Fanfiction was the guilt pleasure that helped me open the internet

My relationship with fan stories began as a mission in the English language. At the age of 12, my tiger parents forced me to spend every free moment at a local cram school. It was about 6pm on a Friday night in July. Neither of us ate dinner, and our English teacher knew she was losing us. Mrs. L looked at us from the top of her reading glasses, her lips bound, and said, “Your task for the weekend is to write an alternate one-page ending to William Shakespeare’s glasses.” Romeo and Juliet. ”

At the time, I didn’t realize we were being told to write fan stories, but that’s how the same medium was born fifty gray faces It ended up becoming a guilty pleasure for decades.

Normally, I resented the extra homework school stacked on my board. But for whatever reason, this Romeo and Juliet The assignment sparked something in my academic mind. Cram schools are all about brute force math and vocabulary exercises so you can work with polynomials in your sleep. None of the 20-page homework packages asked us to think “what if…”

What if Juliet decided that Romeo’s corpse was a sign that she should flee her abusive family and go by herself to the monastery that Ophelia distances from? I stayed up late one Sunday night writing, editing, rewriting, and revising my one-page masterpiece. I got a B-plus, which in my family was the equivalent of a double F. I was on Earth, but something deep and primal in my soul had changed.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I spent most of that summer obsessed Gundam Suite. I grew up on a healthy Toonami diet from Cartoon Network, and I have no defense other than being a vulnerable teenager. In protest of onerous homework, I crept into the living room after my parents fell asleep and prayed that Modem crack 56 kilo won’t wake them up. Google started popping up, and it led me straight into a berserk world Gundam Suite fans. This was my first time using the internet for anything other than homework or AOL games.

Ninety-nine percent of it gave me a heart attack. I hid my bright red face behind my fingers while browsing curated libraries of fans. However, I felt similarly happy that I was exposed to the scandal. There were thousands of people who came through the computer to ask, “What if?” Sure enough, most of the questions were, “What if the first and second protagonists are surgeons in the most confused way possible?” But they had the audacity to ask such an insolent question And the Write about it in painful detail. publicly.

There were thousands of people who came through the computer to ask, “What if?”

As an anxious kid, that confidence was tempting. I wanted the freedom to ask and explore “what if” questions. I stayed up late at night on LiveJournal, lurking as smarter people than I built communities around the fans they love, wondering how I could benefit from that. I clicked the link after the link until I ended up at Fanfiction.net. Suddenly, I had access to a free library filled with thousands of stories that offered a glimpse into a world beyond the world my parents had planned for me. This was the first time I understood what made the Internet and the subcultures into which I was born so exciting.

Before I knew it, I started asking more of my “what if” questions every time I finished a movie, TV show, or novel. Eventually, I started giving myself permission to write some answers.

English teachers were rejected. This was an understated way of expressing creativity. True genius came from the original work, they said, and pondering over legally questionable matters was a waste of talent. (Ironically, that’s what I learned fair use principle.)

I wanted to spit again that I got tired of Just Read the cruel prose of the dead. I wanted to scream that there was an army of confused authors on the Internet writing some of the most infringing stories ever. Sure, you could say that some of them are written by people with poor understanding of grammar (see: Khalidia Harry Potter fanfic that is widely regarded as the worst on the internet and It has its own wiki). But I couldn’t find anything like it on the shelves of local bookstores. I wanted to claim that in 2001, This was one of the few spaces on the Internet that introduced me to the idea that gay people can enjoy lasting happiness. But I didn’t have the vocabulary to say any of that yet, so I kept my mouth tightly shut.

Despite this, I kept reading my dirty hobbies as well as my more “legitimate” reading.

Fangirl next to some plants on the windowsill

reading mummy Fanatics led me to a futile year-long attempt to read and write hieroglyphs. I learned more about the Civil War by reading a 130,000-word alternative discourse on the universe written by a history graduate student than ever before from AP US History. The footnotes in that story competed with those in Vladimir Nabokov’s story pale fire. I definitely learned about classics in vernacular French after a two-year stint at Les Miserables Fan community. (Did you know the author was Victor Hugo 100 discursive pages in the novel About colloquial French?)

Fanfiction is not a taboo hobby anymore. It’s wild, but since the early days of Fanfiction.net And LiveJournal, it crept into the mainstream. fifty gray faces he is twilight fanfic that also turned into a movie. Rainbow Royal Books Fangirlwhich is a popular novel about a college student writing a huge fan about a Harry Potter-esque series. Then it was spun into Continue in And the stray sonIncredibly sequel, Meta series where you can read the story Fangirl The protagonist writes. there is full Wattpad-to-movie . pipelineOne Direction fan fiction with 1 billion readers on Wattpad to Netflix movies. love hypothesis Written by Ali Hazelwood, a romance novel that recently went viral on TikTok and I got a movie dealAnd the started as a star Wars a fan. there Several other examples.

This kind of literature is still met with a lot of derision, but it is also celebrated openly in a way that felt impossible when I was twelve. I don’t read as much of it as I did when I was a teenager. I’ve got Fandom Too little for meAnd adult life leaves less time for guilty pleasures. But old habits do not die easily. I still have alerts set up for my favorite magazines, and Archive of Our Own is the first site I open if I hate the ending of the story. I may have grown up a bit, but thanks to this delightfully weird internet subculture, I don’t ask myself “what if I had the confidence to write?” Any more.

Photography by Victoria Song/The Verge

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