Inside the World of Fan Fiction

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News Media Commentary
Title: Inside the World of Fan Fiction
Commentator: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Date(s): February 8, 2010
Venue: online post for "Mental Floss"
External Links: Inside the World of Fan Fiction; archive link
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Inside the World of Fan Fiction is a fansplaining article by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie.

Some Topics Discussed


[A (very) brief history of fan fiction]: But it's been two 20th century developments that have led to a burgeoning on a grand scale. The first was Star Trek. One of the most beloved of created universes, the original series has given fans enough material to create their own versions of events and stories for decades. In the late 1960s and "˜70s, fans began to share their stories with one another through fanzines, the first of which was called Spockanalia and sent through that thing that came before the Internet, the postal system. The second most important thing was the Internet itself. Without the Internet, its immediacy and its democratic underpinnings, fan fiction would hardly exist in the force that it does today. If you're interested in a more academic take on fanfic, check out the work of Dr. Henry Jenkins, director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program and the author of one of the first books written about the phenomenon of fan fiction. Jenkins contextualizes fan fiction, placing it within an evolving "participatory culture," where media interacts with consumers on a much more personal and reciprocal level.
[A practical fanfic primer]: There is a vast amount of fan fiction currently circulating around the internet: and both have millions of members and millions of entries, ranging from short poems inspired by Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty series to full, novel-length explorations of Harry's life if he'd never gone to Hogwarts. Then there are the sites for individual universes: Harry Potter, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Stargate, and many more.
[Famous fan fiction writers]: For the record, fanfic isn't just pale teenagers whiling away their waking hours hunched over the computer and tapping out torrid Harry/Draco romance stories or unauthorized future installments of the Twilight saga: Famous authors, too, have dabbled in other writers' universes. In the years after Alice in Wonderland was written, for example, famous authors such as Frances Hodges Burnett (The Little Princess and The Secret Garden), and E. Nesbit (Five Children and It), thought they'd take a hand in re-writing or revising the now classic and classically trippy text. Nowadays, it's kind of cool to admit you write fan fiction — Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries, came clean recently and admitted she wrote fan fiction based on Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern world. Naomi Novik, author of the acclaimed Temeraire series, said that she started out writing fan fiction. She's also the head of the Organization of Transformative Works, which seeks to promote the legality of fan fiction and other fan works.
[Fan fiction damns the man]: If fanfic's murky legal status is worrying to its writers, it's not enough to keep them from writing it or from championing it. Supporters of fan fiction, such as the Organization for Transformative Works, claim that not for profit fan fiction should be considered "transformative" and come under fair use exemptions from copyright prosecution.


[Tom]: Great article! I'm a high school English teacher, and for years I've offered my students an extra credit opportunity to write fan fiction. Students have turned in stories about an adult Huck Finn and a young Nick Carraway, and one took a look at Lennie (of 'Of Mice and Men') adjusting to life in Heaven.
[OkieMelissa]: In late middle and early high school, I wrote fanfiction for "The X-Files". That occured toward the end of the series, so before everything went to hell (read: when david duchovny left the show) and when all the main characters were still interesting and healthy. I had a fantastic time doing it and loved the community of other writers. Great article!
[Lindsey d.]: I love the idea of fanfic because it gives young writers the chance to hone storylines, dialogue and writing style without having to also create a world, develop characters, etc. Doing it all at once can be overwhelming, but borrowing a world that someone else has already created can be a great entry into writing.. Fanfic writers -- keep it up!
[MLD]:I've seen (haven't read) Shakespeare fanfic. I think it may fall under Rule 34
[Kessie]:I've written a ton of fanfic... it's how I got started as a teenager. I wasn't brave enough to strike out on my own, but through fanfiction I discovered a way to practice my skills while having fun. I ended up getting help and advice from dozens of older, more experienced writers. I now write original novels, and I don't think it ever would have happened had I not written fanfiction first.
[Sharlene]:Dude, slash is about as controversial as cottage cheese.
[Miss Moneypenny]: I am currently following a couple of works-in-progress that are ostensibly inspired by the Twilight fandom. I maintain, however, that if you changed the characters' names and a few geographic details, a reader would never be able to identify the stories as something Twilight related. I'm reading them because I enjoy the writing styles of the authors and I like the idea of reading a serial. It's an exercise in patience for me to wait weeks and sometimes even months to read a new installment!
[akte]:Good article, although I have to admit I was disappointed not to see femslash mentioned in the primer.
[Akuekue]:I've written fanfiction, but I always write it as an expansion of the world, not just a way to screw with characters I'm not creative enough to think up. I hate the fanfiction that is just wish fulfillment, with the "Mary Sue" characters, especially when the fanfiction is badly written.
[Amanda Mae]: Beatles fan fiction was pretty big starting in the mid-90's when the Anthology came out to the early 00's. I wrote a full-length novel, a half-finished sequel, and numerous short stories all about George Harrison. A few girls still write it, but it's nowhere near the frenzy earlier in the decade.
[Ish]:Great article on this subject. I have been a fanficcer for many years and many fandoms and one of the most memorable "authorized" ones of all time was when I wrote a parody of a Star Wars fanfilm, itself a fanfic. I noticed that one of the writers read and enjoyed my parody, but didn't realize that the person above him who had referred him to the link was the director. A couple of days later, the director emailed me to say that he'd spread the fic to the cast and crew and would, if I could put up with his corrections, let me write authorized fiction for the series. Coolest thing ever.
[Veronica]: Unless I missed it, I notice you don't mention RPF or RPS (Real Person Fiction; Real Person Slash). I just wondered what your thoughts are on that and the legal boundaries about writing fictional stories about a still-living person. (I have my own thoughts on the ethics of it, but I'd be interested to hear somebody else's.)
[Merinda]:I have to thank fan fiction myself. I'm not published yet, but I'm trying to be a 'real' author.

