What's so great about fan fiction?

Last week I posted my review of the book Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, a book in which the main theme is fan fiction and fan culture – something which, over the years, has been a big hobby of mine. A few years ago I used to spend quite a big portion of my free time reading and writing fan fiction – but for the past couple of years I haven’t touched it. I haven’t read it, written anything or even logged in to my accounts. I don’t really know why; either I haven’t had time, or I just haven’t felt involved enough in fandoms to want to write or read fan fiction.

However in the past couple of weeks I’ve really started to get back into it again, and I’m beginning to rekindle my love for it! So, this week I wanted to explore fan fiction and why people enjoy writing and reading it.

My first fic was written in about 2011. The only ones I’ve written to date are for BBC’s Torchwood, because since then it’s always felt like the show that I’m closest to, I know the characters well so I can characterise them well when I write, and I could write about it for days. I’ve written a whole range of lengths, too: I have quick stories that are maybe two or three paragraphs and set one quick scene between two characters, slightly longer ones (between 1000 and 2000 words), and I started writing one that is currently 8000 words and has only just begun. Before I wrote them, especially the very short ones, I had a few doubts as to if anyone would actually read them – what’s the point in publishing one scene that is only a couple of hundred words long? But I soon realised that people love them.

Take one of my stories for example. It’s called ‘Lock The Door (Janto Drabble)’ (‘Janto’ is the combined ‘couple’ name of characters Jack and Ianto, and a ‘drabble’ in the fan fiction world is what I explained above: a short scene that doesn’t add anything to the story, but is just a fun exploration of the characters or the world), and it’s only 211 words – but it has almost 1000 hits and 30 favourites. Another one called ‘Good Morning, Ianto’ is even shorter – only 126 words – but it has almost 600 views and 9 favourites. These numbers don’t seem massive but when the text is only a few lines long, it’s astounding how many people love them. (You can read these stories and a few others of mine here).

So what is it exactly about fan fiction in general that sparks interest and keeps people reading and writing? For me, it’s the perfect way to stay creative, and also stay involved with a great community of other fans who always have something to discuss with you. If someone wants to write a story with their own characters, their own world creation, then that’s great. If others want to ‘borrow’ the characters the world from something pre-existing, like a TV show, a film or even a game and write their own stories that happen with those characters, then that’s wonderful too. It’s all creative writing, and it all fuels the imagination of both the writer and the reader.

In terms of reading fan fiction, in my mind it’s almost on the same par as reading a book. I love to read a good book but for some people, to pick up a long book and read it is somewhat of a daunting task. To open an internet browser on a phone, tablet or computer and choose a fan fic to read, however, is quick, easy and sometimes a lot more fun. It’s a great time-filler if you only have ten spare minutes to read something, and it builds a great reader-writer relationship within the fan community to be able to comment on and review the stories you read.

I was interested to find out what other people within the fan fiction community like about both writing and reading fan fiction, so I asked on the forums of the massively popular fan fiction website, FanFiction.net.

“One of the biggest reasons I go to fanfic, I’ve realized, is because a character in canon really didn’t get the justice they deserved – in my opinion. Or maybe the storyline took a turn for the worse… Certain fanfics can alter that inevitable end, and if not, I’ll write it myself. Alternate universe fanfictions allow us authors and readers to explore the side of canon the writers cannot, due to various reasons.” – 115SecretsToUnveil

“Most authors can only publish one version of a story, and, due to length and time constraints, only focus on a limited amount of characters within that story. It’s up to the fandom to explore the unanswered questions, the gaps, the missing pieces. Imagine the Deathly Hallows from the perspective of an eleven-year-old Muggle-born who has no idea what he’s about to get into, or how different Game of Thrones would be if Arya was the older daughter betrothed to Joffrey, not Sansa. The original authors don’t have that freedom to rewrite – but with fanfiction, you can come back to the same world over and over again and see something new each time.” – boomvroomshroom

“I’m new to fanfiction but I enjoy it because it explores character dynamics and relationships that might not be looked into very deeply in the cannon story. It is also allows us to explore different possibilities. What if this character survived? What if B happened instead of A? What if the hero failed?

Fanfiction is viewed as being something for Otakus and major die hard fans. It’s similar with all new media forms. look at youtubers many have become major celebrities in their own right, but are generally treated as strange, weird and are dismissed as fringe by most traditional media.

The reality I think it is more for people interested in reading and exploring different views and ideas on their favorite shows, books and stories. For example, Two characters who have no interaction on the actual show actually become a couple in one of my favorite fanfiction. The dynamics are very interesting to see play out as their personalities are very different. The relationship would likely not happen in cannon, but if it did I think it would improve the show overall.” – DeamonHunter

“There are several reasons I like Fanfiction.You can explore options and story ideas that didn’t, and would never accure to the canon writers of a fandom. You can change the basic premise, or create what if scenarios.

