In Defense of (Fan)Fiction!

Jenna Johnson New Blog Pic

As a lover of words, both writing and reading them, I find the aspect of fan written stories about their favorite worlds, movies, shows, and characters a fantastic concept.

These fan written stories are known as “fanfiction,” or fanfic for short, and although the earliest known written fanfic was penned in 1970 – and was based in the Star Trek universe – it wasn’t until the early and mid-2000s that fanfic became a common fixture in geek and nerd culture.

However, it wasn’t until recently in a Google Hangout that an author friend of mine ranted on and on about how fanfiction is ruining literature, and that she would never allow fanfic be written about her characters or her fictional world.

Um… what? Okay, it’s a personal choice as to whether or not you want your creation imitated in any form – art, writing, song, etc. – and if she doesn’t want that, then okay. However, how can someone say that any form of writing is ruining literature?

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Now, personally, I feel that it’s a bit selfish of her to not want fans to write about her characters and her world – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and all that jazz – but how is fan written stories ruining literature as a whole? For example, author Diana Gabaldon doesn’t like when her Outlander characters are given adventures that she didn’t pen, so she doesn’t allow any of the fanfic sites rights to publish the stories. Or at least that was the case a few years back when I checked.

Now, as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and as a former educator, any addition to the written word is not a ruination of thousands of years of written ideas and thoughts. In all actuality, I find that using already established works as a starting place for new, aspiring writers, and as a way to expand imaginations of fans worldwide.

And apparently, I’m not the only person who believes this. There are thousands of authors who write and post their fanfiction on websites such as FanFiction.net and Archive Of Our Own, and who happen to go on and write novels with their own imagined worlds and characters. Writers like Cassandra Clare (the Immortal Instruments series) wrote Harry Potter fanfiction before she was published. And (pardon me for mentioning some books-that-shall-not-be-named) EL James wrote the Fifty Shades of Grey series originally as Twilight fanfiction.

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Even NaNoWriMo, the annual internet-based writing project that many – including yours truly – participates in, has opened a category for Fanfiction authors to work on their stories and submit the word count to help “win” the challenge.

These writings are very rarely published in a medium other than the World Wide Web. In fact, very few fanfictions even become actual published books by their writers, (thanks to copyright); however, it is with many older novels that there is no such limitations of character names and locations, that fanfictions can become publicized in other mediums. A prime example of this is Jane Austen’s novels that have no copyright, and how many authors have gone on to tell of more adventures that her beloved characters have taken, and how they can be used as a reference point in other fiction.

Fanfic can be a tool to teach students to write with certain settings and characters. It can be a demonstration of one’s creativity when meshing with other fandoms whether they be mentioned or actually added into this new storyline. It can be a tool to express distaste in the original content of the show/book/movie that the story is about, it can teach the differences in literary genres, and it can, most definitely, be used as a tool in which people can learn to better themselves in both reading and writing.

Mostly, fanfiction has become this enigmatic entity of most every fandom because it brings fans together where they can concentrate on common ground, discuss key events in the fandom’s timeline, and even commiserate things not playing out how we think they should go. It’s a unification based in a canonical fictional universe that simultaneously allows us to exist outside of it. Basically, it’s a less whiny version of Tumblr.

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I mean, where else can you have Marvel and DC characters and storylines coexisting harmonously within the same plot? Where can you have The Doctor helping Sherlock and the Winchesters gank demons? And where can you wile away the months and days between new seasons of your favorite shows? Through fanfiction, there are limitless possibilities as to what a character can do, and who they can be, as opposed to their current stationary physical, and sometimes even mental and emotional, worlds.

So, no, I do not agree with my friend when she says that fanfiction is ruining literature. I quite happen to feel that fanfics are expanding literature as we have known it. In fact, an ideal representation of fanfic, and fanart, in geek and nerd culture are in the comic books we – as a collective – can’t get enough of as they tell one fan’s story about a particular character and their journey to becoming great/a hero/a martyr/etc.

Her words also caused me to take a step back and look at things in the perspective of a published author; and although I can see her point of intellectual property, I can honestly tell you that I would be honored beyond words if someone wanted to write further adventures for the characters I created. Heck, I’d probably even read a vast majority of their stories while thinking “man, this is good, I should have thought of that,” and “man, how did these kids guess my intentions with that character so early on?”

I mean, who in their right mind would want to hamper creativity like that? As a writer and former educator, this is the furthest thing that I’d want to ever see happen in the world, and to hear this coming from a fellow wordsmith caused me great concern regarding writers that I hope to read real novels from in the future as they harbor this writing ability that rivals, and even trumps, published authors I’ve read in my lifetime. Not to say that none of these fics they’ve posted online aren’t novel worthy already; many are, indeed; and if fanfiction is the way that these authors are getting their voice out right now, then I say more power to them, and haters are just going to hate.

It took a lot out of me to remain silent after she began her tirade, but like a good girl I kept to myself and accepted her opinion for just that, her opinion. I just thank whatever fandom gods are out there that not every author has the same beliefs that she does.

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