Whenever anyone mentions fan fiction, the reaction tends to be two fold; first is the denial of knowing what it is, the second (once people admit that they do know what it is) tends to be embarrassment and recalcitrance. There is a weird sort of energy around fan fiction (at least there has been whenever I have experienced it), and I think that I have perpetuated that over the years at various times. Quite how fan fiction is any different from cos-play, fancy dress, fan art, fantasy, or anything else of that ilk I’m not sure. It’s often seen as “sad” or “weird” to want to involve yourself in a world outside of what the author/creator has already laid down. I guess people just like to make fun of others when they are passionate or involved with something.
Well, no more, I’m here to advocate for fan fiction.
Furthermore, fan fiction is not just the premise of those online and obsessed “fangirls”, and it studied by academics of literature, anthropology, and sociology to name but a few disciplines that it crosses into. There is a very interesting article in The New Yorker from 2017, if you’re interested in reading a bit more about these more academic pursuits.
I think fan fiction has a place for a multitude of reasons:
- It helps writers improve.
- It gives writers a safe space .
- It adds to the fan experience.
- It provides a community of writers.
Okay, so we’ll tackle these one at a time:
It helps writers improve
Putting it out there, I’ve been writing stories since I was about eleven years old, often based on characters that I was familiar with. That means that I was writing and writing and writing, sometimes original work, sometimes fan fiction, and as such my writing continued to get better. If you want to improve at something, you’ve got to practice, right? As such I’ve probably written well over a million words of stories, short stories, poems, non-fiction, and other things since I was very young. It’s helped me improve my writing. I look back at some of the things I wrote when I was a teenager, and it makes me cringe. But, having said that, if I hadn’t done that, and hadn’t put in those hours of writing, I wouldn’t have the standard of writing that I have today (you be the judge of how good or bad that might be, just trust me, it was a lot worse when I was thirteen).
If you want an example of me dabbling in fan fiction, you only really need to look at my ‘Having Coffee With…’ series with Hermione Granger, Chaucer, and J. R. R. Tolkien. I mean, if that’s not fan fiction – what is?
It gives writers a safe space
Often coming up with your own characters, plots, setting, and everything else that comes with writing an original piece, can be overwhelming. Especially for new writers. Fan fiction allows writers to play with characters with which they feel an affinity, and are involved with.
There is an old adage out there (originally adapted from a bible quote):
‘There’s nothing new under the sun’
And when it comes to literature and culture, I would argue that is most definitely the truth. Everything is inspired by something else, to a greater or smaller extent. Just look at the works of Shakespeare for example; Troilus and Cressida, Anthony and Cleopatra, Pericles, Prince of Tyre etc. all of these are works based on other works. No-one would accuse of Shakespeare of writing “fan fiction” in the derisive tone that is often reserved for such pursuits.
Fan fiction has existed almost as long as stories themselves. It could be argued that The Aeneid is a fan work of the works of Homer.
It adds to the fan experience
There is a website out there, called Archive of Our Own, or AO3 for shorthand purposes, which collates works of fiction from different fandoms across the internet, and advocates for fan works in all shapes and sizes. It currently has more that 4 million works of fan fiction created and written by people from all across the globe. It is supported by the nonprofit Organisation for Transformative Works.
This provides a huge pool and resource for fans of any given work, from Harry Potter, to Mad Men, to The Avengers, to Romeo and Juliet. For fans who just wanted a little bit more than what the original work provided them with; there is somewhere where they can explore that and add to their own experience of the work. It might even make them think about the character or story in a different way to what they had previously thought. Fiction that follows the general rules of the original universe is known as “canon”, and that which diverts and places characters elsewhere (think Harry Potter set in modern London) is called “Alternate Universe” or AU for short.
It provides a community of writers
One of the key reasons that writing fan fiction helps writers improve, is not just because of the practice and the hours and hours put in to improve a craft, it is also because websites that host these works, also provide a platform for feedback (much like this one). Websites such as A03, Tumblr, Mibba (holla to anyone who remembers Mibba!), or LiveJournal (when that was a thing), all provide space for readers and viewers to provide feedback for writers. Sometimes this might just be “hey, love this, great work!”, whereas other times it can be in-depth feedback about the content, grammar, or style of the work. Both of these types of feedback are useful, and they work as motivation and a great help to writers.
If I read anything I really like, be it fan fiction, original fiction (online), a blog on wordpress, a poem etc. I’ll always try and leave some kind of message for the creator. Even if it’s just a “love it!”, I feel like it provides just a momentary flash of joy for a creator. From personal experience I know that if I receive a message or any type of feedback, I really really appreciate it. Okay, sometimes it might not all be loving, but constructive criticism is also really useful, as it helps drive improvement. As long as it’s not just criticism for criticisms sake, then I’m okay with it. Of course there are trolls out there, but they’re just sad keyboard warriors, and it’s best to try and ignore them (unless they’re saying something truly awful and then please please report them; harassment is harassment wherever it takes place).
There you have it, four reasons why I think fan fiction is great, and we should embrace it is a part of literary culture. There is no harm in relishing the joy of what has been created and running with it; it’s what our imaginations are for.
What do you think about fan fiction? Have you ever read it? Have you written it? Let me know in the comments!