Fan Fiction, a bit controversial and a bit time worn topic in writing and fandom circles. But let’s face it, fan fiction is older than dirt (Shakespeare anyone?) and isn’t about to go away any time soon. So, we might as well face the pink elephant in the room and address the issue. Besides, fan fiction is really personal to me. Of course, before I get all maudlin about my experiences with fan fiction, maybe we better discuss what fan fiction is, a bit of history and where to find it.
Fan fiction is at its core, a story written by someone who isn’t the original owner of a story. They are simply a fan writing in someone else’s world using someone else’s characters. After that, the possibilities are pretty much limitless and maybe we can discuss some of the more interesting aspects of fan fiction later. Some of our favorite classic stories might be considered fan fiction, Homer’s take on the Trojan War for example. Shakespeare wrote wild interpretations of the lives of British Kings. And modern day published fan fiction would be the books based on favorite television shows or popular games, video, role playing or even board games. A type of visual fan fiction would be the movie Clue! Based on the popular Clue board game. (Sadly not really an action movie, drat.) Star Wars Expanded Universe is a type of authorized published fan fiction. And who can forget the hundreds and hundreds of Star Trek novels based upon the episodes and later expounding upon the universe.
Speaking of Star Trek, the modern take on fan fiction really took off with the introduction of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Before the internet (what a phrase,) ambitious Trekkies created magazines that writers could submit their own stories about the Starship Enterprise and her crew and receive subscriptions of them in the mail. Many of these stories revolved around Kirk and Spock in a romantic relationship, which is still a huge pairing today. Other fandom groups copied this magazine model and later as the internet took off, they created online email groups, forums, journaling sites, chat rooms and individual sites, until someone got ambitious enough to create the first fan fiction archive. And suddenly, there was a place where any writer of any talent could post their work to one place and read everyone else’s work no matter the quality or fandom. And with the introduction of Japanese anime to America, the concept of fan fiction exploded.
And Sturgeon’s Law reared its ugly head. 90% of it is crap.
But that’s okay.
A lot of archives came and went. There are only a few that stayed the course; fanfiction.net, mediaminer.org, adult-fanfiction.org and the baby of the family, archiveofourown.org (AO3). Each of these rather interesting archives have a tumultuous history and interesting backstories, which I really don’t want to get into right now. Just saying, if you have a bunch of free time, want to read some free stories and have some fandoms you really love, then these are the places to go. It might take some time to wade through the truly awful stories to find the gems, but the side effect of fan fiction archives, are fan fiction recommendation lists! These handy lists have the best fan fiction from certain fandoms in the compliers subjective viewpoint! Always a good starting place.
As I said, fan fiction is really personal to me. As it says in my bio, I have no formal education about writing outside some interesting English classes in college. I got a C in research papers and grammar; a B in creating a pitch and an A in narrative storytelling. This probably should have told me something. What I do have, is a very long history and experience in fan fiction. I’m not comfortable with putting my pen name out there, let’s just say I’ve been writing fan fiction for over fifteen years in a variety of fandoms under a couple of different names. And in the beginning, I was one of those probably writing crap. And I didn’t care. I was writing and I was having fun. Writing fan fiction helped me through my bad high school experience (a lot of people have them) and it helped others too. And that was important to me. Is still important to me. I grew. I improved. I got to focus on things in fan fiction that I would never have focused on if I had been trying to write original works. And it helped me churn out idea after idea and see how I could string these ideas together to create good concepts and make better stories.
The greatest thing about fan fiction in my opinion, is that it gets people of every age (I have met as many forty year olds as I have twelve year olds) writing. And when people write, they also tend to read. Okay, so maybe they are reading in this vacuum bubble of fan fiction where 90% of it is crap and they may or may not improve, yet, they are reading and you know, that is okay. Because, let’s face it, 90% of the published world of books is crap too. And let us not get started on this idea of self-publishing. Seriously, anything that introduces a little bit of literacy to the world I’m all for. I’m not going to discourage anyone from taking up a pen or sitting down at a computer or type writer and taking these ideas they have in their head and getting them out there. Because, there is a certain magic to it. Let’s not stifle any form of creativity of the arts here.
