We should all be reading fanfiction.
Don’t listen to George R. R. Martin or Anne Rice or Diana Gabaldon or whatever other successful authors have totally written off fanfiction. It’s awesome, and if you have any interest in fandom, you should also be reading fanfiction.
My ventures into fanfiction began with, of course, Harry Potter. Back when we still had dialup internet and shared a massive desktop computer with my mom, I stumbled onto a fan forum where, mingled among discussion about the upcoming film release and speculation about Voldemort and what was next for the Golden Trio, were stories. And the ones that drew my attention?
Most fanfiction has a romantic or sexual component (though it’s not always the main part), and you can’t talk about it without talking about the romantic pairings it features. Dramione – Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger – was the first to grab me. I loved (and still love) reading about them, determined enemies who’d never hold hands much less make out but do in this particular corner of fandom. They inexplicably hook up in a final year at Hogwarts, forced to share living quarters as Head Boy and Head Girl. They unite post-Final Battle, well into adulthood to butt heads at the Ministry of Magic and then begin an affair. There have been marriage laws and Veela mating rituals (never could get into that one), forced partnerships in taking down Voldemort and memory charms that leave their past, and mutual disdain, conveniently out of the way until it returns for maximum dramatic impact. And of course there’s kissing and depending on the rating, super smutty sex.
[bctt tweet=”And of course there’s kissing and depending on the rating, super smutty sex.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Dramione had all the forbidden love trappings that were attractive to an adolescent me, and it was the first inexplicable and impossible fandom pairing I adopted as an OTP (One True Pair). I doubt anyone expected Dramione to happen in canon, but canon compliance isn’t usually what any consumers of fanfiction expect. Fanfiction picks up on elements unseen or not prioritized by the narrative because writers know know it’s unlikely to appear in the canon. Maybe it’s because of a narratively absurd coupling like Draco and Hermione that J.K Rowling (even the 2016 Rowling making a mess of the HP universe with her new additions) would never have touched. Or maybe it’s because of the gender, racial and a myriad of other biases creators have that ensure some stories won’t ever be told.
[bctt tweet=”Fanfiction picks up on elements unseen or not prioritized by the narrative because writers know know it’s unlikely to appear in the canon.” username=”wearethetempest”]
So it’s up to fans to make these stories happen. That’s how I got into writing The Vampire Diaries fanfiction. Once a treasured show, my love of it plummeted as it became clear it had nothing to offer Bonnie Bennett, its single black female character, but racist tropes and the promise that she would, nine times out of ten, be treated like dirt. So I wrote about her, correcting the show’s mistakes and telling a story it never would have considered much less written.
I finished two lengthy stories and started two others that now linger in fandom corners as unlikely-to-ever-be-completed works in progress. The fanfiction I wrote was what I wanted to see happen onscreen, my way. For this time I was obsessed, scribbling notes in a notebook about plotlines and character beats I wanted to develop that the show never did. It was a labor of love, as it is for all fanfiction writers, who aren’t compensated with anything more than positive feedback and knowing that someone else sees the same potential you do and wants to see it realized.
I spent hours on my own fanfiction despite being a college student with a full course load and a part-time job. I filled notebooks with ideas and scenes and was always happy when someone told me how much they’d enjoyed an update or how sad they were when the story was finished. This was also incredibly kind to my ego, another plus of fanfiction for aspiring writers who need that jolt of confidence to really dive into original work. But what I really enjoyed was the community and the new role I’d taken on in it.
My disdain for TVD coincided with the creation of a Tumblr account and my introduction to the TVD fandom. It was entirely different from my experience with Harry Potter, where it was a shared love of the original material that sparked my consumption and other people’s sharing. With TVD, we were bound by mutual disdain (and for a while, our inability to finally cut the cord and stop watching). It was distinctly smaller than Harry Potter’s still massive fandom, and it was even smaller with fans of Bonnie Bennett (fandom, like any other place, isn’t often kind or welcoming to black women). None of the TVD fanfiction I read or wrote could be called popular. That is, it wasn’t going to be picked up by a publishing house and turned into the next 50 Shades of Grey. But the consistent and tiny band of readers formed a space where it wasn’t just my writing being validated, but a worldview that gave a black female character a story she deserved.
[bctt tweet=”It wasn’t just my writing being validated, but a worldview that gave a black female character a story she deserved.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I don’t write fanfiction anymore, but sometimes I remember something wonderful I had planned and consider starting up again. But after I dropped TVD, my need to fix its flaws faded just as my interest in it did. But I still read fanfiction. New stories that crop up or old ones that I loved so much I just want to see again. I’ve found favorite fanfiction authors who I revisit over and over again, and I’m still disappointed that real life or a lack of inspiration or something else entirely has inhibited their ability to continue writing.
I’ll keep reading it, as long as it exists (hopefully forever). Fiction is supposed to open doors and windows we may not otherwise find, but that doesn’t mean it always does what its consumers need. That’s what the fans are for. We sometimes know what fandom needs more than creators do.