Fanfics deserve more mainstream kudos

Fanfiction is a legit way to read and write, can we please stop shaming?

More than a decade. That's how long I've been reading fanfiction. I'd be more likely to give up traditionally published books and literature over fanfics if there were a gun to my head. 

There's something truly surreal about falling into a universe and then being able to explore it endlessly through the powers of fanfiction. 

There's a lot more fanfiction than you'd imagine

Fanfics, for the uninitiated, are precisely what they sound like. Fanfiction knows no bounds. No, seriously, the creativity and genius I've seen fanfic writers employ are unparalleled. 

Creating something based on someone else (or their work) isn't a new way of artistic expression — it's been around for a while. 

Maybe you've heard of a certain someone called Shakespeare? Did you know that Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet (among his other plays) are not his original creations? Romeo and Juliet is possibly an adaptation of Arthur Brooke's The Tragic History of Romeus and Juliet1. Hamlet? A mix of a 13th-century legend and Thomas Kyd's now-lost play, Ur-Hamlet. Shakespeare adds his own flair2 to give Hamlet more psychological depth

Now, you may argue that it's important to be a "fan" to write fanfiction, and I say semantics. Sometimes you watch or read a thing, and you're inspired to add your own flavour to the world and/or the characters. Maybe it's because the original author did a piss-poor job3, or perhaps they did a fantastic job, and you'd like to go in another direction. Obviously, doing this for profit or commercial success poses several legal and moral complications — as it should. 

But parodies and satires? Or writing for free, simply to create something within the same universe to share it with other fans and readers — that's just creative expression. In fact, some scholars argue that Romeo and Juliet is actually satire!4

Copyrighted content enters the public domain once a reasonable amount of time has passed. That's why we've got YA retellings of Much Ado About Nothing (my favourite Shakespeare play), where the characters are now in high school and love Doctor Who. I'd classify this as a kind of fanfic, wouldn't you? 

Fanfic writers are real writers

Often, fanfiction isn't considered a legitimate form of reading or writing, which I think is absolute rubbish. However, hugely successful authors like Neil Gaiman, Andy Weir, Meg Cabot, and even The Brontë Sisters wrote real-person fanfiction

Now, even if they hadn't, that doesn't make fanfiction any less legit. Fanfic writers spend hours conceptualizing and writing their stories. Sure, they might borrow characters or universes, but they must be a little original. I've read thousands of Coffee Shop AUs about the same characters, but none of them have ever been the same. Do you know how difficult it is to weave in a trope that's extremely popular across fandoms and still make it an engaging read? 

Archive of Our Own (AO3), one of the biggest sites for fanfiction, even won a Hugo in 2019 for Best Related Work. The award was a long-overdue recognition of the community that powers transformative fiction and its impact. 

"All fanwork, from fanfic to vids to fanart to podfic, centers the idea that art happens not in isolation but in community. And that is true of the AO3 itself," — AO3 founder, Naomi Novik.

Writing fanfiction improves your creativity — it trains you to see the weak spots in the original content and rework those. This means that if and when you write original stuff, you're more likely to write tighter prose and tell better stories. Fanfics give you the chance to rewrite and close open loops, fill in plot holes, and extend your imagination. 

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Fanfiction is also a space for representation. You can write your own headcanons and take the opportunity to see yourself reflected in a world where those who are like you have been sidelined. 

My preferred explanation is the idea that the vast majority of what we watch is from the male perspective – authored, directed, and filmed by men, and mostly straight white men at that. Fanfiction gives women and other marginalized groups the chance to subvert that perspective, to fracture a story and recast it in her own way. …It often feels as if there isn't much space for difference in the dominant cultural narratives; in fandom, by design, there's space for all.

So, why isn't it given the appreciation and respect it deserves? 

Why should girls have all the fun?

One word — women. 

