Fan fiction, or fanfiction (often abbreviated as fan fic, fanfic, or simply fic), is a broadly defined fan labor term for stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work's owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published. Due to these works' not being published, stories often contain a disclaimer stating that the creator of the work owns none of the original characters. Fan fiction is defined by being both related to its subject's canonical fictional universe and simultaneously existing outside the canon of that universe. Most fan fiction writers assume that their work is read primarily by other fans, and therefore tend to presume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a professional writer) in which their works are based.
Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don't do it for money. That's not what it's about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They're fans, but they're not silent, couch-bound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.
The encyclopedic ambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might be seen as gaps or excesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plots which can not be fully told or extra details which hint at more than can be revealed. Readers, thus, have a strong incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements, working them over through their speculations, until they take on a life of their own. Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader's desire to "fill in the gaps" they have discovered in the commercially produced material.
- 1 History
- 2 Categories and types
- 3 Story creation in the online era
- 4 Interactivity in the online era
- 5 Legality
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid may be seen as a very early form of fan fiction. The story is based on Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and, like most fan fiction, it seeks to elaborate on narrative gaps in the original work. In this case Henryson invents a tragic end for Cresseid, as her final fate is not mentioned in Chaucer's original version of the story.
Following the popularity of Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, due to lax early copyright laws, a number of unauthorized sequels were published. Similar to fan fiction works, these sequels elaborated on Pamela's life after the events of the novel.
As children and young adults, Charlotte Brontë and her siblings wrote many stories and novels detailing fantasy adventures of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and his two sons, Arthur and Charles. Later tales focused on Arthur, who became an almost super-heroic figure, the Duke of Zamorna. The Bronte juvenilia are an early example of "real person fan fiction".
The turn of the 20th century saw parodies and revisions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland by authors including Frances Hodgson Burnett and E. Nesbit. In addition, there were several fan-authored versions of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and the Great Game, in which Holmes and Watson are treated as real, with Conan Doyle merely as Watson's literary agent, is an extended form of fan fiction posing as factual analysis.
Before about 1965, the term "fan fiction" was used in science fiction fandom to designate original, though amateur, works of science fiction published in science fiction fanzines, as differentiated from fiction that was professionally published by professional writers; or fiction about fans and fandom.
However, the modern phenomenon of fan fiction as an expression of fandom and fan interaction was popularized and defined via Star Trek fandom and their fanzines published in the 1960s. The first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia (1967), contained some fan fiction; many others followed its example.:1 These fanzines were produced via offset printing and mimeography, and mailed to other fans or sold at science fiction conventions for a small fee to help recoup costs. Unlike other aspects of fandom, women dominated fan fiction authoring; 83% of Star Trek fan fiction authors were female by 1970, and 90% by 1973. One scholar states that fan fiction "fill[s] the need of a mostly female audience for fictional narratives that expand the boundary of the official source products offered on the television and movie screen."
Fan fiction has become more popular and widespread since the advent of the World Wide Web; according to one estimate, fan fiction comprises one third of all content about books on the Web. In addition to traditional fanzines and conventions, Usenet group electronic mailing lists were established for fan fiction as well as fan discussion. Online, searchable fan fiction archives were also established. The online archives were initially non-commercial hand-tended and fandom- or topic-specific. These archives were followed by non-commercial automated databases. In 1998, the not-for-profit site FanFiction.Net came online, which allowed anyone to upload content in any fandom. The ability to self-publish fan fiction at an easily accessible common archive that did not require insider knowledge to join, and the ability to review the stories directly on the site, became popular quite quickly. FanFiction.net now hosts millions of stories in dozens of languages, and as of 2003 was widely considered the largest most popular fan fiction archive online. Its indiscriminate policy of accepting any and all submissions has led to its being fondly/derogatively nicknamed "The Pit of Voles".
LiveJournal (founded in 1999) and other blogging services played a large part in the move away from mailing lists (both electronic and amateur press associations) to blogs as a means for fan communication and the sharing of fan fiction. Although much fan fiction today is published to archives, it would be impossible to tell whether more or less fan fiction today is posted directly to blogging services than to fan-fiction-specific archives, particularly since many authors maintain accounts on multiple sites and liberally cross-post their stories.
