‘Why read classics when Wattpad exists?’

09 June,2024 03:17 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Tanya Syed

Everyone reads it, but nobody wants to admit it. Fan-fiction may be scorned by many, but is a source of comfort and inspiration to young readers and writers

Fan-fiction writer Sara Fernandes also created “self-insert” fan-art, re-imagining herself as a character in the anime Snow White with the Red Hair; Fan-created artwork inspired by anime series Skip and Loafer; Sara Fernandes

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After two hours of clapping, hooting and shedding tears of happiness, Aditi Sutar, 19, knew what she was going to do as she exited the movie theatre after watching Haikyu!! The Dumpster Battle. The 30-minute train ride back home was filled with her frantically scrolling through the fan-fiction portal, Archive of Our Own (or AO3, as avid users call it), reading stories about Tetsurō Kuroo, a beloved side character from the movie. By the end of her journey, she'd read a good chunk of fairly well written ‘fics', and she was home in more than one way.

Fan-fiction, like the name suggests, are stories written by fans featuring characters from their favourite book, movie or show, but in an entirely different plot of their creation.

Critics look down upon the genre for its lack of originality and seemingly poor writing, but more than one uber-famous movie or book has its origin in fan-fiction, be it Fifty Shades of Grey, or the After movie series.

Ananya Sutar and Ditsha Gupta

The recently released Amazon original series, The Idea of You, also had its humble origin as a story posted on community publishing platform Wattpad, with Harry Styles as the main inspiration behind the male protagonist - a popstar played by Nicholas Galitzine, who romances an older woman played by Anne Hathaway.

Fan-fiction is not a recent phenomenon - people have been publishing fanzines since the '60s. But with easier internet access, we now see young adults who have been engaging with the format since they were as young as 11 or 12. Among them is Aditi who started reading fan-fiction since she first got access to the internet, and began writing her own stories shortly after. She's among millions of people whose adolescence was shaped by the bright orange pages of Wattpad, the verbose, scary and accurate content tags on A03, community forums on Discord and questionable artworks on DeviantArt.

There's a myriad of things you can do with fan-fiction, from inserting yourself as a character in the story and weaving a romance plot with another character, to exploring a conspiracy storyline. Aditi found herself reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fan-fiction and then moving on to writing about her favourite K-pop bands.

Her cousin, Ananya Sutar, a 22-year-old engineering student in Chennai also dabbled in the practice. "I wanted to create my own story, and my original characters in a world I was very invested in," says Ananya, who went to write a Game of Thrones fan-fiction on Wattpad that made her semi-famous in the community.

Another long-time writer, 21-year-old management studies graduate Sara Fernandes appreciates the freedom of plot that the genre provides.

"Fan-fiction lets you explore the ‘what if'? If I'm not satisfied with what happened to a storyline, I could always just read or write fan-fiction about it. There are practically no restrictions."

Such was Sara's obsession with fan-curated stories that she stopped buying published books, "Whenever I bought books, I'd question whether they were worth the money I was paying because I could find something better online for free."

Aditi admits that she, too, had stopped reading books at one point. As an aspiring screenwriter, Aditi has written multiple scripts, and says it was fan-fiction that solidified her writing fundamentals. "You don't need to read classics to be a writer, you just need to read. Some of the best writing I've read has been fan-fiction," she asserts.

Not everybody agrees though. Aspiring writer Neelakshi Singh regrets not exposing herself to published fiction more at a younger age: "Fan-fiction did isolate me from exploring published works, and eventually limited my scope as a writer."

Fan-fiction is akin to self-publishing - it understands what the audiences want, and it delivers too.

Even publishing professionals can't deny the hold that fan-fiction has on readers, particularly the younger demographic. Some publishing houses even look at fan-fiction trends as a litmus test for demand. Ditsha Gupta, a marketing professional at Penguin Random House, tells mid-day, "While I can't say anything about other publishing houses, I do tend to look at the fandom trends to assess what will work with the books we pick up ourselves."

There's a kernel of truth in the disregard for fan-fiction, with its lack of restriction and editing, resulting in some questionable works being readily accessible to people, but it would be wrong to disregard its significance altogether. As Aditi sums up, "Fan-fiction taught me how to connect ideas and shift between genres, and it's comforting. If it wasn't so influential, I wouldn't see my 30-year-old colleague typing away Grey's Anatomy fan-fiction during her break."

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