Our Reading Lives

Rediscovering a Love of Fan Fiction in My 30s

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

I grew up on fan fiction. My love for a certain book franchise led me to fanfic, to slash pairings, and eventually to coming out as bisexual and beginning to date my best friend. In those high school days, I couldn’t get enough of fan fiction. A friend of mine drew her own comics inspired by the pairings. I devoured everything to do with the ships I loved, and even explored other mix-and-matchings of my favourite characters. I dipped my toe into writing by roleplaying in character on message boards — with strangers online and with my closest friends.

I built a whole community of people around this interest. We went from fanfic reading to roleplaying to creating new, original worlds together and our own characters. We grew up together on this message board, across ages and continents. These connections were formative in my adolescence. And then, at some point, I stopped reading fanfics.

Maybe it was because I fell out of love with the series. Maybe it was just going to college, meeting new people, and finding new interests. Or because I was out and secure in my identity, not needing that validation from fanfic. Or because I had started a sapphic book blog and found so many queer published books to read that I stopped searching through fanfic for that representation.

Whatever the reason, without consciously making the decision, I stopped reading fanfic. I didn’t read another fic for a decade.

At some time during the pandemic, where we were all retreating to our childhood interests to cope, I remembered a show I had briefly been obsessed with as a tween. I hesitate to give many hints, but suffice to say it was a teen/family show that had way too much chemistry between two characters the creators did not intend to have sexual tension.

After rewatching some episodes, I was reminded again of how much I shipped these two when I was younger. I fell down a rabbit hole — because, again, the lockdown did strange things to us all, so don’t judge me. I confirmed that, yes, the actors DO ship that pairing themselves and maaaay have dated at some point. I watched grainy fanvids with cheesy transitions. And, finally, I started to read fan fiction.

I had completely forgotten the unique itch that fan fiction scratches. It takes characters you’re already invested in and gives them the storylines you always hoped the canon would. Although each fanfic is different, and all authors have their own style, they’re often written in short paragraphs, heavy on the dialogue.

Another genre I don’t read much of is romance or erotica, and I’m always surprised how powerful they can be when done right. I definitely noticed that when I dove back into fan fiction. These are stories about an embarrassing teenage obsession — why am I so affected by them??

Luckily, that passion came and went, and I am no longer hyperfixated on a ’90s Canadian teen show (I’ve said too much!) I stopped scrolling through AO3. But I didn’t forget how much I enjoyed the reading experience.

Months later, I found a new TV show to obsess over: Ted Lasso. After marathoning the first season and rewatching immediately after (and then rewatching it again — I have never done that before in my life) and writing a post in exhaustive detail about every book mentioned in Ted Lasso, I of course found myself back on AO3. And I haven’t left since.

What immediately surprised me about splashing around these fanfic waters is a) how quickly those writers convinced me to ship Ted and Rebecca when I had been opposed to the idea to begin with and b) how good the fics were overall.

I started by reading the top rated ones, so I was unsurprised that most of those were absorbing and effective. After I read through the first few, I started looking into the authors back catalogues. But I ran out fairly quickly, which left me with a chronological view of fics. I expected to wade through, looking for writing styles I liked. Instead, I found I was much more likely to click with any individual fic than not.

There were only a few writers whose style turned me off their fics. Although there are some stories I liked more than others, I found that most of them succeeded in scratching that itch for more Ted Lasso, for wish fulfillment of seeing my favourite characters happy (and well, making each other happy…)

So far, my Ted Lasso obsession sees no signs of abating, and neither does my love of fan fiction. Whether you were obsessed in your youth or have never tried it, I highly recommend picking one of your favourite franchises and diving in. It reminds me a little bit of reading manga, because it’s so compellingly readable. It’s usually quick and easy to read, and it’s so immediately rewarding that you keep coming back. Already being familiar with the characters means you’re invested from the first line, and you don’t have to re-acclimate, even if it’s an alternate universe.

To be honest, I’m a little annoyed with myself I haven’t been reading fanfic this whole time — in the same way I wish I had discovered manga and romance earlier. They’re comforting, entertaining, and engrossing in a way that is rare for me to find in other genres or formats. While I love all kinds of books, I suspect my inner book snob has prevented me from a lot of reading joy in my past. But no more! My AO3 invite email finally came in, and I’m ready to keep exploring this new world of content, just as my teenage self would have wanted.