Fan Fiction! Aka: I Am Old, I Am Old, I Will Wear My Trousers Rolled…

Someone asked me what genres Diana has been reading, and I had to acknowledge that lately it's been a whole lot of fan fiction (does that even get called a genre, really?).

If I am lucky, the person asking is even older or more out of it than I am, and says, "Wha?" and I get to act like I have any idea of what I'm talking about by saying, "Oh, you know, it's what all the kids are into these days," though with this as with all things, I have no idea whether people other than the ones right next to me are reading it, or writing it, or whatever.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, fan fiction is (to the best of my knowledge) this: fiction written by fans of an author or series or novel. Sometimes it becomes its own published work (I think Fifty Shades of Gray was originally fan fiction of Twilight, which makes the whole thing feel even sketchier than I thought it did).

Except maybe it's not sketchy at all? Here are things I think are sort of great about kids reading fan fiction (or watching people read it on YouTube? Which is apparently a Thing?).

1) It makes kids write. It gives them a sense of themselves as readers/writers, and they end up writing and writing their own, presumably nutty, fan fiction. Yes, it is possible that much of what they write is…not the highest quality, but that's (in this context) besides the point.

2) It is an expression of LOVE! And love makes the world go 'round! Truly, I think it's a little bit like writing Led Zeppelin on the cover of your cloth-covered binder (can you guess my high school graduation year within two years from this reference?). There's something inexpressibly moving to me about all these people laying their tributes to authors at their metaphorical (or electronically represented) feet. Just check out Scott Westerfield's blog, where he often features his fans' fan fiction (it took me a long time to figure out how to write that), and see if your cold, cold heart doesn't soften just a bit.

3) Some of it is probably really great. I don't read fan fiction—yet. But I have to believe that some of it is really amazing, just because the world is wide and varied and there are terrible and wonderful things everywhere you look. Besides, Diana is writing some (yes, it's out there, can you spot it? Dare you try?), and as her parent I just have to believe that it's awesome.

Reasons I am not super-psyched about the whole thing.

1) Can it be good to read lots and lots of writing that is not good? I don't know. I mean, lots of published writing is pretty crappy too, but sometimes it feels like I am watching her gorge on cheetos. Metaphorical literary cheetos.

2) But wait, the book is an inviolable world! It's true that I believe there is an alternative fictional universe where all books come from and that things that happen in books are true, so it freaks me out to consider that, say, Harriet the Spy has alternate possibilities contained within it. This, however, might be a slight idiosyncrasy on my part, so maybe I'll say no more about it.

3) It's on the internet. Which is bad for kids, right? And electronic? And unwholesome? That's as far as my logical thinking goes on this point. I will let you know if I get smarter about it. And it leads directly to…

4) It didn't exist when I was a kid. Yes, I am that person who doesn't trust things that are new. Though I think it's possible that if I thought about it the right way much of Shakespeare is fan fiction from Ovid, right? Sort of? Maybe?

Anyway, maybe your children are still happily plowing through various books by actual authors (which still happens here, as well—there'd be no fan fiction without the original book, right?), but this could be lurking in your future.

And tell me: what do you know about it? Is it part of anyone's child's life but mine?

22 thoughts on “Fan Fiction! Aka: I Am Old, I Am Old, I Will Wear My Trousers Rolled…

  1. Oh, the fan fiction! I too have some of your concerns. Mostly the huge number of hours that could be spent reading something Real, and the low quality. Also I tried to restrict her age level setting the time I found a story about domination/submission games at Hogwarts on her screen. My kid complains loudly about the bad ones. (the grammar! the punctuation! and if they have terrible spelling she is out of there.) Some is really very good. There’s a HP novel longer than the original and still going in which Petunia married a nice guy and that changes everything. (HPMOR, if Diana hasn’t found it yet and has a dozen hours to spare.)
    At the risk of giving Diana another black hole to fall down, my daughter is not reading much fanfic now, maybe because she read it all, or maybe because she is now obsessed with Homestuck, which is a multimedia novel, if that is a term (and if not, it is now). Mostly text with some illustrations, some animations, and an interactive game once in a while. There are trolls and humans and it is enormously complicated. She finally caught up to the latest episode and is now searching up Homestuck fan stuff, like other people’s drawings of the characters. Sigh for the lost hours.


