Fan fiction ~ a piece of written work using characters or settings belonging to or created by someone else, usually from a TV show, movie, or book.
Most people probably believe fan fiction originated in the late 1960s with the TV show Star Trek. But you might be surprised to know that fan fiction has been around for centuries. Yep, you read right. Centuries, not decades.
Unauthorized, published sequels to Don Quixote are some of the first instances of fan fiction that can be traced. Alice in Wonderland, and Sherlock Holmes have also been subject to fan-authored parodies, revisions, or sequels.
But what drives people to borrow someone else’s characters and their settings and create a new story? I think part of it depends on the genre or fandom you’re in.
Looking at Star Trek, the original series, which only aired for three seasons, I would say fans just wanted more. Groups of Trekkies, wanting more Trek, took the time and creative license and wrote their own stories. Even Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry encouraged such endeavors. This was all before the advent of the Internet, of course, and the sharing of such stories in ‘fanzines’ had limited distribution. The later Star Trek series turned into more character-driven plot lines, and fans began to ask, "What if…?" And then they wrote it.
Today, many creators and writers of TV shows fear, what is called by some, the ‘Moonlighting Syndrome.’ You remember that comedy detective show from the late 80s with Sybil Sheppard and Bruce Willis? The writers had the brilliant idea of allowing the lead characters to have a relationship. Well, the ratings went downhill quickly after that. The fans, who’d been lured in by the sexual tension, no longer had a reason to tune in. So now, male & female leads are rarely allowed to get together.
The X-Files is a classic example of this. It aired for nine wonderfully strange years. There was never any doubt that Mulder and Scully were meant only for each other, but Chris Carter and his team of writers kept them apart. The fans were reeled in week after week, hoping for some small tidbit of acknowledgement between the two. And they got it just often enough to keep ‘em coming back. For nine years. And their faithfulness paid off. Eventually, Mulder and Scully lived mysteriously ever after.
However, some fans didn’t want to wait who-knew-how-long, so they wrote their own stories. Some read like an episode with an X-File thrown in, but at the end of the day, Mulder and Scully went home together. Others went straight for the romance, conjuring up ways to get Mulder and Scully together. These ranged from sweet to quite erotic tales.
Sometimes, even the wait between seasons was just too long for die-hard fans. In one fandom, what was dubbed a 'virtual season’ was put together. A group of fan fic authors wrote, individually, at least one "episode" of the show for somewhere between 10-13 episodes. The episodes "aired" – were added to the virtual season web site – each week, usually the same day the show normally aired on TV. The first "episode" of the summer would start where the real writers left off. (Or not.) Then the authors of subsequent "episodes" would follow along. At least once, the VS authors of this particular fandom got together ahead of time and planned out the summer story arc.
For other fandoms, virtual seasons came after a show was canceled. Again, groups of fan fic authors collaborated to produce a season’s worth of "episodes", usually between 20 and 26 of them. For Star Trek: Voyager fans, visit: http://vv8.jetc.org/. There are two virtual seasons worth of fan fic. I’ve read these and they are actually pretty good.
Sci-Fi dramas are not the only types of shows that compel people to write fan fiction. Cartoons, ranging from Japanese Anime to some of the U.S.’s more silly offerings, have fan fic stories. At FanFiction.net, the world’s largest single fan fiction depository, ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ has four pieces of fan fiction, while ‘X-Men: Evolution’ boasts over 10,000.
Nor are television shows the only medium subject to fan fiction. Movies and books are fair game as well. I don’t know anything about movie-based fiction except that it’s out there. And even comics, such as Calvin and Hobbes, and video games like Donkey Kong have fan fiction written about them. Hard to believe, but true.
Earlier I mentioned Don Quixote, Alice in Wonderland, and Sherlock Holmes. These days, there’s Harry Potter.
I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books, or seen any of the movies, but I recently read that the Harry Potter books are strictly about Harry. Makes sense. And not only that, but J.K. Rowling doesn’t spend much time on emotions or characterization; her books are primarily plot driven stories. And while most of us enjoy a good action and adventure tale, we still want to know what’s going on inside the characters heads and hearts. So we borrow the characters and we give them those emotions.
