Image Credit: Amazon Prime

Is Fanfic Cool Now? I Was Obsessed With Smutty Fanfic Before Anne Hathaway

After a day spent pulling slut strands out of my ponytail and smudging my orange Dream Matte mousse foundation onto my shirt collar, there was only one place I wanted to go. It was straight to the oversized computer in the home office, where I could finally shed my mask and read my smutty fanfics. I wanted to imagine myself as the unsuspecting girl at the Harry Styles concert, and read about the unlikely pairing of Charlie and Carlisle in Forks.

I could never admit my love of fanfic at school. You could watch Teen Wolf or The Vampire Diaries but couldn’t read the 10,000-word fanfic accompanying it, which shipped just about every pairing possible — Caroline and Elena? Yes, please. Fanfic was my dirty little secret — in the same way, the showerhead was (IYKYK) — and I didn’t tell anyone about it. Over the years, I’d find fellow fanfic readers and writers, but it was given the same hush-hush treatment employed by someone who was Team Gale or Jacob. 

But now we’re living in a world where Oscar-winning Anne Hathaway is starring in an adaptation of a Harry Styles fanfic, and this changes absolutely everything. Okay technically Hathaway’s new romance movie isn’t a fanfic in the literal sense (the book it’s based on was repped by a traditional publisher), but we all know it’s Harry Styles-inspired. And what’s more fanfic than that? Which leaves me with an important question: is fanfic cool now? 

I spoke with fanfic readers and writers who grew up devouring Wattpad in their bedrooms like dirty delinquents about how fanfic went from this taboo genre for the girlies who loved to read smut in secret to this massively popular community — with the help of platforms like AO3 — that are literally inspiring blockbuster movies (ahem, “The Idea Of You”). 

Fanfic Was My Dirty Little Secret

Image Credit: Amazon Prime

Fanfiction was kind of equivalent to female masturbation as an adolescentWe were all doing it or wishing we were doing it, yet we just didn’t talk about it. I guarantee that guys would discuss fanfiction more if it were geared toward them. Oh, I guess they do, and it’s called porn. Visual fanfiction, if you will. Even though not all fanfics were necessarily sex-focused or even romance-orientated, there was something shameful about liking something so much you had to have more of it. The twenty-episode season of a show wasn’t enough. We wanted a novella about two characters who exchanged two sentences over the season but had fierce chemistry. 

It used to be lame to care about things, like really care about them. You could be a fan of something if you kept it quiet and at an acceptable level. That seems different now. Gen Z is teaching us to go full throttle on the things we love. How people react to Taylor Swift nowadays would’ve never been acceptable back in the day (aka early aughts). We were taught to make ourselves smaller and dim ourselves down, and fanfiction is the opposite. It is the extreme of being a fan, as you’ll get your grubby hands on absolutely anything related to it.

Do you like Harry Potter (before the crimes of She Who Must Not Be Named)? Well, here is an entire series dedicated to just the Marauders. Remember that one Marauder mentioned to have died young in the fifth book? Here is her whole life story for you to digest on a Friday night with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and nowhere else to be.

Fanfic Gave Us Representation  

Heartbreak High
Image Credit: Netflix

Nowadays, teens don’t know how good they’ve got it. HEAR ME OUT BEFORE YOU DOX ME. There is so much that’s worse than my adolescence and just outright crappy!!! But one thing I am so pleased to see has improved is representation on TV. I was obsessed with Ellie in Degrassi: The Next Generation as that was my only depiction of depression and self-harm. Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed me that some girls want to kiss other girls, too. Callie Torres in Grey’s Anatomy was the first time I heard about bisexuality, even though it would take me years to apply that logic to myself. I can list these examples because they were so far and few between, unlike a recent teenage show, Netflix’s Heartbreak High, which was brimming with diversity and sexualities and led to my friend asking, “Is just everyone bi in it?” Yes, as it should be!!

We didn’t have as much representation in books or shows, so we made it ourselves in fanfic. We all knew that Harry and Draco were giving serious enemies-to-lover energy, so we helped them to find their truth. The creators of Pitch Perfect denied us the prime opportunity for “Bechloe” in Beca Mitchell and Chloe Beale despite that shower scene, so writers online finished the job. It wasn’t just queer relationships unveiled in fanfic but also trans storylines, non-white POVs, and so much more.

In An Online World, Fanfic Brought Community 

Image Credit: Amazon Prime

Fanfic has always been about being less alone in your love of something. I’m so grateful to have a friend who reads the same smutty fantasy books that I do. Lusting after 5,000-year-old Fae and a scrawny human woman is less strange when you’re both in on it. (It’s called wing kink, look it up!!!) Fanfic is rooted in this same sense of community. 

“Fanfic has an amazing history of community, creativity, and activism,” longtime fanfic reader Amie M. tells Betches. “Being inspired by existing art and making a continuation or alternative version has always been a thing: from a painting of the Bible’s Last Supper (fanart) to the Divine Comedy as a self-insert, you can call it high-brow intertextuality to low-brow mimicry, and it’s still a wonderful and valid form of expression.” 

Courtney J., an avid reader and writer of fanfiction, found community as well. “When I was grieving and bullied as a teenager, fanfiction gave me an escape I was desperate for,” she said. Courtney J. ended up studying creative writing and going into publishing, and that lifelong dream started with an empty Wattpad screen.

