‘Best Golden Corral you’ve ever been to’: Students talk fanfiction
You can check out some of the earliest fanfictions at Fondren Library — “Paradise Lost” and “Dante’s Inferno” have long been hailed as examples of literary craftsmanship, and it is no secret that they found their roots in what we would commonly call fanfiction today, stories written by a fan of another work of art featuring characters from those works. Some students at Rice may know “50 Shades of Grey,” a “Twilight” fanfiction that found its way to a publishing house. Other students, though, have found community and opportunities for artistic expression within fanfiction and fan communities.
When Alejandra Wagnon, a Wiess College senior, was younger, she found fanfiction through friends and a love for Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series. That love for fanfiction translated to involvement in online fan communities, and, while she no longer writes fanfiction herself, fandom is still a major component of her life.
“I feel like fanfiction is just like [original] speculative fiction,” Wagnon said. “It’s the realest speculative fiction, because … you’ve got these characters that you can do whatever you want with and mold them in whatever way you can. But they still have a core to them, and you have to think about how far you can go without breaking that character.”
Zahrah Butler, a Duncan College senior, said that they also found fanfiction and fan communities between the fourth and fifth grade after she developed an interest in anime, which wasn’t something that many of their friends were engaged in at the time.
“Growing up, I engaged with a lot of children’s media, so I would just chit-chat with my friends at school about stuff that they liked,” Butler said. “When I started watching anime, it seemed like it was something that was definitely different from most mass media that kids consume in the West. So I started engaging more with online groups about it … Even before I knew I was reading fanfiction, I would read it online.”
Sophie Leibowitz, a Martel College junior, said that within fanfiction, underrepresented communities can find and create their own representation that may not exist in mainstream media.
“It’s just such a natural way for [underrepresented communities] to make themselves represented in the media,” Leibowitz said. “It’s like women and queer people putting themselves into a story, which I think is really great. I think that’s part of its appeal [and] why I liked it. … It’s such a natural way to interact with stories [in which] I think a lot of people don’t feel seen.”
For Wagnon, she said that fanfiction gave an avenue for her to explore her interest in creative writing and improve her writing skills.
“In my own free time, I would concoct a lot of stories between my favorite characters as a way to just exercise my creative writing muscles in a way that I didn’t even realize was exercising them,” Wagnon said. “It was just like, if you’re running for fun, which I would never do, and then you’re like, ‘oh my god, this is exercise.’”
Leibowitz said that she thinks that fanfiction is its own art form with a lot of talented writers contributing to a genre that presents its own unique challenges.
“Like some of these [fanfiction writers] should be published authors,” Leibowitz said. “[A misconception is that] because it’s someone else’s story, it doesn’t take skill … I think in some ways, it’s harder to take other people’s characters than to make your own, because you have to make sure you’re writing that character true to the way the character was presented.”
Butler echoed this sentiment, saying that fanfiction spans a variety of genres that can appeal to anyone.
“I think a lot of people think that it’s more pornography oriented, like people only write fanfiction for sexual purposes,” Butler said. “I feel like people think [that] fanfiction is erotica written by older people who are creeps who never go outside, but it’s definitely way more fun than that. It’s for anybody and everybody.”
While Wagnon agreed that the focus on erotica in fanfiction is a common misconception and said that it can sometimes be introduced to people at too young of an age, she said that erotica in fanfiction is often a healthy method for exploring one’s sexuality.
“A lot of the times, it’s not young people writing erotica or consuming erotic fanfiction,” Wagnon said. “That form of expression is a way in which people can explore their own sexuality or gender outside of the context of this fictional world. I think it’s really important, especially for those people who aren’t able to be open about their sexuality in their everyday lives, whether that be because they live in a very conservative environment or just because it’s not something they’re comfortable with. Everyone deserves an outlet to express that side of themselves if they wish, and erotic fanfiction is an amazing way to do that.”
According to Wagnon, one misconception that she has noticed is the idea that people engaged in fan communities are creepy or isolated people. She said that there is often a lot of shame around consuming and writing erotic or romantic media that extends to how people think about fanfiction.
“Because fandom is a community [that is] loving and caring, a lot of times [there are] extroverted people who are very interested in getting to know others with similar interests,” Wagnon said. “[And] there’s no shame in in consuming romantic or erotic media, because it’s just as valid as other forms of literature or art.”
Leibowitz said that while some people have a negative view of fanfiction, she does not share that sentiment.
“People just see fanfic as cringy, and, on some level, I’m like, I don’t care,” Leibowitz said.”It’s such a natural way to interact with stories. There [are] certain [published works] that are … fanfic, but people don’t see it that way.”
Wagnon, Leibowitz and Butler alike said that they encourage people to explore fanfiction and it variety of genres and fan works.
“Don’t be afraid to get into [fanfiction],” Wagnon said. “It’s never too late to get into it, because it’s not just for young adults. It’s for everyone, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy. It’s like the best Golden Corral you’ve ever been to.”
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