Jump to content

To Fanfiction or not Fanfiction: That is the question

Recommended Posts

Since submitting a few manuscripts to a publisher and having one or two of them accepted, I can't help but notice the negative feeling many people hold about fanfiction. In particular, authors who began their writing lives in one fandom or another.


I must admit, I don't understand the vitriol or the derogatory comments that some people feel the need to direct toward a writer just because they do, or have in the past, written fanfiction.

Nor do I understand the 'avoid at all costs' attitude by some to ban any story from their 'To Read List' that is considered to have been 'pulled to publish.'


What follows from here, in this post, are my thoughts and opinions. I don't profess to speak for any other reader or writer, other than myself.


In the past, prior to the Internet, an aspiring author, who hadn't gone to university to study creative writing or journalism, probably went the route of submitting short stories to magazines and/or to writing competitions, be they local, national, or international, in order to learn their craft and build a resume. The advent of the Internet, however, opened up a whole new arena for writers to hone and perfect their skills and gain feedback. All of a sudden, there was a multitude of amateur author and fanfiction sites where one could upload a story and test the waters, so to speak.


I am sure, many of the stories within the various fandoms are, indeed, odes to the writer's favourite character/book/movie etc., but I'm equally sure there are many writers who have merely used a character/story as a departure point. Many authors inspired, perhaps, as much by the actor playing the part as the character they portrayed. I personally know a few fanfic authors whose stories began as original fiction, and they selected a relevant fandom to post to, and in doing so changed their character's names and physical attributes to make them fit that particular fandom. Why did they do this? There could be umpteen reasons, and in the end, I can only speak for myself - I lacked the confidence to submit my original work to a publisher. It was my stint writing fanfiction, receiving a predominantly positive response to my stories, which gave me hope that my long-held dream of being a writer might actually be able to become a reality. It gave me belief in myself, and I am sure I am not alone in this.


Having spent some time on various fanfiction sites, I agree with the many comments I've seen that a lot of the stories are not carefully thought out and researched, or particularly well written. But that is not all of them. I have stumbled across some absolute gems. Ones that have great plots, character development, succinct descriptions - all in all: damn good reads, and were they published works, I'd happily part with my hard-earned dollars to read them. (Anyone wanting to know of some of the 'gems', please feel free to make contact)


I find the attitude that states all fanfiction is just rehashes of the original somewhat off-base. Certainly, some are, but many aren't, and I fail to see, as an example, how an author who wrote an M/M (or as its known in the fanfic world, slash) story involving two male characters who were heterosexual in the original as still being merely a 'rehash.'


I mean, let's take the fandom statistics from fanfiction.net as of 23 February, 2013.


Top three sites for books: Harry Potter (632,688), Twilight (207,307), Lord of the Rings (48,121)

Top three sites for movies: Star Wars (29,964), Pirates of the Caribbean (19,639), High School Musical (17,934)

Top three sites for TV Shows: Glee (89.899), Supernatural (73,143), Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (45,545)


Out of those nine fandoms I think only three had gay characters - Buffy, High School Musical and Glee - please feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken. I don't purport to be a guru on pop culture. My point is that any writer who was inspired to take a heterosexual character (or the actor portraying a character) and make him gay/bi/transexual etc. has already distanced their character from canon. They have already taken the first step in creating and building an original character. Certainly, it may still bear the same name as the original character while their story is a fanfic, but in essence, it is not the same character anymore. I'm sure there are many gay 'Harrys' or 'Edwards' as well as straight ones in the real world.


If they've taken English schoolboy-come-wizard Harry and made him an American, situated him on the moon, aged him to his  mid twenties, or had him fall in love with Luna or Draco, they have, once again, distanced Harry from JK Rowlings' characterisation of him. Certainly, there may still need to be a lot done to transform their story into a truly original work, but the seeds are there.


Why is there such an issue about where a writer finds inspiration? What does it matter if it's an actor, model, athlete, character in a book, movie, story, magazine or newspaper article, or someone you work with? Heavens, many of Shakespeare's most famous works were inspired by historical figures or old legends. The Aeneid by Virgil is clearly fanfic of The Iliad by Homer and Dante liked The Aeneid so much he used not only its story but also, Virgil, its author, to narrate his epic poem, The Divine Comedy. All three works are considered classics. If our ancestors had followed the belief that we shouldn't read a work that was inspired by another earlier work, then we'd have lost two wonderful pieces of writing.


