Why read or write fan fiction?

Fan fiction is the label generally given to stories written by fans of original works. The stories usually use characters and settings from canon, but create their own plot-lines.

Fanfics are almost always published online and not for profit, and their main readership and critics are other fans. Most come with a disclaimer, noting the writers don’t own any of the characters or names in the story.

There are multiple “fan fiction libraries” on the internet, some entirely topic-specific, and some acting as a platform for story sharing and reviewing, organising content by subject.

Fanfiction.net is one of the biggest archives, with over 500 000 submissions filed under the Harry Potter tag, 190 000 under Twilight, and 61 000 about Glee.

Some writers prefer to keep their stories on a personal blog or website, so it would be difficult to determine the total number of fics for each fandom.

Why do people read and write fan fiction? Series such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, the latter having over 46 000 stories uploaded on Fanfiction.net, go into enough detail by the time we turn the last page to leave virtually no plot-lines untied. How can they prompt so many related works?

Fanfic writer TextualDeviance, who has written a novel about British science fiction show Primeval, says it’s all to do with exploration. “Fic is primarily about exploring relationships and situations that go beyond what a given canon will or can portray.”

Relationships play an important enough role to become categories, usually according to the sexual orientation of the characters involved. Fan fiction is often characterised by the romantic protagonists within, and some fans might refuse to read stories that feature couples they don’t like.

However, writing about a character in your favourite book or TV-show is not limited to finding him or her the perfect partner and letting them live happily ever after. It’s often much more complicated than that.

TextualDeviance says writers can get attached to the characters they adopt. “It’s a deeper exploration of the lives and emotional states of those characters, and getting to know them more intimately like that does, definitely, create an emotional attachment for me.”

This opportunity to explore and play around with characters outside of canon is something which also attracts the audience. Krysta Massey, an avid fan fiction reader tells us that “when you read a great fanfic it’s like an extension of one of your favourite stories. It expands a world you love and makes it even richer.”

The view is echoed by many, from hardcore fan fiction writers, to occasional readers. A fanfic writer who wishes to remain anonymous, but has been writing for over a decade, says: “It may not be ‘real’, but good literature is apparently a dying breed, and for me, I want to hold on to the good stuff as long as possible.”

But what do original fiction writers think about this? Are they bothered by someone stealing their characters, or are they glad people have taken to their story so much?

Some of them have written fanfiction themselves, and used it as practice for their original works. Some still do. But there are also many who see it an activity lacking in seriousness or skill. Emma Luck, a fantasy fiction writer from Ontario, Canada, says that in writing circles, they tend to call bad writing in general fan fiction. “It’s mostly because fanfic tends to have a bad reputation for terrible spelling and grammar, bizarre and inexplicable plot twists, and frankly, just bad ideas.”

She brings up a trend that probably most readers have noticed as well: the duality of fanfiction. Within a fandom, fanfiction tends to be either extremely well written and interesting, or just plain bad. However, she says she’d be flattered if someone wrote about her work.

The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.

Lev Grossman, TIME, July 18, 2011

Who can say they never wanted to read at least one more page or watch one more episode when they reach the grande finale? So why not write it yourself?

image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/