  2. As someone whose teen years were spent reading a LOT of fic (early 20s age bracket chiming in!), I think you shouldn’t worry. Reading lots of low-quality material is actually hugely instructive — nothing teaches you the value of technical skill like reading 100 bad stories and then one good one. And it’s the most supportive environment for making (and talking about) art that there is: there’s no imperative to make something that’s cool, or publishable, or that will help you get into college, or win any of the kinds of approval that otherwise drive kids’ lives. It really is a whole (crazy, exuberant, argumentative) community devoted to making things for the sheer joy of it.


  3. I spent many guilty (but happy) hours devouring Harry Potter fan fiction in between book releases. There was a really great one featuring the James/Sirius/Lily generation of characters, both at Hogwarts and immediately after (working out of the Auror office). I have NO idea what it was called but it actually kind of sort of still exists as part of my understanding of the Harry Potter universe. Maybe that’s wrong of me, but books and reading are so deeply personal that I can’t really be sorry about it.


  4. Digs, I am glad to hear you say that low-quality material is instructive– that was going to be my major objection to it. I am in my mid-thirties and my husband was a great writer of fan fiction in high school (he would kill me if I linked to any of it), and I have read some of that HP fan-fiction with all sorts of gross sex– why is there so much gross sex? That’s my puritanical streak, I guess– so, wait, let me recap: 1. familiar with fan fiction, 2. not delighted by it personally because bad grammar and gross sex. Check.
    OK, having said that, I think that the stuff is harmless, if not actually beneficial in many cases. I was just pining the other day for that sense of complete, obsessive absorption in a fictional world that I had as a child, and fan fiction demonstrates that world in action. These are people who love, love, love a work of fiction so much that they aren’t ready to stop living in it when the book is over, and I find that immensely lovable. Especially when they’re not inserting sex (I am thinking here of an unfortunate scene in a HP fan fic where Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were dating and one of them licks melted butter off the other’s face or something– what grossed me out was the butter, frankly).
    Come to think of it I wrote what was, I guess, fan fiction for The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, for an assignment in 7th grade. I bound it and everything.


  5. I will admit that I don’t read a lot of fanfic, but I think that saying it’s of a lesser quality or not as intelligent or maybe somehow bad for you is like saying that comics and graphic novels are of a lesser quality or not as intelligent or bad for you. Literature and art can and should take all kinds of forms. I wonder why we believe that fanfic is not as well written as anything else, especially in this day of rampant self-publishing? I’m sure some of it is terrible. As terrible as those horrible books about themey fairies (Noelle the Christmas Fairy, etc.)? As terrible as Junie B. Jones? Probably. But not much worse.
    Now, the sex is another thing. If that bothers you. These are often a reflection of what readers wished had happened and that sometimes runs to the dirty.


  6. When I was twelve, my best friend and I wrote Gone With the Wind parodies in the style of Carol Burnett. My daughter writes parodies of Sherlock, which we love. Just because it has a real name now, and the possibility of feedback from more than one person, I don’t think it is significantly different. And it can’t produce worse writing than all the MFA programs churning out New Yorker-esque stories.


  7. My daughter was reading the fan fiction stuff about a TV show. With her younger siblings. It was the SEX that I was upset about. My younger kids wouldn’t have found that site, and ugh. She is 11. I read Forever when I was 12. God help me.


