What is ‘fan fiction’?

Discussion - fan fiction

I’ve never really read any ‘fan fiction’ – as I’d define it – until a few weeks ago I saw a Buzzfeed article recommending their top pieces of Harry Potter fan fiction. I thought I’d check one out actually quite enjoyed it!

Generally, fan fiction still has a questionable rep. Some people see it as ‘ripping off’ other people’s characters and ideas. Also, it seems to me that there’s an awful lot of bad, mad and downright weird fan fiction out there on the internet, and that to find something good you have to get lucky or follow recommendations from others. The result is that most people don’t consider fan fiction to be ‘real’ writing.

But essentially, fan fiction is taking the universe or characters that someone has created and using them to tell a new story. This got me thinking about just how many popular books that could essentially be classed as fan fiction.

For instance, sequels to a whole range of books have been taken on and written by new, different authors, from ‘Scarlett’, the follow up to Margaret Mitchell’s epic ‘Gone with the Wind’ to the recent continuation of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy by David Lagercrantz. Many recent authors have also taken inspiration from secondary characters in timeless classics and given them their own imagined storyline, such as in Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’ (Pride and Prejudice taken below stairs) or in Gregory Maguire’s ‘Wicked’ series (looking at the other side of the wicked witch of the west).

These are just a few examples. When you start thinking about it properly you can come up with hundreds.

I think for me the main definition of ‘fan fiction’, as I understand it, is that it can be written by anyone and posted online for everyone else to read for free if they can find it. Expansions or continuations indeed are a version of fan fiction, but have been selected by publishers as an officially recognised original piece of work. However, these lines may blur as more and more people self-publish their work.

To me, it feels like books picked up by a publisher carry more weight, and that they’ve been selected because they’re the best that this genre has to offer. Plus my TBR is already longer then I can ever hope to handle, so I just don’t have time to dedicate to wading through the vast expanse of fan fiction available on the internet.

I do recognise that I might well be biased in my views though, as I haven’t had much exposure to good fan fiction. I’m more than willing to try reading more though, so if you have any suggestions, please do comment and let me know!

What does everyone think about fan fiction? Do you read it?

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8 thoughts on “What is ‘fan fiction’?

  1. I grew up on Harry Potter fanfiction. In fact, I used to dabble at it myself and wrote a lot of my own stories that will never see the light of day. I agree with you that I have no time to read fanfiction anymore – but I definitely can see how fanfiction is great way to get people (especially young people) into reading and writing because it’s about their favorite characters.

  2. Being trained in history, my natural tendency is to consider fan faction a species of plagiarism. However, I do understand that most of it is done in the nature of a tribute by people who love the characters and story premise. I think that, if they have the talent for it, fans should be inspired to write similar, but original stories. I would never be comfortable writing fan fiction because I see the characters and story as proprietary rights.

    • I agree with you and I think that’s probably why I’ve never really read any fan fiction in the past. I think it’s an interesting discussion as to where that line falls though. For instance, fairy tale re-tellings are all the rage right now – and although they’re original work they draw their primary inspiration from other works.

      I find it interesting that some authors have got on board with fan fiction as well – Hugh Howey for example has in the past actively encouraged his fans to write stories based in his fictional worlds and sell them on Amazon. I guess it depends on individual attitudes?

  3. I don’t read fanfiction, but I can definitely see the appeal. Having a chance to explore different paths for beloved characters that you would have liked to have seen is something I think all readers have at least played with in their heads. I think like you I’d only consider works published on the internet based on characters that don’t belong to them to be fanfiction. I don’t really have an aversion to it and understand why they are so popular, but it’s not really my thing.

    • Definitely – there’s so many times I’ve wished that certain characters took a different path, and fan fiction seems to be a good place to explore this and connect with other people who feel the same. It’s the amount of material out there and the time involved with finding good quality pieces that puts me off the most though.

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