Fanfiction is an underrated form of literature
Okay, so I get that there are problems with fanfiction. Sometimes they are written poorly, or fetishize groups of people, or are just pornographic. But fanfiction is often far more than that. As someone who reads and writes fanfiction and has to constantly legitimize my hobby to others, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the positives.
Critical Reading: It’s easy to read published works and absorb the material. We get so used to things just being the way they are because the author said so. I’ve noticed that since I started reading fanfiction, I view literature as something that is not perfect, but is content to be considered and critiqued in depth. When you read fanfiction, you not only learn to read as a writer–mentally correcting poor sentence structure and OOC moments–but you take apart the canon material and find the problems. This is especially noticeable since the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There were so many comments about how Harry was out of character, even though this is canon, because this is how we’ve taught ourselves to read. We don’t just cry over how our favorite characters have turned out in new content–we explain why they wouldn’t turn out like that. We make cases and discuss them with others in our fandom because we aren’t just bystanders. The stories are dynamic and pliable and nothing is set in stone.
LGBT+ Representation: In today’s society, it’s hard to find well-developed queer characters; most are two-dimensional or peripheral characters. Fanfiction, however, more often than not follows characters who have been reimagined as LGBT+. It allows us to read about characters who were created as people first, not as stereotypes. I often prefer to read fanfiction because I find characters I can relate to. Reading a fanfiction in which the protagonist Ginny Weasley is dealing with the Death Eaters’ invasion of Hogwarts while also wrestling with her feelings for Luna Lovegood is far more fun than “Classic Heterosexual Heroine Crushing on the Dark and Brooding Guy While Gay 1 and 2 Have A Dull Relationship in the Background Mostly Based Around Them Being Gay”, or “These Two Male Characters Act Very In Love But Are Actually Just Really Really Good Friends And Oh Hey Look It’s An Incompatible Female Character for One to Crush On” (Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). It’s sometimes hard to find publishers who will publish content that revolves around LGBT+ characters, but the beautiful thing about fanfiction is that it is self-published with the click of a button. We don’t have to write things that will get approved by editors or publishers. We just write what we relate to, and what makes us happy. This is so freeing for authors who are afraid to write what they relate to because they’re told they won’t ever be published. You can write about a lesbian protagonist, or a transgender one, or a pansexual one, or whatever else your heart sings. And the beautiful thing is that there is a community who will read and give feedback.
Looks at Fiction in a New Way: So often, fanfiction writers are criticized for plagiarizing or being unoriginal. But to most of us, the characters we love aren’t just characters. They’re people who have made us feel love and pain. People who have changed the way we think about the world. So yeah, we’re not creating new characters, but to most of us, it’s like writing historical fiction. We take people we care about and write their story, or alter their story. We breathe new life into side characters and redeem the harshly judged characters with gray areas. People have depth and layers and there’s no way canon tells you everything there is to know about a character. We write between the lines and give pasts and futures to characters stuck in time. Yes, they already exist. But they don’t exist the way we write them.
Keeps the Stories Alive: This is a major point. No matter how much you love a story, there is a point when rereading the same books becomes dull. Writing fanfiction allows us to take the characters we love and place them in new situations with new results. It allows us to fix things and reinterpret things and take things apart entirely. It gives us new material to consider, and new perspectives on canon events. It makes us want to reread our favorite books, because it gives us new lenses to read them through. It gives us an unlimited stay in our favorite worlds and brings novelty to old stories. Fanfiction means our favorite books and characters never have to get old. They are constantly changing and growing as we do. If you read Harry Potter as a kid but have trouble relating as an adult, there are multitudes of post-Hogwarts fics to reenter the world of witchcraft and wizardry. We never have to outgrow our favorite stories, or tire of the same plotlines we memorized ages ago. We write new ones, and that is something so magical and amazing that it’s worth every moment spent searching AO3 or ff.net for a well-written fic. It’s worth the wrinkled noses and snorts we get when people hear we read fanfiction. It’s worth the sleep lost staying up reading fluff or smut or whatever else floats your boat. Because fanfiction is so much more than people think it is. It’s imagination, and reimagination, and helping our favorite stories live on for years to come. And there’s nothing more beautiful than that.