So. Let us talk about fanfiction. Ah, fanfiction.
It is a much-debated topic in the literary community. Some people love it and would be happy to write it for the rest of their lives. Some detest it and would rather jump into a pit of rabid, screaming fangirls than go anywhere near it. I suppose you can say one thing about it, though - you can't know what it is without having an opinion on it.
So let us back up a little and ask: what exactly is fanfiction?
I consulted the great and all-knowing Urban Dictionary, and here is what I found: "A piece of fiction within a fandom utilising characters and situations from a pre-existing work including (but not limited to) books, television programs, films, and comic strips."
It's no secret that fanfiction receives much hate. Honestly, though, that's almost baffling to me, because the fact that people seem to be so intent on magnifying every minuscule flaw in one particular genre is ridiculous. Why is society as a whole so bent on sneering at and degrading fic - and, in turn, those who read and write it?
It could be because said readers and writers are mainly teenage girls.
It seems an overarching theme: the young adult genre is widely looked down on, and is it a coincidence that its intended audience is teenagers? The romance and erotica genres - both primarily written and read by women - are constantly degraded. It feels that anything largely enjoyed by a young and/or female audience is largely cast aside by the rest of the world - and yes, with 78% of Fanfiction.net users female and 80% between the ages of 13 and 17, I think we can draw a correlation between this phenomenon and the demographics of the largest fic-sharing website in the world.
But in a society where teen girls are constantly looked down on and pushed aside for what they love, it is so important for them to be able to find solace in something - anything. And, perhaps ironically, they find it in the very things that they're shunned for.
When girls write fanfiction - no matter whether they're bestselling authors or whether they've never picked up a pen in their lives - it ties them to something bigger than themselves. This is not about society's petty disdain for everything to do with the young and female, but rather, about taking something mundane and turning it into something magical. Fic creates paracosms, pockets of wonder nestled into the monotony of everyday life. Wordplay opens doors for young girls to explore further into the worlds they've fallen in love with, gives them a family amongst the fictional people they have grown to adore.
So please listen: fanfiction is not something to be ashamed of. It is not for people who are too lazy or uncreative to make up stories of their own. It is not about denigrating authors. It is not about changing the original stories, but rather, about making sure that no one forgets them.
Fanfiction is beautiful. It's funny. It's intelligent and witty and progressive. Fanfiction is diverse and epic, poetic and complex. It's iconic and satirical and brutally honest. It's critical. It's political. It's heartbreaking. Fanfiction is transformative. And that fact will never change - no matter who it is that writes it.
"Real" adults often pooh-pooh fanfiction, which is why so many teenage girls have abandoned it in pursuit of other, more "intellectual" activities. But why? Is it so shameful to love something so deeply, so hopelessly and unconditionally, that you are compelled to explore further, to break down the walls set by the original creator and take the story in radical new directions?
Is it so shameful to witness the miracle of art and want to be a part of it?
For so many girls, fic is an avenue into the kind of magic that an author only begins to establish. It's about pushing the boundaries of a familiar world. It's about reinventing and reshaping and looking at a story through the eyes of a creator.
Because in a world where young girls are degraded, sneered at, laughed at, and objectified; in a world where the books they read, the music they listen to, the movies they watch are constantly made fun of; in a world where they can do nothing without the persistent fear of being cast aside for their gender and age - fanfiction gives them an avenue to express their voices. Fic is a shelter from the storm around teen girls, a storm that constantly looks at the things they love and turns them into something contemptible.
In short: why is fanfiction so important?
Because being part of a bigger story should never be a taboo.