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Is Fan Fiction Wrong?

Updated on August 23, 2017
Talking (and note-taking) about fanfic at con-txt, a fan convention held every two years in Maryland.
Talking (and note-taking) about fanfic at con-txt, a fan convention held every two years in Maryland. | Source

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?

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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”.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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".
  6. 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.

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.

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

Your Final Thoughts

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    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 4 years ago

      I'd never thought about (or read) fan fiction, so don't have an opinion yet. You've got me thinking, though. I really like your balanced approach to the subject. When is it theft... and when is it creativity. Cool lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Okay that is actually against the rules on the site. How does this person know you? So you can just report it. This person probably doesn't know you so then it isn't against the site rules at all. If they do know you then its different. They have no idea if the name is in use.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I found a story that has the real name of one of my cousins. My cousin is not taking the author to court to demand compensation. In fact, she thinks its rather cool. How many people are there in the real world with your exact same name. Out of 7 billion people there must be several. Do you take them to court and sue them? No you don't. So why sue a writer? They have no way of knowing if the names they use are taken or not - but the chances are high that there are name doppelgangers out there.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I found a story using my real name and I am not even a celebrity! And don't wanna be one! I am portrayed as a pedophile, a homosexual and I very much dislike and hate those kind of people myself! I'm just a website owner, a one person business, a self-employed individual and I am now discussing this case with a attorney. I'm going to use all resources to stop this slander and to claim damages against the

    • petelovestoread profile image

      petelovestoread 5 years ago

      creativity should be supported/encouraged in any form it takes.

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      There's a special genre of literature that involves taking a famous novel (eg "Great Expectations", "Gone with the Wind") and rewriting it from the perspective from a different character. Eg "Great Expectations" was rewritten from the perspective of the convict, and published professionally! No one said that was 'derivative' (etc), it was heralded as great literature (!!). Someone else wrote a whole novel about Gulliver's Wife ("Gulliver's Travels") narrated by her china doll - this work was also published professionally and heralded as literature. What's the difference between this and fan fiction? To me, there's hardly any difference, EXCEPT "Great Expectations" & "Gulliver's Travels" are out-of-copyright, considered literary classics and their authors are long deceased. Perhaps that's the real 'difference' between them an fan-fict; the authors of the novels (above) simply chose to make fan fiction about 'recognised classics' rather than popular culture!

    • profile image

      Li-Li-ThePinkBookworm 5 years ago

      Great idea for a lens. I really think that fan fiction is a good thing, as long as no one tries to make money with it. I love to write nonfiction and fiction of my own, but fan fiction gives me the opportunity to let my imagination expand without having to focus on making up characters, settings, etc.

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image

      Missmerfaery444 5 years ago

      This was a truly great debate topic! I personally love reading fanfiction and have written a couple of my own. I don't do many as I don't have the time. Sure there is some awful stuff out there but there are also some absolute gems, and the communities can be great. To be, it's just another form of fandom and if I was the author or film or TV show getting the fanfic attention I'd be delighted. To me, writing is about inspiring and engaging the audience and if you've written something that generates fanfic, then you've done just that. And if some of those fanfic writers you inspired then go on to have careers of their own (with their own original works, of course!) then even better, IMO!

    • profile image

      ElleryAnne 5 years ago

      I think of fan fiction - whether reading or writing - as a hobby, just as playing in a sport is a hobby. Would you tell a woman that she shouldn't play tennis unless she's playing it professionally, or else she's contributing to keeping women poor? Would you say that if she plays badly, she shouldn't play at all? I enjoy reading fan fiction, and when I come across any that's poorly written, I can skip it. No harm done to me or to the author, or to the rest of society. I do have some reservations about real-person fan fiction, only because I worry that someday the children of the celebs involved will come across it when they're too young to understand what it is.

    • profile image

      ElleryAnne 5 years ago

      @mythphile: Very well put!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 5 years ago from California

      This is an excellent hub and deserves more than the brief comment I'm giving it. Fanfiction is a unique intersection of folk literature (running the gamut from folk art to excellent literature, although the latter is rare and hard to find) and a unit of exchange and bonding in a community. i love the fact that words are gifts and ways to relate to one another -- we've come a long way from writing by flashlight under the covers in spiralbound notebooks that no or ever sees! (downside: now people see kids' Mary Sues before they've learned to write. ) I think that function of social exchange explains a lot of the reason for it being fanfiction, instead of original: the familiar matrix allows people to give something they know friends will like, and it's a common language. Of course, the other (and first) reason I loved fanfiction was love of the worlds and characters themselves. There's always nooks and crannies and ideas and perspectives that the source didn't explore adequately (a story can't do everything), and whether or no, if we loved it, we don't want it to be over!None of which addresses the ethics of fanfiction, only the value of it. As for ethics, I believe it IS transformative, it IS a basic impulse and literary tradition in every culture, only treated as separate and problematic in the last 100 years due to new ideas about copyright and ownership of work. On the one hand, there is something in respecting that artists' creative work is often a piece of their souls, a virtual child, and one should therefore respect the wishes of those who feel discomfort at having their work played with. On the other, legally, I think fanfiction IS permissible, adding value and new perspectives and transforming the original (or at least it can, although in practice the skills of fanfic writers don't entirely achieve their potential). So I treat "what the authors want" as a matter of social etiquette, much like those topics where different religions have different rules that we shouldn't legislate but (when it won't infringe on someone else's rights) respect, rather than a legal issue (copyright). Of course, many times we don't know, but I've generally been drawn to fandoms where I DO know the creators are comfortable with fanworks. It gets a little dodgy with Tolkien, where he would probably mind, but he's dead, his works have become shared mythology with a life of their own, and the movies (at least the second and third) were AU fanfiction anyway. ("Gee, what would happen if we put elves at Helm's Deep?" eg)

