So, last Thursday, writer R.S. Benedict started a Twitter thread about fanfiction.
It was inflammatory, to say the least. Writers of all stripes, professional or no, proceeded to dunk on her opinions. Read the thread, starting with the below tweet:
For those who don’t want to read the whole thread, here’s a TL;DR: fanfiction is bad because it encourages writing to the lowest common denominator, teaches young people to read it instead of queer lit, and…Amazon is abusive to its workers. Somehow, that came into play, too. Oh, and arguing for fanfiction as an avenue for women is misogynistic. That’s a lot of hot takes in the span of about three days. As you can see by the time stamp, it started out as a late-night tweet, so maybe Benedict was hoping people wouldn’t see it. I’m guessing that’s not the case, but some people like screaming into the void of social media.
Writers like the Hugo Award-winning N.K. Jemisin commented and had their own threads:
I would encourage you to read the entirety of Jemisin’s thread, which makes several great points: one, that she and other writers still write fic, and that’s not a bad thing; two, that young writers get mixed signals on what is good writing and what is bad writing; and three, that even Jemisin had her own misguided views on what art is when she was young—and that she hopes Benedict’s own views mature and she “learns to appreciate art in whatever form it takes“. Wise words from a great author.
My take, as an active member of fandom, and an active writer, both of fic and original works? Benedict holds the opinion that fanfic teaches you to engage in tropes and mindlessly appeal to an audience. That couldn’t be more wrong-headed. First of all, every piece of fiction involves so-called “tropes”! There’s a whole website dedicated to discussing them in every form of media, including original literature.
Second of all, fanfic readers, while often kind and sweet people, are often very picky when it comes to what they read: there’s a reason why Archive of Our Own was created with such a detailed filtering system, and even that’s not perfect.
And thirdly, every writer on the planet writes to appeal to an audience, their public. Sometimes they write for multiple audiences and publics at a time. Fanfiction writers are not alone in that, and they certainly don’t do it mindlessly. No writer, whether writing a transformative work or an original one (and I would argue all works of writing are transformative in nature), does what they do mindlessly. Writers are some of the most meticulous and neurotic people I know about our craft, to the point of obsession.
Fanfic is not easier than original writing, because writing anything comes with significant hurdles, both of drive and of ego. Submitting to being “perceived”, as the kids say, is one of the most difficult things a writer can do. And whether you’re being published by a large publisher, by a small literary magazine, or self-publishing your work on Archive of Our Own, you are submitting yourself to being perceived. And that is terrifying.
So, R.S. Benedict: you’re wrong on so many levels. Not to add on to the dunking, but yes, I will add on to the dunking, as a writer, and as a fan. As a queer person who reads both queer literature and queer fanfic, I also take issue with that opinion of hers. Fanfiction and fandom were my gateways into recognizing my own queerness, as well as my gateways into queer literature and other media.
Fanfiction is not the great evil some think it is, nor is it the great titan some think it is. It’s just another form of writing, that isn’t for everyone. Let people and artists, of all creative styles, live.