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Fanfiction’s Impact on Fandom

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 UPR chapter.

Fanfiction is a genre of unpublished literature written by fans for fans based on a piece of pop culture’s characters or within its universe and, occasionally, real people. 

If you belong to any fandom, or check-in on the internet every so often, you’ve most likely heard of fanfiction. You might not read it, enjoy it or even condone it, but you know about it. That being said, most people, both in or out of fandoms, don’t actually know how this phenomenon even began or what level of impact and relevance it holds within a fandom as a whole. My belief is that fanfiction is the glue that holds fandom together, a critical piece of a puzzle which helps fans bond with each other and with the piece of media or people it’s based off of. But, before I get into that, for those of you who don’t know anything about fanfiction and have only heard it mentioned somewhere, and even those who do read it, allow me to shed some light on its history. 

Modern fandom as we know it, and subsequently fanfiction, formally began with the original Star Trek that aired in 1966. How does that even make sense? Well, let me tell you about the Spockanalia fanzine of 1967. Fanzines are fan organized and made collections of fanfiction and fanart. Before the internet was created, fanzines were one way to share original content and connect with others in the fandom. Spockanalia was the first. Fanzines still happen一I own a couple myself from various fandoms I’m in, but they’re not the main source to gain access to fanwork anymore (at least, not the way they used to be, anyways). Once the internet was created and became more accessible, a million different websites were created to post fanfiction. While some of these were divided by fandom, other times they were defined by character ships, and then sometimes these sites were made by individual fanfiction authors to post their own work. The works were scattered all over until the creation of fanfiction.net in 1998, the first site to say, “Hey, why not have all the fics of all the fandoms in the same place?”. Afterwards came the more familiar ones, Wattpad in 2006, Tumblr in 2007 and finally, the best fan-fiction site, in my humble opinion, Archive of Our Own, Ao3, in 2009. 

After their respective creations, each site began forming its own languages, communities and reputations that have all affected the rest of fandom, all because of fanfiction. And because each site offers different kinds of interactions and connections to fandom, each one attracts different kinds of fans and incites different kinds of conversations. Subsequently forming different pockets within fandom, I’ve always been a Twitter and Ao3 person at heart, though I did go through both a Tumblr and a Wattpad phase. 

Now that we have the origin story, let’s get into fanfiction itself. What purpose does it even serve? Why consume content about the media instead of just consuming the media directly? And there is no one clear answer because the reasons people read fanfiction depend entirely on the individual. However, one overarching reason why it’s so popular is the fact that most popular media don’t have very diverse representation and fanfiction is often a means to fix that. Fanfiction allows fans to add the representation the source material lacks and that they, and others, want to see, therefore allowing them to form deeper connections to the characters or media and with the fandom itself. It allows them to explore the characters and the world outside the constraints of canon. It allows them to do things such as engage with characters that were killed off, rewrite the parts that they didn’t enjoy, and even the parts that are problematic. 

I’m going to use the MCU as an example of this specific reason. The MCU has had startlingly homogeneous representation for the majority of its run. With five of the six original Avengers being straight white men and the one woman having no characterization other than sex appeal; with the first black superhero lead movie being ten years after the first one; with the first woman superhero lead film being made eleven years after the first movie and with the first openly queer superhero in a movie made thirteen years after the first one. Not to mention the rampant queerbaiting; Stucky, I’ll be here to the end of the line buddies, you were done wrong. Fanfiction opens up a space within fandom where women, people of color, queer people, and neurodivergent people; where anyone can add and see themselves represented within characters they know and love but wish were a little more like them. 

Another reason that has become very relevant recently is what I’m calling the Rowling effect, since I can’t remember this phenomenon ever happening on this scale before. J.K. Rowling’s blatant transphobia has been around for much longer than it’s been “trending,” however, it’s only within the past few years that her actions and words have really come out into the light and people have been taking notice and deciding to take action. The action being to stop supporting her, not only verbally but through the engagement of her works. And this sounds easy enough, of course, but the problem is that the Harry Potter books have been a household name, a worldwide sensation, for decades. They were a huge part of growing up for millions and millions of people, and they continue to have similar effects. People grow up with these characters and stories and find homes and acceptance within Hogwarts only to later find out that the author of this work denies trans people basic human rights. 

The Harry Potter franchise, from the books to the theme parks, all contribute to Rowling’s pocket and yet they’ve also moved beyond her as the author, too. Fanfiction allows readers who feel disconnected from the source media because of the author to reconnect with the characters and places they hold near and dear to their hearts. It also opens up the realm of fixing aspects of mischaracterization (Harry would not have become an auror, that is a wildly out of character decision, Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Harry FOREVER) and the problematic ideologies found in the books, like the goblins, werewolves and the house elves. Fanfiction allows fans to reclaim the work as their own and engage with the media without supporting Rowling financially. 

Fanfiction opens up the barriers that the canon puts up and allows the fandom exploration outside of the walls. Fandoms as a whole provide that space; whether it be on Tumblr or Twitter, fans can connect with others in the fandom and share their own interpretations and head canons and analysis. Through sharing and writing fanfiction, fans within a fandom can find other like-minded fans. It’s all a cycle that ends up keeping fandom itself alive. Like adding kindle to a fire, people need the match of the source material to start the flame of fandom and fanfiction and similar fanworks feed the flame and keep the passion going beyond the canon. Regardless of how you feel about it or the reasons you read fanfiction, its impact and relevance within fandom is indisputable. There’s a fanfiction for every single kind of fan, whether you want fluff or angst, found family or romance, character exploration or crossovers, you’re going to find something you’re going to like. All you need is a little creativity and a lot of curiosity.

Zaidi Gonzalez is the Editor-in-Chief and a Co-Campus Correspondent at the Her Campus at UPRRP Chapter. They edit everything but they’re partial to anything entertainment, especially books. Aside from Her Campus, Zaidi makes sure to be available as an editor and proofreader to their peers and family. Their courses at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus have been focused on improving their understanding of literature, grammar, and the English language. They’re in the process of a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and hope to extend their studies into the Linguistics discipline. Zaidi enjoys reading anything fiction, from fantasy to horror to fan made. When they’re not reading or deciding what to read next, they might be starting that new show they were recommended. Or maybe they’re realizing they have a deadline to meet in two days while they’re in the middle of a 100k word fan-fiction that simply can not be put down.