Of fandoms and fanfiction

By Inaya Aly Khan
Fri, 06, 24

Recently, I was browsing through Instagram when I discovered a movie titled The Idea of You that closely resembled fanfictions about singer-songwriter Harry Styles...

Of fandoms and fanfiction


Recently, I was browsing through Instagram when I discovered a movie titled The Idea of You that closely resembled fanfictions about singer-songwriter Harry Styles. Curious, I researched a bit and found out that the movie was adapted from a novel of the same name, with the male lead largely inspired by Harry Styles and a relationship he had many years ago.

When I watched the movie, my friend and I realized it was very similar to many popular fanfiction tropes—bringing a book to a concert, getting a song dedicated to you, and falling for the lead of a band. This led me to ponder why these seemingly cringe-worthy fanfiction tropes are so influential and impactful that they are included in movies. It begged the question: why are fanfictions even popular in the first place, and what does this have to do with fandoms or fan communities?

What is a fandom?

A fandom, simply put, is a group of especially enthusiastic fans of someone or something. According to professor and writer Jennifer Lynn Barnes, it is when fans who are highly emotionally and/or imaginatively invested in a media property come together.

Of fandoms and fanfiction

Psychologists identify fandom as a representation of three fundamental psychologies: the psychology of identity, media, and group. Fandoms arise when a story is interesting enough to attract a large following. Stories like A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder would have a larger following and, thus, a larger fandom than a book like Say You Swear. Media with the largest fandoms typically cater to large demographics or include popular tropes, such as “enemies-to-lovers” or “grumpyxsunshine” As the following of certain media increases, fans band together on many platforms, such as X, Instagram, Discord, etc., to discuss their views on aspects of the story. This eventually leads to the creation of a fandom, which represents their collective identity as fans of whatever they discuss.

Why are fandoms popular?

Fandoms are popular among demographics of different age groups, genders, and communities for the simple reason that they become communities. Being a part of a close-knit fandom creates a strong sense of kinship, which ultimately feeds into the inherent human need to belong. We always want to feel as if there is a place where we can be at ease and be ourselves without hiding parts of who we are, and for many people, fandoms are exactly that. Vast amounts of research suggest that social needs can actually be fulfilled through parasocial relationships with fictional characters.

Fandoms enable people to express these relationships and their shared love, admiration, or any real feelings towards characters. This leads to people being able to identify with groups within the fandom, which become their homes—a sort of haven. For example, an avid Divergent fan could identify with the Erudite faction, a Percy Jackson fan could think of themselves as a child of Ares, or more commonly, one could identify with one of the four houses in Harry Potter.

People join these fandoms when they are especially intrigued by a particular media property and strongly wish to discuss their opinions or see other people’s. For example, the night I watched Dead Poets Society, I went onto a Reddit thread discussing the impact of the last scene, which led me to the DPS fandom, filled with like-minded individuals who enjoyed the same things that I did.

Of fandoms and fanfiction

What is fanfiction (including art)?

Fanfiction is any story or artwork created by a fan or fans based on media properties such as books, movies, television shows, comics, or video games. They can be almost completely taken from these preexisting mediums or only base their characters in that universe—they can be as similar or different as the creator wants them to be. It includes fictional writing, fanart, videos, edits, or even analysis of ‘canon’ events before or during the preexisting media.

Why do we create it?

People create fanfiction for a multitude of reasons. The main motivator is, of course, feeling a strong connection to the preexisting media, prompting a desire to elaborate on or express personal views about it. You would not write a fanfiction about Henry and Alex if you did not find Red, White, and Royal Blue an interesting or enjoyable read.

These connections to fictional characters, universes, or even celebrities, in some cases, are known as parasocial relationships. They are one-sided relationships where the other party is unaware of the first person’s existence, whether they do not know of their existence (as with celebrities) or cannot know (as they are fictional). This emotional investment prompts writers and artists to express their views or expand their emotional connections to characters.

Of fandoms and fanfiction

Fanfiction, essentially, is a form of pretend play. Just as you would make pretend food or pretend to cure your pretend patients in childhood, creators take part in similar play situations, commonly known as daydreaming. An example would be wondering how different the Percy Jackson series would be if Annabeth left with Luke or if Percy chose immortality. Writing fanfiction has proven to be beneficial to mental health, as it allows for pretend play, which is an excellent way to connect with the self and inner child. Additionally, it is a form of expressive writing, serving as an outlet for personal turmoil, similar to journal entries but usually more creative. In fact, expressive writing is often used to help trauma patients cope.

Writing modern-day fanfiction can be caused by many different reasons. A paper published by Purdue University suggests that fanfiction is transformative in that it allows creators to reshape stories and play out different scenarios, characterised by popular tropes such as AU (alternate universe) or by inserting a new character labelled “Y/N” (Your Name) for readers to be able to immerse themselves in the stories more vividly.

Of fandoms and fanfiction

Fanfiction is sometimes created for social involvement. Fandoms, and by extension, fanfiction communities, often become a close-knit group of creators who share and relate to one another.

Fanfiction is also created to fill gaps or perceived gaps in the original material, such as Magnus Bane’s backstory or Dolores Umbridge’s childhood. Lastly, fanfiction is written to challenge mainstream media. Many original sources of fiction that inspire fanfiction creators contain discrimination or mainstream ideas. Creators often take these stories and attempt to make them more inclusive, such as adding a Bangladeshi character to a Harry Potter story or gender-bending to make some stories more female-representative.

Why do we consume it?

People’s reasons for consuming fanfiction are largely similar to people’s reasons for creating it. The parasocial relationships we have with fictional characters or seemingly unattainable public figures, from Harry Potter to Harry Styles, make us want to read stories about them. It’s an expression of our urge to know more—a simple curiosity about something we find interesting. It is this craving to know and learn more about these figures that motivates the vast majority of readers on fanfiction websites such as Quotev, Wattpad, or Archive of Our Own to read self-immersive stories characterized by the Y/N character, with Y/N being depicted as a perfect persona or ideal teenager.

Of fandoms and fanfiction

Despite people making fun of stories like these, there is a reason the I was sold to One Direction trope was so popular around 2013, and it is the same reason Y/N stories about BTS are popular today. People want to feel closer to their interests. This leads me to the second reason people consume fanfiction. It is an escape from everyday life. In many stories, readers are able to place themselves in the shoes of someone with no burdens, no financial issues, and a seemingly perfect life, where their biggest issue is not being in a committed relationship with Draco Malfoy. Lastly, people consume it to fill gaps. Say I just finished The Flash comics and have no idea why his powers appear so inconsistent. I can read a popular fanfiction recommended to me by the majority of my fandom community, read something that explains this inconsistency that is generally accepted as ‘fanon, and my confusion is placated.

Importance of both

Fandoms allow people to find their safe space and also allow for the building of better social connections, often fulfilling many people’s social needs, especially those of the socially awkward or introverted. Fanfictions serve as a way to share opinions and improve writing skills as well.