Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are set to return next year for another revival season of The X-Files, but for some fans, it’s like they never really left—even during that 15-year gap when the show was off the air. Devotees of The X-Files keep the characters forever alive through fanfiction (aka “fanfic”), which are unofficial stories written by fans of the show and shared on the internet with fellow fans. I penned more than a dozen of them back in the day, along with other writers using pseudonyms to disguise some possibly surprising true identities. X-Files fanfic writers include newspaper reporters, a TV executive, a judge, a CIA-type operative, and multiple published authors.
At its peak, The X-Files fandom produced more than 100 different stories per week, and fans could select from a dizzying array of “what-if” stories. Would you like a tale about Agent Mulder reuniting with his abducted sister, Samantha? There are dozens. Or maybe you wanted to see Agent Scully get fed up with chasing aliens and strike out on her own. Yup, we’ve got that too.
There's also scary monster stories, casefile investigations, comedic and tragic tales about The Lone Gunmen, and the many romances of Assistant Director Walter Skinner. The most intrepid fans even attempt to explain the mytharc and untangle the different species of aliens that dwell in The X-Files universe.
Fanfic brings closure to episodes that might have lacked it—like “Closure,” the episode that supposedly brought Agent Mulder the answers to the fate of his missing sister, or “All Things,” the episode where Mulder and Scully might (or might not!) have consummated their affaire de cœur. The issue of what happened to Scully and Mulder’s son, William, has generated perhaps more stories than any other topic. Scully gave up William for adoption when he was a baby, but now he would be a teenager. The coming TV season may provide some official answers, but in the meantime, fans have riffed on various possibilities: that William is part alien; that he grows up to join the FBI and starts an investigation into his birth parents; that he is just one of several Mulder/Scully offspring.
There is fanfic available for almost any show you can imagine, but The X-Files fandom has produced both a larger and higher quality body of work than most. This is probably because the show is among the smartest but laziest programs in the history of television. The X-Files addresses compelling, important ideas such as: What is the nature of memory? What makes a family? Are we alone in the universe? What's the role of the government in a civilized society? The show tackles topics like science, faith, good versus evil, betrayal, and love in an entertaining fashion.
However, it also left enormous holes in its stories. There were dropped threads (Scully has a chip in her neck that can be used for mind control, but let’s not talk about that after Season 5) as well as abrupt shifts in timeline or backstory. In any given episode, so much was unresolved or unsaid that there were a lot of openings for other storytellers to jump in and continue the story or take it in a new direction.
The other reason The X-Files has so much great fanfic is that the show itself varies in tone. I liked to play off of Mulder’s FBI profiler background, which was highlighted in episodes involving serial killers, like “Grotesque” or “Irresistible.” These shows tended to be less oriented to sci-fi and more police procedural.
Other writers took inspiration from the show’s more comedic episodes, like “Bad Blood,” which plays with Mulder and Scully’s different points of view on a single vampire case. With the episode “Triangle,” which found Mulder and Scully cast back in time on a cruise ship in WWII, The X-Files even invites so-called “historical AU” pieces that take place in an alternate universe. Since the show experiments with so many different styles, the fanfic attracts writers and readers of all stripes.
What was your favorite part of The X-Files? Whatever it is, you can bet someone’s written a story about it. Or if they haven’t, then you have got an opening and a hungry audience in front of you!
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Joanna Schaffhausen is a scientific editor who spends her days immersed in research on potential new therapies for cancer, addiction, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, she worked as an editorial producer for ABC News, where she advised and wrote for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. The Vanishing Season is her first novel.