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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