Fan fiction, more commonly referred to as Fanfic, is loosely defined as a story written by a fan of a movie, TV show, book, video game, play, musical, or even a real person, usually a celebrity. Usually these stories explore something either not presented in the source material’s universe (or canon) or is an alternative to canon. For example, a fan could create a story where Kirk and Spock die and now Scotty is captain of the Enterprise.
Although the internet has played a huge role in the explosion and ease of publishing fan fiction, it’s actually been around for hundreds of years. According to Wikipedia,an early example of what could be considered fan fiction is a narrative poem from the 15th century poet Robert Henryson titled The Testament of Cresseid in which the poet imagines the fate of one of the characters in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. Another more modern example is the numerous stories fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories produced in the 10 year absence of the character from his apparent death in The Final Problem and reappearance in The Empty House. For the most part, though, fan fiction didn’t really take off until the 20th century.
Personally I’ve read more fan fiction than I’ve written. In fact I’ve only written one piece of fan fiction. No, I’m not telling you which show it’s about as it’s not something I ever want to revise let alone put it up on one of the many fan fiction websites. While it’s fun to play around in my head with ideas of taking certain characters on a journey, I’m more nervous about writing fan fiction than my own work because being a nerd I know just how anal retentive our lot can be. Too easy to make a mistake about eye color or catch phrase or worse, the dreaded out of character (OOC) accusation. Also, working with an established set of characters and a world is just harder to write in than a world I get to control.
That being said, I do like the idea of fan fiction provided the story is a good story and makes sense. There are lots of websites out with the most popular and well-known is Fanfiction.net. Others include Wattpad, Archive of Our Own, and Ficwad just to name a few.
But fan fiction isn’t just limited to online; there are a whole slew of books inspired by many of Jane Austen’s characters, for example. Just a few weeks ago I went to an historical fiction panel at a conference where two of the panelists authored books centering on the character of Mr. Darcy. Go to any book store or library and you’ll see loads of books in both the Star Wars and Star Trek universe. To go one step further, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the duo that developed TV version of A Song of Ice and Fire into the Game of Thrones show, essentially are writing fan fiction. Yes, they are basing the series on the books however, there are plenty of scenes in the show that aren’t even hinted at in the books. Another example is the show Doctor Who . Throughout the revival of the show, all of the writers for it grew up watching and loving the show. Now they get the chance to live out their fan fiction dreams. How cool is that!
When it comes to fan fiction it doesn’t surprise me the top genres people write about across the board are inspired by science fiction and fantasy books, movies, and TV shows. According to fanfiction.net, the top 10 TV shows with the most stories, 50% were sci-fi/fantasy shows. For movies the percentage rises to 70% of the top ten movies are in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. On the books side the percentage is just as high. Is this because by the very nature sci-fi and fantasy are almost always set in worlds that are not our own that it provides a great sandbox to play in.
Naturally there are authors out there who discourage fan fiction. Authors like George R.R. Martin and Anne Rice vocally discourage fans from posting stories involving any of their characters because well, they created the characters and also because they feel it doesn’t lend itself to good writing. Many others, including J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers, don’t mind fan fiction and even encourage it feeling flattered that the worlds and characters they’ve created inspire others. Art inspires other art.
If one is going to read or write fan fiction there are some things to keep in mind. Firstly, it is a great idea and a requirement on many sites to clearly state up front that you are using characters you did not create. This is a big reason why much of fan fiction isn’t published as books unless it’s been authorized.
Secondly, it is a world with its own lingo. For example, the term slash refers to a romance-based story involving the two main male characters in a relationship that doesn’t actually exist in canon. The most famous example would be Kirk/Spock of Star Trek. Another variation of this idea is shipping characters, usually heterosexual characters, into a relationship. Think of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger in a relationship. On a sillier note, the term crack means the story is humorous and outrageous in nature. Personally I like those the best just because humor is hard to write and to imagine characters acting goofy. If you see a story described as AU it stands for alternate universe. Usually in these types of stories the writer puts a character in a universe vastly different from canon. To stay with the Star Trek theme, an AU story where Kirk is dead and Spock has to deal with that. Another term is warm and fuzzy letting the reader know that the story or at least the end of the story will be a happy ending. There are other terms so if you’re curious, you can check out this link from Wikipedia.
While fan fiction can be a great and fun way to express one’s admiration there are a lot of stories out there that are either poorly written or an excuse to insert sex and violence in a world that doesn’t have it. If you are going to write fan fiction make sure you treat it like any other piece of writing. Revise it, edit it, have a friend or few look it over, and most importantly put out your best effort and be respectful to the characters and world they live in. Make sure you rate your stories accordingly. Many sites have a rating system similar to what is used for movies and TV shows and allows you to filter stories by these ratings as well as by character and story length.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself whether you are reading or writing. There are some gems out there.