Fan fiction could be considered the redheaded stepchild of literature. The genre has often been sneered at, considered the work of amateur writers without the skill or imagination to create their own characters and worlds. Yet to sneer at these writers is to alienate the very people that creative professionals rely on: the fans.
People who write fan fiction are often a work’s most ardent supporters. They love the characters and world so much, they want to keep the story going, or change it in some way to suit their view of how it could have gone.
Fan fiction is also known as fanfics, FF and fics. It encompasses a wide variety of media, including novels, television shows, movies, musicals, comic books, anime and video games. It has an enormous following with many writers and many more readers. Fan fiction is usually written as short stories, but can be novel length or even a series of novels.
Modern fan fiction is believed to have begun in the 1960s with “Star Trek.” After the show’s demise, fans wanted to keep the series alive and did so with fanzines, newsletters written and distributed by fans, containing news about the show and the actors, as well as fiction. Fanzines for other TV shows soon sprouted up, many of which also contained fiction.
The advent of the Internet caused the boom in fan fiction, making it a worldwide phenomenon. It has developed a unique, extensive terminology used by its readers and writers. I’ve listed several of the most used terms below, using the “Big Bang Theory” as an example, and yes, there is BBT fan fiction.
Canon. True to the original work in terms of characters and world. Example: The BBT gang go to a Star Trek convention and wind up in a hotel room next to William Shatner.
Non-canon. Deviates from the canon. Example: Sheldon is actually William Shatner’s illegitimate son.
AU or Alternate Universe. Sets the characters in an alternate universe. Example: Penny, Bernadette and Amy are the highly intelligent main characters into gaming and comic books, and the men are their satellite boyfriends.
Mary Sue or Gary Stu. A writer inserts herself into the cast of characters in a very flattering light. Example: Penny’s prettier and more outgoing cousin, Lori, comes to visit. Leonard and the rest of the guys fall for her. A Mary Sue is placed in the story as an OC, an Original Character, but not all OCs are Mary Sues.
Crossover. Crossing one fandom with another. Example: Sheldon and Leonard go to London and find a dead body in their hotel room. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson get involved in solving the murder.
Ship or Shipping. Short for relationship. These can be canon relationships, such as between Leonard and Penny, and can also be non-canon, like creating a relationship between Amy and Raj. You would then say that you ship Amy and Raj. Shipping is typically between heterosexual couples.
Slash. A romantic and/or sexual relationship between same sex characters. It’s called slash because of the slash between the names. Example: Sheldon/Leonard, Raj/Howard, Penny/Bernadette.
Fan fiction can be highly sexual and even pornographic, and has gained a reputation as being simply that. It’s important to note that a lot of fan fiction is general storytelling in an established world with beloved characters.
Now to the elephant in the room: should fan fiction be tolerated? Much of it can be considered copyright infringement. Does fan fiction harm the bottom line of authors and other creative professionals?
Some authors, such as Ann Rice and George R.R. Martin are known fan fiction opponents and will not tolerate stories based on their characters and worlds. Other authors take a more relaxed approach. Basically, you can play in my sandbox with my toys, just don’t tell me about it; I won’t read your stories because I don’t want to be accused of using your ideas.
Confession time. I have written fan fiction. In particular, in high school I wrote a “Star Trek” story for a creative writing class. I got an ‘A.’ (fist pump) I don’t think I hurt anyone’s bottom line since only my teacher and a few friends read the story. Fan fiction can be a great story form for new writers learning their craft. Writers can stretch their imaginations in a known world, and learn about character and story arcs.
Much of fan fiction is online and readily available to millions of readers. As such, it is a double-edged sword for the original work. Fan fiction can build and maintain a fan base with what amounts to free publicity. Badly written fan fiction can turn away potential fans if this is the first they’ve seen of that work. There is also the issue of creative control. Authors may object when discovering their characters have been placed in relationships or situations outside the original story’s boundaries. Then again, it can be flattering to know that your story and characters have gained enough popularity to illicit a creative fan base.
There’s no easy answer here and it’s up to the creative person to decide how they want to feel about and deal with fan fiction.
Fan fiction is by and for fans and should never be published for monetary gain. Except for the fact that there’s plenty of sanctioned, professionally published fan fiction out there. I’ll go into that in later posts.
For further reading about fan fiction, check out the links below.
- FanFiction.net – the largest and oldest fan fiction archive online.
- Archive of Our Own – another fan fiction archive.
- Fanfic Glossary – a short glossary of common terms.
- Fanfiction Terminology – a large glossary of common terms.
- Is Fan Fiction Really So Wrong? – a published author’s thoughtful essay on the subject.