Our Reading Lives

How Fan Fiction Influenced My Reading

David Mitchell Som

Staff Writer

David M. Som (they/he) is a Minnesota native, an English major by day, and mysterious cryptid by night. David often spends their free time lurking around their school’s campus, wandering around New York City, or staring into large bodies of water when they’re not frozen. You can find David @davidmsom on Instagram.

There have been many evolutions throughout my life as a reader. However, the most interesting evolution that took me down the path of life to where I am now is the influence fan fiction had on my early- to mid-teenage years.

hands with laptop typing

Fan fiction is shamed in many circles due to the primary demographic of creators and consumers being young women and girls. While that’s largely true—I was one of many exceptions to this general rule of thumb—the genre deserves a much better rap among the masses for the role it plays in people’s lives. For one, the things young women and girls take interest in shouldn’t be shunned in the first place. Besides that, however, fan fiction is an incredibly important vessel that has the capability of ushering people of all ages and genders into the realm of reading and storytelling.

Fan fiction is housed on interactive platforms and websites, which encourage communication between readers and writers with one or more shared interests. Due to its accessibility and interpersonal nature, it’s a much less intimidating doorway into creating and viewing works. This is especially true for individuals who don’t have the same access to publishing tools on a larger scale. As in, publishing a story to a free platform is easier and more accessible than, say, writing a novel and pitching it. It’s likely why so many young people have such an affinity for fan fiction.

I first got into fan fiction early on in middle school, which was around age 11 or 12. By then, I had more freedom and trust placed on me to browse the web with good judgement. With this such newfound freedom, I started reading fan fiction for various musical groups and book franchises I liked. I craved new material beyond the canonical. I delighted in the interactions I had with writers and other readers on these platforms I was going on. The degree of imagination put into these pieces intrigued me, and I desired to create something of my own. Thus, about a year after I began reading fan fiction, I started writing it, too.

Just as with any hobby, my writing in the very beginning wasn’t all that great. I wrote about vampires in tattoo parlors. I scribbled about hypothetical afterlives in which fandoms dictated where the dead would go. Sometimes, I rambled about alternate universes wherein the members of My Chemical Romance wandered in the middle of nowhere. I’ll give myself points for coming up with a lot of original ideas for storylines, though. Most of them still remain dormant and unused in various notebooks scattered around my bedroom drawers.

Obviously, the things I wrote weren’t of Stephen King or Margaret Atwood quality; the chapters were short, my word choice was questionable, and my sense of continuity was absolutely obscene. Here’s the thing, though: I loved what I did. I loved going online whenever a mutual uploaded the next chapter of their most beloved fiction piece. I cherished the affirmation I got from my community when I posted my own chapters.

Before I really got into fan fiction, I viewed most of the reading I did as a chore. Sure, sometimes I indulged in a just-for-fun read. Nevertheless, readings assigned to me by teachers at school still consumed me. I despised them for dragging on and on about subjects I didn’t very much care for.

I appreciated the critical thinking skills I developed reading those things assigned to me. However, it didn’t help me view them in a way where I felt that reading in and of itself could possibly be enjoyed and played around with. I couldn’t view reading in a way where I felt it could connect me to others in a fundamentally powerful manner. Fan fiction encouraged me to make those connections.

Fan fiction changed the way I viewed reading as a whole. It allowed me to have fun with the reading I chose to do outside of school. It even made me reframe the lens through which I viewed my school assignments. Instead of thinking, “Here we go again with another book I have to analyze,” my thought process slowly became, “How can I make this assignment enjoyable?” I know that many people I interacted with on these fan fiction platforms felt similarly toward what they were doing. In the very least, they viewed consuming and writing these extracurricular pieces as a reprieve from the daily grind. It was a means to get away from school, work, or any other taxing part of their lives

Years have passed since I last posted to or revisited many of these sites I once roamed so frequently as a younger teen. Regardless, I owe much of my love for the reading I do today to the fan fiction I used to consume and create, as well as the community that fostered my earliest ventures into crafting fiction of my own.