Fanning the flames of Fan Fiction

I’ve never really understood fan fiction.

I’ve known a couple of people who were really into it and who had written vast stories by building on a fictional world that they loved.  If I understand them correctly, a large part of the appeal is to keep a story alive after the author has finished it, to be able to stay a bit longer in that world which they enjoyed so much.Woman_Reading

I understand the desire; believe me, I do.  I’m the escapist type of reader – I want to be taken away from my day-to-day live to a place where the people are different and the rules are different, and life is just… different.  I have felt the deep sense of loss when a story, or a book, or worst of all a series finishes, and I’m dropped rudely back into my own world.  I have felt the anguish when a character I loved dies and I’m sitting there with only a stack of pages to console me.

I understand the desire for the world or the character to continue so that I could spend a little bit longer with them.  But what I can’t get on board with is the solution that fan fiction represents.  Quite the opposite – I find it rather disturbing, particularly the idea of using the same main characters; I can’t shake the macabre image of taking the original characters, scooping out their insides, and tying strings to their hollowed out corpses to use them as puppets.  Sure, they may appear to move around, but the mind that originally animated them is gone.

IndianPuppetsThe same discomfort, to a lesser extent, also follows to the idea of writing in someone else’s world.  Even suppose you have a new main character, and the originals are only sidelines or cameos, I get the uneasy feeling like you couldn’t quite trust them.  After all, you’re an impostor in their world, who knows what they’re really thinking?  Or you end up in a sort of creepy stalker role; you’ve been watching the most intimate details of their lives, and you feel as though you consider them friends, but from their point of view you’ve just pushed in and started acting all chummy even though they’ve never met you before.

Most likely, this is all a symptom of my extreme willingness to suspend disbelief and sink deeply into a fictional world.  It’s just too real for me to imagine that it’s nothing more than a story.


© Gloria Hanlon 2016 All Rights Reserved

Photos from Wikimedia Commons – Chinese Fan, Woman Reading and Indian Puppets


13 thoughts on “Fanning the flames of Fan Fiction

  1. This post resonated with me because my wife and I were talking about this just a couple days ago. She is a lover of the Harry Potter series, so I snagged her a copy of the 8th book when it released. She was horrified to realize it was fan fiction, and the book was in a different format (a play script basically).

    While she said she enjoyed the book, she couldn’t shake the feeling of whether or not the spirit of the author was there. Like you said, “I can’t shake the macabre image of taking the original characters, scooping out their insides, and tying strings to their hollowed out corpses to use them as puppets.” I think she had this feeling as well.

    I also think people share this sentiment. I did a Google search (consulting the oracle) and typed in, “Did JK -” and the rest auto-filled for me. The top auto-fill result for those two words was, “Did JK Rowling write the 8th book.” The fact so many people have typed that question into Google tells us something – fan fiction can be a dangerous thing.

    Thanks for sharing this great post and getting my gears turning.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve written (but not shared) a certain amount of fan fiction, but if I changed the names, you’d never be able to recognize it for that. I think the idea that it’s *not* yours provides an element of security that lets you experiment in ways that you might be to inhibited to do with your own characters and your own world. After all, you’re just fooling around. Playing with someone else’s toys.
    And in my case, there was also an element of being fascinated by a theme, but not being really able to articulate what it was that I liked about that author and his world. As soon as I figured out the why, the fascination broke, and I had what I needed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Playing with someone else’s toys”…. I love that analogy, but does that have to be a bad thing? The way it can limit and constrict you can also force you to grow as an author. Writing in someone else’s world, around existing literature, has made me have to stretch and think of plausible solutions to plots and such that didn’t contradict. If I could’ve just done X,Y or Z it would have been easier, but I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I don’t mean to imply at all that it’s a bad thing – just that it’s something which personally doesn’t resonate. Clearly there are plenty of people who find it very meaningful and engaging.
        That’s a great point you make about working with limits, it’s an ongoing theme in my own inner musings, I may need to write a proper post on that in the near future.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It has definitely been a difficult learning curve, working within those limits. And I think mine is different than FanFic style because it only brought over a few minor characters and then went forward. The main characters are still with the main author AND he is involved in my project which keeps ‘the soul’ of the work there.


