Fanfiction, the gift from fans
Literary works born from the love of fans for a particular series. What once started as a niche has now grown into a larger community that has spread outside of the internet.
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Hidden behind TV series, movies and books, there is a group of people who with the use of their keyboards and imagination write different fictional scenarios and publish them on the Internet without thinking about monetizing their content. These people are called fanfic writers and they practice the art of fanfiction.
Since the day the Internet was born it has been the space where people from all over the world who like a specific niche can gather on platforms and chat about their opinions regarding the series.
Terms like fanart and fan-edits and many more are born out of the love that fans have for something. They publish different types of content as a gift or tribute to the series that brought them joy, which also gives way for them to showcase their talents and creativity.
But let's talk about something more specific. Fanfiction. It is a written piece of fiction made by a fan with characters from a particular series. The stories have other elements such as original characters, alternative universe, among others.
Once upon a time...
Fanfiction has a somewhat of a blurry history as there is no concrete data on when it began or what was the first ever fic. However, there are several works throughout history that are classified as fanfiction, such as John Rae's «New Adventures of Alice» which was inspired by Lewis Carroll's «Alice in Wonderland» or the various books inspired by Sherlock Holmes.
It began to rise in popularity in the late 90's. According to an article written by Vice, due to the popular use of forums, websites and chat rooms, these allowed the hosting of various fics. The Star Trek fandom made it even more popular due to constant appearances at conventions. However, due to the stigma towards the geek community, fanfiction was considered weird.
Robinson, who was interviewed in the Vice article, commented on how fanfiction used to be viewed: «any convention ever mentioned in any form on the news was mocked, and the costumed fans trotted out as a sort of carny-style freak show».
But as time goes on, people, interests and trends evolve. Fanfiction has become more widespread and popular due to the number of websites that support such content such as Wattpad, Archive of Our Own and Tumblr. These host a large catalog of fics and allow writers to get interactions and some offer monetary rewards.
A study by Júlia Egido from the University of Barcelona on fanfiction as literature, mentions that it can be a useful tool for writers to showcase their creativity and strengthen their writing skills.
"In addition, the anonymous and generally positive environment that the fanfiction scene offers makes writers feel more confident in sharing their work, as well as offering a sense of belonging in a community," she adds.
Kia, a fanfic writer, mentions that writing fics helped her improve her grammar writing in Spanish because she is bilingual. "Also being a writer helped me stay focused for longer without being easily distracted like I used to be," she added.
But the impact of fanfiction does not only happen on the writer's side. Users are also motivated. Isabel Solares, a 19-year-old graphic design student, said that some fics have helped her creativity. "In my case that I lean more towards the visual and graphic, I have been inspired perhaps to give me illustration ideas such as characters, scenarios and events," she expressed.
Fanfiction also helps to discover new skills and can even help a person discover more about themselves, as what happened with Jaci Reynolds, a 24-year-old nurse whose user is DrownedTrying on social media.
«I learned HTML format because of writing on AO3, but I’ve also discovered that it helps me release some of the feelings bubbling inside of me. Writing, whether it’s fanfiction, poems, or even in a journal, is an amazing form of release. I’ve written about personal losses, gains, hardships, and successes. It helps me see the world in a different light», she says.
Some fics may present various toxic themes in their story, most prevalent in romance, that are not developed correctly. Kia comments that some fics can promote abusive relationships and idealize this type of behavior, even giving the idea that this is the type of relationship a person should be in.
«An example would be Anna Todd's famous 'After,' where the main character Tessa falls in love with Hardin, and in several scenes it is shown how he is not the most ideal person to live with or have a romantic relationship with», she says.
The series has been criticized for glorifying abusive relationships. Byron Vielman, a 19-year-old who works at a call-center and is an avid reader of fics, explains that one of the problems is the trope of «I can fix him».
«It detracts from the protagonist, as she essentially becomes the therapist for her love interest, which is not the job of anyone in a relationship», he comments. Ciara Rivers wrote an article in The Courier discussing this complex and explained that it can stem from gender stereotypes.
«This idea is outdated and harmful because it perpetuates gender stereotypes of women having a responsibility to nurture men [...] A partner should never be a project», she says.
However, not all fanfics are like this; many of those that deal with heavy topics have warnings. «They serve for the reader to be prepared or else not to consume something that may affect them, since not everyone has the mental maturity or not everyone can cope with certain content», Isabel adds.
Jaci also corroborates that while, thankfully, these types of fanfics are very hard to come by, they do exist and readers and writers need to be careful as to how they handle these topics. «It also depends on how the story/genre is perceived, as well as how it’s come across».
A cybernetic bond
What was once something that was made fun of, it has now become something more popular and finally recognized as a way to express creativity and bring people and groups together.
«I've met amazing friends along the way. I've been able to connect with others through my stories and my favorite part is being closer to each and every one of them», Jaci expresses with joy.
Byron and Kia have also formed friendships because of fanfiction. «Both of my best friends write or once wrote several fics of our favorite game and series. I'm very happy to read their work and see their reactions», Byron says.
Fanfiction is an important part of the literary genre and is a way for many people to connect because of their tastes and interests. It's a gift from the fans, a thank you for bringing them a little more happiness.