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Can you imagine a world in which Harry Potter was dead? How about one in which the story of «Pride and Prejudice» took place in the modern world? Better yet, how about a story where you, the reader, were the protagonist of one of your favorite stories? If you search the internet, you’re sure to find it, as this is the work that fanfiction writers do.
Behind books, TV series, anime, video games, and other media with a story and characters, there are fans, a group of people who greatly appreciate a series. They show that love through the creation of art, music or simply support, spread, and promote the work on social media.
On the other hand, there are fanfiction writers, who, through their keyboards, write hundreds or thousands of words that give life to creative and imaginative stories based on those series. But what if I told you that the impact of this goes beyond just writing stories?
Because, who would have thought that writing stories on the Internet could allow people to develop as professionals and open the door to discovering more about themselves.
Chapter 1: What is fanfiction?
Abbreviated as «fanfic» or «fic», the term refers to a creative work based on existing stories and characters. These works can vary in length, genre, style, language and may even include new characters created by the author known as OCs (Original Characters).
The stories are published online and can be read on forums and websites specialized in fanfiction such as Archive of Our Own (AO3), Wattpad, FanFiction.net, Tumblr, among others. If you want to start reading fanfiction, it’s good to know some of the terms that are constantly used in these works, so here’s a list of some of the most important ones.
So, what were the beginnings of fanfiction? Well, the term used today is quite modern, but the practice of writing fanfiction has ancient origins. We can point to a number of artists and writers whose works were inspired by other works, such as William Shakespeare. Yes, the transcendent English playwright and poet wrote fanfiction.
Centuries later, the term became more relevant in the 1960s, with the appearance of «Star Trek«, a popular science fiction television show. As its popularity grew, fans of the series began selling «fanzines«, which are fanfiction in physical format only, at conventions.
Soon after, with the advent of the World Wide Web and the creation of forums, fanfics slowly began to become more popular. Today, there are several websites with millions of users writing and interacting with this type of content on a daily basis.
Now that you have more context about what we’re talking about, let’s go back to the question I asked you at the beginning. To answer that, let me tell you about the experiences of five authors who write fanfiction and how it has helped them discover more about who they are.
Chapter 2: How to start becoming a professional writer
Fanfiction offers writers the opportunity to practice writing regularly and delve into various literary genres. Depending on what the author writes, they can try out different narrative styles, points of view and even explore characters with previously established characteristics on a deeper level.
Leigh, a 21-year-old graphic design college student who goes by the Tumblr user @leighsartworks216, says he learned a variety of writing techniques through experimenting with different styles and perspectives.
I can use these things, mix and match them to better convey emotions and thoughts. I can make my readers feel a specific way or explore in depth the character I’m writing about to understand how they might react to something.Leigh (leighsartworks216)
In addition, he can experiment with different approaches to a single story as his blog revolves around the dynamic of «reader requests«. This allows users to submit suggestions for possible stories. From the basic idea provided by the reader, the authors write something called «one-shots«, which are stories with only one chapter.
Moreover, it is thanks to this kind of interaction with other users that authors like Laurie, owner of the blog @wolken-himmel, were able to get rid of the fear of exploring other literary genres.
For a while, I had a firm conviction that I would only write humorous and poignant stories. However, after opening applications on Tumblr, I realized that many of my followers would like to see other, more serious topics.Laurie (wolken-himmel)
She adds that while she initially had some doubts about whether she could really address some of these issues, as time went on and she wrote more, it allowed her to develop a more open mind to experiment with other types of genres and concepts.
However, authors not only experiment with different literary genres, but some may also delve into research, exploring historical events in depth to write about them.
Blaire, a 19-year-old medical student at university who is a freelance graphic designer and runs the Tumblr blog @jangmi-latte, explains that when writing one of her first fanfics based on the «Kuroshitsuji» anime series, she began researching historical incidents to properly address them in her work.
