What if Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy had an affair? What if the characters in Game Of Thrones were to star in an edition of Big Brother VIP? What if Katniss Everdeen were to reflect on the loss of virginity just before the next Hunger Games?
Fanfiction is literature by the fans, for the fans. A tool to explore the themes that some successful sagas don’t dare touch. They are a phenomenon unknown to the general public, but it encourages millions of people to read and write, affects the scripts of television series, has its own jargon and is the origin of bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey. The communities are immense and their impact on popular culture is enormous from What about Brian to Mulberry.
A fanfiction is a story written by and for fans that draws on fictional universes of other authors to explore the empty spaces of the story, reinterpret facts and characters, or create a completely new plot. “It is a text created from the needs of a reader who wants to clarify points of a story, deepen the relationships between characters, translate them to another reality …”, defines Claudia ‘Misvan’, philologist and fanfics reader.
Viko, 24, reads and writes about series such as Naruto or Inazuma Eleven and explains it this way: “I like to read and I like to imagine stories beyond what the authors tell”. She adds that “there are wonderful characters who are left without history because they are secondary” and that “it is entertaining to look for details in the canon”, the original story, “to form other ideas”. Naruto is one of the most popular fandoms on sites like Commaful and Fanfiction.net.
In her story Dormiens, author Dryadeh narrates how Draco Malfoy has become a fugitive and will have to accept Hermione Granger’s help to survive: “Hermione covered her mouth with one hand trying to hide a giggle at the sight of Malfoy’s stupefied face. It was clear that Mrs. Weasley had decided to adopt him, and she doubts that he would like it if this practically unknown woman gave him orders as if she were his mother.”
In another fanfiction, Kirschtein Dawk placed the Game of Thrones characters in Big Brother’s confessionals: “Sixteen strangers will have to live on the same island apart from all kinds of civilization. This year we have chosen Rocadragon as our favourite place. One hundred and fifty-four video cameras will be hidden all over the house. We will leave nothing to the imagination.
There are brilliant ideas, but there are also stories that can send you to the hospital. Perla Shumajer became famous on the Harry Potter forums for her unpredictable and wild prose. This fan wrote: “Harry Potter waits for a punishment, and that is to go to Snape’s office, and wait for Snape, Snape to arrive and both declare their love, be boyfriends and have sex, because that’s life.” Perla was also able to imagine sex scenes with impossible script twists.
Fan communities gather on portals such as Wattpad and AO3. They produce hundreds of stories every day. Wattpad’s 40 million users have posted 100 million texts since 2006 and read for 13 billion minutes a month. The Fanfiction.net forum has been running since 1998 and has more than two million registered users producing stories in 30 different languages. They support all types of fandoms from Young James Herriot to 3 Ring Circus.
It is common to try writing fanfiction before launching into professional literature. For Viko it is “a natural intermediate step between the reader and the writer”. Since the author “does not have to face the complicated task of designing a whole world and characters to start producing by himself”. It makes an easier path to transition. With the help of sites like Reedsy, Squibler, and others providing resources to writers, many fic writers make the transition to publishing quite smoothly after building some skills.
In addition, the fanfiction writer has another advantage: the public will read about a fiction they previously liked. It’s a convenient way to start writing and lose the fear of publishing. Literary quality is not a problem. Most authors are not professionals and the community just wants to have fun. Trial and error are necessary to keep the conversation alive and the machine never stops. It happens the other way around in the publishing sector, where a bad book can label you as a mediocre writer for years.
Harry Potter, Twilight, Glee, Doctor Who, The Hunger Games, Dragon Ball or Buffy Vampire Slayer are some of the most popular franchises, but there is fanfiction about everything from the NBA to the One Direction. Fan communities or ‘fandoms’ expand and rewrite these universes collectively for the love of art. They function like a beehive mind that produces new material, filters it and improves it organically.
“Not only are they made to please,” says Elisa McCausland, a journalist and cultural critic, “you can also change them and test them. The consumer detects a need, covers it and perfects the product. “It is normal that capitalism is happy with this tool,” adds McCausland, “it is an interesting mechanism to know if something is going to be successful, that is test version.
One of the most lucrative editorial bombings of recent years, Fifty Shades of Grey, was born as a torrid encounter between the prude vampires of the Twilight saga. The story had already triumphed with Bella and Edward as protagonists, so it only needed a few touches and publicity to sell copies as churros.
Sometimes, this perverse test serves so that the plots that triumph in the fandoms end up reflected in the canon. Princesa Chicle and Marceline, from Hora de Aventuras, are a regular couple in fanfiction environments. The scriptwriters have supported the idea on several occasions, but have never made it explicit in the series. “The fandom legitimizes that in the series and in comics the winks can move on to something else,” says McCausland.
That “something else” happened in the Nickelodeon series Legend of Korra. Fans went crazy with an unofficial romance between the characters Korra and Asami. In fanfiction jargon, these love stories are known as ‘shippeos’. The shippeos are the soul of fanfiction. Everybody likes a good ship. The scriptwriters listened to the fans and ended up introducing romance into the series. The tandem ‘Korrasami’ was born on the internet and ended up in the canon.
In one of the first academic definitions of fanfiction, MIT professor Henry Jenkins said that “it is a way for culture to repair the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations rather than by the people.
Reinterpreting characters and modifying popular narratives is nothing new: oral tradition stories, from the Iliad to gestational songs, had as many versions as interpreters. These icons and stories belonged to the people, but today they are the property of large media groups. The fanfiction, in a way, recovers those figures and gives them back to the people.
Writing and reading fanfiction is a rebellious gesture, but with nuances. After all, fandoms are born from the cult of a product created by capitalism. “The opportunity to hack, the possibility of meme, troleo… is resistance, but it is also consumption”, underlines Elisa McCausland, “although it is another type of consumption, intervened and resignified”.
The community itself is already something groundbreaking. Fandoms tend to be made up mostly of women. This can be seen in the approaches, the themes, the protagonists and the tone of the texts. “The mainstream culture has a masculine, white, cisgender and heterosexist look, and the fanfic is a reaction to that look, it offers an alternative”, Zelsh points out. “Women have had very little voice in literature,” says Papaveri, “it’s a way of saying that we’re here, of showing your presence in an environment that doesn’t give you anything.
Society has assimilated the male writer’s archetype and the female reader’s archetype, explains Elisa McCausland. The fact that consumption is assigned to the feminine gender has an objective: “To subtract value from it”.
The Internet turns this situation around. We live in a time of the ‘prosumer’. The boundaries between producing and consuming are blurring. McCausland explains that the subject “no longer reads, listens and assimilates information, but constructs it, manipulates it, appropriates it and resignifies it”. He adds that “many, and especially many, have used this potential to build and project themselves through fiction”.
“When one writes or reads fanfiction, one looks for something that has not been seen in the canon,” says Viko. Is that why erotic stories and homosexual themes abound? It’s not the only reason, but it’s probably one of them: “A lot is written about novels and series in which romance is very much in the background or doesn’t exist at all,” Viko continues, “and homosexual themes abound because most of the characters and the best written are men. When someone writes, they want good characters. Unfortunately, female characters are often full of clichés.