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The internet can be credited with bringing a lot of things to our lives in the last two decades, of them the ability to connect with people from various parts of the world and bond over the same interests. This opened up a floodgate for many subcultures online — very, very enthusiastic subcultures.

That’s right. I’m talking about fandoms.

This isn’t to say fandoms never existed (anyone who was into Star Wars in the 80s would know that) but the online world has given those groups a way to seek each other out online and bond in massive droves. You can find endless discussion threads on Twitter, heated story debates on Reddit, in-depth character analyses on YouTube and Tumblr, and an endless supply of professional-grade fanart on Instagram.

But the biggest thing fandoms have contributed to the internet is, without a doubt, fanfiction.

Now, hear me out. You might initially think of fanfiction as this cheesy cliché-ridden thing angsty pre-teens like to post all over Wattpad, but you may be surprised to learn fanfiction has actually existed for centuries. Anyone familiar with Paradise Lost? Well, that’s essentially a 1667 fanfiction of the Book of Genesis!

(Does this mean the Renaissance consisted almost entirely of fanart too? Yes, dear reader, it does.)

A lot of people may regard fanfiction as dorky or weird, maybe even going so far as to think of it as an illegitimate form of literature, but fanfiction has generated a huge market in the last decade. Surely you’re familiar with the Twilight fanfiction known as 50 Shades of Grey? Or perhaps the Harry Styles fanfiction-turned-box-office-movie called After? Maybe even the Pride & Prejudice fanfiction film, only with… uh, zombies?

Say what you will, but fanfiction has a special appeal that sells. Here are some reasons why.

You are the boss

We’ve all known the crushing feeling of witnessing a deeply loved character die on screen, seeing a movie with potential take a very bad turn, or having an amazing TV series get cancelled — or worse, turn stale.

Guess what? Fanfiction is your cure. If you’ve ever found yourself deeply disappointed by a story arc or bitterly thinking, “Daenerys deserved better” after a season finale, chances are plenty of others have too. Which means, you can find endless stories keeping your most beloved characters alive and well, and even giving them a better storyline than before!

Not only that, but the sky is truly the limit when it comes to plotlines. Maybe you just really love Loki and want to see him as a teenage coffee-shop barista in modern times. Maybe you think Hermione should’ve ended up with Harry (or even Draco if you’re really adventurous)! Or maybe Riverdale is just a really, really bad show and you know you can do it better.

The point is, fanfiction is irreverent and takes orders from no one besides you!

Characters are given more depth

This is especially needed for movie characters; there’s just never enough time to properly learn about the entire cast. Getting to know a character within 2-3 hours only to have them disappear forever from your life once the credits start rolling is disheartening. There’s just so much more you want to learn!

Fanfiction’s got your back. Think a supporting character was more interesting than the main character and they simply didn’t get enough screen time? You’ll likely find plenty of stories exploring their personalities and fleshing them out in a way you’d only dreamed of. Or maybe a movie character is simply too one-dimensional and you want to give them more nuance and emotional complexity — want to see Batman have a little midnight cry to himself after a long night’s work? You’ll get that and then some.

(Warning: High chances of potentially falling in love with the fictional character(s) in question and damaging your non-fictional love life for good.)

It’s an opportunity to flex your writing skills

If you’ve had a few story ideas bouncing around in your head but don’t have a full-fledged universe developed yet, fanfiction is a great way to get started. The worlds and their characters are already established for you, so it’s an easy way to test the waters as a writer without any pressure or judgement.

In fact, publishing your fanfiction under the fandom’s tags online is a great way of connecting with other fans and getting feedback on your writing. The comments will give you a great confidence boost that may nudge you to start writing original stories of your own!

A lot of people like to poke fun at the abundance of One Direction fanfictions littered all over Wattpad, but despite their admitted cheesiness, it’s actually wonderful that so many young adults are exploring their interests in writing so enthusiastically. There are certainly worse things they could do — and hey, one of them has already landed herself a movie deal!

Inclusive representation

This is a big one and the film and TV industry has been sidestepping it for too long. LGBTQ+ representation is still not where it needs to be, especially when taking into account how often they’re killed off or reduced to rom-com fodder. Not even Disney has managed to feature a proper queer character (and no, LeFou absolutely does not count).

