Students and professors discuss fanfiction, how it provides passion, comfort, representation

Isabella Gonzalez, Life and Arts general reporter

With millions of users registered to fanfiction websites like Wattpad and Archive of Our Own, the prevalence of fanfiction in popular culture continues to grow in significant lengths. Recently, popular published books such as “50 Shades of Grey,” “The Mortal Instruments” and “After” all stem from online fanfiction. 

Frederick Aldama, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and a professor in the Department of English, said fanfiction dates back for centuries in literary history, but recently, online communities have served as a catalyst for new growth. Aldama said this growth has become increasingly prevalent in classrooms, as a handful of his students actively write it. With its thriving presence in online spaces, Aldama said fanfiction strengthens fan communities and also extends platforms for representation. 

Entering a universe where teenagers wield the powers of magic and Greek deities determine the world’s fate, public health freshman Srila Palanikumar said she couldn’t get enough of the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” children’s series. 

However, once the series ended, she said she sought out fanfiction to continue exploring the beloved world.

“I didn’t want to leave the characters behind. I was so emotionally attached to them that I wanted more content,” Palanikumar said. “I found this whole trove of people online writing fiction with the same characters.”

Continuing the stories she knows and loves, Palanikumar said she wrote a multitude of works on Wattpad devoted to the “Percy Jackson” series.

While Palanikumar said writing fanfiction serves as a creative outlet where she can explore her love for the humanities, former UT student Morgan Gorecki said she enjoys fanfiction through pure consumption. She said at the end of a bad day, curling up in bed with good fanfiction helps her unwind. Compared to the experience of reading entirely new narratives in published works, she said fanfiction brings her comfort, as it incorporates recognizable elements from previously enjoyed forms of media. 

“Published books are a little bit anxiety-inducing … you can’t necessarily find books on things that you’re already a fan of,” Gorecki said. “(But with) fanfic, you pretty much know what it’s going to be about.”

As the familiarity of the story and characters draws in readers, fanfiction also serves as a way to tell stories that wouldn’t typically be explored. Aldama said it can be a medium in which BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and historically underrepresented groups can share their experiences with readers. 

“What’s interesting about fanfic is that it comes with a built-in audience,” Aldama said. “You’re bringing some of those fans, especially with BIPOC recreations, that are hungry for representation.”

As more people engage with fanfiction, Aldama says supporting the literary form holds great importance in democratizing the creative space and opening up possibilities to everyone. 

​”​It’s another way of working around the apparatus that keeps the creative arts suffocated because … editors and publishers (aren’t) opening their doors to all that’s out there,” Aldama said. “It allows us to reach and grow audiences in ways we wouldn’t otherwise.”

Using fanfiction as a way to explore the stories she loves, Palanikumar said that it plays a key role in creating communities for people to support their favorite art. 

“(That’s) what’s really nice about the fanfiction community,” Palanikumar said. “It’s art in its purest form. It’s just people enjoying things.”