Tuesday, May 19, 2009

FANFIC--What is it, why is it, what good is it? by Marian Allen

For those who don't know, fanfic (or fan-fic) is short for fan fiction--fiction, usually unauthorized, based on already-existing creations written by fans of those creations. Fan fiction isn't intended to be a rip-off, although there are some creators and copyright holders who consider it to be. The purpose of fan fiction is to explore various possibilities of a fictional reality.

Fan fiction can be very close to the original; it could pass for an unpublished part of the canon or an unscreened episode of the series. It can be a little afield of the original, establishing the fan's version of a backstory, or featuring a minor supporting character from a book or show. It can be father afield that that, and just take place in the fictional world created by the originator: a story about students at Star Fleet Academy with no mention of the Star Trek characters, or the adventures of a wizard in the Harry Potter universe with no connection to the Harry Potter characters.

There's a whole range of stories called "slash", which aren't... necessarily... violent--they're intimate-relationship stories, like a romance between , say, Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. That would be Holmes/Adler, and not too strange. Holmes/Watson, on the other hand, would go right out of the park, and I'm sure there have been many written. Please don't tell me. Please. Really.Then there are cross-overs, which are blends of two or more fictional worlds, like the characters in Twilight taking a vacation in Collinsport and meeting the characters of Dark Shadows. Okay, now I'm snorting type 0 out of my nose....

Finally, there's the kind of fanfic that Star Trek fans call "Mary Sue". That's when you insert a character who is a fantasy version of yourself into a fictional world. She (it's sometimes a he, but the stereotypical fanfic writer of this kind of story is female) interacts with the standard characters, is usually fascinating or brilliant or hilariously sarcastic or gorgeous or slapstick-clumsy or otherwise larger than life, and ends up saving everyone from something or other.

I've written a goodly amount of fan fiction, myself. It can seem like a long time between episodes or sequels or stories by the author, and fan IS short for fanatic, you know. I've even written Mary Sue. It's fun.In fact, it's more than fun, if you really try to recreate the world you're exploring. It's like riding a bike with training wheels. It's like learning how to paint by learning how to copy other people's paintings, which is a standard exercise for artists. If you're crazy about a show or a book or a movie, so crazy you can't get enough of it, copying it as nearly as you can is one way to take it apart and find out what's so appealing about it. Writing scenes and dialog for established characters is good practice for everything from pacing to character continuity to each-person-has-a-unique-voice. You can share your results with other fans--and take bigger lumps than an original creator, if you've done a bad job--but you can't market your work. You have creative pressure, but no financial pressure. It's for the love, the way all good writing is, whether you get paid for it or not.

I've heard a fellow professional writer attack fanfic writers as being somehow pathetic. "Why don't you create your own things, instead of stealing somebody else's work?" I had to disagree with him. Fanfic isn't taking anything away from the originators. People who come across a good piece of fan fiction will almost always want to go to the original. Fanfic writers are creating their own stories; they're just using copyrighted raw materials, rather than, say, folk tales. And it's a small step across that line between expanding on someone else's imaginings and beginning to trust totally in your own imagination.

Go on, Grasshopper. Make it so.


Marian Allen was born in Louisville, Kentucky and now lives in rural Indiana. For as long as she can remember, she has loved telling and being told stories. When, at the age of about six, she was informed that somebody got paid for writing all those books and movies and television shows, she abandoned her previous ambition (beachcomber), and became a writer.


  1. Marian, I won't tell you of all the various slash fan fic there is out there with various characters, but...well, Kirk/Spock really started the whole thing. :-)
    My ex used to write fan fic all the time -I certainly understood the lure of these amazing worlds already created (I had my own Three Musketeers 'fan fic' when I was a kid and wanted to be a swordfighter). I also urged him to write his own stuff because he had the talent to be one of those writers who create worlds other people then want to play in.

  2. Hello Marian:
    I enjoyed your article very much. In fact I am still smiling! A few days ago I asked my husband if he would like a story in which my favorite characters, Batman and Hercule Poirot, worked together! I did not know it was actually a genre. I guess I have written a lot of Fanfic stories in my head. Thanks for the article.

  3. Hello Dana:
    It is certainly nice to meet another “Three Musketeers” Fanfic writer in this virtual conference. In my versions, there were 5 of them, since I myself was one!

  4. Hi, Anahita! I still have, somewhere, my old Musketeer fanfic...
    My friend and I used to write little vignettes - I had such a crush on Rochefort (I always loved the villains) - and my character was the sister of Porthos, whose father ran one of the top swordfighting schools in France. :-) I learned how to swordfight several years after I wrote these. Lovely to meet you!

  5. I've gotten a lot of fun out of fanfic over the years--writing it and reading it. My high school friends and I used to pass notes that were actually serialized fanfic stories. I've since turned one of my fanfics into an original novel. I've also spotted at least one Regency Romance that obviously started out as a Spock fanfic. And where else are you going to find a story with Batman and Poirot together? Imagination is great!

  6. Sweet, Marian! Regency Romance out of Spock fanfic? That's brilliant! Now I have to read it.

  7. Hi Marian, I started out writing fanfic. In fact, the book that I just sold is an adaptation of a fanfic story that I wrote many years ago.

  8. Dana, I think it was The Elopement. The author is Phyllis Ann Karr. http://www.librarything.com/work/2316653 I knew her before she was published, but we've completely lost touch. She's an excellent writer, extremely clever and wonderfully kind.

    Carol, YES YES YES, fanfic is not only great fun, but it's one way to write a rough draft. If you're just playing around, you don't have to pay attention to any pesky old inner editor, right? Then you can go back through and make changes so the world and the characters are your own. My book FORCE OF HABIT (now looking for another publisher) started out as a Star Trek short story. VERY different now.

  9. There's a lot of Hermione/Ginny and Hermione/Luna slash fanfic out there, as well. I've yet to have the bravery to read the Kirk/Spock stuff, but the idea of it makes me laugh! ;)

  10. Hi Dana:
    How I would love to read the adventures of Porthos’ sister...
    Take care,

  11. Hello,
    I have a question regarding Fanfiction and self-publishing. My wife is part of a group of those insane Tri-Moms, and they have written several fan-fiction stories. I would like to surpise them with taking those stories and turning a few of them into 'real' bound books. I am not sure if it is legal to self publish fan fiction however . Can anyone shed light on this for me ?