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 6 years ago

      The only problem I've ever had with fan fiction is that much of it is far too badly written. Lots of it isn't to my taste, but that's not important.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      I used to be an avid fan fiction writer - my person rule was always stick to what could possibly be canon, and, of course, never add in Mary Sues/Marty Sams or try to make money off of my work.Very good work on this lens! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • profile image

      agent009 6 years ago

      I don't think it's wrong, people have ideas and reinterpret movies and books all the time. So long as you're not profiting off it, it's fine.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @anonymous: "people need to stop wasting everyone's time whinging on about it. fanfiction is a creative and fun activity that brings people together and is ultimately a force for good in this world." Very well put, my friend, totally agree

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      i had to laugh at 'it keeps women poor' ....actually the whole argument against fanfiction is generally laughable. i don't agree with copyright law anyway, but in this case it's not an infringement of property rights. the 'harry potter' that jane doe writes about in fanfiction is not exactly the same 'harry potter' jk rowling write. fanfiction is all essentially parody. and nobody is making money off of it, anyway. saying that fanfiction is wrong is like saying that fantasizing is wrong. and if you say that you're bloody out of your mind. the only reasonable argument that has been put forth is in regards to fiction that is based on real people. and i don't think such ficiton is wrong, per-se. i just think that it should be heavily protected against the actual person ever finding it. it's not wrong until that person has to be subjected to it. most responsible RPF writers do this, so it's all quite fine. and do you know what the best part about this whole thing is? nobody will ever put a stop to fanfiction. you can't do it, and nobody really gives that much of a shit because it doesn't harm anybody. people need to stop wasting everyone's time whinging on about it. fanfiction is a creative and fun activity that brings people together and is ultimately a force for good in this world.

    • LissaKlar LM profile image

      LissaKlar LM 6 years ago

      Great debate! Made me really think. I'm still convinced it should only be a hobby for young people, beginning writers. I mean harry potter series are really children's books. Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @M_Leigh_Hood: I absolutely agree 100%. Of course, nothing beats creating one's original story, but what I advocate is a society where artists stop worrying so much about copyright laws and just allow themselves to enjoy the reaction of their fans, whether it be in the form of devotion, review articles, or fan fiction. Authors should share and collaborate with their fans, and recognize that their work would be nothing if it weren't for the money the fans spend on buying it. If I were a bestselling author, I'd love to see what other twists and turns my readers can come up with as far as the storyline that I originally created. I'd also love to see my characters written from a different perspective. I think authors should feel honored that people love their characters and stories so much that they want to write fan fiction about them. So what if it's horrid?? Let artists express themselves. If you think it's horrid, don't read it, but let others who want to read it have a chance to do so. We're supposed to live in a free world. Why must we suppress creative expression?

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 6 years ago from New Jersey

      @M_Leigh_Hood: "The better the fanfic, the more reviews it gets, though." Oh, I only wish that was always the case. There is some truly dreadful and horrid fanfic out there that somehow gets massive numbers of reviews (like, tens of thousands) just by pushing fandom's id buttons or being that ~special~...just look up "My Immortal" + "Harry Potter" in google and prepare to be horrified! Or "Wide Awake" + Twilight, and you'll never think of unicorns in the same way ever again.

    • profile image

      M_Leigh_Hood 6 years ago

      I agree that there can be problems and dangers in the world of fanfic, but that's the same in any hobby area, as the author here has written. As to quality, the fact that fan fic is so wide-spread on the internet means that there's just more of it, and it's free to do, so lots of new writers get into it. The better the fanfic, the more reviews it gets, though. This is just a way for new writers to get feedback from people who are not immediate family or friends. I love fanfic. I think it is exceptionally useful and over-all positive.

    • profile image

      resabi 6 years ago

      It may not be fan fiction, exactly, but my family has had a long-standing tradition of trying to recast Gone With The Wind with modern characters and we also chew over ideas for sequels. I have no idea why this started, but we still do it.

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 6 years ago from New Jersey

      @joanhall: That's awesome! I love hearing stories like that! Your son sounds very creative :DI remember when I was 5-6 years old, I was very into the Beatles thanks to my mom's lp collection and seeing their movies. I used to tell myself "stories" about going on adventures with the band, and to me it was more interesting than playing with Barbie dolls and the like. It would take until I was around 22-24 years old before I found out about actual "fanfic" and people sharing such stories with each other in print. It seems like a very natural mode of creativity that many of us do without even calling it "fan fiction".

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      My son started creating fan fiction when he was about 4 years old. He would revise the bedtime stories I told him, helping the Three Bears protect their property from vandalism and such like.