I have this confession. A reader’s dirty secret if you will. Actually, come to think of it, I think it’s more of a confession of my teenage self that happens to relate directly to a lot of what I write about here: reading, books, geekiness and pop culture.
For a long time, longer than I’d care to admit actually, I’ve been a reader of fanfiction.
That’s right. I said it. I read fanfiction.
I also have fun reading things like “Democracy, English and the Wars Over Usage,” a 2001 Harper’s Magazine article by David Foster Wallace that was published his collection, Consider the Lobster.
What? You don’t like to read essays on etymology and arcane word usage on a Thursday night when you could be watching 30 Rock? What’s wrong with you?
Words are awesome.
But yeah, fanfiction. In case you aren’t familiar with it, fanfiction is basically what happens when someone creative falls in love with a story that someone else who is professionally creative thought up, published or produced, and put out into the world. That first creative person, the one who is not a professional, gets so attached to the characters, places and world that the professionally creative person put out into the world that they start making up stories of their own for those characters, places and world.
Sometimes they write them down.
Sometimes they put them up online.
And, as is the case with all bits of magical creativity put out there into the universe, some of them are really, really good, and some of them are really, really bad.
These creators of fanfiction, which is usually a written story by the way, are not compensated for their work. They get no royalties. They get nothing. And they frequently are smart enough to put disclaimers at the beginning of their stories that state that much so that the professionally creative person, or their legal representation, doesn’t come and sue them.
A lot of professional writers, producers, actors, and such are not only aware of the fact that fanfiction exists out there, they are actually okay with it – at least that’s what I’ve heard. It’s flattering to think that a character you put your heart and soul into has had such an impact on your audience that it has inspired their own creativity. In fact, I can only think of two or three professional writers out there who are vehemently against fan-created work surrounding their licensed characters. I don’t really understand it personally but whatever. I wasn’t terribly attached to the characters those writers put out there anyways.
I started reading fanfiction in high school. That’s right. I have been carrying around this dirty reading secret for more than a decade. And the only reason I am coming out with it now is because if one more person recommends 50 Shades of Grey to me, I’m actually going to punch them in the nose.
Not really. I am not a violent person.
Every time I walk into a bookstore, it assaults my eyes. It’s on every bestseller table in every store.
Why don’t I want to read it, you may be asking? I don’t want to read it because I already read it.
I read it before it was a New York Times bestseller. I read it before it was a self published novel. I read it back when it was fanfiction and the entire thing was white text on a black screen for hours worth of scrolling.
Yes, 50 Shades of Grey, the debut novel causing a scandal all over the world for its hypersexualized characters and sometimes taboo situations, started out as a long, multi-chaptered Twilight fanfiction that went by the name “Master of the Universe.”
From what I understand, the novelization has retained much of the very graphic sex scenes and domineering/innocent main characters that the fanfiction had, and that’s the real reason I have no desire to reread the book.
I recently confessed my love of romance novels and how much fun the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club hangout is, so it’s not that I’m objecting to really.
It’s the hype that I see as being for all the wrong reasons. The book has started conversation after conversation about women embracing their sexuality when it really should be examining the actual relationship that leads up to the sex that everyone in the media can’t seem to stop rehashing. The relationship in question happens to be alternative and rely heavily on the man’s domination of his submissive partner. The first time I read the story, that was the main function of the relationship: a domination/submission plot that revolved around the bedroom. Given the source material the fanfiction writer had taken her inspiration from, it showed both characters in a less than positive light. When she pulled it from the internet, made the necessary changes to make it “her own” and not plagiarism, it was not her focus to create stable, healthy characters with a balanced relationship that happened to enjoy this less-than-traditional relationship behind closed doors.
And those characters who have been written with little depth are what I object to now. They aren’t the kind of characters I want to look up to at all.
That’s the main reason for my protest whenever anyone brings it up in conversation. I can’t bring myself to read such a negative relationship right now. For crying out loud, I just finished Game of Thrones and the relationships throughout that were so twisted and messed up that I’m still recovering a week later. And it hurts my soul a little bit that everyone and their brother praises this book rather than thinking critically about it. I can’t help but agree with another HelloGiggles contributor that we need to be critically examining more of our entertainment.
My other reason for being angry at the mere mention of this book? Every time someone asks me, I feel this sick obligation to explain to them that I read it when it was fanfiction. And I can feel their judgement. Fanfiction was, and is, this great little community of writers who I had a lot of fun hanging out with on the internet.
Maybe I’m being selfish. Maybe I just don’t want to let anyone into my clubhouse. Maybe in six months I’ll be able to say, “Wow, it really is merrier now that we are more.” But somehow I doubt it. I feel like the floodgates have opened for ridicule, mockery and an influx of people who don’t really love a story enough that it could ruin their lives.
Maybe I should just mind my own business, but I feel like a part of the fanfiction Bandaids.
Woman Reading via ShutterStock