Creative Writing: Fan Fiction Versus Original Stories

by JoHarrington

When you take someone else's characters and fictitious world, you are effectively plagiarizing. So why put in the effort on tales that can never be published?

I have written ten fan fiction novels. You will never see them on Amazon, because I don't own the copyright on the protagonists.

My novels each took weeks, if not months, to write. If I had poured that creativity into original stories instead, I could have been rich and famous by now. Instead, I have to consistently turn down reader requests to produce them in hard-copy.

So why do I and millions of other writers do it? Wizzley author Sam asked the question. This is my answer to all who wish to know.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Fan fiction is when a writer uses another (usually established) author's characters and universe, in which to create a story.

For the uninitiated, it must sound like a case of monkey see, monkey do. 

A successful author, film-maker or playwright creates a story which resonates. Then a gaggle of amateur writers reproduce it ad infinitum.

What's the point, when the original is still there? That has to be the best too, or else so many people wouldn't be trying to copy it. 

The perception is that the fandom contribution is purely imitation. If it was jewelry or electronics, it would be akin to a cheap, counterfeit replica.  Therefore, fan fiction can't be adding anything to the cultural sum of human endeavor.

But it can, and it does. Though admittedly not most of the time.

There are notable cases of fan fiction actually surpassing the canon. For example, literature would be a much duller place, if William Shakespeare hadn't fan-boyed his own version of Romeo and Juliet.

There are certainly moments when the fanon (the collection of work and ideas produced by fans, rather than the author) has greatly enriched the original fiction. For example, the ever popular Matt from Death Note never had red hair and green eyes in the original manga and anime. He does now.

Nevertheless, none of this adds up to anything that looks like compensation, for the many hours spent penning work that can never be published. In fact, it could all so easily cause trouble for the fan writer and distress for the author.

So why don't people like me write original fiction instead?  Let me explain from the point of view of someone who has done this since 2008.

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My Reasons for Becoming a Fan Fiction Writer

And no, I'm not going to link you to it. Different worlds, dude, different worlds.

In 2008, I read the Death Note manga.

It's fair to say that the story-line gripped my imagination. The dark dystopian world, wrought by Tsugumi Ohba and brilliantly brought to life in the artistry of Takeshi Obata, was fascinating.

As the action played out, philosophical questions were raised. It was the kind of tale where you're in a constant state of asking yourself, what would I have done here?

Then it was over.  My life, enriched with fervent reading, was suddenly a little bereft. There was only one thing to do.  I watched the official anime version of it too.

Then it was really over, and I didn't want it to be.  I kind of moped around for a few days, looking for another story which could match it.  I searched the internet to see if others were discussing it. I wanted to join their debates.

What I actually found was the world of fan fiction.  I hadn't really known it existed like this before. Amateur writers were adding stories, using the same characters and set in the same universe. This collection of fanon stories appeared limitless in volume. They sated my cravings for more Death Note.

Yet, as I read on, it became obvious that the majority of stories were not at the standard set by Ohba and Obata. There were one or two creative gems to be sure, but they were few and far between in a sea of mediocrity.

It didn't take long for me to wonder if I could do any better.  It turned out that I could.

My first fan fiction novel hardly set the literary world on fire, but it was fun.  It kept me off the streets for a couple of weeks, and it gave me my Death Note fix.  It was written for pure enjoyment and exploration of the genre. 

I should imagine that most fan fiction writers would recognize that as their initial motivation too.

Buy Death Note Manga and Anime DVDs

Please note that this story is highly addictive and may lead to extended periods of fan fiction writing.

Why Would Anyone Want to Write Fan Fiction?

I have been brain-storming all of the reasons ever presented to me, either by my own experience or through discussions with other people.

The field of fan fiction writing is vast.  It takes no prisoners, as it borrows ceaselessly from all on offer. 

We might as well ask why anyone would want to write a book full stop.  The myriad of answers would be held back solely by a point of clarification.  What book and where? In what genre and for what intended readership?

There is no one fan fiction genre; no single fandom; no cohesion even amongst members of the same fan communities.  It's not a label attached to a particular literary movement, but a description of a legal status.

These stories contain characters or environments for which the author does not hold the copyright.  The end of commonality.

