Fanfiction has been a thing since classical civilisation (see Eugammon’s Telegony), and through highs and lows, has been of huge importance to internet culture on sites such as fanfiction.net and Wattpad. While a large section of this fiction is of questionable content, both non-sexual and overtly sexual, whole sagas of content have been created by fan-turned-authors simply because they want to.
It’s only with the advent of internet culture becoming more mainstream in the 2010’s that the problems of adapting these stories arises. With the release of a trailer for After, based on a series of Harry Styles fanfictions already garnering criticism; it begs the question why these fanfiction-based adaptations, while commercially successful, critically pan.
The most famous adaptation known to the public is the Fifty Shades series, based on a Twilight fanfiction written by E. L. James, and looking at the series, you can already see the pitfalls that After has already fallen into. With the characters based on other fictional characters, or real life individuals, the main characters don’t have particularly well-developed personalities, mainly self inserts for the sake of investing. This might work for novels, but does not translate to a character-driven romantic film.
Kate Gardner of The Mary Sue describes the case of both After and Fifty Shades as not only ruining the credibility of the amateur writer on fanfiction sites, but fanfiction in general: “The last thing anyone needs is another story glamorizing abusive relationships and depicting them as signs of true love. There are plenty of Goodreads reviews absolutely tearing the book apart, so let’s approach it from a new level: It’s not a good look for fic culture.
Fanfiction has its awful pieces of storytelling, but the adaptations we’ve brought to the big screen don’t really scratch the surface of the medium. Whole novels are published online for free, purely for the joy of writing, for the love of a character or franchise. It’s disheartening to see some of the more stereotypical, problematic relationship stories rise to the top, while some never see the light of the camera. Given how poorly these adaptations have turned out however, perhaps that’s for the best.