To those who know me from Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month,) this story will be a familiar one. In February, 2010, I returned to the United States after living for 18 months abroad in Europe and Asia. As someone who was always preoccupied with picking the right words to convey a message, I had a big problem: After becoming fluent in two other languages and speaking in foreign tongues everyday, my English ability was not where it once was. I struggled with expressing basic ideas, the foreign words and grammatical structures always at the forefront of my mind.
I needed to consume English language texts in a huge and immediate way.
Thus I came upon fanfiction.net. Here was a vast collection of stories, cleanly categorized in clumps of similar narratives and characters.
I read, and read, and read. My vocabulary increased back to its previous levels, and I had fallen in love with a new medium that allowed people like me to express themselves on topics not brought up in mainstream America.
I loved fan fiction then because it got me my words back. I love it now because it helps give me, and others like me, a voice.
In fan fiction stories we can communicate and commune on points omitted in TV, videogames, film, and pop novels. For many adolescents, fan fiction gives an opportunity to discuss bullying, unfair adults’ expectations, struggling with the social pressures of growing up, the pervasive strain of school life, fallible authority figures, overcoming poor self esteem, finding the right people to surround yourself with, and how to have a healthy lifestyle. Added to these somewhat common themes, fan fiction also gives them a safe place to talk about darker truths of being a teenager: alcoholism, drug abuse, cutting, suicide, and domestic (parental and romantic partner) abuse. Teens can find peers with whom to commiserate their problems and celebrate their (often small, but powerful) personal victories.
Teens are a huge share of the fan fiction writing community. College educated 20-something women make up much of the rest. This is my demographic (my people!) and fan fiction for us, gives us a chance to take back the male dominated cannon of US American pop culture. College educated women are faced with a dilemma which reaches all across the globe: how do we balance professional ambition with our personal (domestic) lives? How does our gender affect us professionally and socially? How do we counter the idea that we are “weaker” and less worthy than our male counterparts? With a lack of both fictional and real feminine role models who are successful both personally and professionally, we make our own.
Simply, I love fan fiction because it gives me a space to talk about problems I encounter, gives me a community of peers who are wonderfully creative and intelligent, and empowers me to grab my ahold of my agency and shape my future.
I hope over the coming weeks, the Fan Fiction Initiative will give all of you at least a bit of what I’ve come to love about fan fiction.