  8. I can’t resist chiming in again as staunch fandom advocate — as far as the “gross sex” goes, I’m convinced that fandom is a really great thing for a teen to have in her life. The most thoughtful discussions of consent, desire, and the relationship of sexuality to emotions that I’ve ever found have all been in fan contexts. And because of that ethical commitment, the community makes it easy to avoid content that you’re not interested in, sexual or otherwise — the tagging system at the AO3 archive, for example, blows the MPAA’s clumsy ratings out of the water.
    For my part, I was always quite sure I wanted to be reading the porny bits. Fic showed me characters navigating their way through friendship, affection and sexuality in ways that were vastly more relevant to my emotional life than any of the highbrow literature I was reading at the same time. I went to good schools, my parents were supportive and informative, and I read widely on my own time, but fandom was still far and away my best source for what being a sexual person might look like and what might come along with it, practically, ethically, and emotionally.


  9. My daughter (13) is also way into fan fiction (and Homestuck). One thing I like is that fan fiction encourages her to think deeply about characters. She says some of the characters she writes about that were created by other authors seem like real people to her – that she knows what they will do, how they will act in different situations, and that is why she likes writing fan fic.


  10. I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. Is that because I’m fifty years old and finally reading “War and Peace?” Or is it because I have two sons who are currently besotted with baseball and not so much books?


  11. Wow. You have all made me think and opened my eyes, and now I’m having one of those “Aw, the internet isn’t so bad!” moments. I’ve been thinking that Virgil, too, was sort of writing Odyssey fan fic (sort of?), and that I should be grateful every day for not having to read books about themed fairies. Also, War and Peace is one of my all-time favorite books. And the larger and fascinating interlinked questions: is fan fic readership/authorship (?) mostly female? And does that mean the aforementioned weird sex is about what women really want? And should we (posthumously) tell Freud?


  12. Joining together two recent themes here…when I was a kid, I LOVED LOVED LOVED Sherlock Holmes. What that meant was that once I had exhausted the actual stories I started reading anything I could find even remotely connected. Maybe all those “pastiches” were the 70s equivalent of fan fiction?


  13. 1987? It was the Harriet the Spy reference that made me think we are the same age! Also, the Ovid/Shakespeare thing is my FAVORITE.


  14. I had to come back to this post and make another comment because today I heard Joyce Carol Oates (weirdo! fabulous!) on a radio show with Michael Silverblatt (insufferable! knows everything about books!) here in Los Angeles, and she talked a bit about fan fiction!


  15. I had to come back here tonight because this afternoon I heard a great radio interview of Joyce Carol Oates (weirdo! fabulous!) with Michael Silverblatt (insufferable voice and pretension but well read!) on a local LA station, and she spoke of forbidden fiction and fan fiction! I felt educated listening to her because of this post that I had read yesterday, so I wanted to thank you. I’m sure you can find the interview online — I imagine you’d find it fascinating.


  16. I’m not too proud to say that when I was in grad school, in the mid-90’s, I got addicted to X-Files fan fiction. I know that at least one of my favorite authors in that “genre” went on to become a published author.


  17. I think I would really, really like to read X-files fan fiction from the 90’s if it still exists. This can be a Thing people read in grad school (but not for grad school, yet).


  18. I think it’s a pretty much unalloyed good thing for all the reasons you list (and as for the negative…well, there’s lots of other bad writing and more-mindless Interweb stuff the kids could be consuming). A number of “real” authors, especially sf/f authors, started with fan fiction; it’s in some ways like training wheels for making up your own characters and worlds. I occasionally have the sense that I’m writing fanfic of *my own writing* when working on a sequel or companion to something I’ve already written. Which feels a little weird. but I try to just go with it.
    Not that I’m a neutral observer otherwise; my kid doesn’t read much (or maybe any)fanfic, but she’s in the process of making some HP fanfic videos, so I too am contractually bound to be thrilled and proud.


  19. Oh, fanfiction certainly *did* exist when you were a kid, but it wasn’t quite as easy to find before the popularization of the internet.
    Yes, it does go back to Homer and Shakespeare and whatnot, but the modern concept of fanfic pretty much got popularized with Star Trek back in the sixties. Wikipedia actually has a fairly decent summarized rundown of fanfic’s history.


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