BY MICHELLE WOSINSKI
Let’s talk about fan fiction:
It’s an uncomfortable topic when it comes to literature— because it’s not really considered as such. When anyone can publish anything online, using pre-existing characters for what most likely will be a short cliche romance story, it isn’t considered very impressive. Why should it be when most of it is eleven year old girls’ One Direction unedited slash fiction anyway?
But, consider this— it has existed as long as fiction has existed. Here’s some background for today’s fan fiction as we know it!
The term ‘fan fiction’ was coined in 1939, though the practice existed long before this. In 1967, Spockanalia the first Star Trek fanzine ever featured fan written works, and these were written by and for adults and sold at various science fiction conventions. It is also important to add that 80-90% of Star Trek’s fanbase was made up of women— because the series was aired during the day, when housewives would be home and thus expanded from there— contradicting the common stigma that sci-fi is made for and enjoyed by men. Fan fiction has always been a female-dominated community and there is a lot to be taken away from this fact, especially since Star Trek arguably was the first large fandom to exist that made fan fiction a more mainstream phenomenon.
Skip ahead to the internet, which transformed how people shared and consumed their fan works. Previously, small groups of people would mail each other their stories and pieces of art via post, never before fully open for the public. This changed everything!
Teenage girls are well known to be stereotyped as obsessive or fanatic when it comes to media— an obvious example being boy bands. This passion, especially if for tv-shows, books, or movies, can easily be put into creating fan works. If you really love the characters of a TV show and want to see more, why not create more yourself? You have complete control and can conjure scenes that you probably won’t see on screen because perhaps it doesn’t fit the genre or the significant plot being followed. Now with access to an online community of like-minded fans you can share your passion and works easily!
This can actually be a very helpful exercise for young writers, because they have the freedom to explore worlds without having to worry about building character first and get right to the plot or development or whatever they choose to focus on. However, this stereotype of young girls also presents them as irrational and very naive— they are belittled for enjoying things and thus the things they enjoy are considered ‘silly’ and immaterial, or not intellectual. Fan fiction is a good example of this.
This can be partially attributed to its reputation of being badly written sickly sweet slash fiction and not worth any real attention— to read it is even considered embarrassing, much less to write it!
Don’t get me wrong, some fan fiction is badly written. Some fics are 900 words of self-indulgent bad dialogue, and some are 120,000 words of messy and confusing plot lines. However, that is not the point. I could go on and on about how some works are genuinely well written and explore interesting themes and have amazing character interaction and so much more, but I’m not going to. Because, more importantly, it should not matter if the content is good or not. Many of these writers are young— their creativity should be encouraged and they should be allowed to develop as writers.
Fan works are not like books, in that literally anyone can publish anything online. However, like books their quality also ranges. There is the notion that because something is published as a book it is inherently better compared to, for example, a fan fiction. “It has original characters and plot and was taken up by a publishing house!” I’ve read too many awful books to even consider this a reality anymore.
Also, think about this: 50 Shades of Grey was a Twilight fan fiction. Now after changing the names to Anastasia and Christian, it has multiple sequels and movies, and you know what? I don’t want to show too much bias here, but it’s a trash, terrible, horribly written book. What do I take away from this? Nothing means anything when it comes to fan fiction vs published books. Fan fiction can be bad, books can be bad, and bad fan fiction can become best-selling books/blockbuster movies.
Most of all, everything is up to reader’s interpretation and their taste.
You know what fan fiction has that books and other media don’t have, though? LGBT+ representation, and an abundance of it.
I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of female fetishization of gay male pairings, that’s a discussion for another day. I’m going to focus on the the actual positive representation of gay relationships written by and for queer people— fan fiction is not only dominated by women, but queer women especially.
Growing up gay is a hard gig, I can tell you that. Even worse, though, is growing up being a gay bookworm. Media has little to nothing to offer outside of the few sad™ coming out books which get tiring very quickly. Fan fiction fills a hole that popular media refuses to. None of these books or TV shows you like have openly gay characters? Make. Them. Gay. You have the power to do that. Many people before you have, trust me. If you don’t want to write it, that’s fine, google it and you will find there probably is already lot of content out there, whatever you’re looking for.
You know what, I’ll admit it, I actually like sickly sweet slash fiction. I hate romantic comedy movies, always have, but it took me a long time to realize it wasn’t because I hate romance. It’s because I’m sick of seeing relationships I can’t and don’t relate to! I’m sick of seeing the same A-List straight actors fall in love. Fan fiction is the gay rom com I’ll never get to see and I love it. I like being able to get on AO3 and find the exact kind of domestic fluff I need at 1am on a Tuesday night, it’s not even a guilty pleasure. You shouldn’t have to be ashamed of the things you like!
I don’t want to give the impression that all fan fiction is soft romance, though. Just like books, there are different genres and you can pick and choose what you want to read— whether it’s mystery, horror, sci-fi, romance, angst, or literally anything else you can think of.
This is really just the tip of the ice-berg when it comes to this topic, there is so much to discuss, but the thing I think I would most like you to take away from all of this is: fan fiction is fun! Don’t take it too seriously, but don’t dismiss it either. Write what makes you happy, read what makes you happy, and don’t worry about the rest.
MICHELLE WOSINSKI is an alumnus of the University of Virginia Young Writer’s Workshop. She was a member of the program’s fist class of Graphic Fiction and Nonfiction, which was also the first workshop of its kind in the country. In the fall, she will begin her further education at Loughborough University, for a foundation in Art and Design.