Literature Word of the Week – Fan Fiction

26 Weeks to a Better Understanding of Literature

I’m aiming to improve my knowledge around all things English literature, and to help me do this I thought I’d start by learning a new literary word every week,  A-Z.  Although knowing me it might not be in any alphabetic order.  I might treat this more like a list on random shuffle.

So, I find a word that relates to literature and research the following on it:

  • How does it sound?
  • What does it mean?
  • Who invented it (if known)
  • When did the word come about?
  • Example to be used in a sentence (preferable in spoken form).


Week 9:

Fan fiction

I’ll be honest up, until a couple of months ago although I’d heard of fan fiction in terms of creative writing, I’d not actually really taken it seriously.

Having done some researching on it to see if I could create a piece for a writing challenge, I liked what I read but couldn’t get the feeling out of my head that perhaps it was just for real die hard fans which brings images of spotty teens dissecting Star Trek, and young girls with obsessions over Harry Potter.  Neither category I could really see myself fitting into.

But in reality, like any other form of art, it’s spending time actually understanding what it’s about and that in turn really makes fan fiction come alive.

While the word fan fiction isn’t actually in my edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature, it is very firmly in the Oxford/Cambridge dictionaries (although not in the Collins dictionary), and while both give a very short definition of the word there is a much better description found online:

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. —Lev Grossman, TIME, July 07, 2011

Source: Wikipedia

When I read that quote a few weeks ago it all suddenly made much more sense.  This isn’t about money or fame, or even a desperate sense of fans wanting to be closer to their favourite programs.  It’s something much more evolved than that.

Fanfic isn’t a new phenomena.  There are examples going back to the 1960’s after Star Trek became a big hit.  Interestingly it was women who wrote most of the fanfic to begin with in an attempt to change the story lines to fit in with their expectations of the characters.  I can imagine at a time when society was still quite restrictive for women, this form of fiction brought freedom to create a better world.

Like most media these days fanfic has evolved in a big wonder thanks to online development.  Blogging sites (such as this one), and others such as Live Journal have helped move the writing from mailing lists onto mainstream media sites, thus allowing a wider audience to access it.

I’ve come to realise though that fan fiction really can’t be underestimated.  It’s sheer coverage and volume can make it rather daunting at first.  For example there are over 19,000 stories written around Pirates of the Caribbean, 957 stories around Brokeback Mountain (yes really), 37,000 written around NCIS, and even 86 written around the musical Oliver.  In fact looking at the lists I don’t think there is much that isn’t covered.

Fan Fiction Interpretation

I think fan fiction is about appreciating a piece of media and contributing to it in the way each audience member views it.  And once you read the stories in this light you realise that you’re not just reading fanatical literature, you’re actually reading quality, creative and talented writing.  Writing that helps keep loved characters and important story lines alive.  Legal copyright infringement implications not withstanding.

Even more than just the writing though, unlike other forms of creative writing it brings together people who like the same things and with it comes a sense of community.  People helping people write great pieces.  Identities come and go, friendships are borne and a sense of belonging (at all ages) are all derived from a core of dedicated writers who would rather create than just consume.

Most people will have a favourite film, TV program, novel, comic, cartoon – even game at some point in their life that just doesn’t end for them when the credits roll or the last page is turned.

The piece in question makes them think for days after.  The characters are so meaningful and speak to you or me as the viewer. You think about that character and wonder, what if she’d said this or he’d done that?  What if they had’t met, what of the battle hadn’t been won?

People who write fan fiction help keep those pages rolling, and while most art is a copy of something else, just constructed in a different way, so I see fan fiction in the same light.

For my part I’m back where I began, only now my mild curiosity has turned into becoming a dedicated reader for this type of fiction and I wonder,  is it time to have a go at writing some fan fiction myself?

Have you read any fan fiction, or indeed written any (with or without a pen name)? 

Would you consider fan fiction to be mainstream reading material?

If you were an author how would you feel if your novel got taken on in fan fiction form?

Share your thoughts below.


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