There are some stories we never want to end.
Years before Pottermore started giving us way too much info about the wizarding world of Harry Potter, if readers wanted a return ticket on the Hogwarts Express, they’d have to write it themselves. And a lot of them did! Over 600 thousand Harry Potter fanfics live on Fanfiction.net alone, and that’s not even counting sites like Wattpad, Archive of Our Own, or the more niche HarryPotterFanfiction.com.
So, what is it?
Fanfiction—any fan-made expansion or exploration of a published work of fiction—is a phenomenon, and it’s not just for the especially eager Potterhead. Anything with a fan following has probably inspired fanfiction in some corner of the internet, including TV shows, celebrities, and even video games. Our very own 8-Bit Warrior started his journey as a “Wimpy Villager” in the Minecraft fanfiction circuit, and now it’s a bestselling series! Similarly, more and more gamers are hitting pause on the Fortnite frenzy to read books like Battle Royale that were inspired by that universe.
To be fair, most fanfics don’t land book deals, but the online communities they create can be just as rewarding.
A [digital] world of kid creators
Many kids who normally wouldn’t touch a book without a bribe are now spending hours and hours reading new adventures starring their old favorites. After that, it’s a small leap before they start writing their own.
“Isn’t that cheating?” No! It takes no small amount of creative thinking to imagine established characters into new narratives, and that challenge will often encourage fanfic writers to think outside other storytelling conventions to create something that feels entirely new. Let them imagine Gandalf as a barista and Iron Man as a high school science teacher! Every story extant today has been informed, sometimes subtly and sometimes less so, by the stories that came before it. No one told Homer that The Iliad “didn’t count” as an epic because it was just Greek Mythology fanfiction!
Kids are natural storytellers, and in the digital age, publishing those stories online opens up a world-wide web of possibilities, good and bad.
Fanfic communities are widespread and enthusiastically social. Many young writers bond online over their favorite fandoms, and form networks of friends to encourage one another’s work. With any form of social media though, there’s a risk of cyberbullying, age-inappropriate content, or even predatory strangers. That’s why it’s so important to have serious conversations with your tech-savvy kids sooner rather than later.
Here’s a quick fanfic safety checklist:
- Ask your child where they like to read fanfics. Go through the search tool with them and familiarize yourself with age-rating filters. At this point, have an honest conversation with your reader about which age rating is appropriate for them.
- Whether your child is new to fanfic or an old pro, it’s important to review the basics of good digital citizenship. While hopefully they’ll find a support network of other readers and writers, they should know that the comment section is not always a pretty place, and if that will be a problem, ask them if they’d like to turn off comments in the privacy settings.
- Whatever rules you have in place about sharing personal information online should apply here too! If anonymity is the expectation, communicate that. Thinking up pseudonyms together will be a fun exercise in brainstorming.
- Equally important is setting an expectation for your kids treating others with kindness in return. There is no distinction between digital spaces and the “real world” anymore. Actions in one have real consequences in the other.
- Finally, don’t expect your kids to share their writing with you. Fanfiction should be a fun, pressure-free way to write, so let them explore their creativity on their own. Just make sure they know you’d be a willing and supportive reader if they choose to share stories with you.
Fanfiction can be a wonderful tool to help creativity flourish so long as it’s used safely. For an age-sorted list of websites and apps to get started, check out Common Sense Media!