In recent conversations, I’ve found myself defending how important fanfiction is to the fandom experience, and why I find myself on Archive of Our Own at four in the morning. The thing with fanfiction is that if you don’t know the experience, no amount of justifying, describing or arguing can ever explain it. It’s one of those things.
Fandom involvement is subjective –the fanworks, theories, background reading, multiple re-watches/re-reads- everyone has a preference, and it happens to be that fanfiction is one of the most controversial preferences. I’d admit, fanfiction just doesn’t have that great of a reputation. Maybe it’s the creepy self-inserts, or the reader x character fics that populate almost all fandoms, or the strange writing and the ghost of My Immortal that seems to haunt the concept.
Or maybe it’s just that we have a tendency to disapprove of obsession, and fanfiction seems to be obsessing. Maybe it’s that we tend to associate fanfiction to people who have no creativity of their own, and assume they’re just borrowing the work of others.
But fanfiction is a lot more than that. It’s a generational concept, an involvement with fiction in the strangest and most intimate way possible. It’s not only loving a character, but becoming the character and exploring everything that goes unseen in their worlds. It’s lending them your own stories; it’s expanding their worlds from the closed pages of what the writer decided for them. It’s taking a story for what it is supposed to be- the beginning of many others.
In many cases, it’s also expanding on a story that the writer for one reason or another didn’t give enough to. It’s holding up the broken characters the writer didn’t have time for or couldn’t do justice to, and giving them a new life.
It’s breathing a happy ending to a story that died too early.
It’s not to say that a writer doesn’t know what they’re doing- but it’s to reaffirm the importance of the death of the author. Once given to us, these characters become ours, and if the story you wanted to tell is not the story you told, or the story you told is not the story that we could bear to hear, it’s the right of the reader to have an entire world in which they can fix the story.
As for not having any creativity, I’d argue that it takes more creativity to work with someone else’s character, to tread carefully around already established information and still create something new and exciting.
To write fanfiction is to build up a new world, and to figure out the place someone else’s character would take up there. Fanfiction is writing a novel of the same quality as a published one and earning less than a quarter of the credit for the hours poured into an unpaid passion project deemed unoriginal.
I get it -fanfiction isn’t for everyone, like avocadoes or Halsey- but to pass judgement on fanfiction without understanding the intensity of the reader’s relationship to a set of characters is to turn a blind eye to what good stories are meant to do: bind you, consume you, swallow you whole.