Is Fan Fiction Wrong?
Is Fan Fiction Wrong? Join the Debate
Fan fiction, once an "underground" fannish activity enjoyed by a relatively small group of people in the science fiction, media and music fan communities, is now virtually everywhere. Where in the past it was primarily only shared in fanzines and typewritten stories passed around at conventions or through mail order, today there are millions of stories readily available on-line in huge archives such as FanFiction.Net and thousands of personal webpages. It is written by people of all ages, all around the world, and about everything from "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" to The Beatles and even Barack Obama.
But is it a good thing? Is it simply a harmless hobby where fans can express their love for characters and famous people through original stories? Or is it inherently "wrong": bad for professional writers, bad for celebrities, bad for fan fiction readers and writers alike? Are there moral and ethical issues that make it wrong, and why it should be discouraged?
There are many different, sometimes heated opinions on the subject of fan fiction. Some professional authors including Anne Rice and George R.R. Martin actively oppose fan fiction and ask that it not be written about their works; others, such as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, encourage it and openly have stated they do not have a problem with fan fiction written in their "universes".
So what do you think? Here you will have the opportunity to read some of the arguments for and against fan fiction, and also sound off with your own opinion on this often controversial subject.
Later on you'll have the chance to debate in detail how you feel but if you have an opinion before reading the arguments pro and con, share your initial reaction to the subject here.
Quick Poll: Is Fan Fiction Wrong? - Share Your First Thoughts on Fan Fiction Here
Is Fan Fiction Wrong?
A Brief Introduction
Fan fiction can be defined as any piece of writing inspired by the original work of another. It can be written about television series, movies, published novels, historical figures, celebrities, politicians…virtually anything and anyone.
In the FanHistory Wiki, fan fiction is defined as follows:
“Fan Fiction is, at its most basic, fiction written by fans. A more broad definition might include that in order to be classified as a ‘fan work,’ at least some elements must be of an identifiable ‘non-original’ nature; i.e., the mere influence of the vast history of oral and written tradition including recognizable themes does not, in and of itself, define a work as fan fiction. The influence must be identifiable, and for some people, attributable.” (Source)
The Fanlore Wiki defines fan fiction similarly:
“Fanfiction is a work of fiction written by fans for other fans, taking a source text or a famous person as a point of departure. It is most commonly produced within the context of a fannish community and can be shared online such as in archives or in print such as in zines. Writing fanfiction is an extremely widespread activity in media fandom; millions of stories have been written, and thousands more are written daily.” (Source)
Wikipedia begins their article on fan fiction as follows:
“Fan fiction (alternately referred to as fanfiction, fanfic, FF, or fic) is a broadly-defined term for fan labor regarding stories about characters (or simply fictional characters) or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work’s owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published.” (Source)
Modern media fan fiction is often said to have taken off and become popular with the cult science fiction series Star Trek, where fans wrote stories continuing the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and crew after the series’ early demise.
Yet other communities grew up separately and independently from Western media fandom; music fans in the 60s would tell each other stories about The Beatles and imagined interactions with the band, or casting themselves as the wives or girlfriends of the bandmembers; anime fandom in Japan and Asia developed their own fannish communities and tropes with fan-produced manga and other publications.
Fan fiction in the past was typically shared through amateur publications called “fanzines”, sold through the mail or at conventions and priced such that only the costs of publication were recovered to avoid issues of copyright or trademark infringement. “Circuit stories” were also passed around outside of fanzines, through circles of fans making and swapping typed copies of their stories in an underground, fannish community. With the internet, sharing became much easier through email lists, messageboard forums, websites and then large, multi-author archives. Search for “fan fiction” today on Google and you will see over 32 million results.
Fan fiction stories can come in all different styles, genres – and ratings. Many stories are “shipping” stories, about pairing characters together romantically, whether or not those characters “officially” became involved or not. People will write romances about Edward and Bella, Harry and Hermoine, even Starsky and Hutch.
So-called “slash” fiction is a very popular sub-genre of fanfiction, where apparently straight characters are instead portrayed as gay or bisexual and in relationships with each other. Shipping fan fiction can be sweet romances meant for any audience, or explicit erotica intended for mature readers only.
Of course, not all fan fiction is about romance. Some authors write “case fic” or stories plotted in a similar style to a television series episode, such as a murder investigation on “CSI” or a typical adventure for “The A-Team”.
Other authors will fill in “missing scenes”, tell character back-stories, or theorize what might have happened after the end of a published story or movie. “Alternative Universe” fan fiction looks at what could have happened if events occurred differently: if an important character didn’t die, if the Rebel Alliance didn’t defeat Darth Vader … there are no limits to the possibilities to be found in fan-fiction today. “Crossover” stories are also highly popular, bringing the characters from different series together to imagine how, for instance, Buffy the Vampire Slayer might react to meeting the characters from “True Blood”.
