Have you ever liked a show or book so much that you just wanted it to never end? That’s one of the big appeals of fanfiction: where stories based on existing plots, characters and even real-life personalities can continue with no limit, and evolve in their very own way.
Chances are, you’ve probably heard of fanfiction, and not in a good way – from its poor writing to sexual content, fanfiction has its fair share of criticism. But is fanfiction really all that bad? Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about writing and reading fanfiction, and whether it’s a healthy hobby for children to have.
What is fanfiction?
Didn’t like the final of Game of Thrones? Through fanfiction, you have the power to reshape the story, including the way it ended, just as you wish. As the name suggests, fanfiction is where fans put pen to paper, or tap out a story on a keyboard, but about what? Basically, existing entertainment, from popular series to beloved books.
Nothing is off limits when it comes to fanfiction, with budding amateur writers penning stories on everything from Harry Potter to Roblox. Common fanfiction subjects include existing novels and literature, movies, anime, manga, TV series, video games, and even real-life celebrities or musical groups. Fanfiction is nothing new: even Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was based on an already existing story from one of his contemporaries – in times well before copyright laws.
Who writes fanfiction?
One of the most appealing things about fanfiction is that it can be written by anyone, using stories or events which already exist as a springboard to create something new. Fanfiction is now a creative outlet for millions of people around the world. Creators may write for their own private enjoyment, or they may choose to publish their stories on websites that allow others to read, enjoy, and comment on their ideas.
An analysis of over 1,800 fanfiction items posted on hosting site AO3, conducted in 2020, revealed more information about exactly who it was behind the keyboard. Between those who disclosed their gender on the site, as many as 50.39% identified as female. The majority of users analyzed were of college age, in their 20s – 56.7%, to be more specific. 21.3% identified themselves as middle-aged or of working age, and 19.8% disclosed that they were teenagers.
Why do kids enjoy fanfiction?
If your child is looking for somewhere to start with creative writing, fanfiction can be a great way to ease into practice. They already have the basics of a plot and characters, and these can be a springboard for new stories, relationships, and ideas about the fictional world already created. Fanfiction allows children to develop ideas they have about relationships between characters, explore subtext, and keep the stories they love alive.
Many children and teenagers also enjoy reading fanfiction, as opposed to writing it themselves. As fans of the original work, reading more about it, even if it isn’t the “official” storyline, allows them to explore their interests further and keep enjoying the story that they love.
Is fanfiction legal?
Now you understand more about fanfiction, one question might spring to mind: is writing and posting fanfiction online legal? What about copyright laws?
Laws vary from country to country, but in the USA, for example, fanfiction stories can fall under “fair use”, in that they are generally produced by amateur writers for no commercial gain, and they often appropriate very little of the original story itself.
Many famous writers have expressed their opinions surrounding fanfiction: some are all for it, believing fanfiction to be a healthy expression of creativity and a way to keep their stories alive (as long as there is no monetary gain involved), while other writers consider fanfiction to infringe on their intellectual property.
Another point to consider surrounding fanfiction’s legality is whether the story would negatively impact the original author’s work in any way. Harry Potter is a good example of this: while author JK Rowling has given her blessing to the creation of fanfiction surrounding the Potterdom, the green light comes with a few caveats. Fanfiction stories should not make any profit, and they should not contain any adult themes – as the Harry Potter series was written for children, JK Rowling’s wish is that any fanfiction it inspires should have the same audience in mind. Speaking of which…
Is fanfiction child-friendly?
As fanfiction can be created by just about anyone with a computer and an internet connection, it attracts amateur authors of all ages and backgrounds. This means that, along with the family-friendly content, there’s a significant amount of adult-themed content, or “mature” fanfiction to be found.
On some level, sex, love and romance are as much a part of fanfiction as they are of life. Some writers might wish to explore these themes as a way of understanding their own emotions – especially adolescents, for whom some of these feelings will be brand new. Fanfiction can also be a way for younger people to write stories that represent them, featuring characters and storylines they don’t come across in popular culture. This exploration through fanfiction is all a healthy part of growing up, and children learning to discover more about themselves.
On the other hand, it’s important to tread with caution when it comes to reading fanfiction online. Many stories feature storylines and language which would only be suitable for mature readers – 50 Shades of Grey, for example, the famous erotic romance novel, started out as fanfiction, based on the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.
Fanfiction terms for parents to know
If you’re invested in your child’s fanfiction hobby, then you might want to get to know it a little better through reading some fanfiction yourself – even if it’s not their work! Get to know some of the terminology, and learn to spot terms that indicate inappropriate content. Here are some of the key terms in fanfiction descriptions that should raise red flags:
Darkfic: If the fanfiction is disturbing in nature, or deals with disturbing topics such as physical violence or abuse, it is often labelled as darkfic. Many members of the online community see darkfic as problematic, as it could trigger trauma, or negatively influence younger readers. As a result, there is a movement within the fan community to limit access to darkfic.
Fluff: This type of fanfic centers around the romantic relationship between characters. Think the sickly sweet, gushing type of prose. While it’s generally supposed to make you go “aww”, sometimes fluff fanfiction focuses on more intimate aspects of the romance, so tread with caution.
Lemon: While it’s apparently no longer in popular use, the term “lemon” can be used to denote fanfiction with sexual content. In fact, a whole scale of citrus fruits was used at one point in time – orange being the most tame, and grapefruit being the most extreme.
PWP: Originally short for “Plot? What Plot?”, PWP fanfiction differs from fluff in that sexual relationships are the entire focus of the story. As a result, the acronym has now come to stand for “Porn Without Plot”.
Smut: As you might have guessed from one of the word’s meanings already in popular use, smut is a term used to describe fanfiction that is erotic in nature.
How to keep fanfiction appropriate for your child
1. Pay attention to the ratings
Most fanfiction sites have a ratings system or labels to indicate mature content – though not all of it will be labeled correctly. That’s why it’s a good idea for children interested in fanfiction to stick to more mainstream sites, where content may be more likely to be flagged and labeled correctly. Some of the most popular fanfiction communities include FanFiction, AO3, Wattpad, and Commaful. Before your child starts reading or posting, help them get to know the labels and ratings for the site they want to use, so they can stay away from inappropriate content.
2. Keep comments turned off
If your teenager wants to publish fanfiction, suggest they don’t allow comments on the posts they upload. While a large part of fanfiction is receiving some kind of constructive criticism, strangers on the internet can sometimes either be cruel or inappropriate, if not both. Your child could receive hurtful comments or comments from trolls if their story is open for everyone on the internet to read. If they do want to get feedback on their stories, encourage them to share with family (if they’re comfortable) or friends whose opinions they value.
3. Get as involved as they’re comfortable with
Reading and interacting with your child’s fanfiction can be a great way to connect with them about the things that they’re passionate about, if they’re willing to open up to you about it. However, their fanfiction, just like a diary, could be extremely personal, so it’s better to only read it with their express permission. Teach them that you trust them to write fanfiction that’s appropriate for their age – while they have boundaries, you also do as parents, and it’s important they understand what’s expected of them online. You could write up an agreement for what they are and aren’t able to post, either just in their fanfiction stories, or online in forums and on social media. This gives them a level of responsibility while still respecting your rules and guidelines.
Once you’re all on the same page regarding your child’s fanfiction hobby, you’ll feel much more comfortable allowing them some free reign. Fanfiction can be a great outlet for your child to explore and express themselves, as long as they understand the implications of posting online, and the expectations you have for their behavior.