Give Fanfiction a Chance


Delia Guilbert, Herald Reporter

“You read fanfiction?” is the single most common response I get after mentioning, even in passing, the fact that I do, actually, read fanfiction. And, *gasp*, enjoy it. Often delivered in a tone of disgust, disapproval, or occasionally pity or bewilderment, it is still one of the more positive responses I’ve heard. Which is a problem, because fanfiction really isn’t that bad. Sure, it isn’t all good, per se, but the concept itself is fundamentally a good thing. Fanfic allows people to further build off the world of canon, addressing problems or glitches in the original narrative, and helps connect them personally to the book, show, movie, anime, or whatever else the fic is for. It provides an opportunity for both the author and reader to explore new ideas, and the subject matter provides a perfect springboard for a lieu of “what if?” questions. Fanfiction is in and of itself an exercise in creativity and character development, and the quick turnaround between writing, editing, and posting, along with the positive and negative feedback, is far shorter than the format for most other types of creative writing. With fanfiction, there’s an element of instant gratification, and that immediacy makes it a more rewarding platform for the author.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can delve more deeply into fanfiction itself. This  is where this gets tricky, as a lot of it is really, really bad. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from either reading or writing it, but I will definitely understand many people’s inherent avoidance of it. Characterization is often nonexistent, and a lot of the time it feels kind of like a violation of the canon instead of an accompaniment. However, in the defense of fanfiction authors everywhere, most of it is better than you’d expect. As with any literary genre, some of it will inevitably be incomprehensibly bad and some will be absolutely incredible. And what one person may consider good could potentially be another reader’s nightmare. The reading of fanfic is, in a sense, as tricky a balance as the actual writing of it. And, if that’s the case, who’s going to read it, anyway? And why should you?

The first of those questions, who reads fanfiction? is perchance more interesting than the latter. And that’s because fanfiction draws, generally, a very specific community. Most fanfiction is slash- LGBT romantic and sexual relationship-centric, whether or not the characters are in a canon relationship, or even canonically gay. Common examples include Destiel, the pairing of Dean and Castiel from CW’s Supernatural, and Johnlock, the pairing of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes from the BBC’s Sherlock.

Yet despite the fact that the majority of fanfiction is male/ male slash, it’s written and read largely by women. Archive Of Our Own, a popular fanfiction site more commonly known as AO3, has more non- binary than male users- according to a recent survey, ( roughly 90% of users self-identify as female, with another 7% identifying as genderqueer. The remaining 3% were split fairly evenly between male and transgender individuals. From the same survey pool, it was found that only about 38% of AO3 users identify as straight, with another 45% of users self identifying as bi- or pan- sexual. Of the remaining percentage, approximately 11% were asexual, 7% identified as homosexual, and the rest identified as an unlisted sexuality. As most estimates for the percentage of people who are GLBT in the general population fall at approximately 10%, fanfiction, and slash in particular, clearly appears attractive especially to the GLBT community. And this makes sense- it’s a lot easier to find fiction with characters who share one’s sexuality – if that sexuality isn’t heterosexual- in fanfic, where most of it is built off the idea that everyone is secretly gay/ bi/ pan/ poly/ etc. Finding works with characters who are everything from aromantic to polyamorous, as well as who identify in the fic as any of the myriad of more “fringe” or less common/ well known sexualities makes fic easy to tailor to personal experience, which can be a very attractive idea for those who may not know other queer people in real life.

Another appealing aspect of fanfiction is its social justice component. By rewriting or building on the canon, authors can directly address problems with the original narrative, whether it be lack of LGBT representation, inaccurate/ offensive portrayal of women, or lack of POC. By providing an element of control to the fans, the canon works can be enhanced with a freedom that wouldn’t be possible in the source material. There are entire tropes in fanfiction, like Alpha/Beta/Omega dynamics, that were created entirely to address a social justice issue like discrimination or lack of rights.

Additionally, AUs and other complete rewritings of the canon verse provide an opportunity for fan character development, and because they take place in what are sometimes drastically different situations than the source material, there is a lot more freedom to build and change the canon characters. If the only ties in a fic to the source materials are the characters, the development of those characters and their subsequent relationships with other characters become the number one priority. Thus, plots are often engineered to bring to the surface specific aspects or facets of a character’s personality, often forcing them to confront character faults not addressed in the original narrative.

So yes, fanfiction might not all be incredible. Some of it is undoubtedly crappy. But it is redeemed, surely, by its revolutionary nature, community, and depth of character. Like any other creative medium, it’s not perfect, but it also shouldn’t be judged too harshly without a full understanding of its intent; not to overwrite or invalidate the canon, but as a creative outlet, a way to communicate differing perspective, and a way to connect with like-minded people.