Fanfiction: You'll Never Believe Who's Writing It


WHERE "SLASH" DOESN'T MEAN THE ROCK STAR



Hello. My name is Veronica and I read fan fiction.

("Hi, Veronica," reply all the other readers of fan fiction.)

Fan fiction, if you don't know, refers to stories created by fans of movies, television shows, books, comics, plays, etc. and usually consists of short stories, novellas, or serialized works. Art work and video also have their places within fan fiction (or fanfic).

Source
In all fairness, I've read some pretty horrible fanfic. I've read some mediocre fanfic. But I've been fortunate to find quite a lot of beautifully written fic by some very talented writers. Now, this leads me down a rabbit hole of some thought-provoking questions. Consumers of fanfic, at least those who want to read good fanfic, have to devote some time to building community with other readers of fanfic. As for the writers of fanfic . . . Writing is a long and painful process; this isn't something they do for a couple hours a week to blow off steam. So I'm left to wonder. Who reads fanfic? Why doesn't anyone talk about it? Who writes fanfic? Why do they write it? I've read some very quality fanfic; why aren't these authors writing professionally?

There are some good answers as to why they aren't writing professionally, but it turns out, some fanfic authors are writing professionally. More professional authors than you might guess either got their start writing fanfic, or still write fanfic.



Types of Fanfic

Before we go any further, I should clarify some different types of fanfic. Some fanfics fill in "missing pieces" of the story; parts of the story that may have been left out because they weren't essential to the plot yet are still parts that fans are eager to know about. Some fanfics are a continuation of the end of the story, or tell what happened prior to the official start of the story; a sequel or prologue if you will.

Serialized adventures (Sherlock Holmes, Star Trek, the "Monster of the Week" on Supernatural) lend themselves nicely to a third type of fanfic, a continuation of the adventures of the main characters. Fans just want more of the story! And sometimes fanfic will tell an existing story from another character's point of view. I had no idea when I wrote "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" from the Wolf's point of view for a college assignment that I was writing fanfic. I swear.

Other types of fanfic take a bit more creative license with their favorite characters and worlds. Often, epic chemistry already exists between characters who aren't romantically linked in the original work, and fanfic allows the fan to imagine "what if?" It could be a classic "will they, won't they" pairing like David and Addison on the television show Moonlighting, or a non-romantic pairing like fanfic godparents Kirk and Spock from the Star Trek franchise. Kirk and Spock's relationship is intense and goes beyond what many people consider mere friendship, sparking what may have been the original M/M (male-slash-male) romantic fanfic pairing. Other more creative fanfics will rework an original creation into a slightly different tale ("fixing" something they didn't like about the original), or will take established characters and place them in entirely different worlds and situations (called "alternate universe" stories). For example, Kirk and Spock might be college students who meet in a coffee shop, with the story set in 2012.


The Authors

Now that we understand what fanfiction is, let's look at who, exactly, is writing it. First, here are two authors who, quite frankly, don't fit in with any of the others I'm going to talk about.


Of course, we all know about E. L. James and the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy starting out as a Twilight "alternate universe" fanfic; it was titled Master of the Universe and written under the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon. (Most fanfic is written under a pen name.) Pulling a piece of fanfic, changing minor details to avoid copyright issues, and publishing it is known in fandom as "filing off the serial numbers," and E. L. James wasn't a pioneer in the practice, believe it or not.

As far as I know, Neil Gaiman did not get his start in fanfic. However, a few of his published short stories meet the definition of fanfic. Two of these stories are published in Fragile Things. "The Problem of Susan," in a clever way, tells the story of the adult Susan Pevensie reflecting on her grief and life after the conclusion of The Chronicles of Narnia; Gaiman imagines what Susan's life was like after the original work concluded. In the introduction to "A Study in Emerald," Gaiman writes that the story was requested from an editor friend for an anthology: "I want a story in which Sherlock Holmes meets the world of H.P. Lovecraft." In fanfic culture, a request for a specific type of story is called a prompt; in this case, Gaiman delivered a "crossover" fic. "I, Cthulhu" is another Lovecraftian fic, this one available on Gaiman's website, with Gaiman giving Cthulhu the opportunity to share his origin story, imagining how Cthulhu came into existence and what his life was like before Lovecraft introduced him in "The Call of Cthulhu."



