(Continued from Part 1, Part 2 – The Good, Part 3 – The Bad, and Part 4 – The Ugly)
Love it or hate it, fan fiction is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
Of course, there is the option of denial – of completely ignoring the existence of the some 2.3 million fan-written stories on two of the largest English fan fiction sites, and ignoring the writers of those stories as well.
But personally, I think fanfic writers deserve a bit more praise, especially since they already tend to lead double lives in that those close to them might not even know about their hobby. For whether they are good writers or not (and really, bad writing is hardly a crime; there is plenty of bad writing in bookstores too), they are writing. Writing is not an easy hobby; take it from me. This is not to say that other hobbies are easy, particularly those in which the practitioner is striving for some level of mastery.
Still, some pastimes do require considerably less effort than others. For example, watching TV, which is pretty much the antithesis of writing in that with TV, you are passively absorbing a story whereas with writing, you’re actively creating it through simultaneously employing the following tools: imagination, past experience, empathy, language skills, and foresight.
Plus, fanfic writers are often ridiculously prolific, sometimes churning out tens of thousands of words a week to post for their fans eagerly awaiting their next chapter. Many writers of original fiction would kill to have that sort of output, especially if it could be consistently maintained. I certainly don’t write that much in a week. Such high word counts is excellent training in both writing discipline (writing every day) and accountability to those who are following your progress – something any dedicated blogger also tries his/her best to live up to.
Fanfic writers are also often at the forefront of social acceptance, tackling story themes that challenge issues raised by religious and cultural intolerance, traditional gender roles, and hetero-normative sexualities between consenting adults. As well, given that (unconfirmed) evidence suggests most fan fiction writers are female, it is likely that some fanfic writers are actively facilitating their recovery from traumatic or otherwise difficult situations through their writings within the fanfic sub-genres of “non-con” (non-consensual), “dubcon” (dubious consent), and “hurt/comfort”.
Finally, one mustn’t forget about the extensive online communities fan fiction writers tend to form based on their shared love for a given fandom.
Still, though, some people might not want anything to do with fan fiction writers, instead maintaining a steadfast loyalty to the canon of the source material. For those not even in sorta support of the stuff, this is a viable solution for avoiding exposure to fan fiction.
At least, the amateur fan fiction. It won’t work quite so easily for the professional stuff.
I use the terms “amateur” and “professional” here strictly to separate fanfic that is popular in the mainstream from that which is not, rather than as a measure of writing skill. For there really does seem to be a such thing as professional fan fiction, which is really quite impossible to avoid it. Don’t believe me? I’ve got five words for you:
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Not to mention…
- Any of the countless Pride and Prejudice sequels and retellings (even the wildly popular Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice);
- The truly masterful retelling of and fictional autobiography of the Phantom of the Opera in Susan Kay’s Phantom;
- Anita Diamant’s acclaimed The Red Tent, which creates a story around a brief narrative from the Bible;
- Marion Zimmer Bradley’s landmark retelling of the legend of King Arthur from the point of view of the women in the story in The Mist’s of Avalon;
- Any movie or TV adaptation of a novel, particularly those where the novel’s author is not involved in the development of the screenplay. This would exclude HBO’s blockbuster Game of Thrones due to the involvement of author George R. R. Martin, but not Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trio of films, and not just because J. R. R. Tolkien is long dead.
We all know a movie is never as good as the book it’s based on due to the parts that get written out or (at times wildly) rewritten to accommodate a given amount of screen time. Admittedly, LOTR doesn’t offer much upon which to build a faithful screenplay as the books are quite shy on dialogue. But still, liberties were definitely taken.
So too are they in recent popular movies like Sherlock Holmes, Transformers, and Mission Impossible, and past ones like Romeo + Juliet, (staring Leonard DiCaprio), Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a retelling of The Odyssey by Homer).
Pretty much everything by author Gregory Maguire can be considered fan fiction. Maguire is the author of Wicked: The Live and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which has since been made into a Broadway musical. A fanfic of a fanfic?
Even the humorous Tumblr page Texts from Hillary can be deemed fanfic of the sort that involves a real person (RPF, or real-person fiction).
Expanding one’s view of what constitutes fan fiction can help those opposed to it become more accepting. I consider all of the above to be professional fan fiction because it has been accepted into popular culture in a way that traditionally-produced fan fiction hasn’t, yet it all draws characters and/or settings and/or situations from works created by other authors. But none of this is either a problem or something to be shamed/ashamed of if one is at least in sorta support of fan fiction.
All art is imitative, drawing from something that has come before it, no matter how small that draw. There are no new stories in the world, which as a result leaves us all standing on the shoulders of giants, who in turn may be perched upon still more towering men and women.
This is especially true of characters, who all owe at least a portion of their make-up to familiar literary archetypes, be they a lone, noble warrior type, a precocious child, a mad scientist, or a femme fatale. Characters might further be familiar tropes, like vampires and werewolves, elves and dwarves, witches and zombies, all of which also come from stories of the past. Indeed, on a philosophical level, one can consider pretty much everything to be fan fiction.
But let’s not be philosophical.
As I mentioned in the comments section of an earlier post in this series, I think I would be honoured if people wrote fan fiction based on my work (even though I’d be unable to read it for legal reasons), for the one thing I believe about fan fiction writers above all else is that their works come from a place of great love for the source material. This would mean that my work had touched them in some way, which is the whole point of my aspirations of publication.
I’m already writing a sorta fan fiction myself, after all, in the form of a historical (i.e. real-person) fiction novel that includes cameo appearances from a handful of personages from the medieval past.
