I started reading fan fiction at the tender age of 11. For those of you who weren’t teenage girls in the new millennium, fan fiction is stories written about pre-existing characters/people/things. Most of the stories were designed so the reader could escape into them. Think of it like a playground, the author builds the equipment, but all the fun comes from your use of that structure. I’ve stopped reading fan fiction every day, but whenever I pick it back up again it feels like putting on my favorite sweater in the middle of winter. A warm comfort, protecting me from the outside world.
It’s not the most highbrow form of entertainment, but sometimes you just need to slum it. Sometimes, you need to let your creativity soar. Fan Fiction is more than just a fun little escape. Fan fiction is an important part of our cultural consciousness. It provides a creative outlet for passionate people around the world. It indicates a high level of creative output from society, these stories wouldn’t exist without the cultural capital they’re based on. Finally, the fan bases and communities around these stories offer support and help these young authors might not get at home.
Most of the fan fiction out there centers around young women finding the love of their lives in celebrities, book characters, comic book characters, movie characters, and musicians. It’s not always Jane Austen levels of writing, but it’s an outlet. Fan fiction gives these authors the freedom to explore writing. Since most of the fan fiction out there is based on books, comics, or movies these authors base their stories on what they know. Which means most of the time the fan fiction follows a three or five act structure.
However it does leave more wiggle room than traditional story methods. The stories don’t have to be edited by anyone, or conform to the traditional format of a book. The authors can explore what it’s like to set up characters, develop a plot, and create a world on their own. They take these characters and use them as a jumping point for their own creative ideas. Fan fiction gives burgeoning authors the chance to write without the confines of grades, requirements, or pressure. It’s writing for the pure joy of writing, and that’s when the best stuff comes out. The exploration of creativity fan fiction allows is healthy for the mind and the soul.
Fan fiction also provides an entry level to creative writing. People of all ages can try their hand at building a story. They learn how to structure a story, and learn from the people reading these stories. These stories are their novels with training wheels. The authors stretch their wings, test out the waters, and see if this is something they like. It gives the opportunity to figure out if writing is the right thing for them, and if it is – it teaches them the basics of story structure, and plot and character development.
The actual subjects of the fan fiction obviously vary. Whether it’s Harry Styles and his weird swoopy hair, or Harry Potter and his world of magic, the subjects spark creativity. These movies, books, comics, whatever-the-fuck get the creative juices flowing. If we as a culture produced boring, one tone content there wouldn’t be millions of people writing about it every day. The fact that fan fiction exists indicates we’re at a high level of cultural output. Which is a great thing for our society as a whole. And even better for those of us who have a knack for putting words on paper.
But, the best thing about fan fiction, and the best thing to come out of it isn’t the writing itself. It’s the community around it. Fan fiction communities are full of about 80% amazing people and 20% haters. The majority are there to enjoy the stories about their favorite characters. They also want to support the authors of these stories. In writing fan fiction I’ve experienced support from people I’ve never met, constructive criticism on what can be improved, and just generally met very nice people. These authors can reach out to the online randoms for support and help. Many people who read fan fiction will gladly help a new writer figure out how to set up their plot, or what’s the best way to develop a character.
Some of these fan fiction authors may grow up and realize all these things add up to a career in writing. Or they get a lucky break and Random House calls them up about publishing their fan fiction. The Twilight saga began as a Harry Potter fan fiction. As millions of women know 50 Shades of Grey was a Twilight fan fiction. Now a lucky One Direction fan is in the process of making her 300 chapter story a book. These things happen. But in the past the publishing houses haven’t chosen wisely. The books which came from fan fiction are not the best books. The characters are pretty two dimensional, and the writing is choppy and in many places boring. That doesn’t mean getting a book deal based on fan fiction shouldn’t happen.
Many authors write high quality work, and they take the time to edit and re-read their stories before posting them to the internet. As the kids who started writing fan fiction at 11 turn into 20 year olds, and even full blown 30 year old adults, the quality rises. They’ve learned from this process and are grateful for it. Without fan fiction thousands of writers might never have discovered their talent for prose. It continues to build off pre-existing cultural canon, and in the process adds to the canon. And who can argue with more stories about Harry Potter and his friends? Certainly not me.