The Benefits of Fanfiction

by Sara Kiiskila

The first thoughts that go through my mind when I finish a new book, or even a book that I’ve read many times before, are: “Well…. What happens next?”, or “I wish the author had gone into more detail about so-and-so”. The idea that I may never find out when I’ve invested so much time in the story can be disheartening.

However, a solution has been created: fanfiction.

Fanfiction is defined as works written about particular characters or settings by the fans of an original work rather than the original author themselves. With only one noteworthy exception (50 Shades of Grey was originally a Twilight fanfic), fanfiction is not created for money or notability, but simply for the love of the original work. Created to fill in what happens after the original work or to change the direction the original story took, these stories allow fans to revisit their favorite tales.

There are many different styles of fanfiction for any particular work. From those that remain true to the original (or “cannon”), to the AU (or “alternate universe”), and even the crazy not-quite-sure-what-to-make-of-it “crack-fic”; there is a fanfic for every type of fan.

Even though I know that fanfiction has always had a bit of a negative connotation to it, bringing to mind images of socially awkward guys surrounded by way too many action figures, but I love the idea of using fanfiction as a writing exercise for practicing writers. It’s an exercise I use myself when writer’s block has hit me hard. With a set setting and defined characters, a writer can focus on nothing but the plot or the emotional undertones, or anything else they want to practice. The fact that I don’t have to worry about creating entire backstories or histories for every little thing can be very liberating.

I also find myself reading a lot of fanfiction when I don’t want to let go of a particular story just yet, or I’m just bored. The way that some people can create 50,000-word stories from nothing more than the idea that one character should end up with someone different that the cannon pairing strikes me as a sign of a truly creative mind. Even though the writing style is generally not up to par with the original work, the plot twists that some of the more popular fanfic authors can come up with are truly unbelievable. With a few changes to names and locations, a few of the stories could be considered novels under their own right.

I personally would love to have people write fanfiction about my own writing in the future. I’d take it as a sign that people were so into the stories I created, that they couldn’t let go and wanted to play with them themselves. I feel that when fans take that incentive, that’s the greatest compliment that an author can receive.

2 Comments:

  1. Although the formal publishing world alleges a hatred of fan fiction, citing copyright concerns along with the public degradation of familiar characters and story lines, it has been an inevitable part of the writing landscape for centuries.

    And, oddly enough, established writers that take part in “fan fiction” don’t encounter the same stigmas for their actions. For example, “The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (2009) was little more than well-known authors (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Anthony Burgess, etc.) uniting to make a fanfic book of Sherlock Holmes stories. They were paid (and might even collect residuals to this day) for usurping someone else’s ideas and characters (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

    Therein lies the irony: unknown writers put free fanfic online and are vilified for corrupting beloved characters. Established writers publish fanfics and are lauded for their visions and the directions in which they take their stories. Which begs the question: what makes one writer’s vision more valid than another?

    The same type of resentment extends to real-person fan fiction but the negativity, both public and professional, is even more vicious in that sub-genre. And yet back in the 1940s, Whitman Publishing in Racine, Wisconsin took familiar names from Hollywood and turned the personalities’ pseudo-adventures into books! Each hardcover book had a dust jacket with a celebrity’s photo on the front, and a fiction story in which “Betty Grable,” “Shirley Temple,””Jane Withers,” “Judy Garland” or even “Gene Autry” took part.

    With adventurous titles like “Roy Rogers and the Raiders of Sawtooth Ridge,” the celebrities’ names and pictures, and the illustrations within the book) were used to market completely fictionalized accounts of their fictionalized lives to children. “Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak” focused on the adventures of “Ginger Rogers”–not as a celebrity but as a nondescript telephone operator at an old switchboard. The other books followed suit, coming up with alter egos of the well-known stars written by in-house writers under contract.

    What is “real”? Some of the celebrities had public personas under studio-assigned names–so would these books have been “real person fanfic” or just “fanfic”? “Ginger Rogers” was a Hollywood creation whose real name was Virginia McMath; Roy Rogers was born Leonard Slye. So were the series of children’s books published by Whitman capitalizing on the Hollywood personas, or exploiting the real people?

    In writing, the line between what is considered public property and what is private ownership is becoming more and more blurred. Amazon recently announced, “Kindle Worlds,” where they have permission to publish e-books by fanfic writers–so various comic books, authors’ styles (Kurt Vonnegut) and TV shows like “Pretty Little Liars,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Gossip Girl” are now fair game for anyone that can string together a story.

    Kindle Worlds is fanfic sanctioned by the companies that own the copyrights. This is unprecedented acknowledgement in the publishing, professional level that fan fiction is here to stay, and that the voices of those who wish to contribute can be officially tied to the worlds that they love to write about. Of course, it’s also another way for companies to make money the easy way–using free labor, with all the technical complications of e-book selling put on Amazon’s shoulders and not theirs.

  2. Pingback: The Benefits of Fanfiction | A Day in the Writing Life

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