For years, I resisted the pull of reading fanfiction.
“I am way too picky about my reading content!” I would cry as my friends tried to show me novel-length, multi-chapter fanfiction featuring their favorite characters. “I don’t have time to sort through millions of fics just to find one that doesn’t have abysmal grammar!” I would wail. “I have enough reading to do just for class!”
And then, the world-wide phenomenon that is the anime Yuri on Ice! swept me away, and I made my first forays into fanfiction, so desperate was I for more content featuring the beloved Yuuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov (Okay, this wasn’t my first time reading fic, but it was the first time in a long time, and it was definitely the first time I spent hours reading fanfiction).
My mind has since forever been changed about the power of fanfiction, and all the potential it can unlock in both readers and writers.
Fanfiction was first popularized in fanzines made by fans of Star Trek. Since then, fanfiction has exploded onto the Internet on websites like Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net. You can find fanfiction inspired by just about anything: bands, musicals, TV shows, comics, Youtube videos, books, anime, manga… There’s even fanfiction about Mr. Clean.
So, let’s get something straight (ha) from the getgo here: Fanfiction can be very sexually explicit. For a lot of fanfic readers and writers, these stories are a way for them to explore their sexuality, or reimagine relationships between characters who, for whatever reason, don’t get to be in romantic relationships in canon (“canon” meaning the source material). Not all fic is explicit—you just need to know what you’re looking for, and know how to find content that you’ll enjoy.
Fanfiction is very much the domain of marginalized people. Those in the LGBT community flock to fanfiction because it allows them to put themselves in stories: they can explore queer relationships between characters that, in canon, are assumed to be straight. They can create stories with people of color, they can write a story where the female character who was killed to further the plot lives, and gets to eat her cake too. Readers of all gender identities can find themselves represented in fanfiction when the canon actively excludes or forgets the existence of transgender, nonbinary, genderfluid, and various other totally valid identities.
Fanfic writers are great because they know how to take back their power: they refuse to be a passive audience to a story. They’re willing to spend hours crafting the indulgent, wild, inclusive, and inspiring stories that they want and need to see, that they often don’t get to see, in the original source material.
There are so many more reasons that fanfiction is a great thing for writers. Writing fanfiction allows writers to stretch their creative muscles without the pressure of trying to write to a certain caliber. Fanfiction gives writers the space to experiment with writing styles while having a lot of fun. It also gives writers a chance to build a loyal following and engage with a community of like-minded people who enjoy screaming about stories. While it is much more difficult for fanfiction writers to create a following than fan artists, there is a growing number of fanfic writers who have been able to publish or self-publish their original fiction very successfully because they already have an established audience.
And you know what else? Fanfiction is a ball of fun to read. I didn’t mention this in my previous post about how to get back into reading for fun, but fanfiction helped me enjoy reading for pleasure again. For a few months, I’d spend hours perusing fanfiction and getting totally sucked into some incredible multi-chapter stories that were just as good as published work I’d read. I love seeing the ways people reinterpret characters and deepen my understanding of these characters and what they can be. There’s also a special community element—it’s great commenting on an author’s work and encouraging them, and getting a level of interaction you usually wouldn’t get with a bestselling published author.
Another great bonus of fanfiction: if you have Internet access, it’s totally free, which means people can access fanfiction much more easily than buying a book. This does lead to some entitlement in some readers, who will make ridiculous demands of fanfiction authors as if they don’t have their own busy lives, but they’re more the exception than the norm.
Because fanfiction mostly lives on the Internet, there are some ugly sides to it as well. If you read fanfiction, then you know exactly what I’m talking about, and if you don’t, well let’s just say that when you bring together a bunch of people on the internet, stuff is bound to get nasty sometimes. Lots of people within fandoms have written about how problematic fandom culture can be—but that’s another blog post entirely.
This post probably leaves a lot of you squinting at me, perhaps afraid to ask the burning question that’s on the tip of your tongues: Do I write fanfiction? Short answer: no. Long answer: I write incredibly self-indulgent stories featuring my own characters quite frequently, and only a handful of people will ever see them, and that’s just how I like it.
I believe that at the heart of fanfiction is a creative force of positivity that fuels readers and writers alike.
(Just, learn to read the tags, and don’t say I didn’t warn you).
Have you ever read fanfiction? Do you think fanfiction is as viable a reading source as published novels?
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.