Let's take the theory a step further. If a singer busks or performs in a bar/pub/club, singing cover versions of other bands songs should he/she never be offered a contract to write and sing their own songs? Well, if that's the case, let's take Cilla Black, Marianne Faithful, The Mamas and the Papas, The Seekers, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley, Michael Bolton, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, LeAnn Rimes, Boyz II Men and about 2100 other singers

out the back and strip them of their contracts, records, and awards, because they all recorded their own versions of Yesterday by the Beatles.


Or what about every designer who has had included in their collection a miniskirt or dress? Surely, they should feel ashamed? After all, it wasn't their idea. Should they even be allowed to do it, and should any of us want to buy their version, when it was Mary Quant who made it fashionable in the modern era? Maybe, we should only wear hers as hers is the original...


Some of the world's most famous artists freely admitted to being inspired by the work of other artists. No one thought less of Picasso because he was influenced by Gaugain and Cezanne (Cubism for which Picasso is famous was directly inspired by the brush stroke style of Cezanne) Nor was Georges Braque looked down upon because his foray into cubism was inspired by that of Picasso.


In the literary world, there are plenty of examples as well. Let's see... The Innocents by Francesca Segal is a modern retelling of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.  Lavinia by Ursula K. Leguin tells the story of Lavinia the second wife of Aeneas from Virgil's The Aeneid, (yep, there he is again...) A Monster's Notes by Laurie Sheck imagines the relationship between Frankenstein's monster and Mary Shelley had they met when Mary was a child.

Oh, and let's not forget Bridget Jones's Diary, which is a modern version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.


Need more? Well, how about His Dark Materials trilogy by Pullman? They both retell and invert John Milton's Paradise Lost. Or there's Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, which tells the feminine side of The Odyssey through the eyes of Odysseus's wife, Penelope. There's also Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres, which is Shakespeare's King Lear set in the cornfields of Iowa.


The list could go on and on, the point being, all of the above-mentioned stories could be viewed as fanfic or having 'borrowed' from the original. That tells me that just because a writer was inspired by a an existing

story/character/movie/TV show it does not  necessarily make their words unoriginal or mere rehashes.


Why dismiss something out of hand? Would it really hurt to keep an open mind?


At the end of the day; a good story, is a good story.

  • Like 4
Link to comment

Very nice post really.


FanFiction can be a nice tool for people who want to write, but haven't much in the their past.  To see what sort of style they can create or multiple styles. Fanfictions are based on a character or plot, but not copied, but bits and pieces are used to, like you said, flesh out their own story.  Not all new authors can flesh out a setting or character in a way that most "seasoned" writers can. So when a plot or bits of a character is taken, molded/reshaped then the author can learn from that and apply it to their original fiction, same with the setting.


I have a Twilight Fanfiction posted here - I don't think it's all that good right now, but that's because I didn't know what in the world I was doing with it. I just started it for giggles and because I was so disappointed in how the Saga ended, that I just wanted to write my own character in a world that just happens to be some what what Steph. Meyers thought up.  I'm not the only one, of course, there are probably millions of stories out there that would qualify as fanfictions or even started out and were changed. As you call it, pulled from and then edited to be original. I don't condemn doing that either. The Author wrote the fanfiction so it is their work - as long as it doesn't copy full parts of the original work it is based on - then manipulated it to what is deemed 'original' characters and plot. It is still and has always been their work.  Do I think people should make money off a Fanfiction, no, I don't. Unless they edit and change names, setting, and such to become original.


Fanfiction can also be fun, like I said earlier in the post. Sometimes it is just fun to think what a character will do in this situation or that. If their world was changed.


Hell.. after reading The Hunger Games, I wanted to write a Fanfiction about forbidden love between one of the "Career" tributes and one of the outlying districts 8, 9, or 10, since we didn't really get a lot of characterization or knowledge about those districts. Then try to manipulate the story into Katniss and Peeta being the villains.. to see if I could sway readers of the Hunger Games to maybe feel for my characters, which would have either been completely disliked like the 'Careers' or completely unknown like the districts that weren't all that mentioned.  Original idea, but unoriginal and borrowed aspects of the world Suzanne Collins created.