But those who venture into this territory may share some rationale.  I have attempted to comprehensively catalog them here, though the list will never be exhaustive.

As good a place as any to start is that fan fiction is fun.

Standard Disclaimer T-Shirt

I'm a fan fiction writer. It's second nature to start any multi-chapter writing with a standard disclaimer.

Fan Fiction is Fun

Fan fiction is writing for writing's sake. There's no profit, no certificate, no qualification.

This is creativity without the pressure. You can wax lyrical without anyone expecting anything much.

It doesn't have to be good.  It's not marked.

In fact, there's so much bad fan fiction out there, that your story can easily be rendered outstanding in purely relative terms!

I've always said that I will stop writing fan fiction at the moment it stops being fun.  Otherwise, what is the point?

If fan fiction is condemned only for being a pleasurable pastime, then we also have to dismiss reading, sport and hobby crafts.

I Love Fan Fiction Fridge Magnet

Fan Fiction is an Unofficial Series of Sequels

I love stories. I've had my nose in a book since I first learned to read.

I ruined my eyesight as a child, trying to read in the glow of a night-light.  (My mother and I had differing views on when precisely it was time to go to sleep.)

I've worn out my library card; and I have a personal collection of literature that has overtaken my lounge.

Therefore indulge me in a moment of pathetic whinging on behalf of readers everywhere:

The story ends. 

There's even a finite number of volumes in a series. The author dies on you; and that's the finale of their fictitious universe too.

Sometimes it's worse than that.  Anne Rice found religion and denounced her whole back catalog of the Vampire Chronicles. There could have been more. There was the writer, with all of her faculties, but without the will.

Football fans don't have to put up with this. Their season finishes and they just chill out for a few weeks, until the next one begins. Wine connoisseurs get to the end of the bottle and order another one.

The answer for readers?  Fan fiction! There the story truly will never end. It might be tortured into submission, but there will always be more.

But what if the fandom has moved on?  What if no-one is updating anymore; or the extant fan stories are really bad?

This is when fanfic writers find their calling.

They couldn't write an original story exactly like the one that they've finished, because that would be plagiarism. But fan fiction provides a route back into that universe, revisiting the same cast and locations too.

The mourning is over; the void is filled. The story did not end.

The Story Never Ends T-Shirt and Button

Fan Fiction Improves the Original Story

No, really! Ok, not all fan fiction, but a significant proportion.

Just because an author has their book in print, it doesn't mean that their writing is perfect. They might have had a wonderful idea (which is why they have so many fans), but the execution failed in part.

If there is a plot-hole lurking, then you can be sure that the massed and focused attention of the fandom will find it. These are people who are analyzing, living and breathing that story, in a way that even the most dedicated editor can't match; and there are thousands of them at it, night and day.

Filling plot-holes has to be one of the main motivations for producing fan fiction.  Think of it as the creative writing equivalent of someone grouting your otherwise beautiful bathroom tiles.

I love doing this!  Death Note has plot-holes that you could drive a Sherpa tank through. I've really enjoyed the cerebral exercise of plugging some of them, in a way which blends seamlessly with  canon events. 

I know I'm not alone in that.

Buy Gifts for Plot-Hole Filling Fan Fiction Writers

Fan Fiction is Challenging for a Writer

At least it is, if you're not cheating by declaring an alternative universe. That's really original fiction by stealth.

Before 2008, I had written a lot of original fiction. The reason that you have never read it is because a) most of it is juvenile crap; and b) the vast majority was written before I had ever seen a computer.

There is a trilogy, which is bursting the seams of three, extra large, lever arch folders.  It is all hand-written. 

There are others in the faded ink prints of ancient type-writers and a word processor. The combined out-put fills a shelf on one of my bookcases.

I finally did sit here and transcribe some of them onto a computer.  It crashed and took with it my entire hard-drive.  I cried.  I've not taken the time to attempt that again. It's more interesting to write new stuff.

I'm telling you all this so you know that fan fiction isn't nearly all that I've done. I came to it very late and I already knew how to write creatively.

Fan fiction is much harder to write than original fiction. I know that isn't the received wisdom, but it's been my experience. 

