Fan fiction: Harmless fun or a step too far?

One Direction have caused endless fan-fiction spin-offs as Emma Jones examines on Kettle
Written by emmalj

Okay, I’ll admit it, *deep breath*: I used to be one of those girls obsessed with One Direction. I was constantly on Twitter trying to get a follow from one of the band members (successful) and spent hours with my friends devising elaborate plans to meet them (unsuccessful), wondering whether we’d be able to produce a coherent sentence if we were ever to come face to face with actual Harry Styles…like, actually there, in front of us….eek. During this social media fuelled phase in my life I stumbled across the weird and wonderful, sometimes slightly disconcerting world of fan fiction. This was something that shocked even me, and I like to think I was pretty well integrated into the 1D community, or the fandom, to use its correct term. 

Put simply, fan fiction is a social media craze where fans write stories involving their favourite celebrities or characters (you might remember it from the Twilight days). More often than not, they embellish complex fantasy relationships where ordinary characters actually have a chance with the heartthrob protagonist. I’m not just talking about short stories; oh no, writers put hours into their fan fictions, updating daily at the request of avid readers who just can’t wait to find out whether the world renowned lead singer will sacrifice his career to be with the sixth form student he met in Starbucks. Fan fictions form a crucial part of any fandom, but it’s often met with abundant criticism: some say it’s a waste of time, silly, obsessive, deluded, even dangerous. So when does fan fiction stop being a bit of fun and become potentially problematic?

Many people reject fan fiction because of how unrealistic it is, and anyone who has read any fan fiction will confirm that, yes, this is usually true. As demoralising as it may seem, it really is unlikely that your favourite band member will slip you his phone number at a book signing, or pick you out of a crowd whilst performing an arena tour. However, what it’s sometimes difficult to understand is that, for fans, following a book or TV series, a singer or band, really is an important part of their lives. They look up to their favourite members or characters, they make friends with those who share the same passion, and they invest time and money to support their idols. In reality, the majority of fans will never even come close to their idols: they’re either too famous, or fictional. Fan fiction means that, at least in a fictional context, this gap can be bridged. It’s ultimately a platform for bringing the fans closer to the celebrities, a created world where they can shop on the same high streets, go to the same school and share the same friends. Isn’t it a little harsh to criticise and mock fan fiction writers, who simply want to offer a little escapism from the reality that separates them from those they admire (and want to marry)?

Furthermore, you can criticise the content of fan fiction all you want, but you only need to look at its reception to see that it’s a great platform for creative writers. Fan fiction is published almost exclusively online, meaning writers can share their work instantly with vast audiences. Bloggers and tweeters have watched their followers roll in as people have become hooked on their stories, offering positive feedback that can be a real confidence boost for writers. Anna Todd, whose Harry Styles fan fiction will be released in print on Tuesday, is proof that fan fiction really could be a new way to make it in the fiercely competitive world of writing.

However, as with many creative endeavours, it is clear that some fan fiction pushes the boundaries of what’s really acceptable. One of the biggest question marks surrounding it is whether it’s completely morally sound, considering that it often writes about real people. Invented storylines about celebrities very much blur the line between fact and fiction, which can be dangerous if the characters engage in questionable activity with which their real inspirations would not agree. When Todd’s fan fiction is published in print, Harry Styles’ name will be changed, which suggests it is not completely safe or moral to write about real people in this way. Equally, many are concerned about the content of fan fiction and its influence on readers. Anyone familiar with fan fiction will know that it is not exactly PG…they can include sex, drugs, alcohol…and they don’t shy away from the details, a concern particularly because this new fandom phenomenon tends to attract young teens. With the growing popularity and accessibility of the internet, it’s a constant worry that young people may be accessing inappropriate material. Such debates are usually centralised around video content, but it’s clear that many of the same risks are arising with the booming popularity of fan fiction.

Finally, it seems fan fiction can be taken too far. Writers and readers could risk becoming absorbed in these virtual worlds at the detriment of their life outside the internet. As a fandom veteran, I know there’s a social media culture which argues that to fit into a fandom you must drop everything else in your life, promoting ‘fan girling’ over school work and a social life. This is where being a fan stops being a bit of fun and becomes a problem; it’s much more important and fulfilling to focus on relationships with friends than imaginary relationships in a fan fiction, however exciting they may seem. Ultimately, fan fiction as a hobby can be entertaining; becoming obsessed with it, however, can cause you to lose out on real life experiences that will count for much more in the long term.