For my personal project I decided to do fanfiction, commonly known as fic among the fanfiction community. Fanfiction is a form of writing that is increasingly becoming more popular among fans. The word fanfiction actually means “a fictional account written by a fan of a show, movie, book, or video game to explore themes and ideas that will not or cannot be explored via the originating medium.” Fanfiction has become increasingly popular and the most popular site for fanfiction is fanfiction.net which can be found here. It is a hobby taken up by many aspiring writers but is surrounded by many issues. Some of which I will discuss, such as:
– A new reading experience
– Legality issues
– Opinions of authors
Fan fiction enables readers to become part of the story; they are able to create alternative story lines, characters and scenarios. Fan fiction enables fans to enhance their overall reading experience. Readers can now control the world of the story they are interested in, and send it in directions it would not ordinarily go. They become actively involved in the plot and characters, it is a new interactive form of reading and watching movies etc., fans are no longer mindlessly absorbing what has happened but changing and interacting with the story. Through one’s own fanfiction and through reading others fans are able to fully engross themselves in a narrative and get as much out of it as possible.
They can create new relationships and place characters from a well-known story in an entirely different world; this is known as alternate universe. Popular types of fan fiction include, placing a character in the world of another popular narrative where characters often meet one another, this is called crossover. Another popular form of fan fiction but one that often receives a lot of criticism is fan fiction that plays out a sexual relationship between two characters that did not have a romantic relationship in the original canon work, romantic fanfiction story lines concerning Harry Potter, for those that are interested, can be found here. A lot of homosexual fan fiction exists that pairs same sex couples, this is known as slash for male pairings and femmeslash for female pairings. A list of abbreviations and fanfiction jargon can be found here.
“fan fiction emerges from a balance between fascination and frustration.” (Henry Jenkins)
A lot of fan fiction seeks to fill in gaps left by the original creator. Henry Jenkins, whose blog can be found here claims that this comes from fascination and frustration. When a high level of fascination is met with an even higher level of frustrating elements in a text, elements that are undeveloped, fans seek to satisfy this frustration. Fans can become so enthralled by a text that they want more and seek to absorb as much as they can, which can lead to frustration when scenes are missing or skipped over or when the information a fan is looking for takes places outside the chronology of the canon story. This leads to fan fiction that seeks to ease this frustration and fill in the blanks, these are often referred to as canon stories, meaning they don’t change any fundamental elements of the canon work. They are stories that provide information left out by the author but in a plausible, chronological manner. These type stories could even be inserted into many books and it would still flow well.
Fan fiction as a separate entity? Yet it could not exist without the original canon. Fan fiction can deviate so far from the original work that it can in itself become its own separate entity. Work that is out of copyright can be reworked and published as its own original work. Most recently Pride Prejudice and Zombies hit shelves with the co-authors listed equally as Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, who has also released works such as Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.
Many fans can not only feel loyal to a text but can begin to feel a certain ownership over it, a level of expectancy and responsibility is placed on the creator to maintain the integrity of the text. if an author decides to do something that is completely out of character within a novel or movie then fans may reject this. Can we imagine a Harry Potter who joined the death eaters. But in most instances fans will remain loyal to the original creator. So are fanfiction writers wasting their time? No matter how good fan fiction is, again henry Jenkins points out that fans will remain loyal to the canonical author, even if unhappy with a story. If a fan writes a better version, regardless of quality it will be considered lesser than the original. In rare cases work done by someone other than the original creator will be accepted as canon. Interestingly it seems when someone is considered to have the right pedigree or cultural knowledge of the works, their work may be accepted. Such as Christopher Tolkien continuing much of J.R.R Tolkien’s unfinished work posthumously. Books such as unfinished tales and the history of middle earth have been compiled by Christopher, and while based on his father’s notes it would be impossible for the finished piece to truly represent exactly what his father would have wanted; but it is accepted as canon. While this isn’t exactly fan fiction, he did not create the original canon world and so like Fic writers he is expanding on his knowledge of the world and where he would like to see it go. While as the authors son it is easy to understand why his credibility is accepted it may still give hope to fanfiction writers.
“Nobody is sure whether fan fiction falls under current fair-use protections. Current copyright law simply doesn’t have a category for dealing with amateur creative expression.” (Henry Jenkins)
Legality and copyright issues surround fan fiction, some claim it’s intellectual theft while others such as Henry Jenkins claim it’s an interpretation and a critique of the original work. Fan fiction that is created not for profit but as a creative outlet is often deemed legal by fair use protections. Questions surround fanfiction such as is it plagiarism, or intellectual theft. How moral is it to use characters and worlds you did not create for your own work, is using someone else’s creative inspirations just hampering your own creativity and is it insulting to change someone else’s finished work. Many different opinions exist and The organisation for transformative works, which can be found here, is an organisation that argues for fanfiction under fair use as it claims it is a transformative work not a derivative work.
What the Authors think
Different authors have very different opinions on fan fiction. They vary from authors who not only condone fanfiction but embrace and get involved with it, to authors who condemn it completely. An author who fully supports fanfiction is the author of the Twilight series Stephenie Meyer. She has openly encouraged fanfiction and seeks to minimise frustrations people may have with undeveloped characters or storylines by providing passages and chapters that were removed from the novels in the editing process on her website which can be found here. She has also published books that fill in events that happen outside the chronology of the novel such as The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. Other authors such as J.K Rowling have also openly condoned fanfiction. Authors like Anne Rice and George R.R Martin, author of the popular series A Song of Fire and Ice, are among those who strongly oppose fanfiction, and believe it to be copyright infringement. George R.R. Martin has been very vocal on his abhorrence to fanfiction and states that “Consent, for me, is the heart of this issue. If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that’s fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that… well, I think their wishes should be respected.” (George R.R. Martin) He feels authors should protect their copyright or it can be assumed as abandoned, and once you begin to make exceptions you cannot control how far it will go “Once you open that door, you can’t control who might come in” (George R.R. Martin). He speaks of one such writer Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of the darkover series, who’s experience with fan fiction led to her current novel in progress not being published as a fan had had the same idea. George R.R. Martin’s reaction to fanfiction and the Marion Zimmer Bradley story can be read here.
By Stephanie Reed
Jenkins, Henry. Confessions of an Aca-Fan the official web log of Henry Jenkins. http://henryjenkins.org/2006/09/fan_fiction_as_critical_commen.html
Martin, George R.R. This is not a blog, Someone is Angry on the Internet. http://grrm.livejournal.com/151914.