Fanfiction is weird. I assume that for those of you who have heard of fanfiction 90% of you already agree with that. It’s stuff written about your favorite characters, in your favorite world…but not by your favorite author/showrunner/screenwriter. It’s people who spend way too much time on the internet, who care way too much about television shows, who talk about Harry Potter more than they talk about real life.
It, unfortunately, gave us 50 Shades of Gray.
(Important Side Note: There are much, much better sexually explicit fanfics out there that should have been turned into novels. Better BDSM ones in fact. That’s what you should all be pissed about.)
Fanfic quite literally keeps me up at night. In that I am often reading it when I should be sleeping. In college one of my best friends coined the term “fanfic hangover” to describe how awful and tired you feel in the morning when you read fanfic way later into the night than you should have.
(Don’t worry, we got real hangovers too, though I’m not sure that should be as comforting to you as it is right now)
So in much the same way a good book or a good TV show can keep you up because you can’t quite make yourself stop, so too can a good fanfic. I have read some really phenomenal ones in my time, stories that give you new ways to think about characters and plots, stories that explore sublimated themes, stories that are more gripping or more thoughtful or more entertaining than the original content. And some of these stories can ruin the actual show/book/movie for you. (Read: Merlin, Teen Wolf) You have to ask yourself if you’d have noticed your favorite TV show getting so bad if you hadn’t had so many good stories in the universe to compare them to. Kelly would say you’d definitely notice. She noticed Merlin getting bad way before I did and she doesn’t read fanfic at all.
The thing about fanfic, though, is that its more than just people like me who can’t let go of stories, who want to play in fictional worlds long after the original content ends. Fan communities take mainstream stories and turn them into a place to represent themselves, to turn the mainstream inside out and represent so many oppressed and erased voices. Fanfic is where I first learned about gender-neutral pronouns, where I read my first story told by a trans* character. Fanfic and fan communities are where I learned about gender bending, asexuality, demisexuality.
Of course, fanfic has its own issues. It has all kinds of weird sexual politics, occasionally totally misunderstanding consent or fetishizing types of sexuality or relationships. It also often misunderstands and underrepresents race. It is certainly not perfect and it can’t be relied on to address all political concerns. But it does something vital that we don’t see in the mainstream.
I’m a cisgendered, heterosexual white woman. It’s not hard for me to find representations of myself in the world. Even so, fanfiction is where I’ve found the most powerful reflections of myself, of what I want out of life. Sometimes it keeps me up because of the story or the characters or the plot. But sometimes it keeps me up at night because it settles something inside for a little while. Like any story, the language and the honesty resonate with something I want and can’t name. And it does it by exploring a story that I love. It’s like emotional resonance calculus. It takes something already important to me and uses it to make just a little more sense out of the world.
Now, imagine what its like for people who don’t see themselves reflected in mainstream media. Fanfic isn’t for everyone. But for me, its one of the coolest places on the internet. For me, it shows just how much stories are capable of doing.
(Its also what I’m doing on my phone 90% of the time)
(If you want to read where I’ve written a fanfic primer, head here)