On May 22, 2013, the online retailer Amazon.com established a new publishing service, Kindle Worlds. This service would enable fan fiction stories of certain licensed media properties to be sold in the Kindle Store with terms including 35% of net sales for works of 10,000 words or more and 20% for short fiction ranging from 5000 to 10,000 words. However, this arrangement includes restrictions on content, copyright violations, poor document formatting and/or using misleading titles.
A similar trend in Japan also began appearing around the 1960s and 1970s, where independently published manga and novels, known as dōjinshi, are frequently published by dōjin circles; many of these dōjinshi are based on existing manga, anime, and video game franchises. Manga authors like Shotaro Ishinomori and Fujiko Fujio formed dōjin groups such as Fujio's New Manga Party (新漫画党 Shin Manga-to?). At this time dōjin groups were used by artists to make a professional debut. This changed in the coming decades with dōjin groups forming as school clubs and the like. This culminated in 1975 with the Comiket in Tokyo.
Categories and types
Fan fiction can be categorized in a number of ways. Some of these categories are similar to original fiction (e.g. romance); some are specialized (e.g. Mary Sue stories). Please note: these categories apply to western fandoms. Fandoms in other parts of the world have different conventions.
Relationship to canon
Stories are also categorized by their relationship to canon. The most common term is alternate universe which is frequently abbreviated AU. There are two main sub-categories of alternate universe fan fiction: stories that exist in the same "world" as canon, but change one or more major plot points (e.g. a character dies who is still alive in the source material or some event in the characters' lives is altered) and stories that take some or all characters from the source material and put them in an entirely different situation (e.g. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are a "soul-bonded" couple rather than Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger being a couple). In some cases, only names, genders, locations and sometimes relationships are retained, with everything else different, such as the characters of the Harry Potter universe all being normal humans instead of wizards. Fan fiction work sometimes include Dark! or Fem! prefixes before names in their summaries. Fem! denotes of a male character in canon either born female or made female intentionally or by accident. Dark! denotes a character showing the evil part of their personality throughout most, if not all, of the story.
There are several categories of "canon" stories as well, that is, stories that do not contradict the source material in any way. Missing scenes fill in parts of the story that were "left out" of the source. Episode Codas (a term that applies only to fan fiction based on animated or televised works) are stories that pick up at the end of an episode. These are usually written shortly after an episode airs, when viewers are left wanting more. Other categories, like pre- and post-series refer to stories that depict events taking place outside the chronological scope of the source material. Futurefic refers to any story that takes place after the currently available canon.
Romantic or sexual pairings
There are four main categories that refer to the romantic or sexual story elements. "Slash", "Femslash", "Het", and "Gen" (short for "General"). In almost all fandoms, slash refers to same-sex male pairings. The term originates from the slash between the names of the characters in a relationship (e.g. Kirk/Spock). Although all types of pairings in many fandoms are denoted with a slash (anime fans use an "x" instead), only same-sex pairings are referred to by that term. (Thus, although often written out as Harry/Ginny, to use a canon heterosexual relationship from the Harry Potter fandom, these relationships would not be called slash.) Femslash, or sometimes femmeslash, refers to same-sex female pairings.
More women than men read romantic fan fiction. While men who are attracted to an actress often search for revealing photographs of her, women attracted to an actor are more likely to seek out erotic stories featuring a character he plays. A fan of Orlando Bloom, for example, might search for "Legolas erotica".
Genres and tropes
As with other forms of fiction, fan fiction stories can be written in any genre. There are some specialized genre categories that only apply to fan fiction or, at least, the terminology is specific. "Crack", a story with a deliberately bizarre premise, such as a nonsensical crossover; "angst"; and "fluff", "schmoop" or "WAFF (Warm And Fuzzy Feeling)" for a "feel good" story, are well-known examples.
Certain tropes are also used and reused in fan fiction. There are so many of these that it would be impossible to name them all, and they vary greatly from fandom to fandom. AUs (alternate universes) are common in many fandoms; "hurt-comfort" is also broadly popular.
Mary Sue is a trope originating in Star Trek fan fiction that has crossed over to the mainstream, at least among editors and writers. In much early Trek fanfic, a common plot was a minor member of the USS Enterprise's crew saving the life of Captain Kirk or Mister Spock, often being rewarded with a sexual relationship as a result. A Mary Sue is an idealized character representing the author.
The term kink has a somewhat different connotation in reference to fan fiction than it does in mainstream culture. Sexual tropes or situations are often referred to as kinks whether or not they are particularly "adventurous." Sometimes the term is even more broadly applied to describe plots or tropes that people enjoy, regardless of whether or not they are sexual in nature.