The writing can also feel more accessible in this safe space on the internet. A friend, who has dyslexia, told me she loved that no one ever mentioned her spelling mistakes; instead, they praised her stories. And another fanfic readers I spoke to, Amanda O., shared similar sentiments, recalling the lovely comments people would leave and the engagement with each other’s work. 

Fanfic Is Hotter Than Romance Novels (I Said What I Said) 

idea of you
Image Credit: Amazon Prime

Fanfic also allowed us to explore sex in a way that books or TV didn’t do as much back in the early aughts. (I’m talking about before True Blood came out in 2008 and led to a rise in sales for electric toothbrushes.) We didn’t get to see proper sex in a space designed for us. Porn seemed scary and intimidating, still lacking the women’s-focused aspect we horned for. So we found it in fanfic by writing out our naughty fantasies and reading other people’s. 

While it came with some rather disastrous scenes — for example, one terribly written fanfic with a pickle jar metaphor — it also was fucking hot. 50 Shades of Grey came from that, and whether you love it or hate it, those books have SPICE. In Kingdom of Ash, the culmination of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series, we were denied the sex scene we waited thousands of pages for with a simple “And Lorcan did” — DID WHAT?! So Maasheads filled in the blanks for her online and told us exactly what Lorcan did, in which positions, and how many times. 

But the joy in fanfic sex was that it could also be real. These writers weren’t navigating with agents and editors, or the strict sex guidelines of major publishing houses. Rather than skipping the foreplay, these writers took us through every step in excruciating detail. And it got to be awkward, in the way that real sex can be. 

This was what fanfic reader Courtney J. loved about fanfic sex, as it veered away from the need to perfect. “It’s worth saying that some of the sex scenes were so well written and raw, and it taught me not to expect sex to be clean and idyllic all the time, and it certainly taught me a lot about consent and communication,” she says. “It felt real in a way a lot of sex in traditionally published books doesn’t. Think fumbling with the condom or even just having a laugh. Sex is funny at times!”

Legal Protection Thanks To Fanfic Pioneers 

'Idea Of You' book cover
Image Credit: Amazon Prime

A significant change in the attitude toward fanfics, both writing and reading them, comes from the legal aspects. When I was fifteen, typing out tales of Hermione and Ginny getting it on in the Gryffindor common room — it was a real shock to discover later I like girls — I was terrified of one day getting sued by the big bad wolf herself. Fanfic seemed to toe the line of legality, which became increasingly apparent in the era of copyright infringements. If Taylor Swift can sue people for the phrase “Shake It Off,” I had no hope of retaining ownership of a Hunger Games story definitely NOT inspired by Suzanne Collins but featuring actual sex scenes between Katniss and Peeta once they’re of age. We were living on the edge with Limewire and Wattpad! 

Fanfic writers can shake off this fear and focus on their craft. Thanks to The Archive of Our Own (commonly referred to as AO3) legal team and pioneers in fanfic, there is a more robust legal precedent for fanart out there. It can be the form of flattery as we intended it to be. 

So, Is Fanfic… Cool Now? 

Image Credit: Amazon Prime

I’m not the only fanfic girlie shocked at how freely people now discuss (and respect!) fan-written stories. Is this how our mothers feel about seeing vibrators sold in drugstores? “I’m so surprised by how relaxed people are now!” reader Amie M. says. “People will share their fanfic smut recommendations on their real-name social media accounts. When I would never let people know the fandoms I was in.”

I see TikToks of people discussing their favorite fanfics like they’re namedropping Glossier products. And I’m not talking about One Direction-level fanfiction. I mean one dedicated to Clippy, the paperclip icon in Microsoft Word we all miss. (Don’t worry, it’s not to the same sexual level.) I’ve seen people discuss Dobby and Hagrid fanfics without even a blush, and you know, kudos to them!! No one is getting hurt in the process.

Amanda O. used to worry she wouldn’t “be taken seriously as a writer” if people knew about her fanfiction, but that the embarrassment has lost its sting as more people own up to their shared interest. We were all doing it, so why not just admit it? 

Fanfic is about obsession, and we, as a chronically online society, finally realize there’s nothing wrong with that. You can love things intensely, so intensely that you’ll consume every piece of media related to them. You can be a Swiftie, a Lana del Rey stan, a “romantasy” addict, or whatever else tickles your fancy.

Unfortunately, the Wild West of fanfiction might be over, given the move into monetization. We used to write fanfics to fulfill our personal fantasies and find a place in that community. I wanted to be a respected writer and was dedicated to updating my fanfic weekly for my three followers. Now, most people hope to rack in the big bucks, like when you first hear about someone making millions off of OnlyFans. All the adaptations of fanfics, like the After series, 50 Shades of Greythe Mortal Instruments, and, of course, The Idea of You, have suddenly made the impossible a near-impossible option. It feels different when writers are there to get conventionally famous, like how we all dreamed of our Tumblr going viral despite having 10 followers. In a world of influencers, we’re no longer satisfied doing anything for the sake of it for a small community. Still, we’ll forever have the memories of those days.

And I’ll still shave before every concert just in case the lead singer notices me and falls madly in love. 

Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman, a European-based copywriter. She’s interesting (cause she’s from Europe), speaks multiple languages (again, she's from Europe), and is mentally unhinged (despite socialized healthcare). You can find her European musings on Twitter @ByFleurine and her blog, Symptoms of Living, both of which are written to the sounds of unhinged Taylor Swift playlists.