I started researching intensively about the Victorian era and relating it to events that happened in the series, and so on. I learned new words and even started writing much better. I delved into English vocabulary to the point where I used what I learned to apply it to my school work.Blaire (jangmi-latte)
Something also very curious about Blaire’s fanfics is that she designs the headers and artwork she uses in her posts. Her blog even has a theme, as at the beginning of her posts, she transported the reader to a cafe and the «orders» that were delivered were the story requests submitted by users.
From poetic and emotional writing to personalized covers and blogs, you can find a variety of literary and artistic styles that represent the tastes of each author in this vast community. This and many other examples show the creativity that fanfiction authors put into their work.
But now let’s talk a little more about how fanfiction can also impact and help authors discover more about themselves.
Chapter 3: Self-Discovery, Diversity and Inclusion
Writing fanfiction is not just about giving fans what they want, but about writers also setting their boundaries, exploring their creativity and imagination, and, at the same time, discovering their personalities, tastes, what bothers them, and so on.
Leigh (leighsartworks216) explains that fanfiction was the first step in discovering that he was transgender.
Either I’d get a request from a ‘reader x male character’, or I’d read one, and that gave me the push to say: oh, yeah, I like this.Leigh (leighsartworks216)
For quite some time, fanfiction has been of great importance for LGBTQ+ representation and diversity. «It highlights the importance of finding representation for those whose identities and experiences have been erased from mainstream media and traditional publishing«, says Júlia Egido, from the University of Barcelona, in her study on fanfiction as a literary tool.
This is because many fanfics have protagonists and characters of different ethnicities, cultures, who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, among others. So writers and readers see themselves represented in fanfiction works.
Bloodandoranges, a 23-year-old freelance artist, discovered her love for writing through fanfiction and it also helped her explore her feelings towards women.
In some ways, it helped me discover my identity as a lesbian. It also gave me a sense of connection with other people, which I otherwise didn’t have much of growing up, at least who had the same interests.Bloodandoranges
She explains that she grew up in a home with closed-minded views, which limited her views on topics such as diversity, gender, and sexuality. But once she discovered fanfiction and the internet in general, it opened her eyes to a whole new world.
On the other hand, Raven, owner of the blog @raven-at-the-writing-desk who has written over 2,400 works, explained that growing up in a predominantly white community and her being a person of color (BIPOC) left her isolated and invisible. But when she entered the world of fanfiction and began writing her own stories, she found comfort.
Writing, in particular, is a hobby that gives me total control over what I do, as well as the freedom to experiment without fear of ostracism or judgment.Raven (raven-at-the-writing-desk)
She added that she grew up isolated and “didn’t have a very strong sense for what diversity was until college”. As such, fanfiction and the internet allowed her to learn about how to write more inclusively. This can be seen through the use of gender-neutral pronouns (they/them) when referring to the gender of the reader, in stories where people insert their own characters. Many other authors have also used these characteristics in their work.
For me, who had felt unseen and unheard as a child, I strongly felt (and still strongly feel to this very day) that inclusion and diversity should be a top priority in fandom. At the end of the day, we all go to these communities to retreat from reality for a short reprieve – so we should make that retreat as pleasant and as welcoming as it possibly can be.Raven (raven-at-the-writing-desk)
The end: what lies beyond
I’ve actually only just recently started to write and interact with a community again for the first time in a few years, so it’s all very new to me! When I was younger, it was absolutely invaluable, and genuinely changed my life for the better.Bloodandoranges
Fanfiction has become a fundamental part of pop culture and the cyberspaces where fans coexist together. Fanfiction is a way for people to get to know each other by sharing similar tastes and interests, as well as allowing writers to grow as professionals and discover more about their limits and tastes in literature and in real life.
Through writing techniques, exploration of different literary genres, interactions with other users, diversity, and inclusion, fanfiction writers open doors to give people a space where they can escape into another reality and feel welcomed.
I enjoy knowing I’m never just limited to one thing, that I can always branch out and there will be someone out there that enjoys my work!Bloodandoranges