This is the story of a Fiction Kid.
They’re only young—a teenager, probably, or maybe a tick younger—and they love stories. They’re someone who reads books, watches movies, plays games, can’t tell you which one is their favourite TV show because there are too many favourites for too many different reasons. They’re a read-y, watch-y story kid. A ‘stay at home and wonder’ kid. A never-bored. A daydream-through-their-classes kid.
They’re happy. They have friends—sometimes a few friends, sometimes LOTS of them—and they’re good, valuable friends. The closest of these friends are all arrayed on an axis of ‘we like the same things!’. A daisy-chain of fiction children. Storykids on the cob. They share their faves with each other, and they prop up/knock down each other’s fictional diets until eventually they all know where they stand. This fiction kid loves science fiction. That one loves fantasy. The other one loves contemporary young adult stories about travel and first love. The-other-still loves anime.
Diverse, sure. But all stories. And even though they might not all like the same kinds of story, they eventually notice that the one thing they all have in common is that they’re not halfway-in on any of this stuff. They’re not casual likers of passing distractions. They’re obsessives. They are stans. They find a thing they love and they pour one hundred percent of themselves into that thing. They will pre-develop passionate arguments in defence of their favourite story and practice them in the shower just in case someone ever throws down a challenge. They have to actively plan to read/watch/play new things, because otherwise they’d happily re-watch their faves over and over again. Forever.
Fiction Kid is taking their first steps into fandom. Though really, it’s more of a blind dive into a huge lake that looks really warm and inviting, and is filled with both treasure and treachery. They’re fortunate enough to have been born in the early-to-mid 00’s, and so as far they’re concerned the internet has always existed, and is a portal to the whole, entire world of hardcore fans that grew up loving stories too much to keep to themselves. These are advanced-level fans. Grizzled old veteran fans. And so this little zygote Fiction Kid gets thrown in with the fully grown Fiction People, and for the longest time (it seems that way to someone Fiction Kid’s age, at least), they’re a bundle of terror and joy as they navigate this weird new world. It feels like a revelation. They’ve found their people.
It feels like that’s all there is to it, right? It’s the universal Fiction Kid story.
But this story is about what happens next. As Fiction Kid gets a little bit older, and consumes more and more stories, and starts to notice the patterns in them. There are things they always like, and things they never like. They’re developing a little road map of stories that speak to them, and through that process, they’re figuring out who they are outside of stories. They’re putting together links between the fictional world and the real world. They’re using fictional bricks to build a real-world foundation for understanding who they are.
And that’s when they find it.
Something comes along that shifts everything in a big way. It’s buried inside one of these stories they love so much, and it didn’t announce itself. It’s a side character. Or a sub plot that takes up 12 pages out of 300. A tiny little thing, really niche and specific, and so low-key that most people won’t even notice it.
But Fiction Kid does. Because even though it’s so small, it’s shining brighter than the rest of the story. Effortlessly brighter. Whoever wrote this story doesn’t even have to try to make this tiny thing interesting, because it automatically is, and it’s so obvious that the kid is left wondering WHY THERE AREN’T ENTIRE STORIES WRITTEN ABOUT THIS ONE TINY THING. This shiny, sparkly, glittering thing that’s put a wrecking ball through the rest of the story, and maybe all stories that came before it, too.
They’ve just discovered something they didn’t know about themselves and about the world:
They’re under-served. They’re under-catered to. All the stories they’ve loved so much up til now are still great, but…they weren’t made for fiction kid. And they can’t quite believe they never noticed it until now. They didn’t know they had this incredible itch that’d gone un-scratched for so long.
And they’re at a loss for why nobody wants to scratch that itch. After all, it’s not like they aren’t widely-read. They’re a PROLIFIC consumer of stories! By rights, they should’ve at least known this was a thing before now. Not just within stories, but within themselves, too. For a kid that relies on fiction to unlock parts of who they are, it seems criminally late in the game to be discovering this huge part of themselves squirrelled away in the margins of a larger story.
Fiction Kid has discovered a structural part of that identity they’ve been building. And unlucky for them, it’s a structural part that isn’t widely written about. They KNOW it’s not widely written about, because they’re now on a journey to uncover every single instance of this that has ever been written in fiction, ever. And the list is small. There’s like three Japanese movies that hint at it. Someone wrote a TV show about it thirteen years ago and it got canceled after 11 episodes. There are books written about it but they’re for adults, or they have uninteresting takes on it. Every time it manages to stealth its way in to a mainstream book or movie or TV show, it’s treated really poorly. Or it’s hinted at so gently that there’s not a lot to chew on.
Fiction Kid feels like they’re truffle-pigging their way through a field full of bland, boring dirt to come up with the few tasty truffles that mean everything to them, now. And this isn’t what fiction has always been! Fiction has always been a refuge for them, and a place of discovery. Now it’s like a sparse wasteland they’re foraging through, looking for reasons to stay.
