I first encountered fan fiction at the height of my Harry Potter craze.
I was obsessed with Harry Potter: I read every interview that J.K. Rowling gave, read up on trivia about the books and looked at online forums that speculated about the books that were yet to come out. One evening when I was on mugglenet.com, I started exploring the section labeled “Fan Fiction.” I discovered that it was a collection of fiction that usually either explored what happened after the books or created an alternate reality within the world of the books. I was hooked. For a few months, I lost sleep staying up to read about what would have happened if Hermione had gotten together with Harry instead of Ron, or if Harry had been sorted into Slytherin after all. I also discovered that there were huge collections of websites devoted to the fan fiction community and that fan fictions were also written about movies, TV shows, video games and other books. Much of what I encountered was very poorly written, but occasionally I would stumble upon a gem that was well-written, with a fascinating plot and good characterization. I even wrote a few (terrible) stories of my own.
It turns out it’s tough to get people to talk about their fan fiction exploits, past or present. When people think fan fiction (if they know what it is), they typically think tween enthusiasts or middle-aged housewives. A “fangirl” or “fanboy” is that person who corrects your pronunciation of “Wingardium leviosa” or gets into a catfight about whether Edward or Jacob is more deserving of Bella Swan’s undying devotion. Not everyone is eager to identify with the same people who dedicate large amounts of time to writing stories with themselves as the main character of a plot in which they hook up with Glee’s Finn Hudson.
Celines Diaz ’14 was unfazed, however, and chatted with me about her interest in both reading and writing fan fiction. “Sometimes I write fan fiction about manga and sometimes about different books and movies. I’ve written fan fiction for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Magic Collection, and the manga Boys over Flowers,” she said. “The way I got into writing fan fiction was that I loved reading stories about alternate interpretations of the [original] stories, and when I found fandoms that didn’t have very many stories, I wanted to write my own,” she explained. When I asked where she published her stories, she said, “Well, I used to publish on fanfiction.net, but I got some nasty comments, so now I just write for myself.” In the fan fiction community, people who leave rude, obscene comments are known as “flamers.” I myself have gotten a couple comments of that nature – they’re definitely one of the downsides of being part of the online fan communities. However, Diaz emphasized that she still really enjoys writing fan fiction for herself.
Upon receiving my email, Dominique Exume ’13 expressed dismay that one of her friends had given her secret away. Although she was a little reluctant to talk about her experience with fan fiction at first, she soon realized that it wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about. “A lot of why I write fan fiction is that I was a particular fan of Draco Malfoy and he wasn’t in the books enough to my satisfaction,” Exume said. “I wanted to explore why he is the way he is and what he could have done later on after the war. That’s what got me into reading it, and writing came naturally from reading it all the time.” Exume and I also discussed the online community of fan fiction writers and readers: “Communicating with other writers is a huge, huge part of it,” she said. “There are certain people who always read your work. You definitely build friendships through common interests in the same type of material. People get really emotional and into it. They’ll email writers who haven’t updated their stories in a while and will say, ‘How could you stop writing?’”
At the end of our interview, I asked Exume why she read fan fiction and what she got out of it. “I get the satisfaction of having my own way with the characters,” she said. “It’s like taking something that you really love and putting yourself into it, and this was a way to do something about how much I loved it.”
So to all the secret fan fiction enthusiasts out there – and I know you’re reading this – take a lesson from these ladies: being passionate about stories and storytelling is nothing to be ashamed of.