The Merits Of Fanfiction


Hej Knox, Staff

Since the internet’s conception, and truthfully long before, fandom has been a staple of our world. Practices like fanart, cosplay and fanfiction have transcended beyond racial, ethnic, and cultural lines. 

Intimate aspects of our life, from media like After or 50 Shades of Grey, to the content we consume on the internet, have all been shaped and defined by fandoms. However, as the years continue to pass on, fanfiction’s merits and value are constantly in question; not to mention, the enormous stigma attached to it. 

Fanfiction is a writing style of fiction that uses concepts, characters, and qualities of a body of work, considered the original content. This content can range from books to films to even sports, although television series are the most widely used content. 

Fanfiction is often organized into fandoms, which are collectives of people that follow a piece of media, with some of the largest including Star Wars and Marvel, both of which are universes spread across multiple forms of media. 

The place of fanfiction in our modern world is a tricky one. Oftentimes, it remains a taboo, disregarded as a less valuable form of entertainment when compared to “true” literature and audiovisual media. Furthermore, fanfiction has been written off consistently as a copy of the source material, since it is directly inspired by and uses features of an original content. The popularization of some works of fanfiction, especially those of a lesser quality, perpetuates these beliefs. 

However, fanfiction is perhaps one of the most precious media we have in our world. Our current views of history put so much emphasis on the books and plays and paintings that shaped the past; when we are long gone, massive communities like those on Archive of Our Own (AO3) and will be our legacy.

Fanfiction is a unique medium in that it is based on other works; even still, this medium is imbued with creativity and expressionism, especially of the people who cannot spread their stories through art or classic literature. So, often, these stories are told in ways that use what has been created, but alter it in such a way that it is often something entirely new. 

It is quite clear that fanfiction has not dried up in recent years either. As of 2022, the tag pairing Castiel/Dean Winchester, a juggernaut of the Supernatural (TV) fandom and one of the most popular fandom pairings of all time, had over 100,000 works on AO3. In this case, a “pairing” refers to two or more characters separated by a “/,” indicating a romantic relationship. Further statistics from this website show that pairings such as Blackbeard | Edward Teach/Stede Bonnet, from the show Our Flag Means Death (which aired in March of 2022) saw a gain of nearly 11,000 works. Within the span of nine months, a piece of new media had fans writing millions of words worth of stories based upon it. 

So, if fanfiction is so valuable and prevalent in our society, why is its merit still in question? 

The answer to this question is complex, but it is often because of the same two issues: artistic liberty and prejudice. The beliefs we hold in American society especially have shaped our view of this media in a way that it has become a taboo to even talk about it in public. Misconceptions are also another large factor in the issue of merit. 

Artistic liberty often boils down to the same argument about the issue of copying. Fanfiction is based on other works not owned by the author(s), and that often makes people assume that no craft goes into these works. The opposite is often true, because fanfiction still needs to stand alone; it cannot tell the same tale as the original work, and the majority of fanfiction authors add new plots, relationship dynamics, character development, and even entirely new characters in some cases. 

Prejudice is an unfortunate part of our society that has seeped into every aspect of our lives, and public perception of fanfiction is no exception. Fanfiction can often be discredited because the majority of fanfiction authors are women, especially in their later teen years. American culture has always devalued the interests of teen girls, from boybands to certain movies to fanfiction. 

The prevalence of this gap in demographics has influenced perception heavily. Fanfiction is often written off as amateur or lower quality in nature, and assumed to be consistently and constantly lascivious in nature. What is often neglected when these presumptions are made is the true variety of fanfiction as a medium. Like more classic literature, fanfiction has hundreds of subgenres, tropes, and even a unique marking system. 

Evidence of this exists everywhere; fanfiction from the Star Wars fandom are often sci-fi in nature, expanding upon the original universe. Fanfiction from the Supernatural (TV) or BBC Sherlock (TV) fandoms often include elements of mystery, thriller, and sometimes even horror. Fanfiction can exist in one-shot form (a single chapter, often less than 10,000 words) to casefics (like the aforementioned Sherlock example, where the focus is solving a mystery) to the far end, with plenty of fanfiction existing between 100,000 to 450,000 words (some fanfiction has even exceeded a million words). 

When the question of merit comes up, everything must be considered. Fanfiction succeeds as a media because of its ineffable variety, and because of the creativity that is necessary to draft it. People may assume that fanfiction is a more immature medium, especially when put against books, but the truth is that it takes a lot of work to create something, even if one has a world already designed to base it on. 

One of the biggest truths about this media is that there often is not enough from the source material alone to make a fanfiction; plots, dynamics, tropes, even parts of the world must be constructed to fill in those gaps. 

So, if anything must be taken away from this, it is one thing: any capacity of writing, whether or not it is “mature” enough, will always be salient in our world.