Fan fiction may be the black sheep of the media world, but to me, it’s a fabulous feast of never-ending possibilities. But sometimes, I’ll see commenters post that something “read like fan fiction” and frown at my phone.
Because, to me, “reads like fan fiction” is an amazing compliment.
If you’re not familiar, fan fiction, fanfic, or even just “fic”, is fiction written by fans—of a movie, TV series, book, artist, musician, or other property—about the thing they’re a fan of. Fan art totally counts, too. They’re considered transformative works, and the writers and artists do it for free, for the love of the fandom they’re a part of.
Note: Everyone has their opinions on the legality or legitimacy of fanfic, and I’m not going to get into any of that, so I’m gonna leave this here and here.
I doubt there’s a fic author out there who hasn’t heard some variation of: “If you want to write so badly, why not write something original and not waste your time on…that.”
It’s not like it’s a new idea. Take the relationship between the Renaissance and the Bible—all that art, all those plays, poems, and stories are pure fanfic.
As a kid, I used to make up stories and spent a huge amount of time in other peoples’ worlds through reading. There weren’t a lot of other children in my neighborhood, but my imagination was a constant companion. One of my elementary school teachers had faith in me, and she helped me actually write some of these stories down.
I’m sure they’re languishing somewhere in storage at my parents’ house, which means I’m seconds away from getting a text saying they’ve been found and they’re in the mail.
As I continued my education, I took a creative writing course in high school and enjoyed my English classes, but in what felt like a nanosecond, I was in college. After graduating, I did everything from insurance to finance to sales. All that time, a starving creature vaguely resembling a blank Word document whispered inside me, begging to be fed. I barely heard it over the sound of life.
When the workday was over I had plenty of time on my hands, which translated to plenty of time spent reading books, or doing late 2000s things online. Soon I was hunting for something new to read. By chance, I discovered the YA book series Twilight.
The story was exactly what I needed to read at the time, and I finished the books as fast as Edward running back to Bella’s house to watch her sleep.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, and I’m sure wine was involved, but I ended up on fanfiction.net (if you know, you know) and…
It was glorious. I started reading Twilight fanfic, and a lot of it was…really good.
And really creative.
And in some cases, better written than a lot of actual published books.
Even if they weren’t, that’s irrelevant—the authors wrote, and they had fun, and they entertained. Which, let’s be honest, is what any writer should be doing—having fun doing what they do, and entertaining others.
These fans of the series—whether they were trying to fix something they didn’t like about the books, pay homage to what was written already, extrapolate what might happen after the series, or take the characters on their own journeys—were engaged and playing in the Twilight sandbox.
And I wanted to play, too.
For the first time in literal years, I wanted to write again. But where to start? And damn, was I rusty. So I started small, writing short stories and posting them. To my simultaneous horror and delight, people read them and commented. Readers were encouraging. The nervous knot in my stomach relaxed a tad, and I tried my hand at writing something longer, with multiple chapters, and an actual plot. I was hooked.
Most fanfic and blogging sites allow commenting and “liking” in some way, so I was able to get practically instant feedback on my work. I worked with beta readers, and readers and other writers who had more editing knowledge than I did at the time. I read my fair share of fic too, seeing what I enjoyed in a story, what was working and what wasn’t in the narrative. How other authors described things, wove a plot, captured my interest.
Was that first longer story I wrote well-written?
I’ve looked at it since, and while it’s not the worst, it’s far from the best, and certainly not the best I’ve produced. How do I know? Because, with all the writing with training wheels on, I wobbled around, fell and skinned my knees, and, eventually, got my balance, flying down that hill with the wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth.
Genre expectations, characterization, plotting, story beats, description…all of this, and more, was a real-life learning experience I couldn’t have gotten in a classroom.
But the best part was the community, the fandom. Fandoms often get side-eyed for toxic environments, but that’s the internet all over. My experiences with the community were mostly supportive and uplifting. Late-night forum chats with readers and other writers about a plot bunny that won’t leave you alone and encouragement to write it ASAP; a request for a quick beta from a reader you trust before you post something; collaborations with fandom friends who had graphic design experience to make a banner or art for your story. And the friendships, many of which I still have today.
One of the coolest things has been watching fandom friends publish “for real”. I’ve seen lists of authors—many now award-winning, or NYT bestsellers—for signings at conferences or conventions and grinned at the number of names I recognized from fandom.
What makes fic so unique? The writers are willing to take risks, chances, write something you may have never seen or read before. For example, if you’re a fan of A/B/O (Alpha/Beta/Omega dynamics)—surprise! It started as a fanfic trope.
Fic writers often are great at taking the reader on an emotional rollercoaster. The kind that you can’t stop thinking about, that haunts your brain for days after you finish reading. Some fic I’ve read has stayed with me longer than many traditionally published works. And the representation—a lot of fic is populated with characters whose representation has been overall lacking in media: LGBTQIA+, characters of color, characters of different nationalities, disabilities, religions.
I still read fanfic, though and I haven’t written anything fic-wise in a long time. Perhaps it’s time to get back on that horse again, write something for fun when the creative juices aren’t flowing on my personal IRL projects. Play in another sandbox. But even if I never write another word of fanfic, it’s taught me so much about my own abilities, and what I’m capable of as a writer.
Reading fan fiction and writing it gave me the spark I needed to get back to writing, something that feeds my soul. And I hope I’m lucky enough to write something that inspires someone to write—fic or not—too.
Your favorite author may very well have gotten their start writing fanfic. Maybe they still do. So, when something “reads like fan fiction”, it’s high praise. And don’t let anybody tell you different.
I’m curious: Do you currently or have you ever read fan fiction? Written it? Drawn fan art? And what fandom(s) are you a part of?
P.S. If you want to get into reading or writing/posting fanfic, my advice is to start with Archive of Our Own (AO3). The interface is great, and the tagging system makes finding what you’re looking for much easier than the wild west sites of ye olden times.
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Ryley Banks writes award-winning bestselling sexy romance between the covers, mostly of the LGBTQ+ variety. She’s a connoisseur of tea and gin and loves language, especially creative profanity. When she’s not begging her characters to behave or reading fan fiction, you can find Ryley at: https://ryleybanks.com/
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Ryley’s latest release is the bestselling fall-themed charity anthology, Falling Hard, which features her sexy gay second-chance romance, Hard Cider Crush. All proceeds go to ProLiteracy. Ryley has a few upcoming projects, so follow her on Amazon and her newsletter for updates. https://amazon.com/author/ryleybanks
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