One of my favorite Authors - well probably my favorite - is Cassandra Clare.  She started off writing Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy slash fiction.  When she got a ton of good reviews and people saying that she is "good enough" to become a "published" author, she decided to give it a go. But she did so by transitioning her fanfiction from H.Potter/D.Malfoy to an Urban Fantasy Modern story about Shadow Hunters.  Some of her first chapters are probably recognizable to those that followed her Slash. I can see it, but wouldn't know that she did pull from her fanfiction to write City of Bones - until I researched her and people were being critical of her doing so.  She also gets some flack for posting snippets of her favorite poetry and novels into her writing, mostly as a recitation that her characters are doing, because they like the books/poetry too.  She does document the author and book/poetry that she used in her stories, so I see it as a form of flattery, that something another person has written has moved her enough to not only remember it, but to use it.  But back to my point, I didn't see what all the fuss was about.  She wrote an original story, but with borrowed bits from J.K Rowling's characters and settings. Then she edited the crap out of her work to make it original and published it and made money.  She has become a world wide best selling author. She has written, Nine fiction novels, has a few stories in Anthologies. Is Co-authoring a series and is planning three more novels on top of the series she is co-authoring.


What I want to say is - We all get our start somewhere - and our true goal is what you said.. To read and to write a good story. 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
I think it’s important to consider one critical question: Why do people read fan-fiction?


In my mind that there’s at least two differing parties that should be considered:


Group One: The first group is made up of readers who want to experience ‘more’ of the story that they loved. These readers want to know what happened to the characters they adored after the end of the Half-Blood Prince. They want the story to continue. They want to know what happens next. Typically, these stories will attempt to adhere to canon, I.E. they will treat the original works as law and work within the confines of it. They won’t try to rewrite anything.


Group Two: The second group are a little different, but are generally the most thought of when the topic of FF arises. They may share similarities with the above, but what they want to read is an alternate sequence of events. They may like aspects from the original works, but they like to ponder ‘what if?’ For instance, they might wonder: What if Harry Potter had been gay? The original books doesn’t offer an answer to this, but countless works of FF do.


Taking the above two groups as a guideline, you can begin to see where issues can develop. Suppose a reader who prefers ‘group one’- style works reads a story aimed at ‘group two’. They’re unlikely to appreciate the alternate sequence of events approach and consider it spoiling the original. Someone has taken the characters that they liked, a story that they loved, and flipped it on its head. They’re not going to be happy with it, regardless of how much thought the writer put in.


Bringing things back to GA, suppose a new, first-time writer came along and made a drastic change to one of DomLuka’s stories. I’m certain that there would be a considerable uproar. If however, someone came along and wrote a sequel to one of his stories while observing the original, I don’t think there’d be as much animosity.


At the end of the day it really does come down to human nature. There’s some people who don’t appreciate change for the sake of change. Using the above as an example once more, they’re likely to think, “Why make Harry Potter gay? Why don’t you just create a new story with a gay wizard?”


I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to go about this, but I know for a fact that by writing anything fan-fiction related, you’re walking through a minefield. You may be lucky and arrive at the other side unscathed, but there can also be a lot of nasty surprises along the way.

Edited by Kai Taylor
  • Like 1
Link to comment

I really don't mind reading fanfiction. In fact, whenever I'm not on GA, I'm probably lurking on fanfiction.net looking for Albus/Scorpius stories.  :2thumbs:


And Kai, I'm in the Group One. The reason I look for HP fanfiction is because the seven books are not enough. :P But that doesn't mean I will never read something un-canon. I've read un-canon stories which were really good. Anyway, the best thing about the future generation fanfic is that nothing is set as canon/un-canon.So yay. 


Keeping all this aside, I think the most important thing about fanfic is the fun. It's bring forth your way of seeing an imaginary world. It might not be the same as mine but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Whenever I see I read a fanfic that doesn't fit "my world of HP", I just move on and seek another one. This doesn't mean I hate it. 


If you want to write a fanfic for you, for your world, then do it. Have fun exploring that world and sharing it with the ones who are in the same place. Some may not like it or may not get it at all. But it's your world.




