I’ve avoided talking too much about fan fiction in the past because it tends to divide opinion. Either you lovelovelove it or you think it’s the worst thing to happen to literature since Stephenie Meyers. Either way, it’s a massive part of fan culture.
But what is it?
Well, basically fan fiction comprises of stories written by fans using characters and setting from their favourite fandoms – be they books, TV shows, films etc.
There are two main types of fan fic – those that feature real people and those that only feature charters. Many fan fiction sites refuse to host real people fic – for all sorts of reasons, mostly to avoid being sued, but also because many of us feel that writing fic about real people is crossing a line into the uncomfortable.
Isn’t it all written by 14 year old girls?
No. In truth there are a lot of young fans who write fan fic without sometimes realising that’s what they are doing. After all, haven’t we all, at some stage, wished that we had some control over the outcome of our favourite books or TV show? Well, with fan fiction you do. You become the writer and the master of your world and you can make it anything you like. Many fans start writing at a young age and fic writers tend to stay with their fandoms for many years, with some writers going on to produce some wonderful work. There are many adults who write fanfiction and some well known authors got their start in fan fic – writers like Cassandra Clare built up their fan base writing Harry Potter fic, and of course, 50 Shades of Grey started life as a Twilight fanfic.
What do authors think?
In truth many authors don’t like fan fiction, but the reasons vary. It should be worth noting that in the majority of cases where an author disapproves of fan fiction or has requested that sites don’t host fic based on their work, it’s not been because they hate the idea of someone messing with their world, but often it’s to avoid the potential situations where they, the author, could be accused of copying or stealing a fic writers idea. Of course, there are some crazy possessive writers out there who really, really hate anyone else touching their characters and worlds, and that’s okay. The vast majority of fan fic writers are respectful, after all, they are FANS.
What does pull to publish mean?
Pull to publish is a term used when a fan fic is removed by the author from fan fic sites and, usually, reworked, characters renamed etc and then published, either self or with a publishing house. This is often, rather snarkily, called ‘filing off the serial numbers.’
So can fan fiction writers make money off their stories?
No. That’s really frowned upon and likely to bring a whole heap of legal trouble. The closest you can get is pulling to publish, and even then it’s going to have to be reworked into an original novel.
Isn’t it all porn?
Not all of it. Most sites have very strict ratings for their fics and some require you to set up an account to be able to access some of the more racier fics. Fics will always be clearly labels with regards to content. And trust me, things are a lot better now than they used to be a decade ago. I’ve come across some pretty dodgy fics in my time. But increasingly, due to younger readers being more internet savvy and having a greater access to technology, many sites no longer accept explicit fics, and while many topics are simply not allowed – glorifcation of child abuse, rape etc – other often taboo subjects such as incest, teenage sex and slash are welcome.
What is slash anyway?
Slash is a term that refers to characters of the same sex, who are not gay in canon, having a relationship / sexual encounter in fan fiction. While there are some female / female (f/f) slash, by far male / male (m/m) is more common. There are a lot of theories on why this is the case, and that’s a whole post in itself, so I’ll tackle that over the next day or two. In short though, women really like reading about two men getting it on. It’s not always a purely sexual thing, but in my own personal case I like seeing characters engage on another level, and also when it’s two hot characters pairing up, then I can perve a little bit over it. Slash is wildly popular in fan fic across all genres and age ranges. Some of the most popular pairings in the last few years have been Clark/Lex, John/Sherlock, Dean/Castiel, Remus/Lupin and Jack/Ianto.
What does ‘canon’ mean?
Canon is what happens in the original source material. So, it’s all the stuff in the original books, or TV show etc. If you stick to canon then you follow the rules of that universe, the relationships etc. If you go break canon (sometimes called AU) then you are changing things – most often it’s relationships that cause this. Fic writers love a good relationship, and often will pair up characters who have never, or will never, have a relationship together – like Mac and Dick. Or to rewrite history – go fuck yourself Gwen Stacy.
What is AU?
AU is alternate reality. It’s literally when the fic departs heavily from cannon. While it can be used for things like relationship changes etc, it’s mostly used when the fic seriously departs from canon – for instance, a Harry Potter fic where Harry never goes to Hogwarts and instead farms geese on Jersey.
What is a cross-over?
Cross-over fics are those fics which take place in more than one fandom. For instance if you write Smallville characters into your X-Men fic, then that’s a cross over. Some work better than others.
What’s a Mary Sue?
A Mary Sue / Gary Stu, usually simply referred to a Sue, is a character who is perfect. They will, no matter the circumstances, be able to do everything needed. They will, obviously, be stunningly beautiful, smart, immediately popular, have ‘no idea how pretty they are’ despite other characters throwing themselves at them constantly, but will usually have some cutsey ‘flaw’ which apparently makes them more ‘human’ or ‘likable’ – this is usually something like being clumsy – it won’t be a serious character flaw or anything. Generally Sues are boring characters that serve as little more than a self-insert for the author – think Bella Swann and you’ve got it.
What about original characters?
A lot of authors put original characters into their work, and it almost always doesn’t work out very well. The reason is that the original character tends to be a Sue, or a self-insert. Readers of fic read fic because they want to see what happens to characters they know and like. If they wanted original characters then they wouldn’t read fic, would they? Bad things tend to happen when original characters get introduced, and by bad things I mean things like Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way.
Isn’t it a bit disgusting to do this to someone else’s work?
Yup. That’s sometimes why we do it. *insert smutty face here* Oh, that wasn’t what you meant by ‘disgusting?’
Okay, here’s the thing – fan fic writers are first and foremost FANS. We don’t want to do anything that would ruin our fandom, upset other fans or upset the Creator/Gods who gave us these wonderful fandoms to play in. Mostly fic writers just want to have fun, want to make up stories about their favourite characters and want to share them with others. If a writer / creator asks us not to do it, then we won’t. And by that I mean we’ll carry on writing them for our own personal amusement, but we won’t share them publicly, won’t post them anywhere etc. Fandom is a pretty respectful community in general, with the occasional oddball exception.
What are you ruining my favourite shows / how dare you do that to my favourite characters?
Because we can. And we want to. But understand that nothing a fan fic writer does is intended to piss you off personally. Mostly we are just trying to correct mistakes made by Rob Thomas (Piz???? Seriously????) and playing little games of ‘what is’ with ourselves and each other.
What do you know about Amazon’s fan fic publishing scheme and how do you feel about it?
That’s another subject that’s going to need a whole post of it’s own. But basically, in some series it’s now possible to have your fanfics published as part of canon, but only in certain fandoms that Amazon has secured a licence for. As a writer I feel one way about it, but as a fan fic fan I feel another way about it. However, I do have to say that the commercialization of fan fic is leaving a pretty sour taste in my mouth because it’s taking away from the fact that fan fic is something people do out of love not profit. I’ll talk more about this at a later date, but for now you can read all about it here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1001197421
In my next post I’m going to talk more about slash – why it’s so popular and the psychological reasons behind it.
In the meantime I’m going to go watch John/Sherlock fan videos.