It would be good to both have and be in good company.
So concludes my post series on fan fiction. I’ve had a lot of fun researching and writing about this topic, and I hope that everyone who’s been following along has enjoyed reading about it. I’m now curious: have I succeeded in swaying anyone previously opposed to fan fiction to my side? Does anyone who already liked it before like it even more now? Anyone still undecided? Did I forget to mention anything in my examination of the topic? Consider leaving a comment.
8 thoughts on “In (Sorta) Support of Fan Fiction – finale”
So fan fiction is finally an object of inquiry for non-fans, for better or for worse. My fears are for the worst, but then I’ve always been a pessimist. A warning to tread lightly when pretending to be a field anthropologist and infiltrating the world of fandom out of curiosity about the hype:
Hi gavinpandion, thanks for the comment, the follow, and the words of caution as well.
I agree with your linked post that 50 Shades of Grey may be responsible for exposing the world of fandom to the previously unfamiliar, although I don’t count myself among that number. To be sure, fandom has changed since I was 15, but much of this change is merely the result of the medium through which it is now produced and shared – namely, the internet. To me, there is no hype, for it’s nothing I didn’t already know about.
That said, there are definitely nuances and cultural norms to fandom that will not be readily obvious to non-fans or retired fans like myself that I make no pretension of fully understanding. I may be playing the role of field anthropologist, but I am also an ally. I have no agenda of infiltration. I understand that above all, fan fiction is about love of the fandom, self-expression, and especially community. I would never advocate the disingenuous co-option of someone else’s culture as a means of trying to copycat the avenue of success of another. In that regard, I also agree with your fears for the worst, and will offer well wishes that such does not become an ongoing problem within fandom.
Didn’t mean to implicate you other other retired fans in my projections about hostile takeovers, I knew you were a sympathizer. But I suspect fandom can survive the worst without losing its base. Even people like us probably have only the vaguest idea of how diverse fandom is in its entirety or where it is going in the long run. It can probably absorb, deflect or adapt to invasive species, transgenic terminator-mosquitoes carrying nanobot parasites released into the wild to control the invasive species, and climate change without losing its integrity as a free-for-all venue of self-expression.
Thank you for cluing me in on this post. I especially appreciated your point about the diversity and fanfic writers being on the verge of social change and acceptance. I know reading fanfiction softened me up towards becoming more open in areas of my personal life and towards the life choices in others because I’d had the opportunity to ‘play’ with the ideas in fictional worlds. And as you pointed out, there are others out there, either writing out their own experiences therapeutically or struggling with ideas of their own.
There are so many real world examples of fanfic. You barely scratched the surface but more than made your point, I believe. The list of fanfic for religious figures, Shakespeare or any of the Greek of Roman gods would probably keep one researching for months.
Thanks, Ciara. This series of posts I wrote about fan fiction is actually one of my favourite things I’ve ever written on this blog. And yet it was done so early into the life of this blog, so few readers have seen it. I should replay those posts sometime to get more eyes on them and try to generate some discussion, as the topic is endlessly fascinating to me.
One of the most fascinating aspects is how many people seem to be oblivious to the existence of fan fiction. Like when Fifty Shades of Grey came out and it was revealed to be Twilight fan fiction, tons of people were all like, “What’s fan fiction? People do that?” I find it kind of astounding that some people interact with media solely as consumers rather than producers in some form in their own right.
You should replay these blogs. Relevant and I think the conversation bears continuing. It does surprise me as well, how people can only consume and never get involved creatively with what engages them. For me engaged is applicable as a verb, for action! What that engagement entails can be different things though. For example, I love 30 Seconds to Mars, but I cannot sing like that. Only me and my dishwater are tortured with my happy attempts of harmonizing with Jared. When you repost, I’ll pop over and get involved.
You should definitely bump these up – say, for an anniversary series.
Interesting ideas all around. I would never read fanfiction – I’m a canon prude. I can’t even stand things like what I consider abuse of Sherlock Holmes – my canon is contained in The Complete Sherlock Holmes, with all four novels and all the stories.
There is so much to read I don’t have to read things stolen from their original authors. Fanfic seems to be like people repainting The Last Supper, badly, on the side of a supermarket – because there is space – and adding a few women. Not my thing.
As a writer, I hope nobody is interested in portraying MY characters in a way I haven’t – those stories are mine to write if I want, some time in the future. I go to an enormous amount of trouble to motivate behavior, to set up plot twists, to keep a chronology consistent – I don’t want that messed with.
Those are my opinions; with 7 billion other people on the planet, I won’t be surprised that, if I’m successful, someone somewhere bastardizes my creations.
But I don’t have to like the idea, even if it is, in some way, a measure of success.
I should bump these up; I had a blast writing them, and they haven’t had nearly enough eyes on them.
I actually do read fan fiction sometimes. But then, I got my start as both a reader and writer in the speculative genres (sci-fi and fantasy) where fan fiction is a well-established part of the culture. To be sure, most fan fiction writing is terrible, but often the ideas the writers come up with are fascinating – way more original and daring than the derivate crap Hollywood gives us. It can become an even more fertile ground than mainstream fiction for inspiring my own original work. And some fan fiction actually is quite good.
I wouldn’t mind if people wrote fan fiction of my work (who am I kidding – I’d love it, for you’re darn right that’s a measure of success). That said, I’d never actually read any of it. For one, to protect myself against potential legal action from an overlapping of ideas (it’s happened). And secondly, while I like the idea of people playing with my characters, I know I wouldn’t like or agree with everything my poor characters would be made to do, so best that I just don’t know about it.