, but to challenges where fans write lengthy fics over a set period of time. Big Bangs encourage collaboration with fan artists to create illustrations for the fics. The goal is to publish the finished works online for fans to enjoy.
For the 2014 Harry Potter Big Bang, the minimum word count was 50,000 words, about 30,000 short of Rowling’s Philosopher’s Stone. Writers were given a strict year-long schedule to ensure everyone kept on pace. Any Harry pairing (Drarry, Snarry, H.M.S. Orange Crush, Pottermort, Candyshipping) or identity (genderqueer!Harry, dark!Harry, rockstar!Harry) was acceptable.
While the most obvious goal of these Big Bang collaborations is to produce lengthy fics, their underlying drive is to support and encourage writers. Writers team up with beta readers for feedback on plot, character development, and grammar, while community moderators provide more general writing advice in forums. For the Harry Potter Big Bang, thirteen writers partnered up with beta readers, exchanging works for a months-long editing process. These rigorous beta reading sessions are characteristic of Big Bangs to ensure that high-quality fics are produced.
The format of Big Bangs is a callback to fanfiction’s early ties to zine culture, where writers and artists would collaborate on stories for underground print magazines. This legacy carries on today, with several Big Bangs making fanart an integral part of the publishing process. Unlike the writing sign-ups, the artist sign-ups take place much later in the process, usually when the first draft of the fic is complete. In the Harry Potter Big Bang, writers and artists exchanged names on November 1st, giving artists two months to complete their work.
Big Bang challenges are great for fanfiction communities because the work produced is often high-quality. In particular, the Harry Potter Big Bang has produced several exceptional fan works, including some of my favorite fics of all time. The collaborative nature of these Big Bang challenges reflects the most positive tenets of fandom, including fostering creativity, encouraging others, and, most of all, the spirit of community.