More typical are the authors who started writing fanfic and later published works with characters and worlds of their own creations. Let's look at a few.

Madeleine Urban, co-author of the first four books in the Wench favorite Cut & Run series, sharpened her writing skills on fanfic before publishing Caught Running with Cut & Run co-author Abigail Roux.




Cassandra Clare is the author of NY Times bestselling contemporary YA fantasy series The Mortal Instruments. Before that, she wrote as Cassandra Claire, author of a very popular, and very humorous, Lord of the Rings fanfic series called The Very Secret Diaries. She is also known for the Harry Potter fanfic Draco Trilogy.

Alas, like many published authors before her, she removed her fanfic before her books were published. Lucky for us, her work has been archived here with her permission.

Sometimes, fanfic inspires other works; in this case, a YouTube video inspired by Claire's The Very Secret Diary of Legolas:





Sarah Rees Brennan is the author of The Demon's Lexicon, a YA Urban Fantasy series set in England. Before netting a three-book, six-figure contract, Brennan wrote fanfic as "Maya" and was so successful that her fanfic had fanfic.








What's that? S.E. Hinton, beloved author of The Outsiders, writes fanfic? It's well-known within the Supernatural fandom that Hinton is a fan and supporter of the show. A show about a group of men on the fringes of society, who share a deep bond and who fight against the tyranny of evil? Sounds like perfect fodder for Hinton's writing skills to me. Now, if I could just figure out her pen name . . .

What's that? Don't believe me? Need proof?





Some authors are decidedly anti-fanfic, and a few have taken action to have fanfic based on their works removed from the Internet. Other authors don't see the harm in it, and some see the benefit to both the writer and themselves. Yet other authors are active advocates for fanfic.







R. J. Anderson is a YA author who writes science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers. She continues to write fanfic under her real name, and her HarperCollins bio page includes a link to her fanfic site on LiveJournal. Anderson sees no status difference between works of professionally published fiction (pro-fic) and works of fanfic, as stated on her LiveJournal blog:
"There's no reason anybody should pay more attention to my writing just because I'm professionally published, or consider my stories to be inherently better than the stories of the many amazing fanfic authors out there who are not professionally published. In fact, there's no good reason for me to mention that I'm a published author at all, because the writing should speak for itself. And just because you can write a novel and get it published doesn't necessarily mean you can write good stories about other people's characters."

NY Times bestseller Naomi Novik is the author of the Temeraire series, which has been optioned by none other than Peter Jackson. Novik started writing Star Trek fanfic and continues to write Sherlock Holmes and The Avengers fic. She is a founding board member of the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), a non-profit "dedicated to protecting the fair-use rights of fan creators." The OTW has created and maintained Archive of Our Own (for preserving fanfic) as well as Fanlore (for preserving the oral history of fandom). OTW also provides legal assistance with issues related to fan fiction, works to preserve artifacts such as 'zines and now-defunct Geocities websites, and publishes the peer-reviewed academic journal Transformative Works and Cultures.



Whew! That got a bit serious there for a minute. Let's have another Legolas diversion, shall we?





And lastly, we examine a final category of fanfic. Pro-fic that is over-the-top, no-doubt-about-it, obviously-sanctioned-by-all-parties fan fiction; pro-fanfic, if you will. This is work that is so obvious that it is often considered an homage to the original work, and one wouldn't think twice about copyright issues or even consider that something indecent had occurred.

Rebecca and Rowena: A Romance Upon Romance, William Thackeray's imagining (albeit in parody form) of what happens after Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.








Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a play by Tom Stoppard, is a fanfic to either Hamlet or Waiting for Godot. Perhaps it's a crossover (a genre of fanfic that incorporates 2+ original sources). In any case, the play is told from the point of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Shakespeare's Hamlet. However, the style of the play definitely borrows from Waiting for Godot.





March is Geraldine Brooks' interpretation of Little Women from the point of view of the father. This fic won the 2006 Pulitzer for fiction.









Gregory Maguire's books. Take your pick of the stories and characters that appear in his books. The Wizard of Oz. Snow White. Cinderella. Dickens and Scrooge. Hamlet. Jack the Ripper. The Little Match Girl.








