credit: hurricanestiles (on instagram) –
Today’s controversial topic: fanfiction! And you may be wondering, why this cover picture? Well, one of the fandoms on which I read a fair share of fanfics (because the show ended in such a disappointing manner, I cried my eyes out and needed comfort) is Merlin, a BBC show that retells the legends of Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future King of Camelot. And Merlin, the Wizard who in some versions of the legend is by his side as his magic advisor.
Anyways, straying from the topic. The reason that I’m writing an article on fanfiction is because I am, and forever will be, a massive supporter of the genre. And yes, it’s a genre. Live with it.
As somebody who has been writing all kinds of stories for as long as I can remember, fanfiction is what I like to call the catalyst for my writing abilities. I still have a lot of the fanfiction I wrote when I was 12, and it has been read more than 100,000 times, which is insane if you ask me, because reading it back now makes me want to delete it asap.
However, fanfiction is the sole reason I refined and practised my writing skills. The first fandom I came into was One Direction, which is also what most of my stories are centred on! Very exciting stuff, but honestly I’m not here to gloat about the amount of reads I have on Wattpad or preach about how good of a writer it has made me (although I like to think I’m decent).
No, I’m here to fight for the rights of fanfiction as a genre. Many may not know this, but a lot of great novels started out as fanfiction, see Fifty Shades of Grey (Twilight fanfic!) and the Shadowhunters series (Harry Potter, although this one is controversial). Also, the TikTok famous book The Love Hypothesis started out as a Star Wars fanfic!
Anyway, before I argue about why I think fanfiction should be appreciated (and not shamed, because unfortunately that still happens) I want to dive into the shapes and sizes and forms that fanfiction can take on.
However, what exactly is fanfiction? Well, here’s a handy-dandy definition for you (see above). The first site I remember finding fanfiction on (in my Twilight days, I think?) was Miss Literati, which unfortunately got taken down at one point. RIP. After this, though, Wattpad blew up, but fanfic authors also use fanfiction.net, archiveofourown (also known as AO3) and some use Tumblr. Let’s dive into a little lesson on the terms that may help you with your fanfiction search (I promise I won’t tell):
- Imagine/One Shot: These are interchangeable terms used to refer to short fanfiction, usually about a chapter’s length (so between 1000-3000 words but this is not restricted), that details a particular situation. The idea behind the term ‘imagine’ is of course that the writer imagines this to be happening with the celebrity/fictional character, or between two characters, i.e. ‘a ship’.
- Smut/Lemon: The former is the general term, the latter is mainly found on sites like fanfiction.net. It basically refers to an imagine or a series that contains a ‘spicy’ scene. These are often rated M or R. In one word, it often means sex. Gotta lay it out there. Let’s say, Fifty Shades of Grey probably started out as Twilight smut.
- Y/N, Y/L/N, etc.: Often writers will have a key for these at the top of their imagines, as this usually occurs on Tumblr. It is an acronym for ‘your name’ as in, insert your name here so that you are the main character in this series/imagine.
- Prompt: One line or short paragraph meant to ‘trigger’ (a.k.a prompt) you into writing something with this as your inspiration. This isn’t specific to the fanfic community; many writers use these to practice their writing skills. Some examples: “a world in which the first words your soulmate says to you are tattooed on your skin” and “When I said ‘whatever helps you sleep at night’, I didn’t mean this”. You’re welcome.
- Preferences: A list, usually inspired by a prompt, of how each character/celebrity (for instance in regard to a boyband or perhaps all the (fe)male characters on a tv show) would react to this. Say, a first date or seeing Y/N cry for the first time.
- Trope: Again, synonymous with the writing community. Pretty much a ‘cliché’ or a plot device used to get the story or relationship/friendship moving forward. See: the one bed trope (where two characters end up at a place where there is only one bed), a personal favourite of mine, the fake dating trope or the girl next door.
- Fluff: Opposite of smut. Refers to a story involving only cute, ‘fluffy’ moments. See cuddling, hand-holding, food fights while baking, etc.