    • Thanks for the clarification. I still don’t really ‘get it’, but I always find that points of view that I don’t understand interest me; I want to poke at them like a loose tooth to see if I can figure out what’s going on there 🙂


  3. Dang, then I’m in trouble because my contract for my novels is specifically TO write in another authors universe! Different characters, more of a what happens when they turn the lights off on Set A and move on to Set B, but still. I guess I’ll apologize in advance and hope we can still be friends? As for Fan Fiction, I think the eBook Revolution and self publishing largely killed that anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If it works for you then brilliant! The more creativity out in the world the better, for so many reasons.
      But I’m curious to know now… if you’re contracted to work in someone else’s universe, what kind of parameters do they give you? Is it a question of ‘don’t break the rules and you can play in this corner over here’, or more like ‘we want this particular set of characters to do more or less this set of things in this place, and we want you to bring it to life’?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can do pretty much what I want plot wise, as long as I don’t violate cannon and the physical laws of his world. I can’t have what Tim C. Taylor calls “message fiction” and preach at the audience. I can’t have gratuitous sex, violence or foul language. That was about it. Oh, and he gave me a rough outline of the plots of his books going forward. I can’t contradict those AND no spoilers. Plus, the standard confidentiality stuff to protect the intellectual property. Luckily, Tim is working on a series of novels AFTER his main series ends and he’s agreed not to give me any spoilers so I can still enjoy his work as a fan! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Uh… you might wanna have a look at the AO3- I assure you, fanfiction is alive and well. Possibly better than it ever was, because I think the AO3 is probably the most comprehensive, dedicated fanfiction archive on the net. (archiveofourown dot org, if anyone wants to visit).

      Why do I write fanfiction? I’m not sure. It’s something I’ve always done. I think the first thing I ever wrote when I was six years old was technically fanfiction. I read something, I watch something- and it just sets off all these ideas: what if this happened instead? That? What if I follow this consequence through? Yeah, I think, for me it’s all about the “what if”: What if Stargate Atlantis had followed through on its premise of the guys stranded in a foreign, hostile galaxy… what would that look like? What kind of story would that be?
      What if Tony and Loki in the MCU teamed up? What if Harry took charge of his own destiny after fifth year, what if Voldemort won, what if… The possiblities are endless! The characters… well, no, they’re not the characters that the author wrote- otherwise there wouldn’t be anything for me to write about, no? But the art of fanfiction is to take your own interpretation, your own wild, random “what if this cool thing happened”… and make it plausible. Find the bits in the original that support it. Take that one little, throwaway line a character says in Episode xyz that’s never mentioned again, that never impacts anything, and pull on it. It’s… it’s just so much fun!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Great points, and is the AO3 forum archived old stuff or do people still write new stuff? I’d assumed all the current writers would write in such a way as to monetize and self publish? If I am wrong, I stand corrected!! 🙂


      • Oh, they write! There must be hundreds and hundreds of new stories or chapters that are uploaded every day.
        I’d wager a guess that only a fraction of fanfiction authors has any desire to make a career out of writing. Just as there are scores of people who draw, fanart or original, but only some have any desire to make a living at it- even with the wonderful possiblities of self-publishing, it’s still work. You need to research platforms, get a cover, format things… And, as I’m experiencing right now, there is a difference in the skills required to write fanfiction, and to write original fiction. Fanfiction can teach you a lot about writing, but I personally find myself woefully unpractised at world-building from scratch, and getting proper, multi-layered characters is a bit of hard work, too.
        Fanfiction has been around at least as long as the novel itself- I daresay it’ll endure. Rather than being displaced by the possiblities of the internet, I think it’s received a boost parallel to original fiction.

        Liked by 1 person

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