No other pastime makes me happier than reading the greatest literary works of our time. My favourite is a violent erotica about the actor David Tennant travelling through space. Considering this example of my refined taste, it’s no surprise that I’ve spent most of my teenage years unable to answer questions about which book I was currently reading.
To be frank, I was reading fanfiction. The literary genre is defined just as it seems: its writers expand upon worlds and characters to explore issues — such as characters’ identity, gender, or sexuality — that were not present in an original work. I love this niche because it expands upon small details of a canonical fictional universe. Maybe it’s a romance that the original writers didn’t choose to include in their book series or a plotline too controversial for even Netflix to green light.
Unfortunately, my fantasies of beloved characters are often misjudged as an unproductive occupation for horny teenagers. In reality, fanfiction consists of a community of talented writers kind enough to bring my favourite characters to life — it’s a happy coincidence that much of the time, they’re at least a little horny. Whether you’re a nervous onlooker, a passionate writer, or a teenager with a knack for Wattpad, fanfiction is a creative adventure for everyone.
Archive of Our Own (AO3) is a noncommercial and nonprofit hosting site for fanfiction. The website also gives users the opportunity to leave feedback or questions for writers. Users have an unspoken rule to comment on the text when finishing a work or a chapter to show their support to its author.
Under one of AO3 writer jetpacks’ stories, a comment by user mariafearofdrowning reads, “SO GOOD I AM IN TEARS.” When I spoke to jetpacks, the writer of the Succession fanfiction “nothing i do is gonna save you,” they told me that “positive feedback has solidified [their] self-esteem,” and that it inspired them to pursue creative writing as a major in postsecondary education.
Likewise, user terling2021 told me that the writing on Wattpad showed them that they “no longer need to pursue traditional publishing to validate [themselves].” Without the pressure to appeal to a market, writers can feel safe sharing their work and gain more confidence as they improve their writing skills.
Another sense of solace that readers can obtain from fanfiction is a sense of control over their desires and fears. “Hurt/comfort” is a subgenre of fanfiction that focuses on the interaction between characters where one of them is hurt and another provides them comfort. It can be soothing when a character is struggling with similar worries to yours. This sentiment is often shared by the writers themselves; jetpacks wrote that fanfiction is a “catharsis of various negative emotions.”
Personally, I find it comforting to witness these negative emotions being played out without having to make a $29.30 Indigo purchase.
Unfortunately, popular content in mainstream media often leaves out a key demographic: the LGBTQ+ community. This oversight, however, further shapes fanfiction as an opportunity for marginalized voices to reach an audience.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the lesbian couple Willow and Tara don’t kiss until the fifth season — in the episode “The Body,” in case you’re wondering, so you don’t have to torture yourself searching for it. While their kiss was an iconic moment in early 2000s television, it lasted mere seconds. Constrastingly, AO3 offers over 1,400 stories about the great romantic moments that Willow and Tara deserved to experience sooner than season five.
Sadly, it’s not just members of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom who feel like they’re missing out. I asked AO3 writer Imaolini — author of the fanfiction “Red White and Royal Blue- but it’s Henry’s POV,” which is based on the novel Red, White & Royal Blue — about the importance of their work. They responded that, as a sapphic writer, they “[wanted] to write more queer stories, for kids, teenagers, adults, just everyone. We all deserve it.”
They’re right; fanfiction gives all demographics the stories that they deserve to read, accessed through a simple Google search. Through that Google search, you can be offered catharsis, a newfound community, and an outlet that validates your interpretation of a work. Just remember: fanfiction is not the equivalent of pulling bed sheets over your head and inviting delusion — it’s entering a literary universe in which every gender, sexuality, and self-expression is represented.