Apparently, we’re having another round of “that’s just fanfiction.” Implying that fanfiction is below prowriting quality standards and should be dismissed, and that if you want to insult a prowriting piece, just call it fanfiction.
For those that live under rocks, fanfiction or fanfic is a derivative work of another creator, usually created out of love for the original work. More often than not written for fun and just because. Fanfic is largely created by women for women. And fanfic is infamous for its explicitly erotic stories, which do constitute a significant portion, though not all fanfic. Erotic fanfic often falls into Rule 34: if you can think of it, there’s probably erotica/porn on the internet about it.
Works that can fall under fanfiction:
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
- Anything on Archive of Our Own
- The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
- Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
- Anything on Fanfiction.net
- The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
- Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
See what I did there. A lot of those are published books! A lot of them are famous and well-written! There are even whole sections of GoodReads devoted to stories declared rewritten fanfiction by readers.
I’d like to admit: I’ve written, read, and recommended a ton of fanfic.
I’m actually quite shocked that I’ve never been outed for my fanfic ways. I guess I’ve only been published in the non-fiction world, and many of my online friends do know or that’s how I met them. I’m also shocked that I work in the tech world, and no one’s poked into my subdomains. Or at least, if they have, they haven’t reported back.
Fanfic is easy to dismiss as silly, as derivative fluff, as chic lit, as easy to write, as childish, as dirty pornography, as poorly written, etc. Many of the same arguments used against the merits of fanfic are those used to silence, dismiss, or segregate out women’s writing, and it’s unsurprising in that fanfic is primarily for women and by women.
I started officially* writing fanfic when I was 13-years-old as an outlet for my budding sexuality. My fanfic ventures almost stopped there, when my father discovered my story — I hadn’t learned how to password Word documents or hide files in deep subfolders yet — and burst into my bedroom demanding to know how I knew what a ‘blow job’ was. Yes, my story was erotic, featured an idealized future adult self, and thankfully, doesn’t exist on the internet. There was also more than a blow job in it.
(*I say officially in that my child self liked to write stories about me and my cat on the starship Enterprise, but I didn’t know it was called fanfic. It was also pre-internet.)
But college was the time the bulk of my reading and writing fanfiction happened. I wrote gops of fanfic. Novels of it. It was my escape and my practice, practice, practice. They say you need to do something for 10,000 hours in order to master a skill, and fanfiction gave me more than 10,000 hours writing and editing. I used to carry around a Buffy: the Vampire Slayer dayplanner, and inside, I’d have all my due homework and papers laid out, alongside the due dates of the fanfiction writing contests, swaps, and ficathons.
I learned in college how to think critically, how to use commas, how to craft the five paragraph essay, and how to read James Joyce, Zadie Smith, and Chaucer. But I learned in fanfic how to write when I didn’t think I had anything to say, how to find nuance in a story, how to try something completely off-the-wall, and how to just do it. I also learned HTML, CSS, and Photoshop so I could built a website to host my fanfiction; the three skills I used to get my first online marketing job almost eight years ago. Dissecting the world of Emma Bovary just didn’t impress my first boss the way making stockphoto models sell spy cameras in banner ads did.
Fanfic gave me an outlet for everything and anything I desired to see on paper. It was a safe space for investigation and experimentation. A reprieve from university life, my parents’ divorce, my own romantic relationship confusion, and a way to treat myself when I couldn’t afford anything else. (It was free!) I made friends, and I could show that I cared when I wrote them fanfic stories they could enjoy for birthdays, holidays, or just because.
I met my girlfriend Lisa at a Buffy: the Vampire Slayer fanfiction writing convention in Vegas in 2004. I woo’d her with a sexy Lilah and Cordelia story. That and eight years of online flirting afterwards. (I’m a slow-cooker when it comes to romance.) In fact, I just emailed her a Gilmore Girls piece I read and knew she’d love.
Not every fanfic writer uses their honed skills — or heck, even cares about honing their writing skills — in the offline world. Not everyone meets the people they get to know online and falls in love or gains new friendships. Many continue to write “just because.” If someone enjoyed their work, then it was worth it.
I don’t write much, if any, fanfic these days. The few times I venture back in, it’s usually to create a story for a friend. However, I’ll never stop the stories in my head. I won’t say that I don’t read it anymore because I pick up a stack of comic books every Wednesday and most of them are derivative works. And yes, sometimes the work reminds me more of the crazy things I saw when heavily immersed into my fandom’s fanfiction. But let’s do everyone a favor and don’t use “fanfiction” as shorthand for “bad.” For every terrible piece of fanfic, there’s a terrible book out there, and for every great book, there’s some great fanfic out there. 90% of what’s written is crap.
I know I’ll be forever thankful for the time I spent writing fanfiction and the community of writers and fans I met there. Writing fanfic changed my life for the better.