The Merits of Fanfiction
Fanfiction, often shortened as fanfics or simply fics, has an infamous existence around the Internet. As the name implies, they are stories written by fans using the existing characters and worlds of their favorite books, movies, TV shows or games. The reason why fans are drawn to do this is easy enough to understand: for the folks who are inclined toward creative writing, a favorite story can be an imagination-stimulating experience, and the 'what if' questions most fans have are met with the outlet of writing fanfiction. It is a way to keep the strong impressions of that story fresh and alive, and participate in online communities with similar fans.
Fanfiction writers are of all ages. Both genders are represented, though it seems the majority are women. Online communities of fans that discuss the particular story, exchange fanfics, show off their art inspired by the story (appropriately called 'fanart'), debate and share news are called 'fandoms.' Popular websites for fanfiction include Fanfiction.net, Livejournal, and Archive of Our Own, but they can be found on every corner of the Internet. Fandoms reach through every corner of media, from young adult books to mature readings and even classics, from anime and manga to video games, from mainstream movies and television dramas to obscure things like ancient mythology. On Fanfiction.net, as of summer 2013, the most popular fandoms are Harry Potter, Naruto and Twilight, and other hugely popular fandoms include Lord of the Rings, Supernatural and the Final Fantasy series. The stories themselves might take any genre, be it adventure, romance, tragedy or comedy.
What are the main reasons that fans take the time to write fanfiction?
- Filling plot holes / answering the unanswered. One thing that can fuel the imagination like no other are mysteries in the story. Fans like to develop their own theories for ambiguous endings, time jumps in the plot and why or how certain events occurred.
- Romance. The art of supporting fictional romantic couples is called shipping, and can be the topic of serious discussion (and ferocious debates) online. The couples in question may or may not be "canon" - that is, written as fact into the original story, and might be ambiguous (do they like each other?) or not presented at all (the characters have never interacted). Though it is said you can find fanfiction or fanart of almost any pairing, a popular sub-genre of romance is slash - pairing of two same-sex characters, most often male. Yes, a lot of romance fiction does include sex (and sometimes not much else), but many writers take the time to explore and develop their love stories.
- Original characters. Sometimes a fantasized self-insert, sometimes pure imagination, writing a story based around a fan-made character existing in the fictional world of their choosing is popular as well.
- Illustrating fan theories. Engaging one's self in a story can lead to coming up with theories about the reality of the characters or events. Think that the antagonist's right hand man might actually be the main character's love interest's father? Do you swear that episode 13 actually only happened in the protagonist's head? Was the protagonist actually the Chosen One, or was it his comedic relief of a sidekick? These types of theories become plot lines in many fanfics.
- Desire to continue where the original story finished. For many fans, the ending doesn't feel like an ending to them. What happens next is a common theme.
- Putting characters in a completely new situation. Whether introducing a new obstacle or antagonist, or plucking the characters out of their universe and plunking them into another - such as transferring fantasy characters into modern day Earth - the possibilities grind at many fanfiction writers' imaginations.
- Desire to involve one's self in the online community. Some write fanfiction for the purpose of meeting other fans and participating in the fandom.
So, is fanfiction okay to write? Many authors disagree. Some find it offensive and even infuriating. Interview with a Vampire author Anne Rice says, "I do not allow fan-fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan-fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes." Other famous authors like Orson Scott Card and George R. R. Martin share Rice's opinion, taking offense at fans using their characters and even believing it is illegal as per copyright laws.
Other authors might find this stance old-fashioned and indicative of not understanding how the Internet has influenced fan communities. Some authors view fanfiction as flattery and praise of the highest sort. In response to a question about fanfiction on Reddit.com, Joss Whedon writes, "All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you."
Controversy about the morality and legality of fanfiction can be murky. But what benefit do fanfiction writers get "wasting their time" in someone else's sandbox?
- Honing writing skills. The ability to put together sentences using proper grammar, spelling, and with a coherent message is an important ability for everyone to have. Writing anything can boost your level, especially something meant to be read by possibly thousands of fans online.
- Honing reading skills. Those who write fanfiction generally read fanfiction, too. Though the average fanfiction is probably no literary classic, reading is reading, and this is a good hobby for anyone to have. Not only will it help improve your own vocabulary and understanding of language, but reading someone else's ideas is food for the mind!
- Practice for writing an original story. Many fanfiction authors have dreams of releasing their own original work one day - and many have been able to do it successfully! Learning how to take an idea, expand upon it, define the roles of your characters, build up to a climax and conclude the story are skills that aspiring fiction writers want to practice. It additionally can get you in the habit of writing, and enjoying writing, which can be an obstacle for many would-be authors.
- Opportunity to get feedback. Is your fanfiction riddled with typos and bad grammar? Here's the good news: someone will probably tell you so. Most fanfiction websites are set up so readers can leave a review with their compliments or critiques. A friendly fandom can also be very encouraging for writers, and help them find the confidence to write more.
- It's fun! What would be a waste of time is to write something you don't enjoy. There are a lot of dangerous or expensive hobbies that people can have. Fanfiction is creative, skill-building, and totally free!
Right or wrong, fanfiction has existed for decades. Even some literary classics could be called fanfiction - after all, isn't a retelling of a Shakespeare story in a modern setting technically fanfiction, too? And considering the millions of fanfics on the Internet, it is safe to say that fanfiction isn't going away anytime soon.