To mitigate this, lots of shows like Supernatural like to engage in some notorious queer-baiting to attract fans from the LGBTQ+ community — without ever giving the fans the relationships they teased in the first place.

This is frustrating to LGBTQ+ people because it sends the message that queer relationships aren’t good enough to get screen time, especially as legitimate leading characters. So, naturally, fanfiction steps in to save the day.

If there is ever a place where an LGBTQ+ presence is abundant, and sometimes even expected, it’s fanfiction. Because Hollywood and mainstream media continue to give serious queer stories a wide berth (in 2020, no less), fanfiction has become a safe space for the community to find the representation they deserve. You’ll find gay and lesbian characters, trans characters, asexual characters, and even non-binary characters of all kinds!

So, the consequence of Supernatural’s writers dangling some unexplored chemistry between Dean and Castiel? Gay fanfiction galore.

Sex is normalized and explored

It may be 2020, but people still squirm at the mention of sex — especially if it’s the non-vanilla variety. You can typically only find it written in adult fiction eroticas your mom might have collecting dust in the back of her shelf somewhere, but let’s face it, you don’t want to go anywhere near that.

Fanfiction, however, is modern without being shy about exploring sexual relationships and the different facets it involves. In fact, it can get into so much detail that it would make your sex-ed teacher sweat — but the details also come with some educational benefits! You can learn a lot about the mechanics of sex and the variety of responses your body might have during intercourse, which is especially helpful for those who’ve never done it before. You’ll become an expert phased by nothing!

And guess what? Kinks are totally accepted too, so it’s very much a safe space to learn about safe BDSM (side-eyeing you 50 Shades) and start reflecting about the kinds of things you might enjoy incorporating into your own sex life. Just remember to use safewords!

You’ll know exactly what you’re getting into

You know how a lot of modern-day novels will just have a bunch of reviews instead of an actual blurb? Yeah, no one likes that. A book cover is well and good, but readers want to know what kind of stories they’re committing to, especially because no one wants to buy a book then realize it’s not what they hoped it would be a few pages in.

The best thing about fanfiction is that it comes with tags. Meaning, you’ll know exactly what fandoms you’re reading about, which characters make appearances, what relationships are included, and even any content warnings such as sexual assault or self-harm. This allows readers to get an idea of what the stories will be like without being taken by surprise or stumbling into a scene that could possibly be triggering for them. 

An added bonus is you can use the tags to filter down the stories you want to read from the ones you’d like to avoid! If you don’t want to read anything explicit and just want to enjoy something light, you can easily find stories tagged for general audiences. You can even use the tags to look for specific themes such as comedy, angst, crime, and tooth-rotting fluff.

It’s totally, completely, 100% free!

You read it right folks, fanfiction is indeed cheaper than water. If you don’t have a laptop or smartphone, you can easily go to your local library and read it on a computer for exactly zero dollars. If you do possess personal electronic devices at home, you can be lucky enough to read thousands of novel-quality stories right from the comfort of your own bedroom. 

Despite how dorky some people might think it is, fanfiction stories can reach a level of professionalism that is shocking to access for free. Writers will do countless hours of research on the histories of whole other countries, study rules for sports they know nothing about, and even teach themselves all about academic-level subjects simply because their character or plot calls for it — and they expect nothing in return for it except a supportive comment saying you love their work.

The fact of the matter is, fanfiction writers offer countless hours of free entertainment you simply wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Fanfiction itself is a genre unlike any other specifically because of its ease of access in a world where even stories have become commodified, and that’s what makes it so special to so many people!

So there you have it. The wonderful world of fanfiction explained. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and squeal, but what it won’t do is disappear any time soon. Hopefully, you found yourself learning something new, and if you’re ever curious to check out what your fandom is writing about, Archive of our Own is a great database to check out that’s chock full of amazing stuff to read. Happy fangirling!

Rawan is the former President and Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Carleton's '21-22 school year. She started out as film student before pursuing her passion for storytelling at J-School. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her fawning over cats and splurging on things she absolutely shouldn't be.
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