You control every aspect of your originally conceived world. If you want the sky to be green with purple spots, then that is how it's always been.  No-one can contradict you.  None of the personalities in your pages can ever be out of character.  How you write them is how they are. As an author, you are the creation god of this universe. You are the final word.

Not so with fan fiction. 

First you have to read, understand and analyze the canon.  You have to know it inside out, enough to reproduce it.  That takes time and research.  You have to attempt to think like the actual author, so that the narrative can naturally progress. That takes empathy.

Secondly, you have to match the tone and atmosphere of the original work. Each character has to share the same traits and speak with the same diction. You have an army of rabid fans ready to highlight any errors. That requires courage and confidence.

Thirdly, you have to restrain any flights of fantasy - the hardest thing of all for a fiction writer!  You have to pen a story which fits within the canon boundaries. Another writer has fixed the rules in stone. You cannot contradict the original story, as that is the holy text in this fandom. It is immutable.

This holds just as true, if not more so, for the characterization.  'Out of character' is one of the most common charges against a fan fiction writer's work.  If you include something even slightly unlikely, then you'd better be able to quote canon chapter and verse in support of it.

Plot progression often requires introducing new characters entirely; and that is notoriously difficult to get past your readers.  But I've already covered that in other Wizzley articles.

Original characters can make or break fan fiction. Discover tips and tricks for writing people who complement the canon.
The canon personae are already established. Your original characters need your help. Your imagination breathes life into both.

The restrictive nature of fan fiction is what makes it so much harder. Looking things up, or worrying about whether such and such would actually do that, really interrupts the narrative flow.

Then you get into the politics.  Fan fiction readers are accessible and, for the most part, easy-going.  Anything goes, with no holds barred, as long as your story recognizably slots into the fictional universe.

But stray too far from canon and the best that you can hope for is your readership drifts away too.  You're cheating them. You're now writing original fiction and merely slapping familiar names onto your characters. You don't deserve the attention of that particular fandom.

It could just as easily turn nasty.  You have let yourself become prey to trolls; as well as disgruntled and demanding fanatics.  Now words like 'Mary-Sue' and 'OOC' get hurled; your writing technique is torn to shreds (and your self-esteem with it); your research is called into question; and, in a worst case scenario, parodies of your work start to appear on the internet.

That is a lot to take on board, but it's the reason that I've stayed with fan fiction for as long as I have.  It's a challenge. It takes strategy and ingenuity to successfully pull it off; and, for that reason, it's far more interesting to me than merely creating my own worlds.

Fan Fiction Friday: Bella Gets Drunk

This artist and commentator parodies bad fan fiction on YouTube. This author patently failed the writing challenge.

Kindle Books About Writing Fan Fiction

Buy these guides to discover how to avoid many of the pitfalls encountered in writing for fandoms.

Fan Fiction is a Fledgling Author's Training Ground

It's fun, everyone's doing it and it's pandering to an existing obsession. The skills learned here, almost by accident, will be with the fanfic author for life.

So many budding authors start with fan fiction.  The majority had never contemplated writing stories beforehand.

The entry point is extremely easy, especially on the internet. There are multiple channels for publishing fan-made stories on-line. 

Wherever the fandom meets, in forums, on art sites, or in bespoke fan fiction websites, it's as simple as clicking a couple of buttons and pasting words into a box.

Communities build up around them, so there's plenty of peer encouragement too.  If everyone else is doing it, then you might as well give it a shot. 

Announcing that this is your first ever story will have proud club members clucking around you, like a mother with baby's first painting. And if you do attract a troll, then the rest of the community will take them down.  But only for the first story, or until your noob status wears off.

Writing for the fandom allows ample opportunity for sampling and experimenting with different literary genres.

There's only so far you can go with the original story before a sense of sameness builds up.  Therefore one way to stand out is to keep the plot and characters, but rewrite it within a different tradition of story-telling, or in the style of *insert famous author*.

The community may help here. Fans and fandom clubs are always holding competitions - write an Easter story; or make it sound like a Disney film!  (Always interesting, when your base material comes from one of the darkest manga stories ever written.)

Fan fiction has an unfair reputation for being too easy. The characters and universe are handed to you by the original author.  Therefore, observers conclude, the rest must be 'color by numbers' for writers. 