In a nineteen chapter/sixty-four page (single spaced) story, entitled Take My Heart Away, a 15-year-old girl told the romantic tale of Hermione Granger and Tom Riddle and how that relationship transformed Tom into Lord Voldemort. I printed it if off for my daughter and she said it was really good. But that’s from a seventeen-year old, non-writer perspective, although she did grasp the larger theme of good vs. evil. I decided to read it myself.
Well, it took me a bit to get into it, but into it I got. The editor in me noticed the telling rather than the showing, but there were few spelling or punctuation errors, which is probably a contributing factor to me being able to read it. There were several scenes that contributed nothing to the main plot, and I did notice quite a bit of head hopping. But overall this young lady did an admirable job.
To Fic or Not to Fic
Arguably, most people, especially the thousands, perhaps millions, of fan fic authors believe it’s okay to borrow someone else’s characters, if not legally, then ethically. Disclaimers usually precede the stories – something along the lines of ‘not mine, just borrowing, not making any money off this’ – thinking this will keep the lawsuits at bay. It seems though that most of the original authors or large studios/companies/creators find that fan fiction is a bonus. It creates buzz and further interest in their product.
Although, in 1999, Twentieth Century Fox actually contacted the owners of The Slayers FanFic Archive with cease and desist letters. Those people obediently took down their web site and removed their fic from the Web. And despite Gene Roddenberry’s enthusiasm, Paramount Pictures was not as keen on the fan fiction phenomenon, although I didn’t see any information that they actually forced the issue.
J.K. Rowling has said she is flattered by the fan fiction, although she definitely would prefer that sexually explicit stories not be written. Anne Rice, on the other hand, has gone to great lengths to keep people from writing, or at least posting, fan fiction that features her characters. She even requested that FanFiction.net remove any stories featuring her characters.
Robin Hobb, a fantasy author, in a rant on her web site, which has since been removed (the rant, not the web site), feels that not only is fan fiction a copyright violation, but that fan fic writers are second class, perhaps even forth class, citizens, in terms of talent and skill. That they write fan fiction because they lack the talent or skill to write anything original.
Well, I certainly can’t and don’t believe that. In fact, I heard several years ago, that the subject of fan fiction came up on one of RWA’s specialty chapter loops, and even some published authors admitted to writing fan fiction. One reason cited was that it offered them a break from their own story, while still keeping them in writing mode. That blows the talent and skill theory. Obviously, published RWA members do have the ability and talent to create original works. And it probably takes just as much skill to keep someone else’s character true to form as it does to create an original one.
And while the issue of copyright is a valid one, one defender of fan fic feels that even "the legends of the Holy Grail are fan fic about the Eucharist." This same proponent puts forth this argument, too: "The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year  went to March, a novel by Geraldine Brooks, published by Viking Press. It's a re-imagining of the life of the father of the four March girls in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
"Can you see a particle of difference between that and a work of declared fan fiction? I can't. I can only see two differences: first, Louisa May Alcottis out of copyright; and second, Louisa May Alcott, Geraldine Brooks, and Viking Press are dreadfully respectable."
Because of the availability of the Internet, anyone can—and does—post fan fic to the Web. There are a lot of immensely talented fan fic writers out there. There are a lot of acceptable writers out there. And there’s a lot of crap out there. That’s one of the main pitfalls to reading it – trying to find the wheat in all the tares.
There are Web sites in various fandoms that post only what they consider to be the best. One JAG fan fic Web site only archives stories that are approved by JAG fans. Stories are initially posted for two weeks or so; fans read and then vote whether or not to add that story to the permanent collection. There are authors that shine in every fandom. They have talent and skill and their stories could stand against just about any published author I know.
It might surprise you to know that these days it seems that most of the fan fiction is written by teenage girls. One woman, writing her thesis, conducted a poll, the results of which claimed that 17-year-old girls are the most prolific writers of fan fic. I think that, too, it depends on the fandom. JAG, for instance, appealed to a more mature audience, and from my personal experience, the writers tended to be adult women in their mid- to late-twenties to fifty-somethings. In the early days of fan fiction, i.e. the Star Trek reign, most of it was written by men, but these days, I’d wager more women than men are penning fan fiction in general.
The other thing that might shock a lot of people, parents especially, is the proliferation of X-rated fan fiction including slash fiction, which are stories about same sex relationships. And according to that same woman, much of it written by those same young ladies.
