Writing fan fiction has always felt a little taboo, as though my figurative ‘real writer’ card is going to be taken away from me. I studied journalism for three years, so should my hobby really be making up stories based on my favourite characters? The answer is, I still don’t know.
I started reading fan fiction for the first time last year. Like many other people, I had always had a bad impression of it. I had seen my friends reading Wattpad when I was in high school but it never interested me. I didn’t want to know about Harry and Louis’ sex life. I had the idea in my head that all fan fiction was what I had briefly seen people reading at school or Fifty Shades of Grey. In my mind, it was either fetishing gay relationships or just a 24/7 het sex- fest, neither of which seemed particularly interesting to me. It was years later, once I made a stan twitter account, that I found out that it wasn’t all the same.
A ‘twitter au’ (au meaning alternate universe) came up on my feed about two of the members of my favourite band. I was originally shocked and quickly scrolled through, but slowly more and more popped up in my feed and curiosity eventually got the best of me. The first twitter au I clicked on truly surprised me. As with many Twitter fics, it was laid out as though the characters were speaking through text, like I was reading through their conversation. The format was easily digestible; I was hooked. It also helped me realise that there was a real, original story plot progressing.
Before I knew it, I finished the entire thing and moved on to the next one from the same author. I read more than half of all their work before eventually messaging them. I wanted to convey my thanks, and tell them they showed me that fan fiction was more than what I had built up in my mind. The next day, I went to continue reading the story I had been following, only to find I had been blocked from my new favourite author’s account. It was awkward.
The experience put me off fan fiction for a while again. I was confused (and still kind of am, but that’s beside the point). I felt like I had said something wrong when I revealed that I didn’t used to like fan fiction. It was like it was as taboo to say you once didn’t like it within the fan fic community, as it is to say you do like it to people outside that community. I felt like there was no middle ground to explore and find your own interests.
However, I missed reading; it sounds awful for me as a freelance writer to say, but I hadn’t read a lot of proper books over the past year. Out of the few I did read, none were fiction. I loved reading nonfiction works and articles, but I was also desperate for new fictional stories. I just hadn’t been connecting to any of the books I had tried. That doesn’t mean there weren’t brilliant books out there, I just couldn’t find them.
As if perfectly timed, another fan fic came popping up on my feed. Not just one though, it ended up being a whole recommendations list, filled with Twitter fics, as well as a fan fics from a website called AO3. I first clicked on a Twitter au, following with what I knew. I ended up reading what I still believe is one of the best fics out there. It was centred around one of the characters being deaf and the other learning sign language to communicate with him. It was beautiful and well researched, proving to me that fan fiction could produce genuinely good stories, written by talented authors that deserved to be recognised.
From there, I started looking into more, especially on the website Archive of Our Own (AO3). Authors on the site typically write longer stories, generally around 10,000 words all the way up to 500,000. There are entire novels on this site, some deserving of being published.
The first longer fic I read focused on Hanahaki, a fictional disease based from mythology that generally follows the concept that someone with unrequited love coughs up flower petals. It varies, but in some stories they grow their one-sided love’s favourite flower in their lungs until it eventually becomes too large and they die, while in others they can get it removed but they lose their emotions. It’s all very soppy and angsty, but it really works as a good trope.
Needless to say, I was a sobbing mess by the end of the story. It was incredible to see how fan fiction could illicit such a deep, emotional response. I began learning all the different common tropes within fan fiction, which interested me and showed me what to stay away from. I delved deeper into the ones I enjoyed, finding plots that would never be possible within mainstream fiction.
I soon started searching for particular ideas that slowly began forming in my head, but came up blank. There was one particular plot in a supernatural genre that I wished would exist, but I just couldn’t find. I thought I would test it out for myself. I hadn’t written fiction since high school and I felt a little shaky starting off. After almost two and a half years of journalism telling me to not used descriptive words, it was a little difficult getting back on the adjective train. Slowly, I planned out the skeleton of my idea and started to write. I was terrified when I posted the first chapter. It wasn’t like I had visions of being hunted down for terrible writing, but I just didn’t know if it was even vaguely okay. Maybe it was a dumb idea, maybe nobody else would care.
The thing is, despite my initial experience with being blocked, generally the fan fiction community is exceedingly kind. People will comment everything from a couple of words of praise to whole paragraphs of constructive analysis on the plot. There’s nothing more reassuring than the first comment you get on a fic, telling you for sure that somebody is reading and enjoying your work. For me, it was a classic. “Oooof. Yes. I shall enjoy this fic” and “Omg!!! Can’t wait to see where this goes. Great start.”
Those two little boosts of confidence was all I needed to keep going, and within a month writing just over 34k before finishing my first ever story. It received so many positive reactions and it was just a genuinely enjoyable experience. However, the second story I tried writing was a flop. I had the idea, but unlike the first, it wasn’t something I would see myself reading. 6000 words in, I threw in the towel. I soon realised that supernatural themes is where I felt most comfortable and got the best reactions.
I now have six stories, five of which are currently in progress. I have an idea and start writing it before finishing the last. It’s not the most productive way of working, but readers seem content in waiting for my work, just as I am waiting for others. There truly is nothing more satisfying than posting a new chapter late at night, only to wake up the next morning to a flood of positive comments. People are so kind; even when they have criticism it is always constructive. Others get really attached to the characters and knowing I created that is so exciting.
Now, I’m not here to toot my own horn. I don’t have huge audiences, not by far, and there’s certainly a lot I can improve on. What I am saying is that I’m grateful for fan fiction, both reading it and writing it. I love writing, but I’ve always seen it as a paid job. I’ve never been big into hobbies, not really carrying on with anything after I finished school. I didn’t really do anything enjoyable, just for myself (past watching too much television). Reading and writing fan fiction brought a creative spark back that I thought I had lost years ago. It was the same spark that used to come up with elaborate imaginary stories in my head as a child, but this time I share it with others.
It’s not for money or for recognition; honestly I don’t want anybody I actually know to read my work despite it all being fairly PG. It’s just fun. I don’t remember the last time I did something just for myself and I know a lot of other people my age feel the same way.
So if you’re interested in any sort of film, television show or celebrity, have a search to see whether fan fiction is for you. It’s really not as bad as you think.