Fanfiction

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Synonyms: fan-fiction, fan fiction, fanfic, fan fic, fic, derivative fiction (older term), fan lit
See also: Fanwork, Original fiction, Canon, RPF, Trekfic
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Contents

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. Fanfiction is also written by fans in isolation, perhaps shared with a few friends or no one at all. Writing fanfiction is an extremely widespread fannish activity; millions of stories have been written,[1] and thousands more are written daily.

a fan/zine ed named [J H] typing up some fanfic, 1975

For information about some specific works of fanfiction, see Category:Fanfiction.

Origins of the Term

The term fan fiction is from science fiction fandom and according to Brave New Words antedates 1939. However, fan fiction originally meant either amateur science fiction published in a fanzine by a fan or fiction by a fan about fans. Fiction about fans is also known as faan fiction. See Fancyclopedia's entry on faan fiction.

The earliest example cited in dictionaries for the modern use of the word is in Star Trek Lives! in 1975. See Wiktionary and Science Fiction Citations. Post-Star Trek, the original meaning of the term appears to have been completely supplanted by the new definition--fiction by fans using pre-existing characters and/or settings.

Origins of the Activity

From prehistory, stories were built on other stories, extending, extending, and sometimes subverting them. For example, Virgil's Aeneid is explicitly a follow-on to the Iliad, linking the Roman origin myth to Greek heroes. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is partly a reworking of other stories, including some from Boccaccio's Decameron[2]. Shakespeare's history plays are like Real People Fiction, while many of his comedies and tragedies are based on Italian, classical, and other existing stories[3].

Fanfiction, the creative appropriation of existing characters, is a part of play. Numerous fans have memories of writing and "acting out" stories from the shows and books they saw and read. From a fan in 2000: "As far as I figure it, "fanfic" has been something that has probably existed in every kid's life, no matter what year. Heck, I can recall stories I made up about SW (bad Mary Sues, I might add... but hey, I was seven.) and my friend and I used to make up stories about ST as we rode down the bike path every afternoon... *I* certainly didn't know what fanfic was then. But I was doing it anyway - and I'm sure everyone in every time back to when printed stories became widely available people were imagining sequels, What If's, etc. The only difference now is, more people share their work with others :) [4]

In 2004, the Writers University compiled a timeline of the history of fan fiction, starting (somewhat tongue in cheek) with the invention of paper and ending with the fanfiction.net archive. By 2008, a poll on EW's PopWatch Fan fiction: do you write it? poll was answered by 35% as 'yes', and 37% as 'I read it'.

However, the point at which "true" fanfiction -- or at least, identifiable amateur stories by fans using copyrightable creative works -- started to be written is difficult to determine and depends on how broadly one defines the term itself. Jane Austen fanfic has been around since Austen's nieces started writing it. (See Jane Austen fandom history.) Sherlockians were writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches in their journals in the early 1900s.[citation needed] A fictional account of 19th century fanfic writers can be found in Little Women, suggesting that the pursuit was widespread, if undocumented. Possibly the first published Tolkien fanfic appeared in I Palantir in 1960. And Star Trek fans started publishing zines (lots and lots of zines) with fanfic in the late 1960s, starting with Spockanalia.

Scope

Fanfiction takes a lot of forms and does a lot of different things. Some fanfiction seeks to close loopholes in a source text (see fix-its) or to explore character motivations; some fanfiction is designed to co-exist with canon (see Case Stories and Episode Tags), and some is designed to branch off from canon (AUs); some fanfiction turns minor characters into protagonists of their own stories, or uses minor characters' eyes to see a different perspective on the major characters; some fanfiction translates a given story into a new genre (e.g. from television series into noir detective film, or epic poem into screenplay form.) Fanfiction can create backstory, or age up characters and leap into futurefic. It can show the depth of two partners' knowledge of each other (see Broccoli Test). It can transform mundane shows into fantasy or sf, with attributes like Elves, Bodyswaps, Mpreg and Wingfic. Fanfiction can contrast and compare different shows by crossing them over or fusing them together. See Story Tropes, Slash Tropes, and Story Tropes by Fandom.

Fanfiction often responds to other fanfiction, either explicitly (issuefic, sequels, remix stories) or implicitly.

Fanfiction sometimes responds to society, such as in Don't Ask Don't Tell stories. Fanfiction is written to make us, or our fan friends, happy (see Bulletproof Kink and Squee), or simply to be a part of the Fannish Community. Fans can put themselves into their fiction (see Self-insertion), or use fanfiction to improve their writing as they transition to profic (see Fans Turned Pro).