As I've already outlined above, the reality is that it's harder.  But those dipping their toe into the writing pool for the first time don't know this.  They've heard the hype; and they have no experience of going it alone.

I should clarify that fan fiction can be extremely easy, but only if corners are cut.  If the fanfic author announces from the outset that this is all a bit of fun, experimenting with an alternative universe, then all bets are off.

It can also be a simple piece of formulaic story-telling, if the writer merely retells canon events in their own words. But their readers have been here before (with 90% of other fan fiction writers). It's not only been done to death (particularly the most popular scenes), but an original already exists, immutably better by default.

By taking the easy route, these writers won't build a substantial readership.  The curious will come, then drift away. 

Nevertheless, it is writing. It's doing so in the deep end, where the sharks are lurking behind the pretty shoals. Those who make it in fan fiction will eventually turn to original writing. They will find it much easier. 

They will also now have experience in word-crafting and a vast archive of reader feedback. This author knows what is a crowd-pleaser; and what is universally disdained. This is invaluable knowledge, which can then be transferred to other, potentially lucrative, avenues of writing.

Fan Fiction versus Original Fiction: Which is the hardest to write?

You know my views on the subject, but I'm aware that the majority perception is very different. I could be wrong.


Fan Fiction Can Be Profitable

It is wrong to dismiss all fan fiction as inherently unable to be monetized. People have made legitimate livelihoods here without breaching copyright laws.

The most stark reminder of that was when Fifty Shades of Grey overtook Harry Potter to become the fastest selling paperback of all time. It started life as Twilight fan fiction.

E.L. James simply changed the names of her characters, made a few more tweaks and voila! Original fiction that she could sell.

Nor is she the first.

Susan Matthews is the author of a popular science fiction series collectively known as The Jurisdiction Universe.  But before a few protagonists had a name-change, her stories were better known in Star Trek fanzines as Ragnorak.

Jean Lorrah, Peter David and Howard Weinstein were also Star Trek fan fiction writers. Their work was noticed by producers of the official franchise.  They each moved onto penning official series tie-in novels instead.

Let's not forget Susan M. Garrett, Paul Cornell and Melissa Good, who switched from fanon to canon for Forever Knight, Dr Who and Xena Warrior Princess respectively.

There doesn't always have to be name or status changes for fan writing to turn a quick buck. Many sites include a mechanism whereby users can sell bespoke fan fiction or art to other fans.

Books That Started Life as Fan Fiction

How To Turn Your Fan Fiction Into a Novel

This short, easy to follow book outlines all the steps you need to turn your fan fiction into original fiction for publication. It will help you get organized with your world-bu...

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Fandom At The Crossroads: Celebration, Shame and Fan/Producer Relationships

Fandom At The Crossroads: Celebration, Shame and Fan/Producer Relationships is an in-depth exploration of the reciprocal relationship between a groundbreaking cult television sh...

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The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context

Fandoms as diverse as Jane Austen, Blake's 7, and The Bill are explored in this guide to the cultural phenomenon of fan fiction. Examining how anonymous authors bring their own ...

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Fan Fiction has Readers

Not all profit is as tangible as hard cash. For most fan fiction writers, the reward in feedback is priceless.

There are two sides to every story: the writing and the reading. Those doing the latter are extremely important, and they are in the fandoms in droves.

Of course, original fiction has a readership too.  Fan communities only exist because aficionados gathered around somebody's work. But that is only the stories that broke through.

Original fiction may take time to get noticed, especially for untried authors hawking their very first story.  Some don't get read at all, which dents the writer's confidence, and doesn't provide the constructive criticism necessary to grow.

Many literary marvels get lost in this way.

Fan fiction writers never have that trouble. Even the most insipid, banal, uninspired rubbish can attract an instant crowd of readers. It's built into the genre. They might leave again as soon as they realize it's bad, but they did come.

Good writers can attract their own fan-base over time, as their authority and portfolio of stories develop.

Their learning curve speeds ahead in great bursts; and if they do make the leap into professionalism, their readers may venture out of the fandom too.

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Would you like refreshments with your daily intake of fan writing? Buy these mugs from which to sip the beverage of your choice, while you enjoy the story.