And, finally, let's take a look at the one work of fiction that likely holds the record for inspiring the highest volume of pro-fanfic ever: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Of course, there is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a pro-fanfic that spawned its own pro-fanfic in the form of a prequel and a sequel. Then there are countless retellings centering on Darcy, yet others focusing on Darcy's and Elizabeth's life after marriage, and any number of other twists on the story. A search on Amazon for "Pride and Prejudice variations" returned 235 results, "Pride and Prejudice sequels" returned 307 results, and "Fitzwilliam Darcy" returned a staggering 599 results. Those are all Amazon-suggested search terms, by the way.


There is a certain amount of secrecy in reading and in writing fan fiction, as though it is somehow "less" than professionally published fiction. The pro-fic versus fanfic debate is complicated and multi-faceted. But I don't think it has to be a "versus" situation, and many authors are starting to agree. By being open about their origins in writing fanfic, by continuing to be active in their fan communities, and by advocating for the rights of fanworks, published authors are working to legitimize the work of fanfic and other fan works. However, this increased attention can be a double-edged sword. Alas, that is a discussion for another time.

What about you, dear reader? Have you read fanfic or do you actively stay away from it? What have your experiences been? Are your experiences different depending on the fandom? Do you write fanfic? We'd love to hear from you.

Comments

  1. Excellent post Veronica Vishous. I've read a bit of fanfic. For a while I was obsessed with Brokeback Mountain fanfic after I watched the movie 3 x in row and read the short story a few times. I just wanted more. More of what happened with Jack and Ennis. I've also read a fair amount of Jaime and Brienne fanfic from A Song of Ice and Fire. Dabbled in Sterek and BDB (Qhuinn and Blay) fanfic as well. I love when there is more to read about characters I love. I prefer fanfic that sticks within the same time as the original story and is true to character as I perceive them in my mind. That is not to say that an excellent piece of fanfic won't escape my attention if it is recommended. Homework by the SPN fanfic community being one example.

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    1. The Homework!Verse was my introduction into what really good fanfic could look like. And my gateway drug into into the fanfic world. Before Homework I just dabbled. After Homework I was lost for good. ;)

      Jack/Ennis and Jaime/Brienne, because they are such dynamic characters together, are good examples of wanting more than what the original work gives you. I didn't know there was Jaime/Brienne fic but I probably could have guessed!

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    2. There is some Jaime/Brienne fanfic. As with anything though, there is definitely the good and the bad. Sometimes the really, really bad.

      Re Homework, I think you are completely right. When fanfic is done really well, it just adds to the whole experience of a tv show or book.

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  2. I tried a few fanfics after I finished the Fever series, but I wasn't impressed. I tried it again about a month ago when I discovered the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on youtube. There are a lot of bad ones out there, but the few decent ones help me get through the day until the next episode is released.

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    1. I heard really good things about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries in my research for this post. Any Pride and Prejudice fans might want to check it out.

      I've found I really have to rely on word of mouth to find the good fanfics. There is soooo much out there, and sometimes it seems like the good ones are the needles in the haystack. ;)

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    2. Needle in a haystack is right. Sometimes it can be daunting sorting out the good ones. I've given up in the past if I've read a few mediocre fanfics in row. There need to be some kind of app that friends can recommend good ones on.

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  3. Fantastic, Veronica! I learned a lot from this. You know I'm a total fanfic junkie, and I love seeing it brought to the forefront and validated. I've been reading fanfic since 1996. In fact, the author of the very first fanfic I ever read (in the X-Files fandom), is a published author and has become a friend. I was "introduced" to her on Facebook by my brother-in-law, who is a science fiction writer, and I kind of fangirled over her a bit. She was very flattered to know that I loved her X-Files fic, and is just as pleased to be remembered for her work in the fandom as she is for her published fiction. Anyway, how fanfic fits in to the literary world as a whole is very interesting, and the role it plays in different fandoms is also a fun topic. I hope we'll see more about fic from you in the future...maybe focusing on slash next time? ;)

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    1. It's interesting how different authors react to their fanfic histories. Seems like some want to pretend it never existed, while others embrace it fully. Very cool about your friend.

      The more I think about fanfic and its place in fandom and in the mainstream culture, the more fascinated I am by it. I really blame this current obsession on a certain book recommended by a certain friend. ;)

      And slash! Ohhh myyy!

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  4. Excellent post, Veronica! I never used to dabble in fan fic, that is, until Supernatural. Once I read Homework, I was hooked. I mainly only read SPN fic, but your post is inspiring me to read other kinds.

