Reading and writing can also be a social act, generating community and creating networks. This is something that is very clear to young people and this is being demonstrated by the new ways of creating and consuming fiction that have emerged on the Internet and for the Internet, such as the fanfiction phenomenon or online platforms for writing and reading.
Fanfiction are stories (literally, fan stories) that refer to existing books, series, manga, video games, films or even real characters, written by those who follow the originals. They continue the original stories, propose new plot lines or send their favourite characters to other worlds or contexts. Any fan can take aspects or characters from their favourite work, write about them and explore new narratives.
The habitat of this genre is the Internet, especially sites such as Fanfiction.net or Archive of our own, where you can find all kinds of themes and well-categorised characters. Moreover, one of the characteristics of these stories is that they are not created with economic intentions, but as a demonstration of how much a work or product of fiction is valued. So much so as to dedicate hours and hours of work to it, following a motto: if what you want doesn’t exist, create it yourself.
Although it is not considered a genre in its own right in the more traditional literary world, and its value is sometimes underestimated, the fact is that the fanfiction phenomenon is getting millions of people all over the world to read and write this type of stories in all languages. But, above all, it should be noted that it is mainly very young women who take up fanfiction, guided by their love of the stories and their characters, but also by the need to tell the stories as they would like them to be told. The fickers, as they are known in the world, are a community that has been creating and interacting on the Internet for years.
In the words of one of them, Konohana Natalie, “being a ficker is a beautiful thing, it’s staying up late to update, checking spelling or reading the same text several times until you’re satisfied. Being a ficker is going to sleep thinking about how to update your story or wanting to write faster because the ideas come together in your head and getting excited when readers leave you reviews. To be a ficker is to capture what’s in your heart, your longings or what you wish had happened in a series, in words that reach you, and that move others”.
There are many writers who are not happy about their work being manipulated, despite the fact that fan fiction is not subject to copyright. This is the case of Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire, who is not only against “adaptations” of her titles, but has gone so far as to denounce this activity. On the opposite side is J. K. Rowling, who has on occasion commented that she loves them, as long as they do not put her characters in somewhat overtly over-the-top plots, which is often the case.
Fan fiction can be a good breeding ground. There have been fickers who have made the leap to paper or audiovisuals, such as E. L. James, who began writing on a fan fiction site for fans of Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight saga before publishing 50 Shades of Grey, and Anna Todd, a bestseller with After.
“Reading fanfiction, I found Wattpad, a site where people like me, who read and write online, existed. There I shared about a million words, my first novel”, Todd comments on his personal website. It was precisely on this platform that he published After, inspired by Harry Styles, singer of the group One Direction, which achieved millions of hits. Later, the publishing house Simon & Schuster contacted her to publish the work and the book has now been translated into more than 15 languages and has been adapted into a film by Jenny Cage as Here It All Begins. Since then, the author has not stopped publishing on paper, but she says something that defines the new era in fiction: “I don’t want to be a solitary writer, I’ve really missed the reactions and comments I used to get (on Wattpad)”.
Another important author, Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote about these platforms in The Guardian: “Reading and writing, like everything else, get better with practice”. For her, Wattpad is a kind of consumer-friendly library of free works “born before the e-book explosion” where an entire generation is “trying their wings” as authors, publishers or readers. These new community-based patterns of creation and reading are also achieving something very positive by being more inclusive products. More and more people are creating diverse, LGTBIQ+ and racialised characters, responding to the demand of those seeking other narratives. For Atwood, this is simply a representation of the new generation, more diverse than ever, that is now producing on these platforms. The author of The Handmaid’s Tale argues that Wattpad can be “a platform that opens doors and widens the view in places where doors and views are narrowed”. A literature far removed from orthodoxy, but closer to those who read it, who are often also those who write it.