Fanfiction Grows Up
What is fanfiction up to these days? Melissa on the two things it's doing well (and a few things it isn't).
Fanfiction is fiction based on existing characters or celebrities, and is written by fans. Right now, fanfiction is typically associated with pre-teens and ardent fangirls who read erotica to satisfy their sexual fantasies. According to a research by the FFN in 2010, 78% of FanFiction.Net members who revealed their sex were female. Fanfiction does then seem to appeal more to a female demographic, but to say that this is purely because of shallow ‘thirsting’ over celebrities is questionable, to say the least.
There is no confirmed ‘birth’ of fanfiction, but it began to really amass popularity in the 1990s, with fanzines based on Star Trek, and then on the internet – at the time, fanfiction was very niche and seen as a hobby for ‘geeks’, which means there was a stigma around it, like there is today. What a lot of people overlook is that many works throughout history (written by men) are technically fanfiction, like Milton’s Paradise Lost, based on the Biblical Fall or Carey’s Jack Maggs, which tells the journey of one of Dickens’ Great Expectations’ characters, Magwitch. Yet, those works are all seen as adaptations or retellings, which are terms that evidently hold more respect in the literary field than ‘fanfiction’.
Despite the stigma, fanfiction today has become a lot more mainstream than it was in the 1990s. A quick search on Archive of Our Own, one of the world’s biggest fanfiction websites, shows that some of the biggest fandoms on the website – fans of Marvel, Harry Potter, One Direction – accumulate hundreds of thousands of works. More time browsing through the works, sorting them only by numbers of hits, shows that the most popular ones are either written around homosexual pairings, and/or with mature ratings.
It seems that fanfiction has evolved into two things:
The first is that it has solidified itself as a medium through which minority groups can express themselves.
For example, by writing love stories that include homosexual pairings, fanfiction writers are able to fill in a niche that is still underutilised in the current publishing industry. Many say they see fanfiction as a space where they feel they can find characters they can truly identify with, as many LGBTQ+ stories in the publishing industry focus very much on the act of coming out, and not the ‘fluffy’ side of relationships. So for those people, fanfiction helps to normalise LGBTQ+ relationships, putting them on the same level as heterosexual ones – as they should be. On the flip side, there are many people who disagree with same sex characters, mainly celebrities, being paired together as a ‘ship’, arguing that it fetishises the LGBTQ+ community. This is precisely because those types of stories often focus on the fluff, omitting the much harsher realities that LGBTQ+ people face on a daily basis. This means that some heterosexual readers might get wrong ideas about the extent of the prejudice they face and spread their false knowledge to others. So while fanfiction platforms allow for more LGBTQ+ character representation, people are divided as to whether this is a good or a bad thing.
The second is that it allows fans to promote the works or artists that they love.
Along with written fanfiction, the past few years have seen the emergence of YouTube ones, where videos are put together with dialogue over them to create short stories, and even Twitter fiction, where writers use threads to write their stories. Those threads can contain prose, but also photos and edits of text conversations between characters. There are even interactive fanfictions that take place on Twitter, where users look for clues and take part in polls to decide the actions of the characters. In 2017, the user @flirtaus created a twitter horror interactive fiction named ‘Outcast’, with characters based on members of the K-pop group BTS. The project gained so much popularity it trended worldwide, with a level of interaction averaging 30k likes per tweet. The popularity of twitter fiction means that not only are users interacting with their fandom, they are promoting the works or artists they like at the same time.
Fanfiction, like any other form, has its share of rich and poor writing. What has changed in recent years are the ways in which it presents itself; it has expanded from zines and prose to comics, text fiction, interactive fiction, YouTube videos, and the list could go on. Fanfic represents an increasing opportunity for people to interact with their fandoms using their skills on the one hand, and on the other, it's expanded the space available for, in particular, minority groups to express themselves.
by Melissa Saryazdi