Most people cringe when they hear the word fan fiction. Over the millennia the practice has picked up a negative reputation as many seem to focus on the ridiculously sexual side of it (Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy doing it with tails?), but with more fan works being created every day in multiple fandoms, it’s hardly a practice that can go ignored.

What exactly is fan fiction? Fan fiction is when someone uses the characters or universe created by a book, television series or movie to write their own fiction based around it. It can even be based off of real people or historical events (that radically popular play called "Hamilton?" Yeah, that’s a form of fan fiction). It’s not a new practice, though it didn’t become wildly popular until the sixties when a publication of a "Star Trek" fanzine, "Spockanalia," contained some fan fiction. Once the internet became widely available, fan fiction began to resurge and become easily accessible, as well.

What makes fan fiction so great? It’s composed of a large community of individuals who write and publish their work so that others can enjoy their ideas as much as they do. The lengths of these works can range from 100 words to over 200,000, and sometimes even longer. (As a point of reference, the longest "Lord of the Rings" book was a little over 177, 000 words). The fact that so many people are writing novel-length works of fiction — for free — should at least receive some form of credibility. There are some authors who’ve been writing for years, and have hundreds of stories online in a range of genres.

So why isn't society chomping at the bit to spread the good word about this impressive culture? Probably because it’s mainly composed of women. When "Star Trek" fan fiction was being published in the '70s, 83 percent of those writers were women. Research conducted in 2010 based off of statistics provided by Fanfiction.net revealed that 78 percent of users who chose to disclose their gender were female, and largely ranged between thirteen and seventeen-years-old. Society has a habit of dismissing any interests teenage girls seem to latch on to, so it shouldn’t be surprising that fan fiction culture has been brushed aside as some weird, teenage obsession to see two guys kiss.

Believe it or not, while you can get plenty of two guys kissing, fan fiction represents much more than that. Fan fiction gives writers and readers the ability to take their favorite characters and manipulate them to make them more identifiable. Women and minorities are the most underrepresented in mainstream media, and they use fan fiction to create media that caters to them since no one else seems to be doing it. You can make Hermione Granger black if you want to, you can make Luke Skywalker and Han Solo gay simply because you can. You can change the storyline of that TV show you follow that killed off your favorite lesbian character. Fan fiction is the woman’s opportunity to see the impossible happen, and even if the chances of seeing Natasha Romanoff and Peggy Carter holding hands in space become real is pretty slim, it’s fun to pretend that it might without ridicule.

I will admit that I spent the past week pushing through a 700,000 word story that may or may not have made me cry a few times. I wasn’t just impressed with the fact that someone had written a story about Captain America that was almost as long as all the "Harry Potter" books combined, but also with the fact that it was good. There are millions of works out there with literary merit worthy of a Pulitzer. These works resonate with some people as much as Shakespeare or Jane Austen. Now, I'm not saying we should begin offering college courses on why fan fiction is amazing (despite how quickly I’d sign up for that class), but we do need to start giving the practice the credit it deserves.