Including Inclusivity in Reader-Insert Fanfiction

Hiya, Y/N! Yes. I just called you, lovely reader, Y/N. Or, Your Name. As in Your Name in reader-insert fanfiction.

First things first, though⁠—welcome to my new column! Fun and Games will be, truly, as advertised: ramblings about gaming, books, and movies; fan-stuff; occasional reviews; other nerdariffic sundries.

I thought a nice place to start would be a simple guide to inclusivity in reader-insert fanfiction. I won’t go into terms/definitions or anything like that, but those of you who hang out on Tumblr or Ao3 have probably encountered a good amount of reader-insert fics for any number of fandoms. I’ll give those who have not encountered these in the wild a TL:DR version. Reader-insert fanfic exists to allow the reader to imagine they are the protagonist/subject of the narrative, dropping them into the worlds of their favorite movies/shows/books. This is fantastic, fun, and sometimes, completely alienating.

When a reader is hanging out with Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes; adventuring with Rey, Poe, and Finn; or in the embrace of their favorite character, it’s important to be yourself/see yourself. Meaning, if the writer is adept, you become Y/N, immersed in a world that you love and surrounded by your favorite characters. When the writer has not thought things through, though, a reader drops out of the narrative in an instant⁠—lurching violently from hyperdrive into real space with significant damage and a sense of why in the stars did I go here in the first place???

I am a white woman but I am not young or thin so if I am merrily reading along and I notice my “slender body” and “youthful face” reflected in ye olde mirror scene, I’m not Y/N anymore. I’m someone else. If my bff just shook hands with Bucky Barnes and sees her white hand on his arm, that’ll be a NOPE. Full-stop. Her brown fingers against his arm have to be imagined, the scene reset, and BAM, another alienated reader who feels like there is not a safe place for them in such fics. That’s a terrible feeling when one is reading reader-insert fanfiction to escape and be immersed in fun.

I’ve heard a lot of writers complain that there’s no easy way to fix this. I call foul on that. It takes a bit of retraining and thought, but hey, thinking is good. Really, really good⁠—especially when it involves other human beings who deserve respect and inclusion.

A secret, a hint, a piece of advice to reader-insert fic writers far and wide: you’re allowed to keep the details vague! I’m serious. You can say that Y/N put their hand on Bucky’s arm and it’s even easier than adding details about skin tone, body type, or gender. Instead of blushing pink, Y/N can feel their face heat. Instead of Y/N leaning up to kiss so-and-so (not everybody is smaller than their object of affection), they can lean in to kiss so-and-so, leaving it vague who is taller than the other. If you want to include more degrees of physical ability, you can have Y/N move to stand next to Poe Dameron instead of run, skip, or any of those. Instead of someone’s eyes rounding in surprise, Y/N’s eyes can instead widen in surprise. These are just a few tiny things but if Y/N is blushing pink, chances are, they are white. That by default means that anyone who does not match that physical description is knocked out of the experience, forced back into a world where it’s all about someone else and not them (and totally defeating the purpose of an inclusive reader-insert fic).

I know this is by no means a thorough discussion on the matter, but my hope is that it’s a good place to start! So, Y/N, thank you for reading…it seriously is awesome of you. And everybody, if you know of any great resources for writing reader-insert fanfic or have tips yourself, feel free to drop a comment! Finally, I’d like to thank my awesome bestie for letting me consult with her on this⁠—you can find her on Tumblr as @spinsterlocity and on Twitter as @Ms_WordNerd. Thanks again for reading!