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.