Fan Fiction Forges Great Friendships

With such a vibrant community of people, it's only natural that some attachments are formed. You are chatting with like-minded individuals!

You can't see her, but she's always been here. Her influence is felt throughout my Wizzley writing.

Sareyva is one of my closest friends. She has rigorously proof-read and fact checked every article that I've written, here and elsewhere.  She will be reading this now and if there were any typos at the point of publishing, they will be gone soon.

I can't thank her enough for her generous gift of time and unrelenting moral support. She's walked with me every step of the way, encouraging my freelance writing adventure from the beginning.

That wonderful woman will merely tell me that I'm welcome.

Her assumed role isn't entirely random.  She's also a beta reader for my fan fiction.  It didn't occur to me for one moment that she would follow my writing outside our community. But that's what she could do to help me kick-start my career. It's what friends do.

Nor is she the only enduring friendship in my life, which had its genesis on a fan fiction forum.

It's a very fertile ground for conversations. We all have something in common after all, as we're enamored with the same story.  Discussions form around it to break the ice. 

Given long enough, even the most ardent fans will eventually branch off into other topics, then the way is clear for the relationship to evolve.  Nor do I subscribe to the belief that friendships made on-line are somehow not the equal of those forged in physical proximity.

That's just silly talk made by people with narrow views of what constitutes society.

Fan Fiction is Sociable

In comparing the relative merits of original versus fan fiction, we may be asking the wrong questions.

Focusing upon the mastery of wordsmiths, or the potential profit in the enterprise, could well be missing the point of fandom writing.

in these communities, it's just as likely to be a sociable experience, akin to nipping out to the pub or joining a real world clubhouse.

Stories could be penned because the facility is there to do so.  Their authors could merely be filling the gap, between answering all of the forum posts and their friends logging onto the chat channel.

Little more is intended, but another excuse to wallow in their favorite topic. If anyone actually reads it, then hurrah! But more fun can be extracted from the conversations taking place in the comments.

Not every fan fiction author is serious about writing.  It's all about the community and a tribal sense of belonging.

Those creating original stories are excluded from this aspect at the outset. These writers might join support circles, but they aren't clustered around the same story.

The primary impetus is almost certainly not the community itself.

If you are there for the conversation and social pursuits, fan fiction is the way forward. Discussions go on for hours, because all involved share the same passion for the subject matter.

Books About Fan Communities

Fan Fiction is an Opportunity to Find Love

No, I'm not talking about the storylines here. This is reality; and it's more common than you may think.

The squee-ing was for real this time. 

The blog entry had just confirmed what many of us had suspected for weeks.  Two members of our fan community were publicly admitting that they had been dating for some time.

That wasn't the shock announcement (we would have been more surprised if it turned out that they were just friends).

Having traveled miles to meet in person, he had promptly proposed.  She had said yes.

They were getting married!

With time and patience, it would have been possible to trace their whole romance in our club archives. At least the public side of it.  It had begun with a comment complimenting the author's fan fiction story; and a thank you.  Then conversation; more conversation; each one always turning up where the other was chatting. 

None of this was actually unusual.  Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three couples, who met their life partner in the same manner.

It's not that bizarre, when you break it down into its components.  The fandom equates shared interests.  The community nature provides opportunities to talk.  The fan fiction comments focus attention on individuals.  You can't lurk there, not responding, as you can in group discussions on the club forum.

Fan fiction is often used as a form of self-expression and/or its evil twin, self-insertion,  or as a vehicle for cathartic venting. It's all fodder for getting to know somebody a bit better; and for subsequently falling in love.

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Fan Fiction is Escapism

I never meant to write ten fan fiction novels.  The first was fun, the second a challenge, but the real explosion came after I was made redundant.

I'd spend all day in the soul-destroying activity of job hunting in a recession. Then I would write stories in the evening.

This was a much more exciting world! Things happened!  Great dramas played out! Achievements were not only made, but they counted.

It was a very stark contrast to reality; and its contribution to maintaining my sanity cannot be underestimated.

That would have been true of any creative writing; but fan fiction can do better than the rest.

Because there's no editor, publisher nor paying audience, there are no constraints on plot-line. Anything can, and frequently does, happen.

