Arts & Culture, Books, Pop Culture

The world of fanfiction

Written by Grace Robinson

Fanfiction, like many other things associated with teenage girls, gets a lot of stigma for what it is, that being stories of character written by the fans who love them.  

People seem to think that because it wasn’t written by the author themselves, it automatically can’t be as good. If a character you love dies or you just want to read more about the characters you’ve come to know, fanfiction allows you to still connect with the story and characters and no one should be bullied for it.

Many books now on the bestseller list even started out as fanfiction: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James  was a Twilight Fanfiction, After by Anna Todd was a Harry Styles Fanfiction, The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare was a Harry Potter Fanfiction. All of these books have been made into films, and it just goes to show how popular these stories are.

Fanfiction can come in many different forms—a singer might cover a song, people making their own spin off games, a producer adapting a classic—all of these technically count as fanfiction. Why is it then, that when it comes to writing fanfiction, there’s a stigma around it?

If you don’t remember every talking about Fifty Shades of Grey in 2012, you must have been living under a rock. Fifty Shades became the fastest selling adult novel to reach a million copies in seven weeks and, in turn, beat Dan Brown’s record with the Da Vinci Code. People like to mock Fifty Shades of Grey for its writing style, which can be questionable, but at the end of the day, E.L James I imagine is very happy with her pay check.

A more recent success that started out as fanfiction was After by Anna Todd, the difference being both the original fandom and where they started out. After was originally published on Wattpad, whilst Fifty Shades began life on fanfiction.net, although then it was under the title Masters of the Universe. On Wattpad, After racked up to 666 million views and 10.4 million votes.

Fanfiction is obviously popular, no doubt about it and more so when it’s published and subsequently made into movies. In its opening weekend at the box office, Fifty Shades made $85 million and $571 million worldwide and the budget was only $40 million and After made $70 million with a $14 million budget. All in all, a good bit of erotic does well, and rightly so.

There is an intolerable amount of stigma around fanfiction, people seem to think it’s only ever about sex or that it’s poorly written, which in its essence is false, even though Fifty Shades and After suggest otherwise. There are many authors who started out writing fanfiction that gradually led them to writing their own novels.

Marissa Myer, author of The Lunar Chronicles, wrote Sailor Moon (a popular anime) fanfiction and that has said “writing fanfiction was pretty much fiction 101 for me.”  Another author who wrote fanfiction was Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, now a Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon. Weir wrote fanfiction for Ready Player One, also now a Hollywood film. The author of Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, was so impressed by Weir and his writing that he made it canon, giving his approval to the fan.  

Some authors out there are very against fanfiction however. They seem to deem it lazy because fanfic writers aren’t using their own characters and worlds. George R.R Martin says “every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.”

The thing with originality though, is no one has an original story. Most things have probably been done before. Shakespeare took characters and stories from all over the place and he’s considered the biggest influence on the literary world.

When it comes to the legality of fanfiction, some people claim copyright left right and centre. However, most fans don’t earn anything for their work so technically it’s all legal—just a way for them to express their love. Many fanfics are also vastly different from the original material. They’re set in alternate universes, have original characters and different plots. It’s a way of reacting and reinventing, not copying. Authors who dismiss it as lazy fail to see the creativity and love that goes into it.

No one complains about film adaptations of books, and fanfiction goes that one step further—giving you more stories that you couldn’t have even imagined with characters you already love.

But, no matter how much you loved fanfiction, you never told anyone. Shame and stigma surrounds the writing of fanfiction, even amongst close friends. The fact that people who read fanfiction are scared to even discuss their interests because of the shame behind it, really signifies issues there is with bullying in society. It seems that anything in relation to a ‘girl’s’ interest is never good enough for people, because no matter what they will be bullied for it.

There is where misogyny comes into play, as well as legality and laziness. Girls will be criticised for anything they love, no matter how successful it is. Take One Direction and BTS for example. Globally and critically acclaimed, but dismissed because their fan base is largely young women. Young women also happen to make up a large portion of the online fanfiction community, so it sadly makes sense that it’s been criticised.

Although the erotic genre is marketed to women rather than teenage girls, it’s always thought to be ‘trashy’ with its writing and story. When it comes to women wanting to read about sex, there seems to be taboo surrounding it but when it comes porn, it’s normalised. You can’t help but see the double standards when it comes to sexual expression. It just shows that women’s sexuality needs to be taken more seriously, rather than dismissed as ‘trashy.’

At the end of the day, no matter if a girl reads a fanfiction with her favourite characters or a women reads an erotic book about something she fantasies about, there seems to be a prominent amount of criticism around their subjects compared to the likes of what men enjoy like sports, video games etc. It all boils down to one thing, and that’s misogyny.  


Grace Robinson is a first-year English Student. She is passionate about feminism, politics and society. You can find her on instagram: @grace.lizz12