Fanfiction is a fascinating style of fiction writing in its own right
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
I’m aware that by writing an article defending fanfiction, I’m setting myself up to be the perfect punchline to jokes about what wannabe writers get up to on the weekends. Leaving my 200,000-word modern day Alternate Universe (AU) out of this, however, I really do think that we dismiss fanfiction and the writers thereof far too quickly.
I understand where the derision comes from—it’s hard to think about fanfiction without associating it with 50 Shades of Grey, or with tweens writing awkward purple prose about their favourite One Direction members. However, as someone who’s read, written, and even had fanfiction written about original works I’ve helped create, I’ve developed not only a respect for fanfiction but also an almost academic interest in the genre. There are things that you can do with a transformative work of fiction that you just can’t do with an original work.
Fanfiction has existed since basically forever. A lot of the most popular and prolific stories in our culture are a form of fanfiction: Look at Dante’s Inferno, which was essentially a self-insert fic of the Bible. Isaac Asimov, Neil Gaiman, and many other writers have written Sherlock Holmes fanfiction. I can pretty much guarantee that over half the high fantasy from the ’60s onwards started off as Lord of the Rings fanfiction, and what is the entire Marvel and DC universe if not a mess of constantly expanding alternate universes exploring the same characters?
“But that’s not fanfiction,” you might argue, “that’s adaptation!”
Here’s what I find fascinating about fanfiction, and what differentiates it from a simple adaptation. Fanfiction can take full advantage of the fact that you already know the original work. Where an original novel might have to take a paragraph or five to describe a character, fanfiction can often skip that and get right to the good stuff. This gives fanfiction the ability to fill in gaps and flesh out relationships in a way that original work often doesn’t have time for, cutting to deeper examinations of the characters and the story itself. Readers aren’t flocking to Coffeeshop AUs because of an unbridled thirst for stories about people serving lattes. Often, the Coffeeshop AU is used to ground larger-than-life characters, giving us a chance to see what kind of people they’d be like if they could take a biscotti break and talk about their feelings.
Fanfiction often serves as an exercise in character study, with every author teasing their own interpretation out from the source material, and sometimes even improving it. The MCU is a good example of this. Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t have Peter’s origin story as part of the plot because we, the audience, already know it. Thus, even in a movie meant to introduce us to the character’s life and backstory, we spend far more time getting to know Peter, his friends, his family, and his motivations than we would have if we had to watch Uncle Ben die all over again.
If that’s not enough to give you at least a grudging respect for fanfiction, that’s fine. However, here’s something else to consider: Fanfiction is an amazing tool for writers, especially new writers. Any writing practice is good practice, but fanfiction can also provide a community for writers to hone their skills and receive much-needed encouragement from their peers.
Fanfiction can be strange, awkward, and dangerous to read on public transit; but it can also be contemplative and inspiring, and can make you see the source material in a whole new way. Even if it’s just a weekend hobby for writers who care a lot about the things they read and watch, so what? No one is forcing you to read their 25k Stucky Sentinel/Guide canon au post-Snap fix-it fic (rated E), though I do apologize for forcing you to read that sentence just now.