For those of you not in the know, fanfiction is writing that uses works of popular culture as the basis of its narrative — whether that’s a literary series, TV show, or film franchise.
Sometimes fanfiction uses solely the original characters, other times the writer may choose to introduce their own made up persons into the work.
There are different kinds of fanfiction, such as crossovers where two different works intersect — for instance you could do a fanfic where Harry Potter meets Bilbo Baggins from Lord of the Rings and they go on an adventure together. There is also fanfiction that continues popular series, for example, it might explore what happens when Harry Potter’s own children get to Hogwarts.
There is ‘fluff’, which often consists of short scenes depicting the quiet, cutesy moments between the action scenes in a series — for instance a writer may choose to shine more light on Hermione and Viktor Krum’s relationship in the action-packed Goblet of Fire.
There is also fanfiction where writers decide that they don’t like the original author’s decisions and alter plot sequences, or write ‘alternative universe’ endings. These stories go against ‘canon’, i.e. the author’s original plot or storyline. Particularly when you pair a character with a different romantic interest, this is known as a ‘ship’ — hence the now commonplace expression of “I ship them together”.
This was the kind of fanfiction I decided to write. Often, these stories were a means by which teenage writers like myself came to terms with their own sexuality (as in, their sense of themselves as a sexual being).
This was frequently tied up with their sexual identity, too. I experimented with heterosexual and homosexual pairings, and in doing so, learnt a great deal about intimacy through my experimentations with boundaries, language, and my ongoing interactions with my readers.
I remember being fifteen years old and staying by myself at my grandparents’ caravan by the sea. I would sit outside by the river within range of their wi-fi router as I updated my latest Fremione fanfic (a story in which Hermione Granger ends up with Fred Weasley instead of Ron). I also wrote stories about Hermione and Draco Malfoy, which was one of the most popular sections on the site. The popularity of this pairing, I think, must be rooted in the fact that teenage girls were in the process of learning about healthy relationships and learning to avoid ‘the bad guy’.
I was writing stories which had a definite sense of plot and structure, but there was also definitely an element of smut, or softcore porn, to the narrative as well. One of my most popular works was a fanfic that was structured using Taylor Swift songs as chapter titles, and documented Hermione’s growing attraction to Fred Weasley. It was a slow burner, focused on the family dynamic of the Weasley family and — in my view — the complete romantic mismatch of Hermione and Ron.
By the age of 17, I had hundreds of thousands of words of the stuff on my page, and I had regular readers who would be frothing at the mouth for my next chapter. They would leave comments begging me to upload soon, praising my plotlines and the nuance with which I was able to undercut J K Rowling’s pairing of Hermione with Ron.
One comment in particular really stuck in my mind: a fan said my observations about family dynamics and friendships were akin to Louisa May Alcott’s literary style. Whilst I’m not sure about the exact stylistic comparison, being likened to a classic literary icon was a tremendous compliment and gave me a great deal of confidence in myself at a time when I definitely needed a boost.
In many ways, my popularity as a fanfiction writer was compensation for the terrible time I had at school. I was bullied throughout primary and secondary school, to the extent that I isolated myself completely by the time I was in sixth form. I was spending my lunch breaks and study periods at home, which was thankfully only a short distance from my school. As a result of this experience, I withdrew into my own fantasy world; I was a voracious reader from an early age. It’s perhaps no surprise then, that I found my writer’s voice using the very tools that provided me with such comfort during my childhood.
I grew up when the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise was at an all time high, and as cliché as it is, I always identified with the bookworm figure of Hermione. I admired her tenacity, her outspokenness and the fact that we both had bushy and often unruly hair. I wrote myself into my own stories of happy-ever-after.
In doing so, I learnt how not to create Mary Sue characters, that you don’t need to find a different verb for ‘said’ every time a character speaks, as well as important lessons about the fine line between inspiration and plagiarism. I learnt that to be a good writer, you have to ultimately be a good reader and the value of engaging with your fans.
It’s taken me a long time to realise the valuable lessons that this hobby gave my teenage self, and there were definitely a few insecure moments where I tried to erase my fanfiction from the internet altogether. There are still a few remaining chapters dotted about here and there, and I have no plans to delete them anytime soon.
These early literary works — and they are works, because I invested hours of time in writing, editing and uploading them — are time capsules of my teenage development and I can’t help but feel incredibly proud of how far I have come as writer.
One day soon, I hope that I will have a story of my own that a whole new generation will read, love, cherish and strive to emulate.
Did you write fanfiction, either growing up or as an adult? What motivated you to build on popular franchises rather than create your own?