No need to click away, this isn’t Wattpad, Quotev or Archive of Our Own. A new wave of fanfictions and reader inserts have me both ready for new ideas for older works and worried at the prospect of romanticizing toxic relationships.
With new social media platforms like TikTok featuring nostalgic content every day. Recently there has been a surge in new and improved ways to imagine characters outside of what is canon (some examples here, here or here.)
For those who are unfamiliar with the idea of fanfiction, they are stories written about characters from shows, movies, books and sometimes even bands. They are written by fans of the content who want to expand the universe.
The amateur practice of furthering characters’ narratives has existed for a long time, even outside of the internet. While it is tedious to find the exact start of what we call fanfiction, we can see multiple inspired works throughout the years of literature inspired by other content. For example, the plot of “Romeo and Juliet” is repeated in movies like “High School Musical,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “Step Up,” and “West Side Story” to name a few.
For some, fanfictions are a way of extending a story that may have ended or rewriting parts of a story some fans may dislike.
Certain fanfictions have expanded to reach larger audiences. Notably, Anna Todd’s One Direction fanfiction received a movie adaptation called “After,” replacing Harry Styles with the similarly crafted Hardin Scott.
In the introduction, Todd writes that this story is not a “typical romance” and is suited for those preferring darker themes in fiction. While this is only one example, “After” is one of the most well-known fan fictions due to its popularity and soon-to-be movie franchise.
Individuals who enjoy the same type of movies and books exchange and sometimes write about their favorite characters and explore the ideas of different relationships. No fanfiction is the same, though some may share the same tropes. We can see the common ‘Enemies to Lovers’ plot line or ‘Slow Burn’ throughout many popular stories.
This new era of fanfiction has me excited but admittedly worried. I have given a lot of thought to the kind of fan fiction I read growing up, and to be completely honest, the relationships imagined in those stories are not a far cry from toxic and concerning relationships.
I understand that for a lot of people, this is not the first time they have been exposed to fanfiction, and are able to understand that it is just that, fiction. Though, those who are a part of younger audiences, and exposed to the romanticization of unhealthy relationships through these works make me worried about the resurgence of fan-written fiction.
One of the tags at the bottom of Archive of Our Own, a popular fanfiction website, is called “Unhealthy Relationships” and features over 17,000 works from various fan bases. While there are many advice pages, some featured on Wattpad, about writing in healthy dynamics between characters, toxic romances still find a way through.
The aforementioned fanfiction “After,” contains all the warnings at the beginning of the story for a darker type of fiction, nothing quite prepares readers for the onslaught of Harry/Hardin’s aggression towards himself and others – or the way the main character, Tessa grapples with his anger.
“I am not afraid of Harry the way I probably should be, even though I just witnessed his temper being completely lost I know that he would never physically hurt me,” Todd writes.
Throughout the story and movie, Harry/Hardin exhibits reckless and harmful behavior that Tessa seems reluctant to dismiss but inevitably does due to his tragic backstory. Later in the final chapters of the story, Todd writes something that would unleash red flags in almost anyone’s mind.
“I don’t look at him, I can’t keep letting him treat me this way,” Todd writes. “I know I should have left earlier but in all honesty, where would I go?”
Not all, but a good portion of these stories show confusing and turbulent relationships that are unacceptable. While fanfiction can be an outlet for fans to expand the universe of their favorite content, it can be a really negative space for people new to romantic relationships.
While I will continue to interact with my favorite fan-created content, I will also watch out for toxic relationships and unhealthy habits written into stories expanding the narrative universe. Being older and arguably wiser, I will not support fan-based content that romanticizes or glamorizes unacceptable behaviors.