Community, Friendship & Overcoming Shame: A Love Letter To Fanfiction
Like a lot of kids born in the mid-nineties, the first video game I ever played was Spyro the Dragon on the PlayStation. My dad brought it home from Video Ezy for me and had to help me with the controls because I, unfortunately, was not the most coordinated six-year-old out there (I’m still not the most coordinated twenty-seven-year-old either, frankly). This was before the time of kids being born with the innate ability to use technology, so I still had to learn it. Suffice to say, my fingers fumbled a lot as I would accidentally send Spyro off the edge of the map into the coloured abyss for the fiftieth time. It was certainly a lesson in perseverance, that’s for sure.
From then on, I was obsessed, the magical world was so captivating that I couldn’t stop thinking about where I’d get to explore next. Each night when I was falling asleep, I would come up with different scenarios for Spyro, have him interact with characters who resided entirely in my mind and explore worlds that didn’t exist in the game. Unfortunately, most of my friends didn’t play games so I couldn’t tell them about these fun stories I’d made up. They didn’t get it, and worse yet didn’t even know who Spyro was. It wasn’t their fault though; I blame gendered 80s video game marketing for that one.
Writing My First Fanfiction
Like a lot of young girls, I was also obsessed with notebooks. And so, one day, I picked up my most recent purchase – a bright pink spiral-bound book with photos of kittens taken in a very Anne Geddes-esque style on the cover. It was in this notebook where I penned what would become my very first fanfiction. I, of course, had no idea what fanfiction was and was just writing a story about the game that I enjoyed playing. It wasn’t the most inspired story, but I look back on it fondly, even at six years old I was a giant dork.
This was in the very early 2000s and after that, I took a long hiatus from the world of fanfiction. Instead, I dedicated my time to schoolwork (gross) and playing copious amounts of Pokémon and The Sims (fun!). Occasionally I dabbled, uploading short stories accompanied by screenshots of my modded-so-they-didn’t-even-look-like-Sims Sims to the Sims 2 online exchange. However, more often than not I’d get halfway through a story before my game would crash and I had to start over from scratch. One of my biggest regrets is not saving a backup of these stories as they have unfortunately been lost to time. I feel like there’s a point to be made about physical versus digital here, but – like my ability to stay on topic – it’s currently evading me.
Building A Community
My triumphant return to fanfiction writing came in the year 2007. While browsing some pre-Reddit forum I stumbled across a little website called FanFiction.net. Well, let me tell you, fanfiction became all-consuming for me from that point on. By that point, I had still not been able to find friends that liked video games as much as I did. So, to find a website dedicated to talking about and telling stories about these characters that I’d loved was incredible. While I didn’t participate in any of the community events, to know that I wasn’t the only one making up stories really made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I was able to share my thoughts without fear of being looked at like I was a dodrio, that is to say as if I had three heads.
Throughout high school, I wrote hundreds of fanfics – most of which remain unfinished – and even went as far as to publish quite a few online. I discovered a love for writing creative fiction and credit most of my writing ability from reading reviews of my work and taking the (sometimes harsh) advice people would give me. In 2011 I wrote a 150k word novelisation of the first Pokémon game that for some reason, became quite popular. I would update almost daily, racking up hundreds of comments and forming online friendships with people who felt just as passionately as I did. This small community that I was a part of helped me through some tough high school experiences, and I look back on it fondly.
Fanfiction And A Culture Of Shame
But there was a downside to writing fanfiction, and that was unfortunately embarrassment. Fanfiction had the reputation of being something cringeworthy that only teenage girls do. Like many things, if teenage girls like it, it is automatically labelled as uncool. I must have heard this somewhere because I had it in my head that this was an incredibly mortifying hobby to have. So, I didn’t tell a single soul. I didn’t tell anyone as I continued to write into the mid-2010s.
As I grew up my I began writing more complex and adult stories. I would weave the things I was going through into a pre-existing universe I was familiar with, which helped me work through all the ups and downs that twenty-somethings face. It meant I was able to think rationally from an outside perspective while trying out different ways to face issues going on in my own life. However, I still felt that sense of shame though, quickly minimising my word documents if someone walked past.
It wasn’t until 2020 (can you believe it!) that I finally told someone in my real life that I wrote fanfics. As it happens, I discovered that a friend of mine who I went to university with also wrote fanfiction after having only discovered it recently. It took a lot of self-hype for me to send her the link to my profile but the relief and validation I felt was indescribable. For the first time ever in my real offline life, I was able to talk to someone openly about a hobby that had secretly dominated my life for fourteen years. We spoke at length about how fanfiction allowed us to participate in fandom in a creative way as well as help us through our own issues.
Now I certainly think that the attitude towards fanfiction has changed with how much geek culture has come into the mainstream. I see and hear teenagers talking about it like it’s nothing and it makes me so happy that they’re comfortable talking about what they’re writing. It’s also made me feel like the almost-30-year-old that I am when they have no idea about flames and A/N’s interrupting every paragraph. Yeah, I’ve been around for a while.
At times I felt that this embarrassment is something entirely fabricated in my own mind. But I’ve often heard other older millennials talk about how they too hid the fact that they attended conventions or watched anime from friends and coworkers. So, maybe not. That is perhaps a whole other discussion worth having another time.
Why You Should Try Out Fanfiction
Nevertheless, there are so many different reasons why people write fanfiction, ranging from a love of the series and a desire to explore its characters in different situations that aren’t in the original work. It provides a way for writers to try out new techniques and experiment with scenarios that they may not have thought of otherwise. It’s a way to spend more time with the characters you love or expand on things that happened that felt unfinished or unexplored.
It can be a safe way to creatively express yourself in a universe you’re familiar with and build friendships all over the world. It is something that is incredibly important, particularly for those in isolated places that don’t have much opportunity to connect with like-minded people in their real lives. All of these reasons are so important and can really help people – especially those who are young – with figuring life out.
Despite the bad reputation that unfortunately does still persist in some writing circles due to the previously mentioned “only teenage girls do that” stigma, there’s so much to be gained from writing fanfiction. The sense of community surrounding it cannot be overstated. As someone who has consistently enjoyed reading and writing all sorts of things for the past fifteen years, I encourage anyone who’s got an idea floating around in their head to try it out. No matter what your skill level is, there’s always going to be someone out there who enjoys your stories. It is also just rewarding to get those words down on paper (or in a word document)!