Why “It reads like a fanfiction” is moot criticism

Why “It reads like a fanfiction” is moot criticism

Fanfiction, as well as fandom culture in general, generally has a very bad rap. This is to be expected, honestly, as these spaces are predominantly filled with women and girls, queer people, and people of colour because *fake woke white man voice* we live in a society. 

Anyway, that’s not exactly what this post is about, but it’s really the main contributor. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve scrolled through reviews for mediocre to terrible books, or listened to someone’s review on YouTube, and encountered the phrase “this reads like a fanfiction” I’d be able to buy at least 10 of the Snorlax plushie of my dreams. It’s like cop out of making an actual analytical criticism of a book, and it also shows me that they have no idea what fanfiction is outside of Fifty Shades Of Grey or After.

You see, fanfiction is actually pretty magical. A lot of people assume it’s just a place for porn, to fetishize gay men, or for extremely bad writers, but in actuality it’s a whole world of literature outside of capitalism’s sphere. Writers create things for free and for fun, to create community and transformative art. It’s one thing to like something or to be a fan of it, but being able to take that art and transform it into something of your own is revolutionary, especially when traditionalist, hegemonic and patriarchal media is turned into something queer or feminist or not white. It’s brilliant and radical, and the kind of subculture that can help bridge gaps between people. 

But in terms of it being a specific criticism people place in their reviews, it would be interesting to see how their thoughts may change if they read an actual good fanfiction, or knew of any outside of the popular, published ones. As someone who enjoys fanfiction I recognize my bias here, but truly some of the best books and stories I’ve read have been fanfiction. I believe there is something in creating for free and for fun that takes a load of pressure off and makes those pieces of writing loved and tended to in a different way than mainstream and published media. 

To be quite honest, I’ve also read some mediocre, or just plain bad, fanfiction in my time, but I hold them all to the same level that I put the published books I read on. The only difference with fanfiction, though, is that I don’t actually publicly share or comment my less than positive opinions unless the author states they want them because I know that the fic was created for fun and as a hobby, so why should I potentially crush someone’s spirit? But regardless, I critique all the stories I read the same because they’re all legitimate art forms and pieces of literature. Some may not agree, as many regard fanfiction as some kind of threat, but transformative works are important and to be valued in their radical nature. 

At the end of the day, I wish people would understand that not all fanfiction is bad (I would say that a majority of it is actually good) and that instead of throwing around an easy to say phrase to maybe put in a little more effort to explain why they didn’t like the way a book read. Perpetuating a misconception is easy, but it’s much more productive and meaningful to expand on critical analyses and give a bit more detail. Plus, it doesn’t make a massive community of writers feel invalidated in their work. Show writers of all kinds some more appreciation, instead of aimlessly pitting works against each other.  

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