If you’ve ever been obsessed with a book series, or a movie, or even any mainstream boyband (ARMY, anyone?), well, chances are, you’ve probably heard of fanfiction. But for those of you who haven’t, fanfiction is basically a form of amateur fiction writing that is based on established books or movies.
Fanfiction (a.k.a fanfic) appears everywhere we go. Read 50 Shades of Grey? Started out as a Twilight fanfic. How about RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes? Fanfiction. In fact, even those Disney fairytale movies we know and love are fanfiction- I mean, the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales are far more gruesome than the sugary sweet stories Disney presents to our kids. So why is fanfic in general so controversial in the writing community?
One of the issues is that fanfiction is seen as cheating, in a way. The plotline and characters have already been established and even advertised for you, so all you have to do is add your own twist, change some pairings, add your own characters, heck, do whatever you want, and boom! A book (if you can even call it that, they say). Of course, it doesn’t help that 90% of all fanfiction are terribly written messes by pre-teen girls with little to no writing skills. Plus, most of them run on the assumption that slapping a desultory ‘these characters do not belong to me’ at the beginning of the story will solve the copyright issue. I believe the amount of complaints that we’ve heard from various well-known authors, like Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire) and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) show how effective that particular solution has been.
Not to mention the porn problem. Yes, you read that right. As a fanfiction reader myself, I cannot count the number of times I’ve wished there was something called ‘mind bleach’ so I could erase something I’d just read. (Mostly I stuff everything into the dark corner of my mind with the other topics I swear not to ever think about again, alongside where I put my middle school memories and images of the reproductive section of my biology textbook. Ew. Moving on.)
All this, and we haven’t even touched on how many incomplete stories there are out there. You’ll be exulting in a rare moment when you’ve finally found that one story where the character hasn’t strayed too far from the original, there’s an actual plot line, and no porn in sight, when suddenly you realize the story is incomplete. It just stops in the middle of a scene where kid Sasuke is deciding whether or not to befriend kid Sakura and Naruto. Hear screams of frustration? You’re not alone. Times like that make me wonder whether reading fanfiction is truly worth all the trouble.
…and the yay.
The thing is, though, that fanfic is usually not written with any malicious intent, merely the product of ‘what if’s coming from someone who loves the characters and the setting which brings them to life. It is sometimes the outpouring of that feeling you get when you cannot imagine leaving the magic a story created behind. It can be a way to pay homage for a work you think is well written. Many times, fanfics give readers the opportunity to immerse themselves in a world where nothing necessarily has to be black or white. Female characters can be more than just love interests. The unpleasant man with a tragic past can be more than just a necessary sacrifice for the tear-jerking factor. In fanfiction, anyone can be anything.
What lots of people don’t realize is how truly beautiful well-written fanfiction can really be. I’ve read fanfiction that eclipsed the originals completely, fanfiction that blew my mind (yes, the same mind I’d wanted to dunk in bleach) with the revelations they triggered, and fanfiction that just plain made my whole day brighter. Contrary to popular belief, just because something is based off of someone else’s idea doesn’t mean that it is automatically worth nothing.
On the practical side, fanfiction is not only free advertising for writers; there is also a kind of flattery that can be found when someone loved something you created enough to want to extend their time with it, and to be inspired by it. Famous author J.K. Rowling said as much herself, and Karen Healey (Guardian of the Dead) actually declared once that “fanfics are awesome.” Quite a few authors have nothing against fanfiction, just a problem with people trying to earn money from it. They also usually don’t read it themselves for fear of copyright suing.
As for fanfic authors, despite the inability to earn profit from their fanfiction, it serves as a starting point to writing- training wheels, as it were. The characters are easier to work with because they already have personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Styles of writing can be tried (and discarded). Stephen King himself confessed to writing fanfiction in his youth, and look what a success his original books have become! As a matter of fact, sometimes, fanfiction even inspires original books, as illustrated by ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell.
I know I’ve probably quoted way too many examples at this point (probably my business school background showing), but it’s all to emphasize one point: the concept of writing fanfiction isn’t inherently bad.
Fanfiction = Valid Literature
Sure, tons of fanfic are pretty horrible. That, I agree with unreservedly. But isn’t it also true when it’s said that tons of published literature are pretty horrible as well? At least with fanfiction, you know what you’re getting after reading the first chapter, and you don’t have to pay for it. That’s always a plus in my book (pun unintended).
Still not convinced? Even some of the most established works of literature today were fanfiction. That’s right. Half of William Shakespeare’s plays were based on stories from others, including the well known Romeo and Juliet, in which the work ‘A Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet’ by English poet Arthur Brooke was a principal source. Amazing, isn’t it, what can come from creating something based on something else?
Thus, the next time you’re faced with the opportunity to malign writing fanfiction as a whole, I hope you’ll think twice about it, because know that for every nine bad fanfiction out there, there is probably one that is worth reading.
Written by Yoo Min Jie