If you can imagine it, it will be in a fan fiction somewhere. More often than not, my imagination can be completely pre-empted.  Not even in my wildest moments has my mind ever reached such surreal heights.

This is the Wild West of literature; and not in the cowboy sense. Once all rules and conventions are suspended, no-one even has to aim in the vicinity of realism.

A colorful and highly entertaining chaos is the glorious result.

Fanfic Trumps Real Life T-Shirt

I Read Fanfiction T-Shirt

Fan Fiction is Cathartic

I've certainly had my moments of cathartic writing in fan fiction.  Though I haven't explored this to its full potential.

I tend to vent emotions in my narrative.  My anger gets dissipated in the fury of a character. My disappointments are transferred onto a protagonist's situation. My upset spills out in the tears of the antagonist.

But writers do that anyway. You can't create realistic personae without plumbing the depths of your own emotion.

Where fan fiction comes into its own is in transplanting real life scenarios into a fictitious world. They are much better controlled there.

Fan Fiction Notebook

We have surely all had instances of identifying with someone, or some scene, in a book or film. Fan fiction writers don't have to leave that to chance.  They can insert their own.

I've read many stories where the author's real life circumstances are replayed in their narrative. It might be with a happier ending, or it may represent an exploration into the possible outcomes of a real life dilemma.

Fan fiction allows for distancing. If it's happening to someone else, then it's easier to bear; even if that someone else is fictitious.

I haven't taken full advantage of this useful psychological tool, because I'm more interested in writing about polar opposite points of view.  You're more likely to find traits in my characters that are in direct discordance with my own. We would not ever make the same decisions.

For example, I'm notably an anti-death penalty activist.  One of my main characters is someone quite likely to execute villains without even bothering with a trial.

I do count this as cathartic. Otherwise I'd be burning up with frustration, at people who think differently to me (and are therefore obviously wrong).  Being forced to get inside their minds helps me understand better their real world counterparts.

This cathartic aspect is what spawned the dreaded Mary-Sue phenomenon.
Fear of writing a Mary-Sue (or Gary-Stu) might put people off becoming authors. It's the stop word which destroys a story all too easily.

Fan Fiction is Useful

I've already mentioned above how I find a use in writing fan fiction. Others utilize it much more directly.

I was once on a forum, where a teenager wrote a story involving a lesbian pairing. 

Homosexual encounters are not unusual in fan fiction writing (it's a common device for avoiding Mary-Sue accusations), but lesbian ones are rare.

A couple of weeks later, the same teenager posted a journal on the same site. She was publicly coming out to us. 

She had been unsure of her reception as an out and proud lesbian. She had used her fan fiction to test the waters. We passed.

Fan Fiction Writers Make Better Lovers T-Shirt

Sex and Fan Fiction

Fan Fiction is Titillating

If we're honest, a lot of fan fiction can read like soft pornography (and some is downright hard-core).

The genre has gained a reputation for it too, but only amongst those interested enough to investigate. This doesn't tend to include your family, work colleagues or school friends.  All they hear is 'blah, blah, fandom', then tune out the rest.

Even those surprising someone in the act of reading it may be none the wiser. It's a wall of text. There might even be praise, especially for younger people, because they're reading instead of wasting their lives gaming.

More mature readers aren't immune to the sexier elements, but we've been there, got the t-shirt and had the pregnancy scares.

Adolescents, teenagers and the more sheltered amongst the adults are getting a real education. Certain words are being looked up, when Mum's back is turned. Certain knowledge is being imparted.

I've seen it happen countless times. As a friendly known adult, I've also done the remote parenting, when curious tweens become freaked out by some of the extreme details. You're very welcome.

And this can get very extreme indeed. Most of these authors are hiding behind pseudonyms. They can unleash their wildest fantasies without any regard to realism.

Inhibitions get shed daily, as authors compete to create the hottest scenes on the site; and pubescent writers explore their burgeoning sexuality. All often at the expediency of any discernible plot-line.

This occurs in comparative safety from those checking their internet history.  After all, they're not looking at porn sites, are they?  Plus the conversations are practically encoded, as they are liberally splattered with fandom slang words.

Those impatiently waiting for the lemon are not suffering from vitamin C deficiency. Just trust me on that one.

