I know what you’re thinking. Fanfiction. Aka poorly written smut by hormonal preteens. As a true lover of literature, I have no patience whatsoever for ill-written work. However, I refuse to condemn an entire community of writers based on the reputations of a few. If there’s anything I’ve learned by the truly enormous amount of time I’ve spent reading in my life, it’s that you don’t have to be good to be published, and you don’t have to be published to be good. Some of the best works I’ve ever read have been works of fanfiction.
Here are just a few reasons why fanfiction is worth your time:-
- It’s more creative.
Television, film, and book publishing are businesses, first and foremost. What’s published is what publishers believe will sell. Fanfiction is free. If I walk to the nearest bookstore and ask for a story about a lesbian android who is a mind-hacking tool of a corrupt government but falls in love with a double agent working for the enemy, will I find what I’m looking for? (Note: I made this one up, but I’m 99% sure you could find a fic very similar to this description within five minutes of Googling). Fanfic writers aren’t afraid to publish their work, whether it be 4,000 or 400,000 words long, and nothing and no one is stopping them from doing so. Some of the most vividly innovative work is buried in the blogs of aspiring fanfic writers
- It lets you fix what you don’t like.
Have you ever been frustrated by a show that stretched a will-they-won’t-they romance past the point of an enjoyable tease for the sake of ratings? Or a movie sequel that ruined a beloved character’s development due to do a change in screenwriter or director? Are you enraged by the horrifically offensive existence of queerbaiting? This is what fanfiction exists for. When fans are frustrated by the direction of their favorite stories, they take matters into their own capable hands and set things on a more natural track. Look no further than the existence of the popular EWE tag on Archive of Our Own (AO3), one of the most prominent fanfiction websites. For those who were dissatisfied with what they consider to be too neat and tidy of an ending to the Harry Potter series, EWE stands for Epilogue? What Epilogue? The tag signals readers that the writer will be writing a different future for Harry and his companions after the events of the final chapter.
- You can find exactly what you’re looking for.
While book jackets provide only a vague summary of their contents, fanfic authors are often—while not always—straightforward with the content of their words. Many would argue that the fun in a good read lies in not knowing what will transpire. Personally, I enjoy the “warnings” that fic authors preface their works with that novelists purposefully avoid. AO3 provides a number of stock warnings for authors to choose from, including, “rape/non-con,” and “major character death”—things readers would definitely want to know before deciding whether the piece is for them. On the other hand, the practice of tagging works with details of the subject matter, the relationships between characters, or the writing style of the piece helps you to find exactly what you want to read in a way you would be hard pressed to emulate on Amazon or in a bookstore.
This is just the beginning of the list of reasons why I admire fanfiction writers who pour their time and energy into it free of charge. At its core, fanfiction is the purest embodiment of the transformative power of stories to inspire.
Diana Koehm is a junior majoring in Human Rights and English with a Creative Writing concentration. She is on the creative non-fiction panel for the Long River Review.