Cassandra Quayson, Guest Blogger
Think back to the best book you’ve ever read.
You know—that book. The one you literally couldn’t put down. You were so invested in the characters, the plot, the climax. Or maybe it’s not just one book. Maybe it’s a series. Or even a movie, or TV show, or a live musical. Whatever. It doesn’t matter what it was. What matters is that you finished it and there was only one thought in your head: you wish you could go back in time and read it again.
But of course, you can’t. Do you have a book—or two, or three—in your head? Good.
Because it’s long past midnight and you’ve just turned the last page after devouring it in mere hours. And you’re just so tired. But you can’t sleep. All you can think about is that damn book.
You skim through it again, reread your favorite parts. You carefully dissect the author’s note, reconsider the back-cover summary from a new, learned perspective. It’s not enough.
There’s only one thought in your head: you wish you could go back and read it again. You turn to the internet. Finally, a good idea. There’s special excerpts from the publisher, Twitter questions answered by the author, fan reviews on YouTube.
You scroll so long that you’re worrying there’ll soon be nothing left. And the thought still lingers: you wish you could go back and read it again.
And then you find it—the next best thing, sitting snug right there at the end of the “results” page.
Because simply put, that’s all fanfiction is: the next best thing. And if you’re lucky, it can be the better thing.
Fanfiction is pretty self-explanatory. It’s fiction created by fans.
There’s fanfiction about virtually everything. And I mean everything. From uber popular pop culture staples like Harry Potter and Star Wars to the most obscure 20th century movie you can find in your parent’s dusty old film cabinet, somebody somewhere has written something about it.
It’s one of the cooler parts about the internet. Fans of all sorts of things—comics and bands and TV shows—band together to share ideas and, (for lack of a better word) “fangirl” over things they’re passionate about.
Still got that book in your head? Because of fanfiction, you never have to leave that world that you fell so deeply in love with, never have to say goodbye to those characters who so hastily changed your life.
Or maybe it’s more simple than that. Maybe you just really liked a TV show that got cancelled. If you like to read, that TV show doesn’t need to be over for you yet.
Some fanfiction is crazy good. I’ve read pieces that were better than the works they were actually based on. There are fanfiction writers who can redescribe characters more eloquently than they were described in the first place. Some write stories over 100k words long (the size of a four hundred page book!)—all for free.
It’s raw, passionate creativity at it’s finest—created for selfish reasons, but money not being one of them. Through fanfiction, talent runs free, aspiring writers become published authors.
“Through fanfiction, talent runs free, aspiring writers become published authors.”
Ever hear of Meg Cabot, E.L. James, or Cassandra Clare? (Authors of the Princess Diaries, Fifty Shades, and Mortal Instruments series, respectively.) All three started as fanfiction writers. The not-so-secret world of fanfiction is like any other internet phenomenon—some fanfiction (probably the type you most associate the word with) is weird as hell. In fact, I’ve probably read more bad fanfiction than good. A decent amount of stories are terribly, terribly written.
And,—this is where the stereotypes and assumptions swirl into reality—even more are smutty, cringy, run-for-your-mother obscene. There’s parings and “ships” that are just wrong, plots that are borderline criminal. (I’m looking at you, Harry/Snape shippers. Ew). It can get kind of messy. But as far as online occurrences go, the weird/bad ones are easy to navigate around (or navigate to, if you’re into that, because that’s cool too).
It’s worth it.
Nerdy bibliophile that I am, I will always argue that fanfiction is probably the coolest thing to have come out of the internet. (Up there with BuzzFeedUnsolved and Vine, of course).
It’s created unbelievably humongous communities of people who love to write and read and put those two things together to birth something magical.
It’s given us some amazing published authors and poets and novelists. It’s allowed readers millions upon millions of free stories so specifically tailored to highlight their favorite characters and settings.
It’s been an unprecedented—and often appreciated—marketing tool for authors’ work.
It’s spurred a new era of creativity that is surely (not slowly) leaving lasting effects on mainstream media and ever broadening our definition of art and what it can be.
It’s shown me that skill doesn’t always have to be judged based on originality, but rather what you can do with someone else’s blueprints can often warrant just as much celebration.
And most importantly, it’s filled that after-midnight, my-favorite-book-is-over-and-I-want-to-die ache.
I’ll leave you with this: In a 2011 article for Time Magazine, Lev Grossman writes the best description of fanfiction that I’ve ever read, and explains fanfiction better than I ever could:
“Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”
They talk back to the culture in their own language.
Keep talking back to the culture.
Don’t be embarrassed to write fanfiction. Fanfiction writers are brave (for putting their work out into the world) and creative (for coming up with any work in the first place) and passionate (for loving what they read and watch and hear so much they emulate it) and all around amazing.
Cassandra Quayson is a seventeen-year-old high school senior and aspiring author who will be studying English at NYU this fall. Her motto is, “The trouble with having all these notions of what I’d like to read is that no one’s written it yet. So I’ll write it myself.” Check out her story “Eucalyptus” in the 2019 Long River Review!