Some Fan Fiction Writing Platforms

With special reference to their mature content policies.
The biggest on-line repository of fan fiction on the internet. The administration banned mature content years ago. They only recently actually pursued that policy though. There is currently a stampede of users going elsewhere, so they can retain their fix of raunchier scenes.
No relation to its close namesake, though it was created by former members. This is where the really hard stuff can be found. The site is very strict about age appropriateness. Users are required to disclose their birth-dates, then entry is adjusted to the legal age of maturity in the country of their IP address. It's naturally filled with youngsters lying about their age, but if discovered they are summarily kicked off.

One of the largest on-line art communities. The settings allow for mature content to be hidden, which is the default for new users. The site's rules expressly forbid pornography, but do accept artistic nudity and risque writing with literary merit. A common criticism is that there are hordes of administrators, each with highly subjective opinions on what is acceptable. It's noticeable that naked women usually pass muster as 'artistic', while naked men and homosexuals generally do not.

Tumblr hosts a wide variety of creative output. Those under 13 years of age may not use it. All mature content must be labelled NSFW (Not Safe for Work).

Archive of our Own
This is a new repository for all kinds of fan-made work. It's currently in beta mode, so expect bugs. The terms of use are still under consideration, but it looks to be 18 years across the board. Mature content will therefore be permissible, but will be tagged. Potential readers are pre-warned.

Adolescents and On-line Fan Fiction

Fan Fiction is Educational

I won't pretend that original fiction can't be educational, because it most certainly can be.

The two genres are indivisible here. It all hinges on the author and how knowledgeable they are. Plus how much they wish to impart, and to what extent it's actually relevant to the story.

This isn't meant to be a class-room. Education isn't a priority.

But fan fiction writing does not happen in isolation. It is generally inspired, conceived, crafted and published, all within the wider context of the fan community. Plot bunnies are shared; writing devices discussed and demonstrated by example; characterizations honed in situ.

The exchange of information and ideas happens much more readily in this environment, even if most of it is about the source canon.

Don't dismiss that out of hand. Taken in the long term especially, the forums can look like a mini University.

Every fandom is different, so generalizations are problematic. But you can be sure of one commonality throughout them all.  They are filled with people obsessed with a single focal point.

If the circumstances are right, then that can be a distinct educational advantage.

For the full potential to be met, I would like to see the following factors fall into place:

  • The subject is popular on a global scale;
  • It has staying power, so will continue attracting new fans over a course of several years;
  • But doesn't remain so big that there are multiple fan communities dedicated to it;
  • It has interest for all ages, and nothing inherently excludes any group in society.

When these things come together, then the related fan forums are optimized for educational purposes.

An international reach means that the community is multi-cultural (with the usual limitations regarding the digitalized world).  Inclusiveness safeguards the potential for anyone to take an interest in the material, as there is no implied target audience.

A mix of ages stops the conversation getting stuck in a rut.  (In my experience, the adults try to appear hip and trendy for the kids; and the younger people reach for maturity, so no-one can dismiss their opinions out of hand.  The upshot is that everyone apes being 20-something, with varying degrees of success.)

Prolonged, steady popularity keeps the fandom fresh, but largely congregated in the same place. If it gets too big, then the community splinters along like-for-like groups.  Then all that is reflected back are peer-determined mirrors. Everyone gets bored. The drama begins; and the little club falls apart under the tension.

So a good mix of people, in a medium sized community, that periodically attracts new blood.  That is perfect. The presence of difference keeps everyone polite and wanting to impress; and everyone brings their experience to bear upon the focal point.

There are seemingly endless angles to take, when such a group is over-analyzing the same thing.

I've had art students teaching me about the techniques used by Obata to draw Death Note characters; with supplementary information from a Japanese woman about what that could mean in a cultural context.  When a related tangent called for an historical viewpoint, I was there to provide it.

An illuminating thread compared all of the various translations of the manga around the world. There were at least five nations represented, reading the story in different languages. We found subtle differences in the tones, which suggested subtly different characterizations.

This paved the way for a linguistics lecture on the deliberate use of certain words to create a mood. Then a debate about the pros and cons of literal translation, as opposed to capturing the spirit of a scene, in a way which would communicate culturally with the intended readership.

