Anne Friedman ’25
There are two kinds of people: those who had their Wattpad phase and those who lie about it. Whatever the case, most people can relate to searching through the vast selection of content on Wattpad, trying to find a story that fits what they desire. There are so many works and many of them are bad — whether it’s because of the writing or plotline.
Bad writing isn’t the real problem. Wattpad and fanfiction provides writers with an opportunity to be creative and practice crafting stories with already fleshed out characters. It’s a space to perfect the art of storytelling, and bad writing is just part of the process towards improvement.
The bigger issue is the problematic content and plot that these spaces produce. The problematic content creates an unattainable and unrealistic idea about love, relationships, and partners while also validating red flags. It creates a positive feedback loop where readers internalize these toxic ideas, thus creating new content with the same ideals and repeating the loop.
Most of the stories I encountered featured a female protagonist in high school who then fell in love with a boy and her whole world changed. (These relationships were mostly white and heteronormative, which is another issue to discuss.) The male love interest varied from the girl’s brother’s best friend to the bad boy to the most popular boy who was supposedly unattainable. There was also fake dating to real lovers and guys pushing and pushing until the girl said yes. There were always trials and tribulations, but the girl always got the boy and her happy ending.
Some of these scenarios perpetuate unrealistic expectations of an ideal partner, which is the case for the character Kat in Euphoria. Kat breaks up with her boyfriend because while he is nice and supportive, he isn’t the tough bad boy Kat imagined in the fanfiction that she read and wrote.
People also then expect that they should be dating in high school and then beat themselves up when they aren’t. They expect the prince charming or bad boy to fall at their feet, kicking off a perfect life.
The unrealistic expectations of romance and life cause people to be disappointed and angry with themselves because, unsurprisingly, life doesn’t mimic books and movies.
Furthermore, people begin to tolerate horrible behavior because it’s romanticized in fanfiction and they believe putting up with it is worth the fairytale happy ending. One of the biggest tropes I’ve seen in Wattpad and fanfiction is the boy being overprotective of the girl and thus isolating her. The reasoning in the books is always: “He just wants to protect me,” “He cares about me,” etc.
These books validate problematic behavior, spreading the message that it’s okay when they mean well. The books are also scattered with bullying, cheating, and other violence that they validate, thereby illustrating to the readers that it’s okay for partners to act certain ways in real life, when in reality, it is extremely problematic and harmful behavior.
Another issue with many of the Wattpad and fanfiction stories that I have come across is the romanticization of trauma. Many characters deal with parents dying when they are young or being victims of abuse. Some characters have depression, drink or do drugs extensively, self-harm, and more.
It is important to talk about mental health, trauma, and addiction, but in a positive and educational manner. Stories discussing these issues are more meaningful when the writers know what they are talking about, have done their research, and include these subjects for a specific reason. Including these topics in stories for clout romanticizes mental health and trauma. People then begin to think they need to have a traumatic backstory or struggle with mental health in life because otherwise their life isn’t interesting. Furthermore, the uneducated portrayals of mental health diminish it as an actual real life matter that many people deal with and the struggles people face.
For these reasons, it’s okay to occasionally indulge in stories with problematic content for fun when aware of its issues and impact. However, the issue arises when the content is internalized and when books cause other people to internalize and be impacted by it.
Additionally, I feel that when the books and ideas are taken out of context is also when the issue of toxic tropes arises. Netflix recently brought to the big screen three Wattpad series: The Kissing Booth, A Través de mi Ventana (Through My Window), and After. While both The Kissing Booth and A Través de mi Ventana are original stories, After is a fanfiction.
It’s exciting for those authors to have their work published and then brought to the big screen. I assume that production companies look at the most popular books to then turn into movies because they know they have a following. However, the built-in audience of these narratives shouldn’t overshadow the worrying implications of their plots. Companies need to examine the content of the stories and think about the effect it could have. Is the content something they want to promote and stand by?
While Wattpad’s problematic content isn’t great, people who frequent Wattpad are aware of the types of stories that characterize the site. The plots aren’t the most realistic or portray the best values, and are written by people who want to share their stories and improve their writing. Removing Wattpad novels from the original platform forces new consumers to absorb the stories without understanding the environment that shaped them.
Image Source: Cinemaholic