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In defence of FanFiction

Updated Published
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Aberdeen chapter.

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘fanfiction’?

Probably poorly written stories, with incredibly unrealistic plots (a daughter being sold by her mother and then going on to live with One Direction seemed to be a favourite for a while) and your ‘not-like-other-girls’ main character. And yes, those stories are out there – I’ve been there, and I’ve read them. But let me tell you: fanfiction can be and is so much more than just that.

If you break it down to terminology, fanfiction is nothing more than fiction written by a fan of a certain piece of media. Looking at it from that perspective even Shakespeare’s famous ‘Romeo and Juliet’ would have to be considered fanfiction, seeing that it was based on a poem written by Arthur Brooke. Yet only a few people would dare to refer to Shakespeare’s work as poorly written or even garbage, right?

So, as published literature does too, fanfiction and its quality lie on a spectrum, ranging from underworldly to life-changing. But then why is it that fanfiction in particular has such a bad reputation?
Fanfiction is lazy.

Well, many people argue that fanfiction is just stories ripped from other people’s hard work. While authors had to spend hours and hours creating and building their universes, fanfiction writers simply built off of that without having to establish a fictional world. In short, fanfiction writers have it easier.

And while that might be right in some respects, it can be completely wrong in others. Take the Harry Potter fandom for example. No offence to anyone who loves the franchise, but JK Rowling did a comparably poor job creating her Wizarding World universe. So, fans and fanfiction writers took it upon themselves to expand on what JK Rowling had previously created, coming up with proper political and legislative systems and concepts of how magic works on a genetical basis. Hell, the fandom took it even further and established an entirely new time period, based on a few anecdotes JK Rowling had sprinkled throughout her seven books.

I proudly present to you: the Marauder’s fandom. Started by a single fic retelling Remus Lupin’s life from his first year at Hogwarts through the first Wizarding War to the year 1995 (‘All the Young Dudes’, 500k words), fans crafted a fully fleshed-out world surrounding Harry Potter’s parents, their friends and their time at Hogwarts. A world with established characters that were often only mentioned once in the source material. A world that has its own stories and little to do with what JK Rowling once created.

So no, fanfiction authors do not necessarily have it easier. Coming up with stories, original characters and new aspects of an already-created universe can be just as challenging. And if you don’t believe me, try writing a piece of fiction of about 500k words with a fully thought-out plot, and then we can talk again. (for reference: 500k words is about the length of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’)

Fanfiction is of poor quality.

Other times people argue that fanfiction doesn’t have the same standards as printed literature. Fanfiction doesn’t have to go through the same processes of weeding out that ‘real books’ do. Manuscripts don’t have to be sent to publishing companies, don’t have to be accepted by editors, and don’t have to be promising great success to be printed. Anyone can go, open one of the various websites that publish fanfiction and create a new piece of work.
And that’s true, anyone can go and write fanfiction and publish it, and as I said before, there is stuff that is genuinely not good. But, on the other side of things, seemingly, some ‘fics are deemed high quality enough to be published as physical books. Here is a short list of books, bestsellers even, that were once fanfiction:

50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James used to be a Twilight fanfiction.

The After Series by Anna Todd used to be a Harry Styles fanfiction.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood used to be a Star Wars Kylo/Ren fanfiction.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare used to be a Harry Potter fanfiction.

Three out of four of these were even adapted into movies or TV shows, generating huge amounts of success.

And before I get book critics coming up to me and complaining about how these books are not that well-written and challenging either, I know – I’ve read them, either in their original form as fanfiction or once they were published. They are easy entertainment, simple stories that resonate with the readers. But that’s part of the reason why we read books, isn’t it? Not every piece of media we consume needs to be world-changing and challenge all of our beliefs and morals, does it? Sometimes we just want to escape reality and be entertained. It’s as easy as that.

Fanfiction is written by crazy fangirls.

People also often argue that fanfiction can’t be any good because it stems from the minds of crazy, hormone-driven teenage girls, who need to find a way to realise their fantasies about their favourite idols. And this, fandom culture and reducing it down to crazy fangirls, is a whole other debate, but one I won’t open, at least today. But, what needs to be said, is that the statement is entirely untrue. Fanfiction.net’s traffic analytics showed that a vast majority of visitors were between 18-24 years of age. Similarly, a study collecting demographics on Harry Potter fanfiction writers found that 57% of writers were university students and young adults, and 21% were 30 years or older. Teenagers only made up a proportion of 19%.

So, in fact, no. Fanfiction is not just made up of crazy teens. Part of it is, yes. But a majority are young adults and amateur writers who explore ideas and concepts of characters and figures they love.

Fanfiction is limitless.

And maybe that is the most important point in all of this. Fanfiction writers usually don’t write to make money from it. They write to spend more time in a world they love, they write to redeem their favourite character, and they write to make things happen that the creator of the source material didn’t dare to. And the same goes for most fanfiction readers – they don’t read to be challenged on what they believe in, they read to spend more time with characters they have grown to love.

Fanfiction is a space for people to turn to when the source material is exhausted. It’s a space to turn to when you can’t let go of a universe just yet. It’s a space to turn to when you don’t agree with an author’s opinions and don’t want to consume any of their original media (yes, I’m talking about you JK Rowling).

Fanfiction is a space for creativity, exploration and reinvention, that would normally not be possible due to copyright. It’s a space with unlimited options and opportunities. The only guideline: go and have fun.

And how could that ever be bad?

I am a Marine Biology student in my fourth year at the University of Aberdeen.