First, I’m not equating fan fiction with ugly. It’s just a catchy title.
On the web there’s a good deal of discussion of a certain Twilight Fan Fiction (Which will not be discussed here due to its adult content), which has led to a valuable dialogue about fan fiction and its role in culture.
For a well-written and balanced take on the subject, click here.
To be clear, I’m using two general definitions of fan fiction:
- A piece of fiction that both is based on and pays homage to a previously created work or story.
- A piece of unauthorized fiction based on copyrighted materials. It is commonly shared on the internet, and has a reputation for containing blatant grammatical and spelling errors, poor style, confusing sentence structure, and a lack of professionalism.
In Part 1, I’ll discuss what’s good about fan fiction. Later, Part 2 will discuss what’s bad, and Part 3 will discuss my own nerdy forays into fan fiction.
It is often said that there are no original stories. By the first definition, then all stories are actually fan fiction.
West Side Story is a fan fiction of Romeo and Juliet.
The Lord of the Rings is a fan fiction of European mythology. Most of Shakespeare’s work was fan fiction. The Romantic era poets and novelists wrote fan fiction of Greek and Medieval Mythology. Each movie adaptation is a form of fan fiction. Thus, fan fiction, in truth, is the collective imagination of a culture.
The second type of fan fiction is a sincere form of flattery. Across forums, internet boards, fan sites, and blogs the work of a single author gets stretched far beyond the boundaries of the original. Fan Fiction further explores the world, prodding and poking what was laid down in the original work, placing characters in new situations, and testing what remains true to the world.
Fan fiction is a democratic form of fiction, creating a dialogue between the fan and the original work. Fans are exact and self-govern for authenticity. If a piece of fan fiction is not true to the original work, fans will raise their voice to correct it. If a piece of fan fiction is enjoyable, it will be lauded and enjoyed. Above everything, fan fiction is a sign that people like to escape reality and spend just a little more time in a world they enjoy.
Professional examples of fan fiction do this as well, and fall somewhere between the two definitions. There are entire encyclopedias on the expanded universe of Star Wars. How many people have a fort of Star Wars, Star Trek, Magic The Gathering, World of Warcraft, or Dungeons and Dragons books around their living space? I have several boxes dedicated to my collection of Star Wars books after gleaning out a few.
Here’s another Star Wars book fan.
As a side note, if I do go back and read Star Wars novels I tend to pick up the Rogue Squadron/Wraith Squadron series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. These books are a touch experimental because they feature a minor character from the original films (Wedge Antilles) and add in new characters that color in and define corners of the Star Wars universe. It’s an interesting format, and breaks away from trying to add in another complication to the lives of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo, who, apparently, can’t catch a break. Also, it has lasers, star fighters, and EXPLOSIONS!
Writing these authorized, professional fan books must be one of the best jobs for an author/fan. For example, here’s an interview with a newly hired Star Wars author, Kevin Hearne. As a bonus, here’s some writing advice given during Star Wars Celebration VI by Aaron Allston and Timothy Zahn
Fan fiction’s best use is as training wheels to new fiction. Working in someone else’s universe helped me develop the imaginative and creative muscles I needed to create my own fiction. Now, I have too many of my own ideas to devote time to fan fiction.
For a better post on how writing fan fiction can help a writer improve their craft, click here.