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Bring on the fan fiction (even if I won't read it)

I taught a few GCSE groups in my short career as a teacher of English. As well as studying Romeo and Juliet, war poetry and Dickens, the students submitted a piece of creative writing, which probably sounds quite fun.

In reality it was one of the more difficult subjects to teach. Surprisingly enough, the kids liked Shakespeare, but getting them to craft a well structured, pacey story was a painful process. Too often they’d write aimlessly, often endlessly, and most of it was, to be honest, pretty awful.

There were exceptions, though. The girl who wrote a scary, Selfesque story set in a psychiatric unit, or an odd tale of relocating to London, where nothing really happened, but which gripped me from start to finish. Ripping spy tales with cruel female protagonists.

And then there was the fan fiction.

Fan fiction seemed a good starting point for a story; after all, enthusiasm’s half the battle. But before too long you’d have 20 pages of impenetrable, rambling teen fantasy, a 15 year old’s brain dump.

Still, Matt Gemmel is right. The explosion of fan fiction on the internet is a wholly good thing, because the fact that anyone can find some form of expression in a series of written signs – and be read – is really a minor miracle, even if it’s not always quite immortal:

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read? I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable. —Nabokov, Pale Fire