On Fanfiction and Reader Engagement

In a world where fangirl culture is now being labelled as crazy, admitting to reading — or writing — fanfiction is akin to placing a target on your back, but I have a confession:

I regularly read fanfiction.

Fire away, but keep reading, hear me out.

I could attempt to hedge my statement by protesting that I only read it before bed, when I know a book would keep me awake, but I don’t think my statement should need any hedging — do you know why?

Because fanfiction shows enthusiasm for reading, because fanfiction is writing for an authentic audience that wants to engage with what they’re reading, and that’s incredible.

(Authentic audiences are one of the keys to crafting good writing assignments, I’ve learned, and the teacher in me couldn’t not mention them.)

It was the teacher in me that asked Jane Friedman how to get students interested in publishing when they’re still learning their craft. I had expected some sort of answer about teaching students how the publishing industry works early on, but the answer I received was infinitely better and was something with which I was already familiar.

She suggested Wattpad, explaining that writing in small chapters for established characters and universes not only allows for practicing writers to get on-site feedback, but also provides inspiration and motivation and helps to combat writer’s block and the anxiety coupled with that kind of block.

Friedman’s words are golden, essentially, and are key to remember whenever we even think of looking down on fanfiction. People can be cruel and look down on poorly written fanfiction, but all writers start at differing skill levels, and all of these writers love what they’re writing about — don’t squash that love.

Think about the last book you really loved. What did you do after you read it?

I’m the type of reader to re-read the chapters and passages that I loved, sighing with content and hoping I’ll eventually write a book that causes the same reaction for someone, but words are finite, and there is only so much re-reading that can be done, which is where fanfiction can come in.

When I’m rereading Percy Jackson for the hundredth time (fear not, dear blog readers; I will never stop mentioning my love for PJO), I eventually have to put the book down, but I can easily pick up my phone and pop over to AO3 and read anything from a canon-compliant fanfic from Annabeth’s POV to a Percabeth soulmate AU where Percy is in a band (something I recently read, and let me tell you, it was wonderful).

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And when I press “kudos” on that story, I’m letting that writer know that I think they did a good job, thereby supporting their craft and their enthusiasm.

And that’s not even the best part — I’m working to better my own writing, because what’s the number one tip people give when asked how to become a better writer?

Read and read widely.

(Even fanfiction.)
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5 thoughts on “On Fanfiction and Reader Engagement”

  1. Nice ideas! I’ve stayed away from fan fiction because, in my mind, it tends to go down the 50 Shades route quite quickly, and it becomes a form for people to just fantasise about various characters “getting it on” all the time. Have you read any fan fiction you particularly enjoyed which is not like this?

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    1. There’s TONS of fanfiction that’s not like this! In my experience reading fanfiction, there are a few different foci — the main ones I’ve read are either character-centric/character studies, a new/original plot for characters, or relationship focused. Relationship focused fanfiction is split even further — yes, one of the paths of relationship focused fanfiction is smut/all about sex, but it’s easy enough to avoid if you’re not into reading that because most fanfiction sites have tags and warnings for sexual content!

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  2. fanfiction is just another form of literature as far as I am concerned. Sometimes better and sometimes worse than any novel you might find in a bookshop or library. The one thing I love about fanfiction is the passion that can always be found behind these stories because people write them for fandoms they are passionate for. It is this passion that quite often can be lacking from those novels at the library or book store.

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  3. It’s really interesting to hear what Jane Friedman had to say about this and it opens up that wall that most put up to hide that they read, or write, fanfiction. I personally have never written any, but I’ve been known to read some now and then if I come across something I’ve heard to be an exceptional read. I think the reasoning behind looking down on fanfiction so much is because it has been given the stereotype of being sexualized. I know a lot of people who look at me with that disgusted look on their face and say “you actually read that stuff?” And I know this look isn’t because I’m reading, say, a fanfiction version of Harry Potter. It’s because they think it’s something that it rarely ever is. Fanfiction isn’t just the stereotype it has been given but it’s way more. And it’s a bit sad that no one does more research into it to give it a try.

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  4. I have to say I love what Jane Friedman said about how fanfiction can keep students into writing and into publishing too. I agree though that most people have looked down on fanfiction, they think it is not a good form of writing, but like Jane said it is a way to keep students interested. It defiantly kept me interested when I was younger and I still read it today (I am not ashamed to admitting that!). I still write fanfiction in my spare time just to keep the writing juices flowing, especially when I hit a wall in my novel writing. It tends to help get out of my creative funk and may be get some new ideas for the original writing project.

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