Fan fiction or fanfiction (also abbreviated to fan fic, fanfic, fic or ff) is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator. Fans may maintain the creator's characters and settings or add their own. It is a popular form of fan labor, particularly since the advent of the Internet.
Fan fiction is rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work's creator or publisher and is rarely professionally published. It may or may not infringe on the original author's copyright, depending on the jurisdiction and on such questions as for whether or not it qualifies as "fair use" (see Legal issues with fan fiction). Attitudes of authors and copyright owners of original works to fan fiction have ranged from indifference to encouragement to rejection. Copyright owners have occasionally responded with legal action.
The term "fan fiction" came into use in the 20th century as copyright laws began to delineate between stories using established characters that were authorized by the copyright holder and those that were unauthorized. For earlier works with similar characteristics, see unofficial sequel or pastiche.
Fan fiction is defined by being both related to its subject's canonical fictional universe (often referred to as "canon") and simultaneously existing outside it. Most fan fiction writers assume that their work is read primarily by other fans, and therefore presume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a professional writer) in which their works are based.
- 1 Earlier meanings of the term
- 2 History
- 3 Categories and terms
- 3.1 Genres
- 3.1.1 Angst
- 3.1.2 AU or alternate universe
- 3.1.3 Crossover
- 3.1.4 Fusion
- 3.1.5 Fluff
- 3.1.6 Darkfic
- 3.1.7 Fix-fic
- 3.1.8 Rebuild fiction
- 3.1.9 Rationalist rewrite
- 3.1.10 Peggy Sue
- 3.1.11 Hurt/comfort
- 3.1.12 Shipping
- 3.1.13 Curtainfic
- 3.1.14 Self-insert
- 3.1.15 Smut
- 3.1.16 Multicross self-insert
- 3.1.17 Songfic
- 3.1.18 Fluff or WAFF
- 3.1.19 Vent
- 3.1 Genres
- 4 Other related terms
- 5 Interactivity in the online era
- 6 Legality
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Earlier meanings of the term
The term "fan fiction" has been attested in print as early as 1939; in this earliest known citation, it is used in a disparaging way to refer to amateurish science fiction (as opposed to "pro fiction"). The term also appears in the 1944 Fancyclopedia, an encyclopedia of fandom jargon. It is defined there as "fiction about fans, or sometimes about pros, and occasionally bringing in some famous characters from [science fiction] stories". The book also mentions that the term is "[s]ometimes improperly used to mean fan science fiction, that is, ordinary fantasy published in a fan magazine".
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. One popular example of modern fan fiction is E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. This series was originally written as fan fiction for the Twilight series of books and movies and played off the characters of Bella and Edward. In order to not infringe on copyright issues, James changed the character names to Anna and Christian for the purposes of her novels, which is a practice known as 'pulling-to-publish'. Anna Todd's 2013 fan fiction After about the English boy band One Direction secured a book and movie deal with renamed characters in 2014.
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-tō). 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 terms
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In addition to the "regular" list of genres, which for fanfiction are usually determined by the work they're based on, there are a few genres that are closely associated with fanfic. Often, they also overlap. The genres include:
A story with an angsty mood centered on a character/characters who are brooding, sad, or in anguish.
AU or alternate universe
Characters set in a universe other than their own canonical one.
Works featuring characters, items, or setpieces from multiple fandoms.
Works blending two settings, and sometimes their casts, into a cohesive whole.
A story designed to be happy, and nothing else. The plot is usually less relevant in these types of works, as the main focus is to be cheerful.
Stories which are considerably grimmer and/or more depressing than the original, often in deliberate contrast to the canonical work(s). Not all stories tagged as "dark" count as darkfic. This is sometimes done with fandoms which are meant to be light-hearted or for children.
A counterpart to darkfic, or perhaps its supergenre, fix-fic or more commonly known as "fix-it", refers to stories which rewrite canonical events that the author disliked, often because they were depressing or incomprehensible.
A subtype of fix-fic, wherein aspects of the setting and/or characters are rewritten to be more cohesive. Named for the Rebuild of Evangelion series, which originally qualified, and popularized by Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
Rebuild fiction that heavily features critical thinking skills and deductive reasoning. Also popularized by Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
A story in which one of the characters is sent back in time, getting a second chance with knowledge of the original plot. Named after the movie Peggy Sue Got Married, in which this happens to the titular character. Groundhog Day is an example of this happening repeatedly. Refers to both the story and the character in this situation. Not related to Mary Sue.
A story in which a character is put through a traumatizing experience in order to be comforted.
A variant of romance, focused on exploring a relationship between two or more characters from the original fandom(s). It has several subgenres, including Slash (which focuses on homosexual pairings, usually of the male variety), Femslash/Femmeslash/Yuri (same as Slash, but exclusively female/female), Crossover Shipping, which focuses on a romance between characters from multiple fandoms, and "friendshipping", which focuses on platonic relationships.
A subcategory of shipping; describes romantic couples in mundane domestic situations such as picking out curtains.
