In the spring of 2012, I sat in my room, laptop heating up on my bed as I live streamed the last episode of NBC’s Chuck.
It wasn’t that the show was particularly good — it had gotten into that slump when a show needs to end — but I’d been watching it for years so I wanted to see the ending.
And then it ended in the worst and most unsatisfying way. Nothing was resolved and everything was ambiguous. It was like a massive kick in the face to all of the fans who — like me — had been waiting five years to see everything resolve.
It was like the Star Wars prequels. Like the film version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Dumbledore asked Harry, calmly, if he’d put his name in the goblet of fire. Like basically all of Doctor Who after Russell T. Davies left Steven Moffatt in charge.
I wanted to toss my computer out of a window. Instead, I closed the tab and turned to fanfiction.net.
You see, there’s this magical place on the Internet where dissatisfied fans go to “fix” things — like the aforementioned series.
It’s a world where the Star Wars prequels made sense and Jar Jar Binks doesn’t exist. Where Donna never left the Doctor. Where Firefly wasn’t cancelled and Serenity and its crew are still having adventures.
As Joss Whedon says: “There’s a time and place for everything, and I believe it’s called ‘fan fiction.’”
Fan fiction is one of the most wonderful and entertaining places on the Internet. It’s a place where literally anything can happen. Literally. Nothing is too extreme or risqué for fan fiction. It’s also a safe community of like-minded people freaking out about the things they’re passionate about.
I’ve been reading and writing fan fiction since I was 16 years old. When I was in high school — before Tumblr was popular — it was a shameful thing. Considering yourself a part of a fandom — a community of fans with a common interest — was something that you kept to yourself, indulging your passions at night under the covers. For me, letting anyone know that I was a die-hard Star Wars fan, or that I loved reading X-Men comics, was like holding up a large neon sign that said: “I’M A GIANT FREAKING NERD!”
I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m older, or if I’ve just stopped caring if people think I’m a massive nerd — which I freely accept and love that I am — but I’ve gotten to the point where I can appreciate the fact that fan fiction exists.
When I’m having a really bad day, I turn on the dramatic reading of My Immortal — the most famous Harry Potter fan fiction ever written — because I need to listen to something ridiculous and terrible.
But fan fiction isn’t something that’s just for shits and giggles. Fan fiction can be really great for aspiring writers.
It’s easier to start off writing with established characters than with original characters, especially because fan fiction authors often start in pre-adolescence.
Platforms like fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org are great for beginners, because they encourage experienced writers to beta-read — fandom speak for proofreading — novice writers. They have features that allow anonymous readers and readers with accounts to comment or send private messages to the authors.
And there are works out there that are the length of full books. We all know that Fifty Shades of Gray started out as Twilight fan fiction, but there’s a lot of good fan fiction out there that goes entirely unnoticed.
Fan fiction writers often get massive fan followings online that can rival the original authors, and the fan fiction community is a supportive environment where writers can thrive.
Often, the general populous and a lot of fandom purists like to discredit fan fiction writers, especially since the vast majority of fan fiction writers are women.
Their argument is that unless the content is inspired by original ideas, it’s invalid, but by that logic, brilliant but derivative works like The Lord of the Rings would never have been written.
When asked about his feelings on fan fiction, author and artist Neil Gaiman said, “I think that all writing is useful for honing writing skills. I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you’re writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you’re writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you’re still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.”
I do consider myself a writer. I love writing fiction that I created myself, but whenever I get faced with writer’s block or find myself in need of an outlet, I turn to fan fiction.
I have learned more about being a writer through writing fan fiction than I ever have through a creative writing class.
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