The Unsung Merits of Fanfiction

Unless you live under a rock, you've heard of fanfiction: stories written by fans of a published work that continue/modify said published work. They are uploaded onto sites like FF Net or Archive of Our Own or Wattpad. Fanfiction is considered, as noted by NPR, the trash of the writing world. At best it's a stepping stone to writing "real" stories; Rick Riordan, author of YA fantasy novels, mentioned fanfiction as a great start to writing seriously. At worst it's the result of authors with poor grammar and even worse imaginations churning out stories that make little sense, with crude plot points that barely fit together, terrible description, and poorly realized characters. The crappy fanfiction out there is certainly a natural outcome of first-time writers so eager to continue their favorite stories that they overlook the quality of their writing (Badfic Bingo, anyone?). It's also an ideal area to release the "yellowbacks" of the 21st century, making the search for good stories like panning for gold.

But fanfiction isn't all bad.

A Lens to View Society Through
Since there can be no money made off of writing fanfiction, nobody writes what they think others will want to buy. The most supply-demand adulteration possible are reader requests, because fanfiction authors do not compete with each other. Thus fanfiction is a powerful medium for looking at society because it is so unadulterated by supply and demand, and because everyone involved comes from (and somewhat influences) society's beliefs. For example, this article from The Guardian reflects on how fanfiction allows teens the freedom to explore their sexuality and thus become better critics and satirists of their media and culture.

Hone Writing Skills
Fanfiction is a relatively simple place to start writing creatively because the background is already established. All an author has to do is reimagine parts of the plot, put characters in alternate settings, or continue the current storyline. Yet despite its reputation as a creative waste of time, there is a certain challenge in translating characters that are not one's own into a different story. The community surrounding fanfiction, the fandom, helps with writing skills: by interacting with other fans opinions are reworked, new viewpoints can be discovered and artistic skills are honed--all in a safe and encouraging environment (save for the flamers.) If you know how to navigate sites, it is easy "to find stories written by talented people" and get writing tips from these authors to improve your own craft (Aquarius142, author).

Some incredible pieces of work result from this unabashed commitment to quality. I have read works that are better than some of the published novels I have read. You Are is a very poetic romantic drama-comedy, from the Frozen fandom, that I tore through in a few hours. I have never read anything quite as searing as You Are (except for that one paragraph in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows after Harry realizes Dumbledore set him up for slaughter and marvels at the nature of being alive). Gathering Storm Revamped of Thunder and Lightning is the longest, most well-plotted, and one of the best-paced stories I have encountered. It has excellent character development as well.

Fanfiction can produce original and successful novels, like Fifty Shades of Grey according to NPR and anything from stories without copyright (Gregory Maguire's novels, anything in this article from NPR.)

One cannot discuss fanfiction without talking about the fandom as a whole: a group of people who all love the same thing. Participating in a fandom is a way to connect with people with very different backgrounds through a common bond, and to that end is not very different from joining a real-life club. And like real-life clubs, fans often have similar likes and dislikes outside of their various fandoms.

The various merits of fanfiction are rarely discussed outside of the circles of obsessive teenagers to whom the subject is dear to. But since an entire generation is growing up fed on the Internet, it is high time to start the conversation.


  1. I never liked fanfiction at first, but slowly I began to see that it could be great if you really put effort into it. As a result I write fanfiction now, and I was wondering if you do as well?

    1. Hi Claire,
      I've written a few pieces, nothing too substantial. You can find me on ffnet:

      I'm writing a larger piece for The Legend of Korra, about the protagonist's childhood.


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