Fanfiction can be gen, het, femslash and slash, and many genres not so easily defined. It can be a fluffy romance or a serious examination of sex and sexuality. It can be G rated or very explicit. Fanfiction can examine any sexuality, whether they are represented in the canon or not (see BDSM, polyfic, transfic or threesome). See Genres and Ratings.

Fanfiction can be about real people, historical or contemporary, rather than fictional characters.

Fanfiction can be short (the humble drabble) or long (novel-length, or multiple-novel series). See Story Length.

Writing Style

Certain stylistic trends appear in fanfic, sometimes as a passing fad, sometimes not. The quality of writing in fanfiction varies widely from near-professional to misspelled ungrammatical badfic, but not all trends are related to fanfic's amateur status. A 2014 discussion at Fail_fandomanon identified several common stylistic elements in contemporary fanfic, including

  • present tense (relatively new, also widespread in the publishing world)
  • one-sentence or shorter paragraphs (either an example of bad writing or for ease of reading on the computer)
  • less description overall, but more adverbs
  • epithets
  • "The generic voice of angsty longing"
  • "Vaguely emotional purple prose"
  • JK Rowling's writing style turning up in other fandoms[5]

Third-person limited is by far the most common narrative POV, though alternating POVs of multiple characters is also reasonably popular. First-person fic has trended at certain times (early 2000s?) and in certain fandoms, but according to Slash Report in 2014, is currently verboten in most fandoms in direct contrast to publishing trends.[6]

Mklutz commented in a Slash Report episode that the writing style of fanfic changed very quickly, to the point where fanfics she used to admire later seemed unpleasantly outdated.[6]

The 2015 Tumblr discussion Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? generated many observations about fic writing styles. See Style, Aesthetics. At least one fan cited popslash as the origin of modern fanfic styles.

Fans are not always able to describe what constitutes a fanfic writing style, but have been known to remark that they identified p2p novels or novels written by former fic writers based purely on the vague sense that it "read like fanfic".[citation needed]

A fan comments:
...the one area of writing fanfic that I still find the greatest benefit from is the one area that is most often criticized. Characterization. In this way, writing fanfiction is actually more difficult than writing original characters. What critics often overlook in declaiming writing about characters that don’t belong to you is the fact that…these characters don’t belong to you. They belong to everyone who has ever watched and loved them. In creating realistic fanfiction, you need to be even more aware of character history, speech patterns, and motivations. The best fanfic is usually that which best captures the characters we fell in love with in the beginning. Because ultimately, that’s what a lot of readers are looking for. More of the characters they love. If you can’t recreate that, you’ll lose your audience. [7]

prillalar hosted a 2006 livejournal discussion on words that appear more often in fanfic than anywhere else.[8]

Language

While fanfic in English is most common, stories are written in many other languages.

Fans will sometimes ask a fanfic writer if they can translate their English fic into another language for the enjoyment of non-English speaking fans (or fans who prefer reading in another language). Some languages that fics have been commonly translated into are German, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, French. Fanfics are also translated from one non-English language into another, but those translation are more rare. Stories that are translated into English from their original language are usually translated by the author of the story.

Variants on the Term "Fanfiction"

The term fanfiction and its shortenings fanfic or just fic for individual works are the more common term within fandom.[9] In academia and fan studies, fan fiction is the accepted spelling; the Oxford English Dictionary has listed "fan fiction" since December 2004, and in July 2009 Merriam-Webster followed suit, adding the term to the online and print editions of their dictionary, confirming fan fiction as the accepted standard spelling in American publishing.[10]

But fans are rarely concerned with being accepted, correct or consistent with each other, and there is no consensus about the usage of the various terms, or what that usage says about a fan. For some fans, the spelling fan fiction is seen as indicative of an outsider perspective, either as a new fan or an aca-fan.[11] However, other fans do not make this usage distinction at all and use fan fiction within fannish contexts. [12][13][14] Many fans whose first language contains different rules about compound words prefer the fanfiction construction.

English Usage

In English, fanfiction is usually treated as a mass noun, referring to the concept or the collective body of text written by fans. In contrast, fic is a countable noun that can be pluralized. Usage for fanfic varies: some fans treat it as a mass noun (i.e., an abbreviation for "fan fiction") and others treat it as a count noun (i.e., a longer version of "fic") . Example:

  • "I read a lot of fanfiction last night!"
  • "I read ten fics last night!"

In 2012 Trobadora polled her flist about the usage of the words fanfiction, fanfic and fic as countable.[15]

Finnish Usage

In Finnish, the noun fanfiction is the most popular in online fandom, but fanfic and fic are also used.

German Usage

In German speaking countries the english noun fanfiction is the by far the most common, but fanfic and fic are used, too. Very occasionally the German form Fanfiktion or Fangeschichte(n) is used (for example at FanFiktion.de), but it’s not nearly as widespread as the noun fanfiction and its abbreviations.