- It is badly written. Fan fiction authors are writing these stories for free on the internet because they're such terrible authors, no one would pay them for their work! They don't bother proofreading their stories, they don't know basic grammar, they don't know how to construct a good story, realistic characters or thoughtful world building. More than that, they don't even care, and some even act as if their poorly written fan stories are true "gems" of literature. As such, fan fiction is a waste of time to read. People should be reading quality professionally published fiction instead.
- Authors should write their own stories. It's wrong to steal the characters and universes created by other authors, movie screenwriters, and television producers. Professional writers invested their good hard time into creating original work - so if a fan fiction author really wants to write, they should do the same. Otherwise it's simply cheating and being lazy. In some cases its even worse, as fan fiction authors have tried to profit off their writing by publishing their stories for profit. Just look at the case of "Lady Sybilla", who thought she could make money off of her "Twilight" fan fiction.
- It takes materials created for children and subverts it wrongly for adult audiences. It's wrong that fan fiction authors take books, tv series and movies created for children and young adults and write adult-oriented stories about them! Things like "Harry Potter", "Pokémon", "Star Wars" - these should all be off-limits to fan fiction authors, especially those writing slash and erotic stories. Young children could go searching for Harry Potter on the internet and end up reading graphic and sexually explicit stories that are X-rated! Fan fiction is just dirty smut written by bored housewives who should find some other way to express their fantasies.
- Fan fiction about celebrities is slanderous and an invasion of privacy. If a person is going to write fan fiction, then "real people" should absolutely be off-limits. The tabloids do enough damage to celebrities privacy and lives; people don't need to be inventing and publishing knowingly false stories about actors, musicians and sports figures. It could damage their reputations and lead people to believe false things about them. Especially if these stories involve writing these celebrities cheating on their real life spouses, or involved in homosexual relationships when they are straight in real life.
- It keeps women poor. Fan fiction is a fannish endeavor largely undertaken by women, giving away their work for "free" - that is, solely for praise and sharing within the community. This behavior is part of long-engrained societal history of devaluing the work of women. Women should stand up and start giving their creative work more value and realize that their creative efforts are worth monetary recompense.
- It can interfere with an author's ability to write their own stories. Say a professional author is working on a long series of novels, or a television series with a continuing storyline like "Lost" or "Babylon 5". A fan fiction author writes a story that ends up mirroring ideas or plotlines that the pro-author is planning on using later on in the series. If the pro-author is made aware of the fan story or it is published somewhere, the pro-author would have to change their plans for the "official" work, out of fear that the fan author might sue him for "stealing" from the fan story. It's a ridiculous situation and fans should respect the wishes of authors who ban fan fiction about their works, for these reasons.
The Case Against Fan Fiction
While lots of fans love fan fiction, plenty of other people don't. Fan fiction is not even universally accepted within fan communities, and there are many issues raised by those who do not like it. These are just some of the common arguments.
Others Speaking Out Against Fan Fiction
- On Fan-fiction and Why It Should Always be Avoided | Annie Moore Books
'Ello, my lovely Bloggons. How are you all? I miss you. With exams officially over, I can finally relax and write me a proper blog and all. No Music Mondays this time. I've kind of gone off the idea for the time being. I don't see it benefiting anyon
- Casey's Literary Rants | Literary Escapism
In which I rant about fan fiction Fan fiction is something most readers either love or hate. And 99% of the time, I absolutely hate it. For those of you
- Dazed and Confused: The Good Old Days...
I've never been ashamed of my writing roots. I started out writing classic Star Trek stories when I was a teenager. These days fanfic has a seedy reputation and, sad to say, rightly so. Writer and TV producer Lee Goldberg...
- How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor
How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor an essay by cupidsbow
- Not A Blog - Someone Is Angry On the Internet
My position on so-called fan fiction is pretty well known. I'm against it, for a variety of reasons that I've stated previously more than once. I won't repeat 'em here.
- anti_fanfiction: I Hate Fanfic.
Hi everyone. I hate, loathe and despise fanfic. There was once a time in my life when I liked it. I even tried to write it.
- SparkLife » The Problem(s) With Fan Fiction
Fan fiction isn’t good. It ranks right below Greeting Cards and Monopoly Instructions on the list of Worst Types of Literature.
The Case In Support of Fan Fiction
As many reasons as there are to hate on fan fiction, there are reasons out there why proponents support it. These are some of the common arguments given in support of fan fiction.
