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I have wanted to be an author since before I could properly write. I even made ‘books’ (mostly just drawings because writing words was too much effort for my tiny child brain).
As I grew older, I began actually writing things and, at some point, I discovered fanfiction.net. I can’t remember how old I was exactly but I was definitely no older than ten which, as I know now, was far too early to discover such a thing. Nevertheless, I loved the website and would spend hours upon hours reading and writing fanfiction, most of which was about the main obsession of my preteens – Harry Potter.
For the sake of clarification, fanfiction is written work based off of existing media. It started back in the days of Star Trek fanzines where people wrote about romantic relations between Spock and Captain Kirk which, of course, never actually happened in the franchise. Nowadays, there’s a fanfiction about pretty much everything – even real-life people.
After a couple of years, my visits to fanfiction.net became less frequent. My dream changed from being an author to being an actor and writing became a hobby I rarely indulged in. I then recently gave up on my plan to be an actor, which was very hard to do, but thankfully I had my old dream to fall back on.
Consequently, I’ve thrown myself back into writing over this past year and, as of last December, I have my first ever full novel draft. It was the most stressful 50,000 words of my life but it brought me closer to actually publishing something than I’d ever been.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with my novel that have forced me to put the project on hold. In the meantime, I turned back to fanfiction and since immersing myself in that part of the internet for the first time in over five years, I’ve got a lot of thoughts about it.
As a society, we tend to make fun of things that have a primary audience of teenage girls, considering them to be less intellectual or worthwhile. It’s why everyone hated Twilight before we even caught on to the reasons why it’s actually problematic. It’s why I adamantly refused to enjoy any song by One Direction or Justin Bieber as a young teen.
Fanfiction suffers the same fate. It’s stereotyped as being either a clichéd love story between a Mary Sue author insert and a dashing fictional character or steamy fanservice scenes between two male characters who would never spare a glance at each other in canon.
But it’s so much more than that.
Much of the fanfiction I’ve read is the same quality and length of actual published novels. I’ve come across plots and characterisation that have stuck with me for months because of how creative and downright brilliant they are.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the stereotypical ‘Harry Styles abducted me’ and ‘Sherlock and John get it on after a particularly spicy murder mystery’ fanfics. Just because something is clichéd or simple does not make it bad content. If you’re not into it, just read something else.
That’s the beauty of fanfiction. Fanfiction is literature whether you like it or not. There is a fanfic out there for pretty much anything your heart desires. Want 100k words about your favourite pairing full of compelling twists and turns? It’ll be out there. Want a short simple read? Those are everywhere.
I mean, I literally posted an 800-word oneshot about a guy spraying another guy with mould killer. I’m also 8,000 words into a chaptered fic that I’m maybe a third of the way through at most. With fanfiction, you can do whatever you want.
While it’s true that you can do whatever you want with original fiction to some extent, fanfiction is often easier to write because characters and settings are ready-made for you. That being said, the freedom of original fiction is still there because you can make any change you want if you so wish. You can take the world you want to write about and turn it into whatever you want.
It’s great for if you want to get started in writing or if you’re looking for something fun to do to keep creative in between bigger projects – like myself.
Not only is fanfiction arguably easier to produce than original fiction, but it’s also more easily accessible than most original fiction. It’s out there for free (although I’ve read so many things that I think deserve to be paid for) and it’s so easy to search for what you want. The website of your choice (I currently reside on Archive Of Our Own, aka AO3) will have filters that let you narrow down your search in more ways than you’d originally consider (word count, completed/in progress, explicit/PG, and a thousand tags you’d never have thought of). You can find the kind of content you want in seconds.
The accessibility of fanfiction also means that when you put something out there, it’s easy to get readers. I’ve had about 50 comments on my current WIP so far and they’ve all been so, so lovely. It unironically makes my entire day to see people telling me that they enjoy my work and can’t wait to see more of it. It inspires me more than anything else does. Before I got back into fanfiction, I wasn’t sure if I could ever be a published author. Now, I know that I can.
And that’s why I like fanfiction. As much as it’s considered ‘cringe’ (cringe culture is dead, by the way) this part of the internet has brought so much joy to my life and many others’.
Next time you hear someone say that they read and/or write fanfiction instead of scoffing at it, consider just letting people enjoy things. There’s a whole lot to enjoy out there in regard to fan content and most of it is far better than you’d think.