By Cephie Howell
It is somewhat well-known that the first modern record of ‘fanfiction’ can be traced back to the 1970’s, with the very active Star Trek fan community. This primitive form of fanfiction was published in fan-run magazines, quickly gaining so much popularity that the show’s creators were eventually compelled to acknowledge it. Now, fanfiction is a widely recognized part of fan culture, with even the most casual fans of shows, books, music, and movies participating in either the consumption or production of fanfiction.
It is difficult to find exact statistics that detail the real number of people who consume fanfiction on a daily basis, but by examining specific websites and organizations we can see how widespread fanfiction really is. FanFiction.net, a very popular fanfiction website, has over 14 million new stories published each year, according to public statistics. Traffic metadata also shows that in December of 2021, the other popular website Archive of Our Own, had 1.7 billion page-views, a number that had been steadily rising throughout that year.
With so much content, how does a fan find the stories that most interest them? The primary way to filter through these archives goes as follows; the reader goes on the website and selects which fandom, the book/franchise they want to read from, then by characters, and they can narrow it down even further by the scenario they want to imagine. For example, you want to read about Superman and Batman meeting in a coffee shop? There’s a tag for that. How about a raunchy dystopian buddy-cop adventure starring the cast of Hamlet? There are several tags for that. Want to see Jesus and Lucifer suddenly get the hots for each other? There’s definitely a tag for that. The system of tagging works with pertinent details about the plot, settling, characters, and the interactions that will ensue means that a reader can find exactly what it is they want to read. It completely cancels out the worst part about finding a book you enjoy— sifting through all of the books, and plots, and mediocre characters that don’t interest you. This likely reflects what the future of the creative market looks like, a completely customizable and personalized experience, something that will go a long way to aid in the exposure of all sorts of new writers and novels.
But why is it that people write these strange niche stories? They aren’t getting paid for it, and most might even think them strange, so what compels a person to write a fanfiction? For many it boils down to a genuine passion for writing. Fanfiction can be a fun and engaging way for people to both expand on characters and worlds that they adore, while also sharpening their writing skills. One of the hardest parts of writing is creating a world and characters that suit that world, but writing fanfiction completely sidesteps those issues by using previously existing cannons as a writing prompt for new adventures. Another aspect of fanfiction that has historically brought in many new readers is that fanfiction has been a way for people to tell queer stories that the mainstream media have always avoided. Fanfiction and queerness have gone hand in hand in more ways than just sharing stories about queer relationships, it has also been a way to foster new and safe queer communities. It isn’t uncommon for a casual purveyor of fanfiction to have made friends in the comments of a favorite fic! What might begin as sharing common interests in a specific ship can bud and grow into large groups of interconnected individuals all creating a safe space for the creation of art, and that is a very beautiful thing.
For many a love of fanfiction stems from a want to expand on worlds and ideas that have captivated you. Perhaps the ending of a series was disappointing, fanfiction can be a great outlet to practice one’s writing while also learning how to critique the media we absorb. It has historically been a way for queer individuals to find themselves in the characters that inspire them, and to use their voices and imaginations to shape media in a way that allows for a representation that isn’t often given by the major corporations creating the stories we consume. Fanfiction; whether a hobby or escape, a means of growth or of comfort, has something for everyone. As our culture continues to shift and change with the times, it will be interesting to see where this fanfiction phenomenon goes in the future.