But I cut my teeth as a teenager on fan fiction (Star Trek). It gave me a chance to explore character and develop skills in a world that was beloved to me, and helped give me the courage to create my own worlds.

'course that was the early 90s before the net exploded, so the only people who read my fanfic were a few close friends.
[Kady]:I've read fanfic since I was 11 and written it since I was 13 (I'm 18 now). I write for various fandoms from Scooby Doo to Monster Allergy (an Italian Disney comic book). It's great fun and practice for original fiction, that's for sure! ^^
[Ish]:I can definitely attribute a lot of my writing success to what I've learned from fanfic. I've published only personal essays, one poem and two short stories, but I wrote my most complex stories in the context of fanfiction. I met my best friend because we were both authors on one site, started talking and then noticed we were both students at the same university. It's also catharsis because I have clinical depression and often, when I can't stand myself, I escape by being another character. Apparently I channel Valley Girl and college boys very well.
[Illyria]:I have read fanfiction for more than a decade. I was much more into the Buffy and Angel universes created by Joss Whedon. I read primarily to see story arcs with my favourite characters, alternate universes within an alternate universe. Many fanfic authors out there are very talented and commited writers, many publishing stories that would rival, and surpass many published novels.
[Natalie]: You should see the CSI, NCIS, and other such sitcom fanfics. There are rabid believers in Nick/Greg ships (CSI) and Gibbs/Dinozzo (NCIS). They are so adamant about some things that I'm sort of surprised that writers for the shows have not succumbed to fans' whims.
[GH]: Every developing writer writes fanfic until they are good enough to create their own characters =) I did when i was younger (pretty bad stuff though)
[Penelope]: Sometimes, fan fiction can be more challenging than original fiction, because you have to make sure to get the voices and tone of the original source material correct. It's arguably more difficult to work with someone else's character than to just come up with your own. That said, I think I can attribute my fan fiction tendencies back to middle school assignments where we were required to create an alternate ending to Hitchcock's The Birds, or change around fairytales. In a way, it's as though they're encouraging us to do it.
[Rosie]:I've been writting fan ficiton for nearly twenty years in a myriad of fandoms' Lord of the Rings, Phantom of the Opera, Star Trek, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Anite Blake : Vampire Hunter, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, Chronicles of Narnia, Da Vinci Code, etc. I've even made up stories about My Little Ponies and Tinkerbell for my nieces as gifts. Since one of the few fandoms I write in that is public domain is Phantom of the Opera, I am actually in the progress of getting one of my novel-length stories published this year in honor of the 100 anniversay of the original 1910 print by Gaston Leroux.
[Gina]: Thanks for the article! I participated in Round Robin Star Trek fan fic years ago but stopped. It is neat to utilize the "universe" and create continuing storylines.
[fictionisagirl]: I have written fanfiction, and enjoyed the heck out of it. I consider it practice. I am a freelance writer and get paid for writing. The fanfic I read/write is only for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And while 90% of the fanfiction out there is pretty dismal, the gems that you find are so very, very good that it amazes you that these people aren't published authors. There are also fan made music videos (known as vidding), which while being a trickier version of the copyright dance, (the music and the source are both liable to get you in trouble) they are still fun to make and watch. And as others have said, slash isn't very controversial anymore. It's actually more controversial to admit you like 'het' better :p
[Gargantua]:I completely agree with this article. Fanfiction has been around ever since the first humans started telling stories. It is true what a previous commenter noted - that much of the fanfic published on the web is quite bad. But there are many authors who put as much time and effort into their fanfic as they would an original work, and those are a delight to read. Regardless of a writer's reason for writing fanfic, whether it be a tribute to a fandom he or she loves, or experimentation for a future career as an author, I say carry on!
[H. Savinien]: There's quite a bit beyond what you've mentioned, but the most important things I would emphasize are the fact that slash can be F/F as well as M/M and the HUGE influence online communities can have. One of the most brilliant things about fanfiction is that it exists in the larger universe of fandom, which means that people can have in depth discussions with others about the morality of Sirius Black, draw on others' research into what exactly it takes to be a Mountie, or put up a call-to-arms like the recent Help_haiti auction livejournal (where we raised a good bit of money by auctioning off fan fiction, art, goods, and services).
[Loki]:My favorite thing about fanfiction is probably the community. I have made a lifelong friend through FanFiction.Net, and the support of readers is incredible. I'm an aspiring writer, and the things I've learned from reviews on my work have made my writing that much stronger. Fanfiction really can be a valuable experience.