Link to comment

I don't write stories but I love reading fanfiction, mostly because I like reading about my favourite characters having sex.


Besides that I like reading it because it expands the character from canon, some authors are quite particular about how they see the character and either elaborate what's in canon or take them on a completely different journey, and I just think its great that there can be so many different versions of a character and most of the time you can still say 'oh well that seems like something the canon would do'

I think that to make a fan fic decent, you need to find the balance with the characters, otherwise anything goes.


I'll only read fan fiction about a fandom that I'm in, with characters I enjoy on the screen. And I think that if the author enjoys it, and the readers keep reading it, there's some pretty shit stories and some absolutely fantastic stories that I prefer over 'original' stories but fan fiction will always be around and the authors should be taken seriously because they put in just as much time and effort to write their stories as other non fan fic authors.

Link to comment

I enjoy reading fan fiction, though I have never written any, i can see where a fandom would be a wonderful tool for an author looking to hone their craft, in fact, i am sure that if i had no gotten my writing start in online roleplaying games than I prolly would have gone the fan fiction route.

Link to comment

I started out with LOTR role playing and LOTR fanfiction. I developed my writing skills over the years. I developed more original characters and subplots. And then I wrote an original short story with an entirely different background. That was kind of awesome. I could really do it. Without fanfiction I would never have started out with writing. And, like Bumblebee said, many fan fic authors put much time and effort in their writings.


Link to comment

I like all kinds of fanfiction, for all of the reasons mentioned above. And I've seen some nice examples on this site already.

But there is one thing I sometimes wonder about. Does it make a difference whether the author of the original work is against fanfiction based on his or her world ? I've read that some authors dislike the idea, others approve or just accept fanfiction as flattery. Should we respect their feelings or just say tough luck if the primary author hates fanfiction based on their story ?

Link to comment

I really like to read FF but don't write it.  I can see the appeal of working in a world that is already contructed with characters that we already love/hate, but for me there is no way I would be able to write it.  I struggle with writing when someone gives me just a topic to work with so building on something already out there I can't do it, but I love to see when someone else does it.  There are so many out there and I admit that I'm a huge Harry fan so I have read a lot.  It can also be great writing exercising for a new writer to explore new worlds.

Link to comment
  • Site Administrator

I started writing in FanFiction because it comes with a pre-made ready reading-base.  If you're any good, you get a decent audience quickly...

  • Like 1
Link to comment

It seems to me that whether the subject is fiction, designer clothes or anything else that's based on someone else's work, there is going to be a group of people with a negative view of it.  Does it really matter anyway?  Nothing ever has the approval of 100% of the world, whether it's original or not, and it never will. 


Generally, people like to see original stuff, whether it's a story or a pair of designer jeans.  Even thought it may not be an exact copy, it's still riding on the accomplishment of someone else at it's base.  Does that invalidate the value of their work?  Not necessarily, but for most people I think they believe it does.  That's the important point.  What people believe is what drives their behavior, and no amount of reasoning or debating is going to change that.  If you want to write fanfic because you love a particular genre then your doing exactly what you set out to do.  If your doing it because you want to be recognized as a great author, then your probably going to be disappointed.


Is it possible to change people's beliefs?  To some extent, the answer is yes.  It's just not very easy to do so, and that's why most successful people approach the issue from a different angle.  Instead of trying to change unfavorable views to favorable ones, they adjust their work to satisfy the desires of their market.  That's a much more realistic and efficient approach.  It's the one that offers the greatest chance of success.  People like original things.  If they were interested in things inspired by what already exists they could do the work themselves.  If they are looking for something new to entertain themselves, they tend to expect original, fresh material. 


In the end, you have to accept the parameters others set for what's good and what isn't.  I don't know anyone who allows someone else to do it for them.  You can talk all day about the virtues of cabbage, but your not going to change anyone's mind in the end, and they're going to eat what they want to and ignore the rest.

Link to comment

I do personally like fanfiction, as anyone who knows me here should know :P I don't really 'ship' much, cause I'd really like just about anything HP... (I've read a lot of them :P ) The most amusing one for me is always Harry Potter/anythingavengers :P But yeah, not sure what it is. This could be one of those Twilight/Justin Beiber things... Some people are totally obsessed, and some are horrified, and all for no real reason :P

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here: Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..