A few weeks ago, I took my son to the local library for a talk by author Tui Sutherland. She writes the Wings of Fire book series about dragons and prophecies. It captured my nine-year-old’s attention like nothing has so far. That was the reason we went to the talk in the first place. He wanted to meet a “real live author” who wrote something he loves.
The talk was fun and while we didn’t get to talk with her afterward (the line was too long for my child’s attention span), we still came away with something that I hope will stick with him for years. One of the topics she covered was the subject of fanfiction. Tui Sutherland welcomes fanfiction and fan art based on her characters and books. Telling the kids that “there are far too many stories in my world for me to tell,” she encouraged them to imagine what else was going on in her books while the stories were taking place.
Fanfiction gets a bad rap in our society. Written off as the domain of pre-teen girls seeking to be romanced by their favorite character or middle-aged moms looking to add some spice to their life, fanfiction is seen as a lesser type of writing compared to most others.
In the past, fanfiction was spoken of in hushed corners and used to be part of under the table deals at conventions, a badly kept secret in fandom where everyone knew but no one talked about it. Even today, some authors strike out against those who write in their worlds, some going so far as to sue for copyright infringement.
Now, popular websites such as Archive of Our Own, Fanfiction.net, and LiveJournal have made fanfiction more accessible to the general public. Archive of Our Own is run by the Organization for Transformative Works that provides legal advocacy for fan works and the creators, providing fanfiction writers, as well as vid makers and fan artists, protection from legal action. Add in the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey, well-known to have originally been Twilight fanfiction, and it has become almost a cultural phenomenon. And yet, the reputation continues.
As an avid fanfiction writer, I’ve heard the derogatory comments, the jokes, and the easy dismissal of my work. There is a tendency in our culture to look down on things simply done for enjoyment. Fanfiction is a prime example of that. Writers spend hours or more on their work and it never sees the light of day or is published for free online. They make nothing from it, simply share their love for the characters and the world with others, and for that, they are often ridiculed.
For me, fanfiction has always been an outlet. When I didn’t like the ending of a show, I would write (Torchwood). When a show ended their season on a cliffhanger and we had to wait to find out what happened, I would write (Sherlock). When I knew the characters I adored would never be allowed to have their happy ending, I would write (James Bond). It is a way to work through my own emotions in a setting that feels safer and more comfortable than my own life.
But now, I see fanfiction as more. Fanfiction is getting my child with ADHD to sit down and write, for pleasure. For a boy who struggles with reading and writing, this is a minor miracle. As his mother, it makes me want to jump for joy. The way he explained it to me is “It’s like Minecraft with words!” With the amount of time he spends playing that game, that is high praise indeed.
Fanfiction has opened the world of writing to my child who had no interest in it before. I will forever be grateful for that fact. While I know that I have no intentions to ever stop writing, no matter what society may think of it, my new goal is to help remove the stigma so my son will never experience people looking down on his work simply because he was “playing in someone else’s sandbox.” I want him to see that his creativity is valid, no matter where his inspiration comes from. I want him to be proud of his work and happy to share it with the people who matter to him and not just hide it away in journals on his bookshelves. But most of all, I want him to be happy, period, and fanfiction gives him that as it does for so many others.