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.
-Glad to see this posted. This is a very timely topic. I don’t people realize the magnitude of the content issues with fanfic.
Look up The Widow’s Might. Cute, arguably over-agressively Christian movie made by homeschooled teens/young adults in Texas. Fast-forward in life and the public social media accounts of the young man who led the project show that he now cross-dresses, identifies as polyamorous and has otherwise pursued a lifestyle very divergent from Biblical principles. When asked online what his turning point was, he said that his parents assumed a computer screen full of text would not be problematic… but instead of studying he was online, reading what essentially amounted to text-based gay porn. This is a very prevalent theme in online fanfiction. I recognize there were other factors at work in this specific story, but it’s critical to recognize that these stories normalize certain things without addressing the real-life consequences. It’s like writing a novel about how awesome drugs make you feel, without referencing any of the negatives (like, say, death). Teens without any other frame of reference then build their worldview on this incomplete information and it is reinforced over and over by story after story, until the only thing that can change that narrative is for that young person to go forth and experience those devastating consequences themselves. It’s really sad.
I never comment on this site, but this issue is so below the radar for most of the Christian community I wanted to throw my two cents in. Be aware.
Well, good for him living his truth and creating a life that is best suited for him. I am happy for him!
-Great article! I’m surprised PluggedIn hasn’t spoken more about the impact of fanfiction on young people. I’d love to hear an entire podcast episode on this topic.
-I used to write fanfiction, but I quit a few years ago because it’s not a super great community, and I wanted to write my own stories without borrowing characters.
The creativity of fanfiction is astounding, but typically the most creative ones have some… Content concerns.
-Not to mention, a lot of fanfiction is just.. really poorly written.
I trolled some of the anime fanfics a while back because of a particular show I was into, and I managed to find one 50-chapter epic that read like a novel. It was brilliant, actually.
But it was like finding a gem in a sewer because I had to wade through a lot of trash to discover it. Lots of petty self-insert stories with characters acting in ways they never would have in canon circumstances, stilted dialogue, and far too many cliches. Add in the actual content concerns, and it’s just not worth it. I’m glad I found that one story, but I haven’t found anything on there worth reading since.
I love reading fanfics sometimes, but I hate it when they add some unnecessary scenes that the original did not have (ahem… some explicit scenes… T^T) that’s why I tend to avoid them and cherish the good ones 🙂
-So, I got into Fanfiction as a teen through other Narnia fans I knew who recommended authors on the site who are Christians and had an intention to honor the original stories. Eventually in college I wound up writing stories on the site as well. The way I have navigated it is by having very clear rules about what I will not read. For example, I don’t even read non-canon pairings even if the stories are “clean.”
I’ve usually found the better stories through looking at favorite stories of my favorite authors and then finding favorites of those authors. However, this did eventually lead me to reading stories about CW’s Supernatural and later watching much of this show, before stopping because its portrayal of Christianity is very flawed and because of content.
I also think this article should mention the other major fanfiction website that was started when Fanfiction.net banned explicit content. However, now it is becoming more popular. Unlike Fanfiction.net, people can post anything and also write vulgar content in tags on story summaries. It is more dangerous, I think, even though you can filter out more things. But, it has more funding and if teenagers are looking for fanfictions, they will likely run into that site.
But both sites can have problematic content. For example, the fandom of BBC Merlin. This show was made for kids/teens and is about Merlin trying to protect Prince Arthur by using outlawed magic and working as his servant as a cover. Unfortunately, in fanfictions, about half of the fanfictions write their relationship as a romantic one rather than a work/friendship relationship – a change from the real TV show.
So, has it been worth it? Well, my writing skills have improved. I can now start with a vague idea of what I want to write and come up with a decent story that elaborates and continues on the original while keeping characters true to themselves. But it is not enough by itself to teach me how to write original fiction, which is my goal, because inventing original characters is a skill. It also has not given me enough writing feedback to refine my grammar. Maybe if I were a more popular writer I would get more grammatical and stylistic comments?
-I have engaged with fanfic as a reader and writer for years. It is very compelling for anyone who tends to get obsessed with stories, and is extremely easy to find. I really hope parents are engaging their more geeky kids in conversations about fanfic, because if you make it forbidden or a dirty secret they are more likely to fall into the darker corners of it, or to just go along with the assumption of a large portion of fanfic writers that all love is romantic, including healthy Canon platonic friendships. I’ve found being open with other geeky friends on the internet and in real life about my interest in fanfic has kept me accountable and able to be more temperate in my fanfic habits.
-Fanfiction allows people to create their own characters and stories that enrich the sandbox they’ve loved to explore. Like anything, fanfictions can be used for both good or bad intentions. Whatever is hidden in the heart will pour out, however, the article appears a bit skewed as whatever is most outrageous content will be the loudest on the internet, not the majority.
I stayed away from large fanfiction sites and have not visited the one mentioned in the article, but I would not doubt the content promoted there is awful as such things attempted to seep through a small fanfic community I was apart of when I was younger by trying to push incest. Thankfully, we members put our foot down and banned the user.
People need morals and I agree that parents should watch what their children are reading. It’ll loosen the barrier parents and kids seem to have these days while providing a chance to instill a moral compass.
-Thank you so much for writing this, Marsella! It seems like a lot of Christians are unaware of fanfics.
I read fanfiction as a young teen and got into some very negative stuff as a result. God led me to delete my accounts and stop reading fanfics. While it was genuinely painful to leave the communities that I had been so involved in and stop reading the stories that I had been invested in, it changed my life in a positive way. God showed me that I needed to place my identity in Him, rather than my fandoms.
I still write fanfiction occasionally and read a few, but I don’t touch the major sites. There are some genuinely fantastic, creative stories out there, but as another commenter mentioned, they are few and far between.