A genre of fanfiction in which a version of the author is transported to, or discovers they are inside, the world the fanfiction is based on. Almost always written in the first person. Fanfictions of this type are often also fix-fics.
Smut is sexually explicit or pornographic writing. This could refer to a small portion of a story, or in its entirety. The terms "lemon" and "lime" are often used to allude to the upcoming sexual scene.
Instead of a single fictional universe, the inserted author is taken to many in a row, and must usually solve some problem or complete some challenge in each place before moving on. Gaining new powers and occasionally companions from each world is common.
Songfic, also known as a song fic or a song-fic, is a genre of fan fiction that features a fictional work interspersed with the lyrics of a relevant song. The term is a portmanteau of "song" and "fiction"; as such, one might also see the genre referred to as "songfiction". As many lyrics are under copyright, whether songfics are a violation of that copyright law is a subject of debate. Some fan fiction websites, such as FanFiction.Net, have barred authors from posting songfics with lyrics outside the public domain.
In an essay in Music, Sound, and Silence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, University of Sydney professor Catherine Driscoll commented that the genre was "one of the least distinguished modes of fan production" and that "within fan fiction excessive attachment to or foregrounding of popular music is itself dismissed as immature and derivative".
Fluff or WAFF
WAFF is short for "Warm And Fuzzy Feelings". Both terms refer to fanfic that is bright, cheery, and (generally) peaceful, intended to make the author and/or readers feel better.
Vent refers to literature written by an author under duress or for therapeutic purposes, normally to calm themselves following a stressful or upsetting situation.
A fandom is a group of fans of a particular work of fiction (e.g. novel, film, television show or video game). Members of a fandom are typically interested in even minor details of the plot/characters of their fandom and often spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, that is why most fanfictions are written by members of a particular fandom(s).
Also of note is the concept of the "Mary Sue", a term credited as originating in Star Trek fan fiction that has crossed over to the mainstream, at least among editors and writers. In early Trek fan fiction, a common plot was that of 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. The term "Mary Sue", originating in a parody of stories in this wish fulfillment genre, thus tends to refer to an idealized or fictional character lacking flaws, often representing the author.
An abbreviation of self-insert, usually referring to either a story in the eponymous genre or to the author avatar within one.
An abbreviation of "trigger warning". Trigger warnings are meant to warn people of content in fics that could be harmful or "triggering" to those who have dealt with situations such as abuse. Fan fiction is tagged using various TWs so that readers may prepare for or avoid certain content. Sometimes CW, an abbreviation of "content warning", is used instead of or in addition to a TW. Trigger warnings are usually inserted when the subject matter of a work deals with things issues like drug abuse, mental illness, abuse, or extreme violence.
Canon is the original story. This means anything related to the original source including the plot, settings, and character developments.
Headcanon is a fan's personal, idiosyncratic interpretation of canon, such as the backstory of a character, or the nature of relationships between characters. It may represent a teasing out of subtext present in the canon, or it may directly contradict canon. If many other fans share this interpretation, it may become fanon.
Fanon is an idea that is widely believed to be true among fans, but is unconfirmed, preventing it from being labelled as canon. Fanon may refer to a whole interpretation of the original work, or to specific details within it.
An abbreviation of "real person fanfiction". Describes fanfiction-like works written about real people, usually celebrities, instead of fictional characters.
An abbreviation of the term "one true pairing", where the author or reader ships (wishes for a romantic relationship between) certain characters from a fandom. Additionally, OTPs are also subsetted as OT3s, which reference the reader's one true bonding with three people; this number can be changed to refer to larger bondings.
A female/male that is a part of one or more fandoms. Furthermore, the term fangirling/fanboying refers to a moment where a person "geeks out" or gets quite excited about a fandom.
Disclaimers are author's notes typically informing readers about who deserves credit for the original source material, and often containing pseudo-legal language disavowing any intent of copyright infringement or alluding to fair use. Such "disclaimers" are legally ineffective and based on misunderstandings of copyright law, particularly confusion between illegal copyright infringement and unethical plagiarism.
An abbreviation of "author's note". Author's notes can be written at any point during a fanfiction (in some cases interrupting the flow of the piece by appearing within the body of a fanfiction), but are typically found directly before the beginning of a fanfiction or after it has concluded, and also at the starts or ends of chapters if the story is updated periodically. A/N's are used to convey direct messages from the author to the reader regarding the piece.
Interactivity in the online era
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 their writing skills through constructive criticism, enabling their to produce a better work next time. 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 their preference. Internet fan fiction gives young writers a wider audience for their literary efforts than ever before, resulting in improved literacy.
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 Ryan Cassidy, 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, Lucasfilm 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.
The Harry Potter Lexicon is one case where the encyclopedia-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.
Some 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, Lee saying that "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."
- Canon (fiction)
- Collaborative fiction
- Virtual season
- Parallel novel
- Revisionism (fictional)
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- "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture"—Henry Jenkins on fan fiction