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Singing the Praises Of The Fanfiction Community

Because it's the best part of fic writing.

Fanfiction and I have had a complicated relationship. I’ve written before about how I flat out lied about knowing what fanfiction is when questioned about it by a fellow student in high school. I remember hearing about Harry Potter fanfiction for the first time, eagerly telling my middle school friends, and having them tell me it was “stupid.” But, as with most things, time changed my opinion on it. It’s not a shameful secret anymore; I read fic and talk about it with people. Because, surprisingly, a lot more people love fanfiction than I had expected in my youth.

That might be the greatest part of the fanfiction community: the community itself is what makes fanfiction fun. The act of creation is one thing, but the act of sharing it with likeminded fans is a whole host of fun unto itself. This is what has been driving the modern fanfiction community since the earliest days of zines.

Back before we had the ease of AO3, there were fanzines. We can thank the women of the Star Trek fandom for creating these as a way to share stories and art with each other. There were also letter writing chains and clubs in which each member would produce a different story to share with members. When online fan communities were born, these women helped digitize zines and organize online communities to continue the act of sharing stories.

Now, with sites like AO3, sharing stories has never been easier. I can find my Steve/Sam coffee shop AU, my Bodhi Rook lives AU, and Venom and Eddie domestic fluff. I can find every rare pair I’ve ever dreamed of and more. It’s a communal experience there, knowing that somewhere out in the world, someone has had the same idea that I’ve had and tweaked the canon to be better, or weirder, or more inclusive.

Fanfiction isn’t just erotica about your two favorite characters, though if that’s why you want to write it, then more power to you (unless they’re underage or related, then please for the love of God what are you doing?). Fanfiction is challenging the canon. It’s saying hey, why can’t these two characters have fallen in love? Or why couldn’t character X have lived or died? What if these characters had been on a different path?

So many great works of art are fanfiction. The Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno, Paradise Lost… if we want to go modern day, what is the MCU if not an elaborate, multi-part AU of Marvel comics? What is Star Wars if not George Lucas’s take on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey? Riverdale and Sabrina are just grimdark adaptations of popular comics, and The Haunting of Hill House is a jumbled-up reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s novel.

Fanfiction is key to the continuation of art, because fanfiction challenges what is established in the text, but art is created to be consumed. Sure, I can re-write the Original Series of Star Trek to be a love story between Spock and Bones, but then when I share it, other people find a new way of engaging with the text. Fellow shippers find each other and bond and share their ideas — that’s what comments sections and kudos on AO3 are meant to do.

It cannot simply be an act of saying “well this isn’t what I wanted.” It has to be an act of sharing as well, because there has to be someone out there who watched the same film or read the same book and thought “okay, but what if this was different?” You become less alone in your little sphere when your idea connects with even one other person.

Fanfiction isn’t just a writing exercise. It’s a community. It creates bonds and is a fun way to reach out and engage with the text with a group of like-minded people. It cannot simply be “this is my idea, and that word is law.” Argue for or against the “death of the author” all you like, but ideas and art become part of those who engage with them. What’s more fun than taking something you love, making it a little better, and then inspiring someone to write their own story?

Fanfiction matters, as a way for writers to find their voice and for people to find a way to connect. It’s also a way for marginalized fans, especially LGBT+ fans, to connect over their unique takes on the canon that are empowering instead of exclusionary. Star Trek slash zines used to be banned at conventions. That’s a bit of history that shouldn’t be repeated, but rather we should strive to make our communities more inclusive. Positive fanfic is a way to do that.

In short, love your fic. Love the people who read it, who edit it, and who cheer you on. Write that college AU and have the time of your life, because you never know what people will take away from it.

(Image: Pexels)

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Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.