~Carrie Bebris, author of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries
I myself used to write Star Wars fan fiction when I was tween. I think writing fan fiction is a good way for new writers to learn to tell a story.
~ Meg Cabot
Art isn't your pet - it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.
Fanfiction is defined as With the continuing success of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey, the trilogy which had its beginning in online fanfic, it seems like fanfiction (or fanfic) has never been more in the news, but is it really a new thing?
In England The Romance of the Rose was the paradigmatic example of the medieval form: one writer would begin the story and another would complete it. Even Shakespeare, did not own the stories in his plays. A patron would commission him to retell a story and he was paid in royalties. All stories within the medieval period were re-workings of stories about the same characters, but we could not call them fanfic as copyright law and the printing press had not yet sectioned off the professional, paid, copyright owner of original texts, from the rest of the populace, creating a subclass of fans. [Ewan Morrison, in The Guardian]
Other than Fifty Shades of Grey, fanfic that has achieved mainstream publication lately include the After series by Anna Todd, inspired by the boy band One Direction and originally published online on a fanfic site, and, if "fandom legend" is to be believed, Naomi Novik's first novel, Her Majesty’s Dragon (allegedly started as a Master and Commander fanfic). But several published authors you know and love have fanfic connections: Hugo Award winner Lois McMaster Bujold published an early Star Trek fanfic zine; YA author Cassandra Clare has written "thousands of pages" of fanfic about The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter; and Neil Gaiman has indulged in Chronicles of Narnia and H.P. Lovecraft fanfics. You can also check the library catalog for proto-fanfic - you'll find many examples of books "inspired by" authors such as William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, or "retellings" of popular myths, fairy tales, and other classics, which arguably could qualify. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys' reimagining of Jane Eyre from the point of view of Mr. Rochester's first wife, dates back to 1966. From the author's point of view, J.K. Rowling doesn't mind fanfic, Annie Proulx doesn't respect it, Jodi Picoult once tweeted "don't steal a fan base another author's worked hard for", and George R. R. Martin hates it.
Existing between fanfic and original works of literature are book series which have been continued by another author, and tie-in novels and novelizations of TV shows and films which often exist outside the world of the series. Again, you could argue that they are technically "fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator". [Wikipedia] For instance, there are actually very few James Bond novels by Ian Fleming - Raymond Benson and John Gardner continued the series. You can also find a new Hercule Poirot mystery that the Agatha Christie estate allowed Sophie Hannah to write; Sebastian Faulks recently published Jeeves and the Wedding Bells: An Homage to P.G. Wodehouse; Eric Van Lustbader has been continuing Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series for more than 10 years. Like fanfic, these books use existing characters to create new plots. Crucially, these works have been "officially sanctioned" by someone - the family of the original author [Christie] or the production company which owns the rights [Fleming], for instance. The average fanfic writer does not have the blessing of the author and has to worry about possible copyright violations, if an author objects to their writing.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976, a copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform and display their work. Any person who infringes upon the right of a copyright owner without their permission has violated someone else’s copyright. If a writer of fan fiction is sued for infringement the writer can make an argument of fair use. Under fair use, there is a four factor test that the courts apply: 1) the purpose and character of the use (commercial in nature or nonprofit educational purposes), 2) the nature of the copyrighted work, 3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work, and 4) the effect of the use on the potential market of the copyrighted work.*
It's perhaps inevitable that, in a world where we try to value creativity and the opinions of others and almost everyone can be nanofamous due to the democratization of information via social media, fanfic would become increasingly accessible and popular. Whatever it transforms to in future permutations, seems like it's here to stay.
Interested in learning about fanfic? Try reading the two non-fiction books in the catalog which reference it, or Rainbow Rowell's novel about a young fanfic writer:
Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison
Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future by Cory Doctorow [contains the essay "In Praise of Fanfic"]
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Or, you can find a plethora of fanfic online. There is fanfic for almost every taste! To name a few: Orange is the New Black; Sherlock; fashion fanfic on MTV Style; The X-Files; Edgar Allan Poe; Buffy the Vampire Slayer; The Devil Wears Prada; The Hulk; The Great Gatsby; Scandal; Doctor Who mashed with Blackadder; Doctor Who mashed with Downton Abbey; even Peter Rabbit. Some of the biggest purveyors of fanfic are:
Archive of Our Own
[Please note: content on fanfic sites varies in theme and maturity levels. FanFiction.net rates content M if it is for readers 18+.]
How do you feel about fanfic? Do you read fanfiction? Do you write fanfiction?
It's a Fan-Made World [Vulture]
The Lost History of Fifty Shades of Grey [GalleyCat]
What is Fanfiction? A Primer to Get You Up to Speed Reading and Writing in the Vast Community [Bustle - Please note, article contains some suggestive images]
'Shipping' and the Enduring Appeal of Rooting For Love [The Atlantic]
Pop Culture Happy Hour, Small Batch: The Rise of Fan Fiction [NPR]
Organization for Transformative Works
The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) is a nonprofit organization established by fans to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms. We believe that fanworks are transformative and that transformative works are legitimate. [from their website]
Professional Author Fanfic Policies [Fanlore]
Fan Fiction and Copyright Law [University of San Francisco School of Law]*
Copyright Laws and Fan Fiction [academia.edu]