Ever thought you could write a scene better than the original writer did? Well, many people are attempting just that with fanfiction.
Fanfiction isn’t new. People have been reimagining or adding to their favorite movies and TV shows since the internet itself was in its infancy, and probably even before. But it’s never been more popular.
For those who aren’t familiar with this curious form of pop culture, fanfiction is what happens when fans of an existing entertainment property or franchise (or sometimes even a living person) write something—commonly a short story—based on that property. Many people use it to dive into stories that feel unfinished, or to change a story that didn’t end with their favorite couple together.
More than100 million people worldwide are reading or writing fanfiction. Why, more than 680,000 pieces of Harry Potter fanfiction are uploaded to fanfiction.net alone.
Fanfiction enthusiasts tend to be primarily female, often LGBT-identifying and young. Readers and writers can interact with each other in the comments sections of popular websites, trading theories and discussing favorite couples. Young women who become invested in a particular story or person will often start writing or reading fanfiction, which is free entertainment and offers them ways to become even more engrossed in their favorite fictional worlds.
Popular fanfiction stories occasionally even hit the big screen and can make the authors pretty rich and famous themselves. Famously, the Fifty Shades of Gray franchise (penned by E.L. James) originally started as a fanfiction story based on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. The Afterseries by Anna Todd is based on fanfiction about Harry Styles. The Kissing Booth was originally posted, chapter by chapter, on a fanfiction site by author Beth Reekles. I could go on.
Actors and content creators have become increasingly aware of fanfiction surrounding their work as well. Interviews of actors and producers on television shows increasingly include reactions to fanfiction content surrounding the show. Some shows have even begun to include fan storylines, and some have taken heavy criticism for choosing not to do so.
Fanfiction’s Upsides …
Anyone who finds escape through a story is likely to enjoy fanfiction. Popular characters can lead much longer lives, cliffhangers can be resolved, and comment sections can make relationships with other fans of the same series possible.
Many people who feel anxious or out of place in social settings can find fanfiction comforting. Fanfiction websites have played a role in the origin story of a few major authors, and the creativity involved in the genre can be impressive.
Ever wondered how a Star Wars character would act if they went on an adventure with a Marvel superhero? There is a fanfic for that. The opportunities are endless.
… And Downsides
That said, some have taken advantage of those creative opportunities to engage in the worst kind of storytelling. As the 50 Shades connections suggests, a major draw for fanfiction writers and readers is usually the exploration of forbidden romance.
Fanfiction authors may also include content that twists the original story (known as canon). Sometimes this can include changing same-gender friendships into romantic relationships, and sometimes the relationships can take even darker turns.
These stories are rated similarly to movies on fanfiction.net, and authors sometimes put trigger warnings and summaries on stories to warn potential readers. The scale for ratings goes from K (deemed OK for kids) to K+ to T (suitable for teens) to M (“Mature”). MA stories are not allowed on fanfiction.net.
Unfortunately, not all writers rate their work properly, so some stories can be worse than expected. And parents should be aware that innocent source material does not necessarily result in innocent fanfiction. Additionally, becoming engrossed in a character’s life or the life of a celebrity can be dangerous because it can become difficult to hold onto truth and reality.
Although some fanfiction is relatively innocuous, I would encourage parents to read stories themselves before letting their children read them. Whether you think your teen is interested in fanfiction or not, a conversation about it would be a good idea. Many teens are either participating in or talking about it because of its easy accessibility, and they should have an idea of what they could be getting themselves into and have a concept of the rating system to avoid anything too serious.
Parents should also pay close attention to the desire for emotional intimacy and belonging their children are truly looking to fulfill through these characters, and they might think about encouraging them to search for these things in safer places.