Fan fiction is defined as amateur works based on the characters and settings from novels, movies, television shows, plays, videogames or pop chart toppers and their crossover cousins. These stories, which take place in fictional worlds created by published authors, have exploded online in the last decade. They attract millions of readers daily. Fan fiction has long existed under the radar in a sort of shadowy underbelly of the World Wide Web. Thriving in a sort of digital parallel universe, right under the surface of the acceptable forms of literature. But the form has been bubbling up to the surface lately, as a growing number of fan writers break into the mainstream.
Fan fiction is often baffling to those on the outskirts of the subgenre. For the casual observer, it can be hard to see the literary merit of a story in which Edward Cullen falls in love with Bella Swan, and then kills off rival suitor Jacob as he flees the scene of a murder. Fan fiction writers and their champions would explain that fan fiction has been a form of writing for centuries. In the late 1800s, after Sherlock Holmes met his untimely end, much to the chagrin of his fans, devotees began writing their own tales of the famous consulting detective. Vanity Fair author, William Thackeray wrote fan fiction based on Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.
Wattpad, the fan fiction equivalent of McDonalds, is a site where budding authors can post their tales for free, plays host to fan fiction, which is the fastest-growing genre on the site. Wattpad is home to 500,000 pieces of fan fiction. One story based on the boy band One Direction has been read over five million times, reaching a wider audience than books by many published best-selling authors.
In the Stone Age before we had the World Wide Web at our fingertips, fans of the popular science fiction franchises Star Trek and Star Wars photocopied and circulated their work through fanzines. A fanzine ‘is a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon (such as a literary or musical genre) for the pleasure of others who share their interest.’ The first media fanzine was a Star Trek zine called Spockanalia, published in September 1967.
In recent years, some established authors have won accolades for what some call fan fiction. They borrowed iconic literary characters from works in the public domain. Geraldine Brooks’ March, featured the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Wicked, Gregory Maguire’s novel based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has become an international blockbuster Broadway musical. Several other publishing stars got their start in the genre.
Fan fiction, even with its gaining popularity, is still a controversial topic for writers and publishers alike. Some in the industry see it as free marketing; while others regard it as derivative garbage on the best of days others see it as copyright infringement on the worst. There are some, J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, to name a few, who readily endorse fan fiction. The Harry Potter author takes a less combative stance on fan-fiction. Her only concern with the art form is that is remains a space for the PG minded parent and chid to still enjoy themselves. The official statement from the Rowling’s camp, ‘she is very flattered by the fact there is such great interest in her Harry Potter series and that people take the time to write their own stories. Her concern would be to make sure that it remains a non-commercial activity to ensure fans are not exploited and it is not being published in the strict sense of traditional print publishing’ The books may be getting older, but they are still aimed at young children. If young children were to stumble on Harry Potter in a an X-rated story, that would be a problem.’
Tween vampire queen, Stephanie Meyer, on one hand care one way or the other about fan fiction, she does however believe it to be an empty gesture. Meyer has explained that, ‘Fan-fiction has become kind of a mixed thing for me. Like in the beginning I hadn’t heard of it and there were some that were’I couldn’t read the ones that had the characters IN character. It freaked me out’ but there was one about Harry Potter and Twilight that was hilarious. And then there was one that was about a girl who was starring as Bella in the movie and that was funny. And uh, I hear so many people arguing about fan-fiction. This one and that one. It seems like they are not as much fun anymore. I don’t know’. People pour out so much energy and talent into them’ It makes me frustrated. I’m like, go write your own story. Put them out there and get them published. That’s what you should be doing. You should be working on your own book right now.’
However, George R.R. Martin, Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon, resent the practice. All three of them actively, and very publically discourage it. “They’re stealing an audience they’re not entitled to,” Ms. Gabaldon says of fan-fiction writers. Martin, maybe the most outspoken author on the subject, has always been fiercely against fan-fiction. On the official George R.R. Martin website he says, ‘And write, Write every day, even if it is only a page or two. The more you write, the better you’ll get. But don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s of the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every write needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out. If you don’t exercise those ‘literary muscles,’ you’ll never develop them.’ On his personal livejournal account, he goes on to further explain that, ‘My characters are my children ‘ I don’t want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I’m sure that’s true, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still’ No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.’
The original vampire Queen Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire, and Queen of the Damned, is one of those authors who is infamously and staunchly against, going as far as to be offended by the very idea, of fan-fiction. On her website, she writes, ‘I do not allow fan-fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan-fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.’
The Web’s largest, and most extensive, fan-fiction site, Fanfiction.net, is home to some several million works, including pieces based on the Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, TV shows like “Sherlock,” cartoons like “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and videogames like “Halo” and “Super Mario Brothers.” The site archives close to 600,000 pieces of Harry Potter fan fiction, and nearly 200,000 based on Twilight.
Like any booming subculture just left of mainstream, the world of fan fiction has its own mores, jargon, cabal and tropes. Popular subgenres include ‘denial fic.’ Stories that disregard major plot points like character deaths or canon endings. ‘Future fic,’ which transplants the characters to the future. A huge body of fan writing is devoted to “crossovers,” where characters from different fictional worlds collide, bringing, for example, dropping Harry Potter characters into the Hunger Games or putting Sherlock on the TARDIS with the Doctor and Martha. ‘Crack fic’ seeks to push the boundaries of fictional worlds to their logical limits and beyond, putting Puss in Boots in the real world, for example. Stranger still, some fan fiction writers take their favourite fantasy worlds and scrub them of all the supernatural elements, Avatar: The Last Airbender without bending abilities, Harry Potter with only muggles. Fan-fiction aficionados call this ‘mundane AU,’ or “alternate universe” fan fiction. With proliferation of Starbucks, COSTA and Caf?? Nero, there is even a sub-subgenre, ‘barista AU’ or ‘coffee-shop AU,’ where beloved characters work at a coffee shop.
In fan fiction, as in life, there is a seedy, dark corner, which caters to all manner of tastes. An insanely popular trope is ‘slash.’ ‘Slash fic’ imagines two male characters; say for instance Capt. Jack Harkness and the Doctor, in a romantic relationship. A thriving subculture of Harry Potter fan fiction reimagines The Boy who Lived, and bad boy heartthrob, Draco Malfoy in a romantic relationship. One popular fan work called The Submissive, by a Twilight fan that writes under the pen name Tara Sue Me, casts the vampire Edward as a multimillionaire CEO who enlists Bella Swan as his sex slave. The story had more than two million views on fanfiction.net before being taken down. Tara has since gone on to change the names and publish her fan fiction as a novel in a planned trilogy.
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