The writing of such homeo-erotic tales can sometimes be attributed to the fact that women tend look for the relationship factor in any pairing. And with the absence of any likely female character, they’ll pair up the two male protagonists, even if there is no likelihood what-so-ever in the original medium. Indeed, The Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky & Hutch slash fic abound, despite the fact that the male leads were portrayed as your normal red-blooded American men and interested in women. Not that I’ve read any Hazzard or S&H fic of any kind. Really. Another reason proposed as to why teenagers write erotic fic, whether between men and women or between same sex couples, is that they’re exploring their sexuality. I’m sure there are other factors.
Most people who do write fan fic tend to keep that fact a secret, especially if it’s X-rated, claiming that others wouldn’t understand and that they’d be viewed differently by their real friends and family. On the Net, however, one is protected by pseudonyms. People feel free to explore and experiment when they are anonymous.
Whatever your feeling toward fan fiction, it is definitely a cultural phenomenon that is here to stay.
So after that huge ramble, I suppose you’re wondering what it all has to do with me being published. I’m not yet, unless you count my fan fic posted to a few fan fic sites. I’ve been writing it for about seven years now. (Wow, has it really been that long?) And I’ve written over two dozen stories for four different fandoms.
Several years ago, when we first moved to Texas and my husband was just starting his own business, money was tight. There wasn’t a whole lot left in the budget for books, and I quickly read through the offering of my local library. My husband suggested I look online for fan fiction. And boy did I find fan fic. A lot of it. Most of it mediocre, rife with spelling and punctuation errors. And just like a lot of people, I figured I could do better. So I sat down and banged out a 15,000-word fan fic. As a side note, that fic has been nominated for inclusion in one of those best-of-the-best archives.
Well, once you have a fan fic, what do you do with it? You find a Viking Press">Yahoo group (or ten, or more) and you join and you talk about your fandom, and read fics, and post fics.
But then, I discovered another show and joined another loop and wrote another fan fic. I discovered that one of my fellow loopers lived in the DFW area. One day, my fellow looper told me she was going to attend a writers group meeting and asked if I wanted to go. I said ‘Sure’. That was my first visit to NT back in January of 2003. I’ve missed two general meetings since then.
Now I’m creating my own characters and my own plot lines. I’ve learned so much about writing since I joined the chapter. I do chuckle at some of my beginner mistakes, though. That first fic I wrote? I had to go back through it to fix all my punctuation issues before allowing it to be posted at that Web site.
But the funny thing about that fic - I wrote it when all I had was an idea for a story. I didn’t know much about writing, but I had a strong desire and a love for the characters – and a need for them to have that happily ever after. But I think many authors, because they generally tend to be readers, have some basic instincts, too. When I finally learned about the Twelve Steps of Intimacy… yep, my fic had eight or nine of them. Unfortunately, my first completed book-length manuscript is fan fiction. It was a challenge to myself to see if I could write that long of a story. I did it in less than six months, too. There’s hope for me and my current work-in-progress.
And during the last three years, I’ve often wondered how many of my chapter mates have dabbled in fan fiction. So I decided to ask. A huge thank you to all of you who responded. I sent out seventy emails and received forty-five responses. Thirty-nine said they didn’t write it and two also said they’d never heard of it. Three people said they’d considered writing it, but never actually did. And a whopping six of you said you had, indeed, written fan fic. Fandoms included Emergency!, Tour of Duty, The X-Files, JAG, Star Trek, High Chaparral, and Lord of the Rings. One member confesses that writing Lonesome Dove fan fiction got her back into writing for publication.
So. There’s more than you probably ever wanted to know about fan fiction. If you’re ever really, really bored, visit FanFiction.net for a wide sampling or Google search for a web site that contains fan fiction for a single fandom of your choice.
Note: This article was written in 2007 for the Heart to Heart, the chapter newsletter of the North Texas chapter of Romance Writers of America (NTRWA). As of April 2010, Jen has expanded her fan fiction fandoms to five and increased her portfolio of fan fiction to over four dozen stories, and was finally published. Her short story, The Rancher's Wife was included in the Love, Texas Style Anthology published by The Wild Rose Press although it's no longer available new.
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