- Alternate Universe (AU): The story you are about to read takes place in a universe that does not correspond with ours or that in which the tv show/movie/book series is set in. Think: One Direction as a rock band or as the popular jock squad in a high school. The options are endless. The term most likely comes from the multiple timeline/universe idea.
- Canon: Happens in the story / is confirmed by the author/screenwriters, etc.
- Headcanon: Opposite of canon: a certain opinion or idea agreed upon by a group of people to be the case. See: Dumbledore is Death. Snape, Harry and Voldemort represent the three brothers (this will most likely make no sense if you haven’t watched the movies/read the books. That’s okay).
Alright, I hope this at least lays out the basics for those of you who weren’t scarred by overly detailed smut scenes as a 12-year old (it was good Sex Ed, though). This brings me right to my next point: why exactly do people have a general distaste for fanfiction?
Well, to be honest, I understand some points. First of all, when in relation to real people, i.e. One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, Taylor Swift, some fans can take it a step too far. See Anna Todd, who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey-level smut scenes about Harry Styles when he was 17 and she was 21. I wholeheartedly understand that, even though names were changed and everything, Harry Styles wanted nothing to do with this woman and may have been extremely disturbed by her work (rumours are, he has a restraining order against her). Of course, this may be due to other behaviour of hers that I do not know about.
Anyway, if taken too far, fanfiction that is written about real people can be disturbing. However, most of the time, these works are written based on the idea the fans have of these people: often it is just a name/physical appearance of a person that one uses to create their story, not a story with the intention of it becoming true. Let’s face it, most Y/Ns are 12. Yet some fans do think they are entitled to the celebrity, but that is a whole different story.
The reason why I think fanfiction shouldn’t be something a(n aspiring) writer has to be ashamed of, is because writing about a universe that already exists, using people for their appearance/name (which out of context sounds very mean, but let’s keep going) is a great way to lessen the strain of creating a full-fledged plot and a handful of characters.
Little side note: as some probably recognise the above picture to be Shakespeare with the typical Harry Potter features (i.e., glasses and lightning star), which most likely comes from the argument that Shakespeare wrote fanfiction: his plays were adaptations and rewritings of other major works. For example, Romeo and Juliet was based on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. The more you know!
Back to the topic: let’s take Harry Potter as an example: it offers an (for the most part) entirely worked out universe with an entire world already built, dozens of characters and a magic system at your disposal. That in turn brings a lot of opportunities for ideas, tweaks and most importantly: writing practice. Besides, once you get sucked into a series, whether that is a book or a tv show, sometimes you want to immerse yourself into it or you want it to keep going after it ends.
This means that people have dedicated a lot of their free time to writing alternate endings or entire books about an alternate relationship, or to simply making room for themselves in these universes. And there’s no need to make fun of that: for many, it is a great escape from their lives that may not be that great sometimes.
I would not be where I am today, writing this article for this magazine, if I hadn’t started my terrible Louis Tomlinson fanfiction on Wattpad (yes, it is still out there on the web. No, I will not tell you what the title is). Yes, it’s absolutely horrendous and very badly written, but without that I wouldn’t have started another fanfiction, read more fanfiction, and eventually begun writing my own books.
This is for all the aspiring writers out there: the key to becoming a better writer is to read and to practice. Fanfiction allows people to stay in a comfortable universe, offering alternate endings if you are unhappy with it (Merlin, looking at you), offering a dozen one shots if you maybe preferred Hermione with Fred instead of Ron (cough, me, cough), and offering a multitude of opportunities to write, write, and write some more.
So, go fanfiction! Of course it has its bad sides; not because of badly-written works, but because some people do go too far, but it has a lot of good sides, and I’m no longer going to hide the fact that I wrote fanfiction — still do, actually. It’s a lot of fun, as long as you do it respectfully. I hope this has inspired some of you to write something, even if it’s an original work, or maybe try to look up an alternative ending to a series you have been dying to reshape in your mind. Go for it!
Written by Vivian Van Klaarbergen