    The fic I've read actually held my interest more than some books, believe it or not. ;-)

    Next up... Slash fics, please. Ooohhh, yeah!

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  5. Wow! What a wonderful and informative article, Veronica. :) I really enjoyed reading it. I knew several of the authors and examples that you used, but there were many more that I didn't know had written fan fic or that I never thought about as fan fiction.

    I really don't understand some of the bias out there against fan fiction myself, even as I conceal from the majority of people that I'm acquainted with in 'real' life that I read fan fiction. This article gives great examples of the many awesome things that can result from what is basically fan fiction.

    For me, when I fall in love with something, I REALLY fall in love with it. A book (or book series) or a television show or a movie catches my heart and I just do not want to let it go. Fan fiction gives me a way that I can stay in that world, with those characters, longer and have new experiences with them.

    I first joined the world of fan-fic readers after the final Harry Potter book was released. The ending just wasn't enough for me, I wanted more than just Harry walking up the stairs and then skip forward to the future. I wanted to see his reunion with Ginny, to cry my eyes out as the Weasley family and the rest of the wizarding world grieved for their lost and began to rebuild their world post-Voldemorte. I was so aggrieved with the ending of the book not being enough that my aunt (who actually does not even own a computer and doesn't know anything of fan fiction really) wrote a little ending for me (probably to try to get me to shut up about the book's ending). This inspired me to write my own version of how it ended, of what happened when Harry woke up the next morning. Somehow I went from there to finding Harry Potter fan fiction on the internet and after that I was lost. I began by only reading "after the ending" type fics and those eventually led me to read alternate universe fics and other types.

    Since then there have been many different books, t.v. shows, and movies that have inspired me to read fan fiction and yes, even sometimes dabble in my own attempts at fan fiction, which I don't publish and know aren't great, but I write anyway because sometimes I just can't help myself, because sometimes the words come or the ideas come and they just have to be written down, because sometimes it is easier to live inside those worlds in my head than to deal with things in the world around me.

    I read fan fiction all the time now. Primarily at this moment, I'm obsessed with Destiel fan fiction, to the point that I literally don't want to read anything but that. But I've also lately enjoyed a lot of Sterek fan-fiction and Ty/Zane fan fiction (even acting as a beta reader for two really wonderful and amazing Ty/Zane fic writers).

    I've read fan fiction that has made me laugh and fan fiction that has made me sob (for example, Twist and Shout literally almost made me cry until I was sick). I've read some truly inspiring and wonderful pieces of fan fiction, and yes, some that have made me cringe and have to stop reading them. I've also met some really, wonderful people through the fan fiction world, and had great fun recommending stories to other fic readers and reading stories that others have recommended to me.

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    1. "I knew several of the authors and examples that you used, but there were many more that I didn't know had written fan fic or that I never thought about as fan fiction."

      Interesting point. Once you get down to it, the definition of fanfic, i.e. what is fanfic and what isn't, where is the line? I guess it's like the old obscenity/pornography debate (from those who can remember the Mapplethorpe kerfluffle) "I know it when I see it" definition. But then what one person considers fanfic may differ from what another person considers fanfic and controversy ensues. :)

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  6. This is a great article. I've been writing fanfiction for years and, for some reason, it feels like something I should be ashamed of in real life. Like writing fanfic is 'less' than writing original fic. There are so many people who don't understand why someone would need to write fanfic. Don't get me wrong, one day I'd love to write something original and maybe self-publish, but without fanfic to hone my skills in storytelling it would be a poor offering.
    Someone mentioned above about an app for recommending good fanfic - I don't know if a little pimping is allowed, but Random-fandom.net have a review blog for fanfic for all fandoms. Anyone can send in a review and fics are marked out of 10 for things like spelling/grammar, plot flow, how roantic they are, how lemony they are (how many sex scenes) etc.

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    1. Thanks for sharing the Random-fandom.net resource!

      The fanfic world is a wonderful place for honing your writing skills. There aren't many places, unless you have the luxury to enroll in a formal program, to get that level of feedback.

      Btw, I've read some of your stuff and loved it. ;)

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    2. Thanks Jan of Arc. That was me. I'm going to check out the site. We don't mind pimping at all.

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  7. What a wonderful and enlightening (for me) post. I didn't know anything about fanfic before I joined SVB. I read and liked a few stories recommended there, but that was all I did. Your post made me very curious.

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