But the main reason is Crossovers. I read mostly crossovers and never even bother checking out the non-crossover section. The only time I read a no-crossover is if I found it under a favorites tab of an author I like. All the above reasons a doubled with the idea that you can create mixes of you favorite fandoms that even if the canon writers thought about it, couldn’t write for legal reasons. No matter how much the writers of nBSG might like SG:SG-1, they couldn’t write a story combining them. We can.” – killgore444

“I have to say that in the couple of years since I first came across fan fiction, I have found the much-stated contempt for it to be mostly apocryphal. I have seen a lot of articles and discussions about it and on the whole it is very positive. The most criticism seems to come from writers of original fiction who are either offended about their characters being appropriated or offended that no one wants to make fan fiction of their stories in the first place.

I would dearly love for it to come out of the shadows – and I think it will do soon.

That said, yesterday I read one of the worst pieces of fan fiction I have ever seen, so I do feel that there needs to be some sort of gentle peer pressure to improve standards at the very bottom of the pit. How you go about that though, I have no idea. I’m not a great fan of having a validation process. I know some sites do it, but I have reservations about how effective that is. What really needs to improve is reader discrimination. Everything else would follow from that. Change has to happen from the bottom.” – chinaglaze

“I have to agree with china. My experience is that the vast majority of people aren’t negative towards fanfic – they’ve simply never heard of it, they have no opinion on it at all. The only place I’ve encountered negativity towards fanfic is on serious original writing sites. Even there, people expressing such opinions are in a minority. I’m always suspicious when someone posts with claims of how they’re so misunderstood by everyone they meet, all of whom are intimately familiar with the same subset of fanfic urban myths.

I think fanfic as a hobby is fun. It’s a good way for a really wide variety people to interact online about something they have in common.

Fanfic as a collection of written stories? Most of it is pretty bad, and very little of the rest is high quality – the wonderful is few and far between. I think it’s not great that there are some people who are so obsessed with fanfic that their definition of good writing has dropped to mean something that would have spaces between the red ink if a schoolteacher marked it. This does seem to be a largely fanfic-based phenomenon – child footballers don’t stop watching the pros and assume that the best player in their school is world class, child artists don’t stop looking at paintings by pro artists and instead think that the best 18 year old they know is up there with Picasso… but child fanfic writers often stop reading anything by pro authors and claim that their favourites are as good as anything you’ll see on a library shelves.” – cathrl

“This. I took a piece of fanfiction to my creative writing evening class a couple of weeks ago (yes I did!). Before I read it out, I had to explain to the rest of the class and the tutor what fanfiction is. Everyone was polite.” – chinaglaze

“Nice to hear china, it takes both bravery and willingness to want to share your fanfics IRL… At least if you ask m, so kudos to you.

There’s thousands of fanfics out there, yes I admit I generally like fanfiction but to say I love all fanfictions… Now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I admit I have my favorites but doesn’t we all!?

Correct me if I’m wrong but reading fanfiction is not the same as writing fanfiction although chances are someone who reads fanfiction, might write their own eventually if they don’t already.

I really enjoy writing fanfics but I also like to read occasional fanfictions that’s outside my comfort zone. I have this thing were I prefer to not read fanfics in the same fandoms that I’m currently working on myself.” – AuntieAusten

“I like fanfiction because it is not required to comply with the taste-dictatorship of the publishing industry, especially its obnoxious “show, don’t tell” command and its prohibition against editorial omniscient narration, adverbs, purple prose, nominalisation, passive voice, Mary-Sues, straw characters, self-inserts, author filibusters, et cetera.” - schillingklaus

“Because I want to see the villains win and rule with an iron fist. *evil laugh*
Okay the 2nd part was a joke but yes, I honestly do read FF because I want to see the villain’s side of the story.” – Bryce405

“I enjoy reading and writing fanfic because it’s fun. I especially like the thought-provoking stories that consider canon material from different perspectives, or bring up interesting ideas that I didn’t think of before. Sometimes I get frustrated with certain episodes or some showrunner/writer’s take on things and like to have a fix-it (both reading and writing.) Or I didn’t like the officially published spinoff novels and am hoping for something better (either someone else wrote some or I’ll have to try it myself).

I also agree with the person who cited crossovers. Yeah! I love crossovers. That’s definitely something I enjoy which is hard to find in official material.

And a bit of the villains side of things, actually, yeah, I agree. (I’m the type of person who used to play the bad guys in my childhood games with my friends.) Though I find original fiction has a lot more of showing the villains’ point of view and possibly having them win, it’s nice to have fanfic with better developed villains than some of the flat boring “I IZ EVIL MONSTER! U DIE NOW!” you get in canon sometimes. Also I find amusement (when writing) in turning previously “good” characters into the “villain” of my story (doing that currently in my WIP, ha ha ha).” - ArkTaisch

Thank you to all of the people who responded – there are some great opinions and reasons why fan fiction is a wonderful form of writing, and a great way to get involved with today’s fandom culture. You can see the whole forum thread here.

What do you think about fan fiction? Let’s have a discussion in the comments, and share your fan fiction accounts if you’d like! I’m currently in the process of editing and rewriting my currently-8000-words Torchwood fic that I wrote in 2013, and remembered only a few days ago. If anyone would be at all interested to read it please let me know.

charlotte sign off