I've already spoken about how female-dominant spaces within fan culture — whether music or movies — are often treated as less than. Fanfiction is created and consumed by a predominantly non-male demographic. In fact, according to AO3, more people on the platform identified as Genderqueer (6%) rather than male (4%). Once again, something that women enjoy is ridiculed and cast aside in favour of something men prefer. You'll notice that men tend to engage in cosplay, costumes (curative fandom) and those have become mainstream — comic cons, anyone? 

One of the reasons is fanfiction isn't taken seriously is because of the notion that it's pretty much porn, and oh my god, how can a good, chaste woman read such smut? That notion is decidedly untrue because while there's sex in fanfiction, that's not all there is to it. 

People consume all kinds of fanfiction, but for many, the idea of women creating and consuming sexual content doesn't sit right. It's unladylike, and it might give the woman ideas — ideas of enjoying what she loves. I'm inclined to agree with what Constance Grady says

Young women are so attacked for loving the media they love that it is a radical act for a young woman to love something unashamedly. And transformative fandom is the most radical act of all, because it reverses that "lady thing to respectable thing" process. It takes a piece of media that may not have been designed for young women and makes it for young women.

Also, how dare one read for pleasure. If you're not "getting something out of it", then is it worth reading it at all? Fanfics don't add much h in an economic or intellectual sense (although I have learned many a fact through fanfics), so why read them? Surely, reading for pleasure alone is not what you're going for, no? 

Fanfiction offers readers and writers freedom — you don't have to write a happy ending. You don’t have to read something with a heavy plot — you can just read some fluff and go about your day. You don't have to censor your thoughts and ideas. You can express them freely and be content with just that much. There are no expectations placed on you or your fic. 

At the end of the day, fanfics are love letters (or fuck yous) to creators. They're a symbol of the fact that we got so invested in this little world you created that we're not willing to leave it so soon. I think it's high time fanfiction as a literary genre and fanfic writers as creators both get more respect and recognition. 

After all, "we deserve a soft epilogue, my love". 


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Reader’s corner 💻

Many of you seem to have resonated with the toxic productivity issue — I’m still getting DMs and feedback about it, and I’m glad y’all felt seen. 

One of my friends shared this video from the World Economic Forum about how toxic positivity (much like toxic productivity) can be psychologically damaging.


Cool stuff you should check out! 💌

  • In a reading slump? Try this extremely short but still very cool fan-made graphic adaptation of Isacc Asimov’s The Last Question. ❓

  • Chinese science fiction has taken America (and the rest of the world) by storm. This article explores how Ken Liu’s translations and the freedom in the western world has opened a world of opportunities for Chinese speculative fiction. ✨

  • Tired of seeing the same view from your window? Check out Window Swap, where you can see what people from all over the world see from their windows. You can share yours too! 🪟

  • Heard of Wattpad? South Korea’s Naver (a search engine like Google) bought it for more than half a billion. 💰 Why? Because Wattpad listened to its readers — female readers — and established itself as a profitable, powerful entertainment company.

  • It’s come to my notice that a lot of you don’t know about 10 minute email. 📧 These sites that let you create an email address for 10 minutes — you get an inbox and all (for free). You can use these to get any downloads or sign up for any place that you want to check out but don’t want to spend several minutes unsubscribing from. 

  • Put this on your watchlist and start it this weekend — It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. 💛 This 16-episode k-drama has become my favourite because of the way it captured mental health, weaved in romance, and focused on a character-driven story without boring me. 10/10 would recommend. 

  • Finally, here’s a lovely reminder from my favourite boys.

Found this via Krina from MikrokosmicArt, who shares the best art and memes & is the best hype person for this newsletter on Twitter. 💞

If you liked this edition, please hit the 🖤 at the top of this email or right under this — it helps more readers find my newsletter!

See you next week!

1
R&J seems to be a combination of several different stories and legends.
2
For the fanfic readers, this is the equivalent of a headcanon.
3
Game of Thrones’ final season, anyone?
4
Full disclosure, I work with this person but that’s not at all why I’m sharing this Substack. It’s a pretty novel analysis of Shakespeare’s work and any one with any interest in The Bard should check it out.