Portuguese Usage

In Brazilian Portuguese, the (feminine) noun fanfic is by far the most popular in online fandom, though both fanfiction and fic show up occasionally as well. All three are used as countable nouns to designate individual works or the genre as a whole.

Creators' views on Fanfiction

Also see Professional Author Fanfic Policies.

Creators' opinions and policies towards fanfiction vary greatly. Some authors, such as Robin Hobb (see The Fan Fiction Rant) or Anne Rice[16], actively discourage fanfiction, while other authors are more lax, with opinions ranging from, "I don't like it but I won't stop you" to "I encourage it."[17] Cory Doctorow has called it "active reading."[18]

There is a definite lack of knowledge and understanding among SF writers about fan fiction, as can be shown by the many overheated stories by authors overstating the case of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Darkover fanfiction.[19] A thread on author John Scalzi's blog, Whatever[20], shows that most of them don't seem to realize that fanfiction based on books is far less common than fanfiction based on movies and television shows (Harry Potter is a huge exception to this, of course), that most SF books will probably never have fanfiction written about them, and that most others will only get a handful.

A very early example of a statement on fanfiction comes from Leonard Nimoy in 1968:
I must discuss a difficult problem with you. So many of you have taken the time and effort to write "Star Trek" stories or scripts, and have sent them to me. While I think this is very worthwhile work, and much of the work is extremely creative, you must understand that it is absolutely impossible for me to read or evaluate this material. The studio has very firm rules about actors accepting scripts from anyone. They will allow scripts to be submitted only through authorized literary agents, since evidently their insurance companies will cancel their insurance if scripts are accepted through other channels. I realize that in many cases these scripts are not submitted with the intention of them being sold to "Star Trek" but in any case, it is absolutely impossible for me to accept and read them. Please understand. [21]

Why Fans Write

From a fan in 2000: "There will always be fanfic. The characters cease to belong solely to their creators the moment they are made public. They are ours. You cannot have them back." [22]

The reasons fans write fanfiction is a varied as fans themselves.

  • the joy of writing
  • fill in gaps in narratives
  • fix what they consider errors or oversights
  • fix what things they consider to be mistakes in characterizations
  • include things they wish could be included but can't be shown due to censorship or societal norms
  • for the porn
  • interact with other fans
  • improve their writing for the pure pleasure of it
  • as a "training ground" for professional writing
  • as a way of taking back power, refusing to become passive consumers
  • it's fun

Further Reading

There is a great deal of discussion of fanfiction in Category:Perspectives on Fans, and its subcategories, Category:Academia, Category:Commentators, Category:Industry, and Category:Press

References

  1. Over one million fanfiction are hosted alone in just the anime/manga section of Fanfiction.net; 1,016,367 as of 2010 March 13.
  2. Wikipedia on Canterbury Tales
  3. Wikipedia on Shakespeare's sources
  4. ria, April 20, 2000 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  5. fail_fandomanon. Thread in FFA DW Post # 124 - we are all our parents, Archived version, started 2014-12-28.
  6. 6.0 6.1 after the 20-minute mark of Slash Report episode 4x17 "Ask Us Anything B" July 2014
  7. Invaluable Lessons; Archive by eurydice72 (2008)
  8. Halrloprillalar - What are the fanfic words?, Archived version, posted 26 July 2006.
  9. A simple Google search shows fanfiction with 9,400,000 and fan fiction with 5,470,000 results (11 January 2010). Results vary from day to day but the general picture remains the same.
  10. The 2009 update of Merriam-Websters Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, accessed January 10, 2010
  11. A guide to fanfiction for people who can't stop getting it wrong, by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Aja Romano, "The Daily Dot," June 17, 2014
  12. Twilighted, the first Twilight fan fiction site., accessed January 11, 2010
  13. House Fan Fiction Archive, accessed January 11, 2010
  14. Xena Fan Fiction Archive, accessed January 11, 2010
  15. So I keep stumbling over this.
  16. Where Can I Read Fanfiction Based on Anne Rice's Books?, accessed January 10, 2010
  17. Copyright holders' attitude towards fan fiction, accessed January 10, 2010
  18. Cory Doctorow, In Praise of Fanfic, accessed October 24, 2008
  19. Type "Darkover lawyer fanfiction" into Google; many of the 2,000 hits will be from sf writers, exaggerating the original occurrence into a horror story for authors.
  20. Let’s Get Transformative: thread on fanfiction and the OTW, on John Scalzi's blog, Whatever, accessed January 10, 2010
  21. from Chatter Boxes #8
  22. Tara Wheeler, April 20, 2000 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
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