They can still enjoy regular stories. Other fiction isn’t utterly dead to them. But they feel like they’ve tasted real stories, now. They know how it feels when something inside a story genuinely soars for them, and they aren’t getting that day-to-day any more. Their fictional diet is getting incredibly specific!
Their real life fiction friends are all experiencing something similar. But bugger, none of them have landed in exactly the same place. For instance, Fantasy Kid is now super into stories about medieval young girl peasants who pass as boys so they can become true Knights and fall in love with a Princess. Sci-Fi Kid loves reading about genderless characters. Anime Kid loves action-oriented male/male couple teaser stories about unresolved sexual tension and giant robots. They’ve all fallen in to a fictional wheelhouse that is no less specific and unique than their own complex identity. And now, forever, they are blessed and cursed with knowing what they like, and knowing they can’t get very much of it.
It might be sad if I left it there.
But this is FICTION KID we’re talking about, and they’d never let me get away with that. Good stories have three acts, not two.
This third act is the whole point of the story, and it’s why I wanted to write a piece about how art can be a vital place to go for people like Fiction Kid. These are the spaces where people—extremely young people—start to figure out who they are, and start to take control of who they are through positive action. There’s a common and annoying rebuttal whenever topics of ‘why aren’t there more [xxxxxx] stories?’ are raised on the internet, usually given by people who are catered to in the most extensive ways. They say ‘well, if you want them, then write them.’ A solution no less more difficult than building a successful career in publishing.
So, absent spending the decades it takes to undertake that monumental task (which, let’s be honest, tons of Fiction Kids all over the world actually DO undertake), Fiction Kid finds the solution. The most vital treasure trove of itch-scratching media that they’ve ever found in their life. The most extensive and reassuring network of other fans who are in the exact same predicament as Fiction Kid. The meaty, satisfying filling that closes up every gap left by mainstream media. Stuffs the gaps full. Positively CRAMS those gaps until they’re bursting with content.
Fiction Kid discovers fanfic.
Truth be told, they’d discovered it before now, but it never really spoke to them. Maybe they thought it was a bit silly. Maybe they knew it by reputation as a place where bad writers go to string together sex words next to character names and call it a day.
But now, it’s different. Now they need it. Because fanfic is the only place where they can find the stories that shine for them. Their laser-focused, frighteningly specific needs are not only met. They’re surpassed and built upon. They’re up-ended and re-shaped into something EVEN BETTER. They’re linked to other story types and content that Fiction Kid didn’t even know they liked, but thanks to work of other fans, it’s suddenly blindingly obvious.
Fiction Kid is a do-er, too. They’re an obsessive, remember, and so they have energy to spare when it comes to their favourite stories. They have feelings to pour out. They have concepts they want to try. They have a take on this one story element that nobody’s done yet, and they think it’ll really stand out as something other people might love. Fiction Kid takes matters in to their own hands and starts producing their own work. Probably lots of it! Because they’re an ideas factory now, and they’ve found other people who share those ideas.
For the first time, this feels like everything’s how it’s supposed to be. It must be roughly like how other Fiction Kids feel. Ones whose interests do lie along a mainstream axis, and are so wholly satisfied and happy with the stories on offer that they don’t need to write their own bliss. This is Fiction Kid Unbound. This is the evolutionary maxim of Fiction Kid. A Fiction Kid who is free to follow their interests where they take them, and share that with others just in case they need help getting there, too.
It doesn’t feel this lofty at the time. It doesn’t look like some sort of noble accomplishment. It’s a big stretch to tag your KiriBaku sub/dom praise kink fic ‘World Peace Achieved’, ‘I’m Not A Hero’, ‘You said Nobel, Not Me’. It’s just sharing stories. But they’re stories that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and the only person capable of writing them is the Fiction Kid who evolved to write them. Maybe they’re not world-changing. But to the next Fiction Kid that comes along…they’re important.
Because there’s not just one or two Fiction Kids.
There’s so many of them. So many of us. Everyone reading this will have taken some or all of these steps before, and will remember that moment where they figured out what works, and the quest to go root out every scrap of it you can find. Everyone reading will know how it feels to consume entire seasons of TV shows for the sake of a single background character that shines. Or will read novels full of ho-hum stuff because a sub-plot is DEMANDING that you read along. Or will spend their spare time on AO3, browsing for the tailor-made, overwhelmingly exciting stories that never make it on to book shelves.
The world’s an army of Fiction Kids.
Not all of them need saving and not all of them need help. But all of them do deserve the chance to figure out who they are and what makes themselves tick. This anecdote wasn’t about defending their right to it or justifying their need for it. Because, like…duh. Of course they have the right to know themselves.
It was just laying out the steps.
The Origin Story of Fiction Kid.
By MJ Sullivan