Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fanfiction: May We Read it, Write it, Engage With It

If you have any sort of online presence — maybe (possibly) have a secret Tumblr account you’re hoarding away from family members and “real-life” friends — then you’ll know about fanfiction.net. This amazing site is often abbreviated as fanfic and is one of the greatest treasure chests of online writing. It is quite possible that you’ve read a fanfic or two yourself; it was probably some coffee shop AU (alternate universe) where your favorite character doesn’t die at the end of the movie and instead lives a simple, normal life as a barista, and then meets the love of their life — a story that the writer could decide to tell in anywhere from 100 to 100k words. And that’s the beauty of it: there’s a fanfiction out there for nearly every scenario, every universe, every character, and every story, that includes everything from the mundane to the fantastic.

The term fanfiction refers to stories that are produced by fans that use the characters and plot lines working within the canonical work of the original creator of the media, and/or veering away from it. Before the advent of computers and the internet, fanfiction remained a largely underground and marginalized activity among mostly female fans, as the dissemination of stories and poetry (as well as fanart) was often painstakingly written on typewriters, bound into zines, photocopied, and mailed around the world to other members of the community. That is, until sites sprang up to collect and archive these stories and make them completely accessible to everyone who owned a computer or phone with web access — anyone remember the days of frantically hitting the back button on their parents’ phone when you accidentally opened the web browser?

But why is fanfiction important? Why spare a blog post for it?

For one thing, this form of writing is usually not just a branching-off point for many younger writers, especially children, but also their starting point. It builds on the imagination and creativity by treating the text or movie as something to interact with, instead of it being a static object to put down as soon as you are done consuming it. But why does the world in any text have to end with the last written page and then reshelved? Fanfiction can help solve this dilemma and keep all you love from the fiction world alive. These fan writers can take the canon material and begin anew with those same characters, reminding us that, as Bronwen Thomas states, “storyworlds are generated and experienced within specific social and cultural environments that are subject to constant change.”

Fanfiction builds community, gives solidarity. It isn’t just about reading or watching the canon stories and then writing your own take on it. It allows fans the opportunity to set up special interest groups and expand on representation that might otherwise be lacking. While male members of fandoms are generally thought of as the keepers of fact and canon, it is the female members who create: They alter fandom because, often, popular media and its canon works do not serve their female members. Men, and more specifically straight, white, cismen, are ubiquitous in popular narratives. Thus, in order for canon to fit the “other” (female, queer, POC), they must attack canon and rebuild it, and that takes creation and imagination and engaging closely with the material, far beyond memorizing facts and timelines within said canon. It might be said, then, that fanfiction allows the more feminine aspect of fiction to blossom along its male counterpart. 

While some might say that recreating what others have already created is a waste of time, those who have roamed the forums of fanfiction.net will politely disagree. Nothing imaginative or world building should ever be frowned upon, even if the social hierarchy suggests otherwise and makes us accustom to rejecting creativity when we see it. Therefore, it is crucial to encourage and nurture young children as they play with words and allow this creative landscape to grow. Or you’re welcome to encourage an adult near you as well!


  • Thomas, Bronwen. "What is Fanfiction and Why are People Saying Such Nice Things About It?" StoryWorlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies. 3. (2011): n. pag. Web. Project MUSE. 16 Sept. 2015.

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