So far, whenever I’ve mentioned the word fan fiction, people either didn’t know what it was or thought about it as something to look down upon. They associate it with either some perverse version of the original work, or with someone who takes another author’s work and changes it to make it all about themselves. And, sure enough, that happens. But I believe there is something to say in defence of this type of writing. I’m even bold enough to say that there are some pieces of fan fiction out there that are better than the original work.
For starters, I think the common misconception around fan fiction is that the writers are trying to ‘improve’ the original or claim that they can do it better. Some people believe that to write fan fiction is to disrespect the original author by assuming superiority. I’m here to tell you that this is far from true. Fan fiction writers generally start their book with a disclaimer to remind the reader that all rights go to the original author or creator. These writers also treat the story like it’s their baby and in case they change a major plot line they generally add an ‘Author’s Note’, or A/N, at the end of the chapter to explain themselves. These writers are aware that there’s a fine line between writing fan fiction and plagiarism and will be mindful to not pass their work off as their own entirely, only taking credit for their own characters and plotlines. They will always be careful, even when it’s obvious that their work is a piece of fan fiction when they’re published on sites like fanfiction.net or Wattpad. These writers don’t write fan fiction because they dislike the original story, but rather because they love it so much that they wanted to add to it. This means that they will write a piece of fan fiction with full respect to the original work.
Now, about the fan fictions themselves, there are plenty of works out there that aren’t perverse or self-centred versions of the original and that have actually well-developed plotlines, well-rounded characters and interesting takes on the original work. And as I’ve said before, I’ll even go as far as saying that there are some fan fictions that are written better than the original work. I’m aware that many people will disagree with me and argue that without the original work, there wouldn’t be anything to base the fan fiction on in the first place. And I agree. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that some pieces of fan fiction are written so beautifully and poetically that it becomes something readers might enjoy even more than the original. Personally, I have read a great number of fan fictions that got me so invested in them that it made me weep, laugh or ‘aw’ out loud and in public, like any good book would. I will not pretend that they will all be that good or well-written. Finding a good work of fan fiction is often like trying to tame an overgrown garden; you have to go through a lot of weeds to find that one flower. There are dozens of works that will make you scrunch up your nose and shake your head, but those are easy to detect, and you can quickly move on to the next one if it’s not for you.
Another good quality of this type of writing is that there’s something for everybody. Do you want a gender-inversed fan fiction? A queer pairing with your favourite character(s)? Or maybe even a crossover between two fandoms? Fan fiction offers it all and allows for a lot of creativity. Possibilities are endless and many people enjoy them because of that. It’s a way for many readers to keep enjoying the work they already love without it becoming repetitive because you read or watch the same work over and over again. That’s the whole point.
Personally, I enjoy fan fiction a lot because it gave me a chance to develop my writing skills when I was still naïve and clueless about how one actually writes a story. I did not yet have the skills to create an entire plot with vibrant characters that got you hooked—which was honestly too high a bar I’d set for myself. Writing fan fiction allowed for me to take an existing plot and its characters and give it my own twist. It made it easier for me, as an inexperienced writer, to start writing something I was content with. It allowed me to learn how to develop a character, how to build a character arc and how to create an interesting and gripping plot, among other things. It’s because I started writing fan fiction that I’ve created my own writing style and now know how to create a story.
But if you don’t believe me, take a look at famous writers, like Neil Gaiman for example:
The book Gaiman is referring to is A Study in Emerald and is but one example of fan fiction that’s now considered legitimate. Another example would be the world-wide phenomenon called Fifty Shades of Grey, which was originally a Twilight fan fiction. Ana Steele was originally Bella Swan and Christian Grey was Edward Cullen, imagine that. About seventy percent of the changes made to it came from changing the names of the characters, meaning that the fan fiction wasn’t so heavily edited that it became an entirely different story.
Also, for those who think that fan fiction is a new concept, then allow me to give you an older example: Paradise Lost by John Milton could technically be considered a fan fiction of the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible. Paradise Lost gets taught at universities and is considered a great piece of literature. And it’s a piece of fan fiction.
Now, I admit, I enjoy a good fan fiction, so maybe that makes me partial to them. Yet, all that I have stated here is true and I don’t know about you, but I consider fan fiction to be just as legitimate as any other genre. I mean, like any other form of writing it gets (unknowingly) taught at universities. Why shouldn’t aspiring writers be allowed to write fan fiction to develop themselves without being looked down upon? And why is fan fiction looked down upon in the first place? Everything’s been written before already anyways, so what’s the big deal? There’s no way anyone will come up with a completely new plot that’s never been done before, so why not take an existing one (like all writers do in a way) and write about that? There are so many beautiful stories and amazing writers who work just as hard as published writers, yet don’t get any credit for their work, which is absolutely absurd. Credit where credit’s due, and its due time that fan fiction gets its credit.