With the success of fanfiction–turned–movie–series "After" being met with both surprised acceptance from fans and snobbishness from the high–brow community, fanfiction suddenly became considered a legitimate form of literature. Despite the perception of fanfiction as a fringe form of art common in only niche fandom subcultures, it is broadly defined as amateur fictional works involving elements of existing property including movies, music acts, television shows, books, and more. But while you might not have secretly read fanfiction under the covers, squealing as a dark–haired, mysterious lover gripped Y/N's waist, you’ve certainly read fanfiction in English class or for a book club.
Regardless of era or genre, fanfiction surprisingly exists everywhere in literature. For instance, acclaimed classic Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is considered fanfiction by definition, with much of its plot being inspired by the poem "The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet" by Arthur Brooke. But fanfiction isn't just relegated to historical texts. "After," a One Direction fanfiction written in 2013 that gained over 600 million views on Wattpad, spawned a commercially successful movie of the same name. Yet, there still remains a large stigma against fanfiction.
Today, the majority of fanfiction exists on several self–publishing platforms including Archive of Our Own (AO3), Wattpad, Fanfiction.net, Tumblr, and more. On these platforms, fans can develop their writing and build community with others passionate about their fandom.
Although many fans share a platform and passion for writing, how they start varies greatly. Pamela de la Cruz (C ‘23) has been a fan writer for several years, and her introduction to the medium is just as surprising as the topics of some of her fiction. After a friend introduced Pamela to the popular BTS fanfiction "House of Cards," she decided to test her hand at writing stories of her own.
"I wondered what would happen if I wrote a regular fiction story as a sociology experiment and changed the names to fit into some random fandom, just to see if it would get comments and [likes]. Then a lot of people commented and liked it. So after that happened, I decided to keep doing it," says Pamela.
Pamela has multiple fanfictions with hundreds of kudos, which make up AO3's "liking" system. Often, writing a piece in a popular fandom means that thousands of energetic and eager fans will read the piece and offer genuine feedback and advice. To an author, receiving extensive feedback is an opportunity to develop their craft.
"Because of this [fanfiction], I've been able to really experiment with genres and concepts. When you publish something, it has to be perfect. But you can't get perfect unless you practice. Right now, in my serious fiction, I can confidently use a lot of techniques because I’ve experimented so many times [through fanfiction]," says Pamela.
The line between a "real" author and a fan author is constantly changing and blurring. Fanfiction authors like Anna Todd and Cassandra Clare have written incredibly popular fanfictions with minimal changes (like swapping the names of fandom–recognizable characters into generic names) that turned into bestsellers and blockbuster movies. By most accounts, both authors are still considered "real" authors in spite of their fan writer past.
Riley* (C ‘23) recently finished an 80,000–word fanfiction—the length of a short novel. The piece centers on Jinyoung and Jaebum (Jay B), two members of the world–famous K–pop group GOT7. In this alternative universe (AU), a mark of one’s soulmate appears on their wrist during puberty. However, not everyone believes in the concept of soulmates, especially when love can go so horribly wrong even with a wrist marking. Overall, it’s a fluffy, slow–burn love story that’s sure to satisfy the "shipping" desires of any fan. However, some may have concerns about stories written about real people and their relationships.
The ethics of publishing stories about real people without their consent are deep, dark, and murky. In the case of K–pop groups, skinship and closeness are encouraged as a tactic to attract fans. The entire image of the member is concocted by employees at their record label to intrigue and attract supporters. According to Riley, fanfiction based on "real" people is hard to fault in this context.
"Personally, I don't associate the people in my fanfiction with the real people. I understand that those aren't real people and that they aren't actually in these relationships. Rather, these people inspire me, and I like the idea of a universe inspired by their looks or aspects of their personalities," says Riley.
Although many fanfiction writers have a mature opinion on the parasocial relationship that forms between fans and fandoms, there are still stigmas painting fanfiction writers as taboo, obsessed, and cringey. Consequently, many writers would rather stay anonymous than face the enormous stigma surrounding fanfiction.
"There's no barriers to [fanfiction] publishing. Nothing is censored even if some stuff really should [be]. And, this is in opposition to an industry that is very censored and elitist. [Fanfiction spaces tend to be] an uncensored, gay haven, which unsurprisingly carries a big backlash. Are some fanfiction writing styles lazy? Yes. But that's not what this stigma is about. The violent stigma against fanfiction is so mean and venomous that it becomes really obvious that it's not about the writing style. It's about the type of people that write," says Pamela.
Riley has similar opinions on the matter of the intense stigma against fanfiction and fan writers.
"Fanfiction and other kinds of [fan] media are an escape from the world and from what's happening in your own [life]. Maybe you don't want to read about women doing certain things. Reading about two men literally removes you from the situation and the story. Fanfiction lets you explore queer stories," says Riley.
Despite the stigma, the fanfiction community remains social and energetic. The outside world may hold a stigma against fans' love of a certain fandom and fanfictions, but their communities act as safe havens to explore themselves and their passions.
“A Kofi is essentially like a Patreon where people can just donate money to you and leave nice messages. People can also commission you. I haven't opened commissions because I’m on hiatus writing a novel. I set up a Kofi and wasn't expecting much, but a lot of people donated money to me and left touching messages [about how] I changed their life or [comments like] 'I made your [fanfiction] my entire personality for six months.' I was really shocked,” says Pamela.
To those interested in exploring a fandom more or developing their writing skills by focusing on a topic close to their heart, fanfiction is an easily accessible option. Pamela has advice to anyone interested in fanfiction: "Just try it once because it’ll be worth it to explore. And if you don’t like it, you can always stop."
*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity