Self-Made Sequels: Fiction By Fans

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News Media Commentary
Title: Self-Made Sequels: Fiction By Fans
Commentator: Kristen Sheley
Date(s): October 2000
Venue: print, then posted online
External Links: Self-Made Sequels: Fiction By Fans; archive link
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Self-Made Sequels: Fiction By Fans is an article by Kristen Sheley. It was published in the University of Oregon student magazine, The Oregon Voice, October 2000, and posted online at a later unknown date.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Mary Jean Holmes is quoted a lot
  • fanfic is explained
  • fanfic as a new activity on the Internet
  • various comments regarding TPTB and their attitudes toward fanworks
  • a short glossary


For most people, the Back to the Future films ended in 1990. For many of the series' fans, however, the adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly continue to this day. So do the adventures of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk and Spock and the lives of dozens of other well-known and loved characters. All of this is made possible by fan fiction.

Fan fiction is a writing genre in which fans of a series or film construct original writings that continue adventures with the same characters or settings. Quality varies from story to story and author to author mostly because those writing the stories are better fans than writers. In some cases, the fan fiction outshines professionally published series continuations, such as novels for the Star Wars series. There is both an added passion for the story and its characters -- after all, fan fiction writers keep the two alive years after the original creator has moved on to other projects.

Although one can find fan fiction in about almost every film or series genre, it's a writing genre that enjoys mostly an underground reputation, despite the fact it has been alive for almost 30 years. Usually "Star Trek" is blamed, or blessed, for starting it. These self-made tales cropped up at science fiction conventions in the 60s and were passed around as mimeographed and self-published stories.

Holmes began to publish her own quarterly fanzine, "Shadowstar," in 1979, a year after she started to write her own fanfic. "Shadowstar" continued for 15 years before escalating publication costs put a stop to it. Most fanzines have now moved to the Internet.

The blueprints used to construct fan fiction can vary from writer to writer. Some writers believe that any interpretation for their genre is good; others stick with the bare basics. Holmes considers only "what is shown in the films" canon for film-inspired genres, and in television-based genres she uses, "the premise as it was set forth as early as possible, and what seems to me to be the episodes that follow the most logical sequence of events faithful to that premise." Some fans also use the original screenplays (and various screenplay drafts), as well as the novelizations of the film/series (if there were some available), book series (if they exist) and even animated series (if they were made). Sometimes, a particular writer's fan fiction is looked upon as canon by the fans -- a surreal experience for the fan who wrote it. Holmes has had such responses to her work, but doesn't mind.

"I find this flattering," Holmes says, "because it tells me I did the job right and created something believable, but also a touch disconcerting, since I am not official and probably never will be."

The instantaneous interaction of the Internet has given fan fiction new life in recent years. A recent search on Excite using "fan fiction" as a keyword turned up more than 31,000 hits with pages containing the craft.

"Strangely enough," Holmes observes, "with the advent of the Internet and the ease of web publication, the quality [of the work] began to drop again, since web publishing is cheap and requires only the knowledge of how to put up a web page to be accomplished. [Unlike a fanzine], without the need to go through a publisher and an editor, a great deal of low-quality work is appearing, which is possibly why certain license holders, such as George Lucas, have placed a ban on web fiction based on their material."

The move to the Internet has also made the copyright holders nervous. In the past, it was easy to look the other way when it came to fan fiction, as it was usually only read deep within fan communities and not so much by mainstream audiences. Now, since more fans are getting on the 'Net and stumbling across writings about their favorite characters, fanfic poses a threat to the series genres by blurring the lines of what is "real" (established in the films/series) and what is "made up" (created in a fan's work).

In 1994, the company TSR Inc. started devising ways to prevent fans from creating unapproved Dungeon & Dragons worlds and stories. Two years later, Paramount went after several fan sites for "Star Trek," warning them about posting copyrighted photographs, scripts, characters, etc, on their personal pages. The fans who publish fan fiction on their web pages often include disclaimers stating that they do not own the characters, that they are not "official" tales and so on. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. It depends on which studio owns the rights and how interested they are in potentially alienating their core group of supporters.

Although most of the creators know about fan fiction, few, if any, will admit to reading it. "George Lucas used to [read printed] Star Wars fan fiction, until it became so popular. He couldn't possibly keep up with it," Holmes recalls. Lucas is a minority, however, as Holmes points out. "Other creators have deliberately avoided reading fanfic because they don't want to face possible accusations of plagiarizing a fan's idea, should they use something similar in a future work in the genre."