- It is good "practice" for beginning writers who might turn professional someday. Many professional writers started out in fan fiction. It gave them an opportunity to work on developing their writing skills and to build an audience before breaking free and creating entirely original stories of their own. While there are a lot of bad fan fiction authors, there are also many who take their writing seriously and work diligently on improving their craft.
- It helps build communities. Fan fiction writers and consumers often form close communities and lasting friendships. Sharing stories about common favorite characters and fandoms helps bring people together who might not have ever otherwise met. Fan fiction communities are often women-centric and provide a "safe space" for women in fandom, which can otherwise be rather male-dominated and male-centric.
- It helps keep fandoms alive. Where would "Star Trek" be today, if not for the impetus of fans since the first series aired in the 1960s? Fan fiction helped keep "Star Trek" fandom vital and alive, drawing in new fans for decades until eventually the universe returned with movies, new television series, video games and more official product. Fan fiction is actually good, free advertising and should be embraced and encouraged as such.
- It helps subvert mainstream assumptions and gender biases. Mainstream media such as tv and film often do not provide positive portrayals of people of color, LGBT individuals, or women in general. Fan fiction authors can subvert the stereotypes that dominate today's media by re-writing shows storylines: making assumed-straight characters gay or bisexual; emphasizing the storylines of female characters; fleshing out the characterizations of non-white characters instead of focusing just on the white male lead characters. Fan fiction is a way of spreading social justice awareness and filling in the voids often left by commercial films, movies and novels.
- It is harmless fun that doesn't hurt anyone. Fan fiction is just that: fiction. It does not "steal" profits from copyright holder and individuals. It does not encourage "immoral" behavior but can in fact provide a safe outlet for subject matter often looked at poorly by modern society. It does not harm celebrities as fan fiction authors know what they are writing is pure fiction and generally take extreme care to label their stories as just that: "FICTION".
- It has been with us for centuries. It's nothing new. One could argue that Shakespeare wrote only fan fiction, taking known stories by others and re-writing them for his audiences. Vergil wrote the Aeneid as a Roman response to Homer's Odyssey, making it a form of fan-fiction as he explored the minor characters of the original story to tell of the founding of Rome. Sherlock Holmes "Pastiches" published professionally could be considered a form of fan fiction as well. Writers have always used the work of others as inspiration and a taking-off point for their own work, therefore modern fan fiction is no different than these historical and widely accepted writings.
Learn More About Fan Fiction - Articles and Pages on Fan Fiction
- Fan fiction - Wikipedia
Wikipedia's entry on fan fiction.
- Fanfiction - Fanlore
Fanlore's entry on fan fiction.
- The Boy Who Lived Forever
Time Magazine looks at fan fiction as the final Harry Potter movie is released.
- Slasher Girls
Utne Reader looks at fan fiction writers, specifically those who write rock band fan fiction.
- FAQ about Fan Fiction
The Chilling Effects website looks at the legal implications of fan fiction.
- Legal Issues With Fan Fiction
Wikipedia's summary of some of the legal issues and incidents involving fan fiction.
Voices Supporting Fan Fiction
- My Shame Is TL;DR - [Rant]: Professional Writers vs. The People Who Love Their Work, Round Umpty-Sno
Okay. I am really, really tired of professional writers - or maybe I should say published writers, since professional behavior is not these people's long suit, generally speaking - posting rants about how they don't like fan fiction and ...
- Reading Rambo: Fanfiction and Why It Doesn't Suck
Like most female 20somethings, I was at one point very into the fangirling scene. I wrote fanfiction, I made music videos, put together fanmixes, and created horrible graphics using...
- SparkLife » Why You Should Say YES to Fan Fiction
Okay, so based on recent SparkLife articles on the subject, we can all pretty much agree that 85% of fan fiction is bad. Like,
- 12 Successful SF Authors Who've Written Racy Fanfic
There's no love like the non-canonical love between two characters in a media science-fiction franchise. And there's no love like the love of writers for these pairings. A surprising number of established authors have dabbled in romantic or steamy fa
- Locus Online Features: Cory Doctorow: In Praise of Fanfic
I wrote my first story when I was six. It was 1977, and I had just had my mind blown clean out of my skull by a new movie called Star Wars (the golden age of science fiction is 12; the golden age of cinematic science fiction is six).
- angriest: Why Fanfic Makes Us Writers
Why Fanfic Makes Us Writers This rather shambolic and indisciplined
- The Fan Fiction Phenomena - Reason.com
What Faust, Hamlet, and Xena the Warrior Princess have in common.