Crossovers are stories that incorporate two or more different sources. For example, an author may take a character from Canon A and place him or her in the universe of Canon B, or characters from two or more fandoms may meet at a neutral location (e.g.; Harry Potter x Hetalia: Axis Powers or Lord of the Rings x Star Wars). In some cases, particularly with series whose universes might theoretically overlap as to space and time, the assumption may be made (for story purposes) that the characters exist in the same broad universe. These stories may include romantic or sexual pairings between characters from different canons. They can be made as a fan-made story that meant to be unofficially taken as canon either by being a sequel to one form of media or create an alternate timeline.
Categorization by story length varies greatly among fandoms and among individuals. It is a common practice in many fandoms to list word count in the header information, especially on LiveJournal. Fanfiction.net and other archives may have their own specialized rules. Terminology for story length also varies. Some commonly used terms are drabble (either a story of exactly 100 words or a very short story), ficlet (longer than a drabble, but still very short) and one-shot (only a chapter long). Longer stories may be called longfic, epic, full-length, or novel-length, but these are typically not labels that would be applied by the author.
It is common, especially in fandoms based on U.S. source material, to provide a rating based on MPAA movie ratings G through NC-17. Ratings are usually accompanied by a brief statement of the reason for the rating such as sexual content, violence, or profanity. "Adult" or "Mature" are also commonly used to refer to content equivalent to an R or NC-17 rating.
On Fanfiction.net, the ratings are as follows:
- K for Kids: Suitable for all ages (Equivalent to a G-Rating or a U in Britain)
- K+ for Older Kids: Suitable for children 9 and older (Equivalent to a PG-Rating)
- T for Teen: Suitable for teens 13 and older (Equivalent to a PG-13-Rating or a 12A in Britain or a M Rating in Australia)
- M for Mature: Suitable for teens 16 and older (Equivalent to an R-Rating or a 15 in Britain or a MA15+ Rating in Australia)
- MA for Mature Adults: Limited only to adults 18 and older (Equivalent to an NC-17-Rating or an 18 in Britain or a R Rating in Australia)
On Wattpad.com, the ratings are:
Story creation in the online era
Fan fiction is often posted serialized as a "work in progress" or WIP, with new chapters published in sequence, sometimes as soon as they are finished. Chapters may take anything from a day to several months to be updated and often remind readers of their place in the story with each new installment. Most archives allow authors to upload individual chapters sequentially under a single title with a main link to the first chapter, and each chapter easily linked to via a drop down menu.
It is often considered wise in fan fiction circles to acquire the aid of a "beta reader," sometimes shortened to "beta," whose responsibilities are roughly those of a professional editor to a commercial author—with the exception that the "beta" is most commonly a volunteer who works without pay and on a casual basis and communicates through E-mail or private message systems. Writers are discouraged in some circles from posting fan fiction that has not at least been checked for grammatical, spelling, consistency and plot errors by a beta reader. In late February 2008, FanFiction.net set up an area of their site that contains a list of authors willing to "beta" other authors' "fics".
Interactivity in the online era
Unlike traditional print publication, the internet offers the option of giving and receiving rapid feedback or "reviews". Reviews can be given by both anonymous and registered users of most sites, and sites are often programmed to notify the author of new feedback, making them a common way for readers and authors online to communicate directly. This system is intended for a type of bond between the reader and the writer, as well as helping the author improve his or her writing skills through constructive criticism, enabling him or her to produce a better work next time.[unreliable source?] Occasionally unmoderated review systems are abused to send flames, spam or trolling messages. As a result, the author of the story can either disable or enable anonymous reviews, depending on his/her preference. Internet fan fiction gives young writers a wider audience for their literary efforts than ever before, resulting in improved literacy.
Recently fan fiction has seen greater use of the forum or LiveJournal blog format. Built around message board systems, stories are posted on threads with feedback interlaced and immediate. This style of fan fiction is more interactive but also can be a distraction since the stories and comments are between each other. These communication methods make fan fiction sites and blogs useful affinity spaces as writers are able to take readers' feedback and improve their skills and abilities as writers. This informal learning is a side benefit for many fan fiction authors, some of whom eventually attempt or go on to writing professionally.
