A guide to fanfiction for people who can't stop getting it wrong

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Title: A guide to fanfiction for people who can't stop getting it wrong
Commentator: Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Aja Romano
Date(s): June 17, 2014
Medium: online
External Links: A guide to fanfiction for people who can't stop getting it wrong, Archived version
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A guide to fanfiction for people who can't stop getting it wrong is by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Aja Romano for "The Daily Dot." It was published June 17, 2014.


"What is fanfiction? That’s the question magazine articles and TV segments have been attempting to answer for upwards of 40 years now, usually without doing much actual research into the topic. Maybe this was a valid question back when folks were still sliding Kirk/Spock zines under the tables at Star Trek conventions, but in the era of Fifty Shades of Grey (look, we had to namecheck it at some point) and Amazon’s licensed, for-profit fanfic publishing service, you’d think that fanfic explainer articles would be on the way out."

Topics Discussed

Most millennials are at least vaguely aware of what fanfic is, and their parents can presumably just Google it like anyone else. Right?

Not so much, apparently. More than a decade after the Harry Potter craze kicked fanfic culture straight into the mainstream, we’re still seeing regular appearances from that most embarrassing of journalistic genres: the poorly researched thinkpiece expressing shock, horror, bemusement, and condescension for fandom and the (mostly female) fans who write fanfiction.

And it’s not just fringe publications who get the whole concept of fandom wrong. It wasn’t long ago that BuzzFeed enraged fans with one of those “How geeky are you?” quizzes. Although BuzzFeed of all places should have known better, its definition of what made someone a geek managed to leave out 90 percent of popular fandom activities, along with the vast majority of the geek population, i.e. not-a-white-dude.

So for anyone out there who has just been hired to explain the intricacies of fanfic culture to a confused and ill-informed audience, here are a few misconceptions we can get out of the way before you even start:

  • Myth: It's written as "Fan Fiction"
  • Myth: "Fandom" is a morphing of "kingdom"
  • Myth: Fanfic writers are mostly dudes
  • Myth: Fanfic writers are all teenagers or modest young women who shouldn't be exposed to this kind of Internet filth
  • Myth: Fanfic writers are sexless, fat, repressed middle-aged spinsters
  • Myth: Bronies are special
  • Myth: Fanfic is bad for teen literacy
  • Myth: Most fanfic is on Fanfiction.net
  • Myth: Slash fanfic is the equivalent of lesbian porn for straight women
  • Myth: All fanfic is super weird
  • Myth: Fanfic is just practice for "real" writing
  • Myth: All fanfic is porn
  • Myth: Fanfiction is plagiarism
  • But what about copyright?
  • Myth: Reporters should ask celebrities what they think about the awkward fanfic fans write about them
  • Myth: The fourth wall is made to be broken

Excerpts from Comments

[UK MJ]: "I wish the 'not all fanfic is porn' headline was three times as large. My biggest frustration is that when I talk about writing fanfiction, it's automatically assumed that I'm in the Penthouse Forum crowd, especially since my fandom is relationship-oriented. There are a lot of us who just want to tell stories, without graphic depictions of sex. I feel almost obligated to add "not that kind!" to "I write fanfic.""

[ Tami Marie Alexander ]: "As someone who has been writing and producing fanzines since the mid 1980s, I have mixed feelings about this article. I appreciate the myths being debunked and agree that fanfiction is nothing new. In addition to the Jane Austen factoid, let's also remember that fans were speculating about Holmes and Watson as a couple back when Conan-Doyle was still penning the stories. The cast of the original Star Trek series knew about fanfic back in the 1970s, including K/S; about one publication entitled "Spock, Enslaved" (featuring a drawing of a naked Spock in chains), Nimoy is said to have toasted the fans and remarked, "May all your fantasies come true." Walter Koenig once famously did a dramatic reading of a Sulu/Chekov story after complaining that there was too much Kirk/Spock,[1] and Mark Lenard once remarked wistfully, "My son, my son" after seeing a rather graphic T'Feyrer cover. Likewise, George Lucas was aware of Star Wars fanfic. Both Wendy Pini (creator of ElfQuest) and Anne McCaffrey gave blessings to fan-run writing clubs to play in their universes with the caveat that no one use their characters (Anne couldn't read any of the stories for legal reasons while she was still writing the books). Sir Ian McKellen asked Peter Jackson to keep in the hand-holding between Sam and Frodo because he said that their relationship was important to fans in the LGBT community, those who read the books and saw them as a couple. And that was before Harry Potter was a figment of Rowling's imagination. As for Supernatural, the late Kim Manners would find all the Wincest (Sam/Dean) and make the actors read it. This later made its way into the show in a few episodes (and a lot of the slash fans were upset for some reason). But fandom and fanfic has been around for a very long time. I have Starsky & Hutch zines from the 70s when they were being banged out on typewriters and printed by mimeo. When fanfic started showing up online in Yahoo!groups and on Livejournal, and then in forums like FF.net, I -- like many other fanzine publishers—saw it as the beginning of the end to the printed word. Nowadays, you can get fanfic all over the Internet, while zines are becoming harder to find and even harder to sell. Harry Potter is just one small drop in a much bigger ocean that is fandom. I am proud to be a part of its rich history. :)"

[Carol]: "Interesting article, many inaccuracies. Harry Potter came along after the huge Lord of the Rings run, which came after the pro wrestling run, and the Star Trek run. Fan fiction has been around for a lot longer than good old Harry."

[Joseph Bills]: ""The fourth wall is the fandom-created idea that there should, at all times, be a necessary distance and separation between fans and the creators/creative teams of the things they love." Wut, that's not what fourth wall means. This article is just a bunch of slash-apologizing."

[Mariam Watt]: "OK, I'm not sure why the article's authors, who ostensibly are fanfic writers themselves, go out of their way to crap on fanfiction.net or WattPad. AO3 started only 5 years ago. For people who started writing their fic online 10 years before that, ff.net was one of the most user-friendly archives. Calling it a bastion of crappy pre-teen fic is inaccurate and insulting to people who have been writing there for almost 15 years. This article makes the AO3 writers sound super-judgmental."


  1. ^ Walter Koenig did a impromptu dramatic reading of a threesome story starring his character, Sulu and a OMC from a 1981 zine: Kandy Fong remembers Walter Koenig running across this zine for sale at a convention:
    Kandy Fong:—Walter's coming around through, and he goes, "Oh, you've got slash. You got any, listen—Kandy, why is it can I never find any slash that has Koenig it in?" I mean, Walter in it. I mean—(laughter)... He wanted to know why his character wasn't being slashed. I'm kinda going—Marnie S: He was not... deterred by it. In fact, he used to tease George about it. : KF: Yes. (laughter) So, anyhow, he goes up and he sees this story, and I said, "And these stories are terrible." And he rolls it up and he decides to give a dramatic reading... About how the two guys had to go down to a planet and seduce the court of the queen, so they'd give them dilithium crystals, for the ship is trapped in orbit and can't get out. And so these two young men had to go down there and please the ladies of the—So, he's reading this thing out loud, very dramatically, and just enjoying the heck out of it. So— : MS: He got a huge kick out of things like that. -- from Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Kandy Fong and Marnie S