The Real Issue With Fan Fiction is Elitism
Fan ficton(n.) –
fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.
Those who’ve never written fan fiction or had the desire won’t understand it, but I’ll try to explain. Fan fiction is, just as the definition says, a genre of writing. This isn’t to say that it’s better than any others or any worse. It just is. The difference between fan fiction and any other kind of fiction is that both the writer and the reader know up front that the characters and/or the setting aren’t of the author’s own creation. They’re borrowing it.
I know a lot of people have a knee jerk reaction to this idea, but it’s not what you think. Fan fiction is a completely nonprofit enterprise. People write these things knowing that they can’t sell them or make money off them since the original work doesn’t belong to them. (Fan artist are another matter, but that’s a different blog post). Fan fiction is written for the soul purpose of providing enjoyment with a familiar cast or setting to those wanting to read this sort of thing and for no other reason. Yet people continue to hate and belittle the genre.
The number one complaint I’ve heard about fan fiction is that it’s uninspired and if these writers have so much talent, they should just create their own universes and write their own things. This usually comes from people who have never tried to write an extended creative work or the pompous.
Creating memorable, relatable characters and world building is a long, arduous, and intimidating task, not for the faint of heart. And this is also a craft that needs to be honed and sharpened. As long as you aren’t passing off the characters as your own, what’s the harm in practicing on something that you’re already familiar with? In fact, dissecting other characters can help you breathe life into another further down the line. Besides which, you don’t need to be trying out your writing chops to play in someone else’s sandbox. Some people have no aspirations to be better writers, to write your own work or to publish. It can be a hobby just as valid and fun as video games or fantasy football. No one asks people who sit and go through the draft picks why they don’t aspire to manage a football team, do they?
But that’s not real writing
What’s the definition of real writing? Something that’s well written with few errors and can convey an idea clearly or artistically or whatever fits you definition? I guarantee it’s got that. Is it something evocative? Thoughtful? Able to create vivid pictures and strong emotions? It’s got that too. Then, is the crux that someone else wrote it first?
Some of the biggest, well known works, sometimes called the greatest achievements of mankind could be considered fan fiction. All those classical paintings and sculptures based on mythology, the Bible, literature. Things all made by people who were moved by certain stories (or commissioned by people who were) based on characters and settings that weren’t their own. What makes those things valid and other things not?
And a list that you can go and look up yourself.
Bible Fan Fiction
Paradise Lost by John Milton(
Dante’s Devine Comedy (Also a self insert (where you put yourself into a story))
Salome by Oscar Wilde
Bible Fan Art
Sistien Chapel by Leonardo da Vinci
And my personal favorite by Aubrey Beardslye (inspired by that Oscar Wilde story above)
The Aeneid by Virgil (Homer fanfiction)
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jane Eyre fanfiction)
Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan (Greek mythos AU fanfiction)
50 Shades of Gray by E.L. James (Twilight fanfiction)
I can link to a wealth of stories and fiction that are moving, important, and beautiful as this is.
A lot of comic books are also fan fiction. The people being allowed to write them today aren’t the original creators or fans. They’re people who grew up reading and liking these things just like everyone else, but were lucky enough to get to write them.
Once you share something, once you put it out into the world for other people to see, you may hold the copyrights on it, but you’re sharing ownership.
But isn’t half of all fan fiction porn?
There is a niche for smutty fan fiction, but this isn’t any different from smut existing in other media. There’s smutty books, smutty art, smutty movies. This isn’t the whole of the fandom, but even if it was, it’s not as big a problem as it’s made out to be. Fan fiction is dominated by women and it’s a space where they feel comfortable exploring things they cant’ say out loud for
fear of judgement or derision. Anonymously they can write about things they’re interested, chasing ideas down the rabbit whole to see how far it goes. It doesn’t harm anyone, and just like those other smutty things, it doesn’t sully the source material (if that were even possible) because it’s separate from that thing completely. There’s a very specific downside to this, but that’s, again, a different post.
Some published, well known authors have vocally denounced fan fiction most of them coming from a place of ignorance. The other portion comes from a place of possessiveness. I made these characters, I don’t want anyone else to enjoy them except in the way that I’ve already made them, that I’ve outlined. I can understand that to an extent, but at the same time, there’s something that everyone who wants to create something and publish it or make money from it. Once you share something, once you put it out into the world for other people to see, you may hold the copyrights on it, but you’re sharing ownership. You’re giving it to people who might just read it and pass on, or who might read it and find a piece of themselves in it. They might want to explore that piece, or, they see missed opportunities and they may take it upon themselves to fill in the blanks. You don’t have to be happy about it, but there isn’t much that can be done to stop it. There’s no profit being made, so there’s no legal action that can be undertaken. They’ll just have to learn how to share.
In sum, just because fan fiction isn’t as glamorous or tidy as other forms of fiction, that doesn’t mean it has less value.