Also, fanfiction.net is very famous for a broad range of fan fiction stories. It allows readers to follow, favorite, and review stories as well as publish their own. It is currently one of the biggest fan fiction archive website.
Some argue that fan fiction does not fall under fair use. The 2009 ruling by United States District Court judge Deborah A. Batts, permanently prohibiting publication in the United States of a book by a Swedish writer whose protagonist is a 76-year-old version of Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye, may be seen as upholding this position regarding publishing fan fiction, as the judge stated, "To the extent Defendants contend that 60 Years and the character of Mr. C direct parodied comment or criticism at Catcher or Holden Caulfield, as opposed to Salinger himself, the Court finds such contentions to be post-hoc rationalizations employed through vague generalizations about the alleged naivety of the original, rather than reasonably perceivable parody."
In 1981, Lucasfilms Ltd. sent out a letter to several fanzine publishers, asserting Lucasfilm's copyright to all Star Wars characters and insisting that no fanzine publish pornography. The letter also alluded to possible legal action that could be taken against fanzines that did not comply. Later that year, the director and legal counsel of the Official Star Wars Fan Club sent fanzine publishers a set of official guidelines. Lucasfilms supported fan publications contingent on their upholding these guidelines.
The Harry Potter Lexicon is one case where the encyclopaedia-like website about everything in the Harry Potter series, moved towards publishing and commercializing the Lexicon as a supplementary and complementary source of information to the series. Rowling and her publishers levied a lawsuit against the website creator, Steven Vander Ark, and the publishing company, RDR Books, for a breach of copyright. While the lawsuit did conclude in Vander Ark's favor, the main issue in contention was the majority of the Lexicon copied a majority of the Series' material and does not transform enough of the material to be held separately from the series itself.
While the HP Lexicon case is an example of Western culture treatment of fan fiction and copyright law, in China, Harry Potter fan fiction is less addressed in legal conflicts but is used as a cultural and educational tool between Western and Chinese cultures. More specifically, while there are a number of "fake" Harry Potter books in China, most of these books are treated as addressing concepts and issues found in Chinese culture. This transformative usage of Harry Potter in fan fiction is mainly from the desire to enhance and express value to Chinese tradition and culture.
In recent years, several prominent authors have given their blessings to fan fiction, notably J.K. Rowling. Rowling said she was "flattered" that people wanted to write their own stories based on her fictional characters. Similarly, Stephenie Meyer has put links on her website to fan fiction sites about her characters from the Twilight series. The Fifty Shades trilogy was developed from a Twilight fan fiction originally titled Master of the Universe and published episodically on fan-fiction websites under the pen name "Snowqueen's Icedragon". The piece featured characters named after Stephenie Meyer's characters in Twilight, Edward Cullen and Bella Swan.
As an example of changing views on the subject, author Orson Scott Card (best known for the Enders Game series) once stated on his website, "to write fiction using my characters is morally identical to moving into my house without invitation and throwing out my family." He changed his mind completely and since has assisted fan fiction contests, arguing to the Wall Street Journal that "Every piece of fan fiction is an ad for my book. What kind of idiot would I be to want that to disappear?"
However, Anne Rice has consistently and aggressively prevented fan fiction based on any of her "fictional" characters (mostly those from her famous Interview with the Vampire and its sequels in The Vampire Chronicles). She, along with Anne McCaffrey (whose stance has been changed by her son, Todd McCaffrey, since her death) and Raymond Feist, have asked to have any fiction related to their series removed from FanFiction.Net. George R.R. Martin, who was selected by Time magazine as one of the "2011 Time 100" and is most famous for his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is also strongly opposed to fan fiction, believing it to be copyright infringement and a bad exercise for aspiring writers. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, creators of the Liaden universe, strongly oppose fan fiction written in their universe. "I don’t want “other people interpreting” our characters. Interpreting our characters is what Steve and I do; it’s our job. Nobody else is going to get it right. This may sound rude and elitist, but honestly, it’s not easy for us to get it right sometimes, and we’ve been living with these characters... for a very long time... We built our universes, and our characters; they are our intellectual property; and they are not toys lying about some virtual sandbox for other kids to pick up and modify at their whim. Steve and I do not sanction fanfic written in our universes; any such work that exists, exists without our permission, and certainly without our support."
- Archive of Our Own (AO3)
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- Fanfiction.net—the largest fan fiction gallery on the internet
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- "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture"—Henry Jenkins on fan fiction