Now writing and posting fan fiction are two completely different things. And if someone wants to write a story based on 10 Things I Hate About You (which in itself was an authorized fan fiction of the Taming of the Shrew, which is based on classic literature tropes) and keep on their computer for only themselves to read. That is fine! However, if they want to take that fantastical leap of courage and post it the internet in one fashion or another for the public to see, then that, is inspirational. Posting, which in this case is essentially publishing, something you have created from your heart for others to see and consume is perhaps one of the scariest things you can do. And I applaud them for their courage because the public is not a safe place and you never know what will happen. Now, I will say that a lot of fandom communities can be nice and welcoming. And then there are the communities that are insular and full of drama. And sometimes, publishing in the fan fiction world is like shouting into a canyon and hearing the echo and you might have to shout several times (meaning publish more than one story or more than one chapter of a story) to get any sort of response. Hey, being popular in one fandom, doesn’t automatically guarantee being popular in another fandom!
And that is where the sense of community steps in. Sure, you will probably get a lot of ‘squee, I love it, write more!’ responses, which are good for the ego and the soul. But there will be rare times, where you will meet people who love the same things you do and want to squee and discuss writing. About characterization, and plot bunnies hopping out of control and multiplying and isn’t so and so just hot as this character. And suddenly, one isn’t so alone anymore. You don’t feel exactly strange or like a hermit who sits alone in their bedroom typing for hours at a time. Out there, in the world, there are people just like you, doing the same things. And it is okay. People, as a community who like a certain thing, are being creative and sharing ideas. And that is wonderful. So, the execution of said ideas might not be wonderful, but now, the idea is out there in the universal consciousness waiting to be picked up by someone else, tinkered with and fine-tuned and maybe a better version of it, or maybe one just as bad, will be published to be seen and shared by more people so more interesting and diverse stories can be born. (Or, as it is so easy to see in fan fiction if you pay attention, a new fad of fiction tropes and mish mash of nonsensical ideas put together to create something absolutely crazy but mind numbingly fun that you have to go ‘what the fuck, who came up with this bullshit and how did it become so popular and why wasn’t it me? [Superwholock, Omegaverse, Soulbonding])
Now we could discuss the legality of fan fiction, or some of the crazy views that published authors have about fan fiction (Anne McCaffery, George RR Martin), or some of the awesome things that have happened to people because of their fan fiction and the original creators being okay with it (Avatar: The Last Air Bender, Joss Whedon). Or the crazy things that some fan fiction writers do to take their fan fiction and make it into original fiction (Cassandra Claire, 50 Shades of Grey.) But those could take a couple thousand more words and some of it sincerely bewilders me.
Fan fiction is great. I enjoy writing it. And I also enjoy reading it when I have time. There is nothing wrong with people, in their spare time, writing fluffy and sometimes not so fluffy stories about their favorite characters in their favorite universes. There are a lot more horrible things they could be doing than writing stories about fictional people and posting it on the internet.
Now, when I get published (and I say when, not if because I must believe in the when), as a matter of course and a, for your information, I won’t be reading any fan fiction of my own works. (Though, I’d love to keep track of statistics for it, that would be amusing.) It comes down to the universal consciousness once again. If one of those stories someone writes about my work has an amazing idea and I read it, later forget about it, and then think I come up with it on my own and use that idea, then, well, I could be sued. (It has happened.) It is unlikely that the fan fiction writer will win (there is precedent about this), but I would still feel awful. So it is just better all around if I don’t read fan fiction of my own work. Which for me is kind of sadness, but hey, it is a fact of life.
That being said. I hope that I do inspire people to write their own crazy times using my characters or creating their own characters and putting them in my world, or crossing my world into their other favorite worlds. Because, if I wasn’t so busy writing the original world, I’d probably be doing the same thing. There is nothing wrong with people having a good time and enjoying themselves. In fact, if it helps get them through a bad place in their life, then good for them.
Not that the die hard fan fiction writers need permission from me. But those who aren’t so certain, and maybe worry a bit too much or have been told that writing original is superior to writing fan fiction and believed it. Writing fan fiction is okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it and go out there and have fun. Go on, get your fanfic on!