- Making the Case for Fan Fiction
At dinner last night with my screenwriter friend, I got into a discussion of the value of fan fiction, prompted by a comment I had made that indicated that I was fan of the Showtime show, The L Word, and that I read The L Word fan fiction.
- An Argument for Fanfiction | Lingua Mea Vita
When I was 12 years old, I remember reading an article about this new phenomenon called "fanfiction." I specifically remember the article celebrating fanfiction writers, saying they were a breed of people with unmatched creativity who were able to ta
- Is Fan Fiction Really So Wrong?
Why do big-name authors like George R. R. Martin keep yelling about how evil and morally wrong fan fiction is? Especially when their biggest fans are the ones writing it? Catherynne M. Valente has some ideas . . .
YOUR TURN! How Do You Feel?
So what do you think: Is it wrong, or not? Do you support fan fiction authors or think they should stop "playing" in other writers' universes? You can leave your opinion here!
Fan Fiction Archives on the Internet
If you're curious about fan fiction, here are just a few of the archives, large and small, out there in different fandoms. It is only a small sampling of what's out there.
The biggest and most famous fan-fiction archive on the internet. On-line since 1998, you will find fanfic about nearly any and every fandom here. There are over 2 million users of the site and millions of stories here to read.
Media Miner is a very large Anime fan fiction and fan art archive.
A large archive of over 70,000 Harry Potter stories.
- Twilight Archives
Over 5,000 Twilight fan fiction stories in this archive.
- An Archive of Our Own
Multi-fandom fan fiction archive of nearly 200,000 stories, run by the Organization for Transformative Works.
An archive devoted to rock band fan fiction.
A large archive of Stargate fan-fiction.
Bandfic is a new archive for music and band-related fan-fiction of all genres and styles. Pop, rock, country, Jpop, punk ... all are welcome in this gen, het and slash archive.
Is fan fiction wrong?
My Concluding Thoughts on Fan Fiction
As an active member of media and music fandom, I used to write fan fiction. Quite a bit of it, in fact, for about ten years, although I stopped writing fan fiction about two years ago for several reasons. For one, I just didn’t have a fandom that I was feeling that passionate about to inspire any more stories. Without a strong fannish interest and an active community of other writers and readers with which to share ideas, it just stopped being interesting to me.
For another very potent reason, I discovered how I could make money writing non-fiction content for the web. Money can be quite a motivating factor to me, I’ll happily confess, so I had less interest in “wasting time” writing for free versus using that time to try to make at least some pocket change. An hour or two in the morning I used to spend on fan-fiction became time to write articles that didn’t need to be published under a fannish pseudonym.
I also feel that the world of fan fiction is changing, and not always in a positive direction. When I first became involved in fandom, people were still actively writing more for fanzines than on-line fiction archives. A great deal of care went into writing longer, more involved stories. These weren’t always great stories, but there did seem to be at least some effort put in to creating a work of some lasting value.
Today, it feels much more “disposable” to me. Writers are in a rush to publish new stories as fast as possible, writing shorter scenes and snippets, spending far less time crafting longer or even novel-length works. It’s all about getting that first “episode reaction” or “shipping story” up on-line before anyone else does, not about taking the time to do it right.
There’s also a sense of cynicism and pushing boundaries just for the sake of being controversial that doesn’t interest me, as well as a lot of meta and navel-gazing over using fan fiction as a tool for social justice instead of as an enjoyable little hobby. When it stops being fun, then what is the point of it? For me, there isn’t any fun left.
Overall I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with it as a past-time. I’ve made great friendships through fan fiction communities and forums. I’ve gotten through rough times in my life reading and writing stories about my favorite characters as an outlet for my feelings. I’ve learned a lot about writing that I now put to use in my professional work writing content for the web. I don’t think a fan fiction author has to have dreams or goals of becoming a published, pro-author, either – there’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying an activity as a hobby.
But I do think some people can become too obsessed and focused on fan-fiction, just like with any other hobby. It can become almost an addiction or way of procrastinating that can have detrimental affects on a student’s studies or an adult’s employment or family time. And some people don’t understand how to keep boundaries between their fan-fiction activities and their “real life” – showing stories to published authors when they’ve stated they can’t read fan-fiction for legal reasons, or even giving sexually explicit fan fiction about an actor or musician to that featured individual.
So at the end of the day, I think fan fiction can be good, and it can be bad, but it’s not inherently wrong in any way whatsoever. Fan fiction is what an author and fan community makes of it, and hopefully authors will continue to “police” their communities to make sure that professional creators and amateur fan writers can co-exist in reasonable peace.
© 2011 Nicole Pellegrini