In defense of fanfiction


FIC BREAK. A laptop open to fanfiction site Archive of Our Own, also known as “AO3,” which is the host to most prominent fic authors and my personal favorite place to read fanfiction. Many fic authors also link their work on other sites like Tumblr and Instagram, which allows fellow fans to share and discuss fics.

It’s 2 a.m. on a Thursday and I’m slumped over my laptop again, procrastinating and seven thousand words deep in a story about an awkward secret werewolf, his mysterious secret vampire roommate, and the School of Magicks they both attend. 


The characters and setting are familiar, created by a published author, but the story was written by an everyday human with a distinct job and life, and it’s about to consume the next thirty minutes of my life.


Fanfiction are stories written by fans that draw from characters, plots, settings, and other elements of pre-existing media like books and TV shows. The stories, commonly referred to as “fanfics” or “fics,” are published online on sites like Archive of Our Own (my personal favorite) or Wattpad (would not recommend).


Reading fanfiction allows fans to connect with people who share their interests, celebrate and spend more time with their favorite characters, and is a hobby akin to any other sort of reading. But fanfiction has a certain stigma attached to it—one that made me hesitant to even write this article—that I’d like to challenge. 


Of course, some fics (particularly those that focus on real-life people) can be toxic, invasive, and problematic; this is not a defense of the universe’s entire body of fanfiction, but rather a statement of solidarity with people who enjoy it. 


Beyond readers, fanfic writers produce incredible amounts of content and publish it online for free, often as a hobby while living their own lives. Fanfics range in length from several-hundred-word “ficlets” to fics that are hundreds of thousands of words long (one of my favorite fic authors is working on a fic that is currently 134 thousand words long). 


In response to a Tumblr post that gave word counts of famous novels for reference (“The Great Gatsby” is 50 thousand words, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is 100 thousand, and “Moby Dick” is 200 thousand), user a-shakespearean-in-paris wrote, “I wrote something as long as ‘Moby Dick’ and I didn’t even know.”


Fanfiction can be an excellent jumping-off point for aspiring writers, given that it allows them to work with established characters, plot elements, and the like. When it comes to more experienced writers, this can lead to surprisingly poignant content—I have read fanfics so well-written and well-thought-out that I would willingly buy them in hardback (hardback!) from a bookstore. 


Some authors write meticulous alternate universe stories or so-called “fix-it fics” (in response to unsavory “canon” moments in the original story) that demonstrate incredible literary skill. The book “Fifty Shades of Grey” famously started out as a “Twilight” fanfiction.


And while, along the lines of “Fifty Shades,” fanfiction has accrued quite the reputation for featuring sexual and often LGBTQ+ content (which I won’t denounce), fic content is extremely diverse. One of my favorite facets of fanfic is the way so many fic writers see their fiction as a chance to create the representation they feel is lacking in mainstream media.


At the end of the day, enjoying fanfiction is a practice parallel to enjoying fanart—it’s a community of like-minded people coming together to create and to celebrate each other’s creations. And no one should ever have to feel ashamed of that.