On and on these kind of conversations progress, weaving through so much learning and pooling of expertise. Then the threads lie dormant for a while, as we exhaust all that we can add. Until a new person picks it up months later, adding a fresh perspective, which leads us off again.

None of this is ever boring, because it doesn't feel like a classroom. It's fueling a fix, in terms common to the whole forum, because it's about the object of our fandom. It's what we're all there to discuss anyway.

Fan Fiction Can Save the World

What I, and others, have certainly done is raise awareness of real world issues in our fan fiction.

I once framed my protagonists as child soldiers.  The author's note included a link to a campaign against the forcible conscription of children in the military.  I saw a few familiar names crop up on that site's petition!

People, who may otherwise be utterly apathetic about politics and the way of the world, will pay attention if their favorite characters are involved.

You could call it sneaky. I call it talking to them in their own language.

I Read About That in Fan Fiction T-Shirt

Original fiction can obviously do this too.  The novels of Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe spring immediately to mind, as two authors who used their stories to garner public opinion around their cause.

But original fiction is slow to gain an audience.  If it's being published in book form, then it might be months before it even reaches the stores. 

Fan fiction notoriously (and helpfully) comes with a wide-reaching, ready-made readership. With no middle men nor retailers, the story can be published instantly on-line. It will then attract a large volume of people, simply because of the named characters.

The emotional content, if well written, can be an instant spur to action. In this way, activists are formed.  I've personally seen (and initiated) it happening many times.

And you thought fan fiction was all about vacuous illiterates projecting adolescent fantasies onto fictional characters! Bless.

What is your MAIN reason for writing fan fiction?

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What is your MAIN reason for reading fan fiction?

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Articles about Fan Fiction

The canon personae are already established. Your original characters need your help. Your imagination breathes life into both.
Fear of writing a Mary-Sue (or Gary-Stu) might put people off becoming authors. It's the stop word which destroys a story all too easily.
Original characters can make or break fan fiction. Discover tips and tricks for writing people who complement the canon.
Every historical and current scrap of fan fiction has disappeared from the world. Should we be cheering?
Updated: 07/11/2014, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


JoHarrington on 09/09/2012

That is so much easier, I agree! But it's the restrictive nature which has me fascinated with fan fiction, because it's a challenge. Writing stories just as they download is certainly the way forward, if you want to publish though. :)

TessaSchlesinger on 09/08/2012

I guess I would never write fan fiction because I would feel limited. I like the way stories form in my head and I just write them as they download. ;)

JoHarrington on 09/02/2012

It's a fascinating world to be in; at least it's kept me absorbed for the best part of half a decade! Enjoy your sojourn!

moonkitten on 08/31/2012

I'm just now getting into the world of fanfiction...and I love it!

JoHarrington on 08/28/2012

I'm looking forward to the lot of stuff to say! <3 Thanks for the links. I'll get them added to the list.

Update: Both are now added. Thanks!

Miyamashi on 08/28/2012

I have lots of stuff to say, but for now I'll point you in the direction of both and, which are both huge outlets for fanfiction in other fandoms. AO3 is still in beta, yet is nonetheless the main site for fanfiction in certain fandoms. :D

JoHarrington on 08/27/2012

Ok, yes, i can see the links between Rebecca and Jane Eyre. That could work.

*evil grin* Welcome to the dark side. We have cookies.

2uesday on 08/27/2012

I would like to write a story based on her, even though it is years since I read the book. Sometimes you can see parallels in two books even though they are not fan fiction. I always thought Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier reminded me of parts of Jayne Eyre.
The writing fan fiction idea certainly sounds like a challenge when it comes to getting it right. It is weaving words and descriptions that has always fascinated me. Now Jo - what might you have started here!

JoHarrington on 08/27/2012

Can you see now why it fascinates me so much? I can write original fiction. I remember making a 'book' and taking it into the playground, when I was 7 or 8. I'm 40 on Thursday, so you can see how long I've been at it.

But fan fiction is something different. It has so many elements to have to juggle. I absolutely love writing it for the sheer mental exercise!

You should try it with your character. See how you get on.

2uesday on 08/27/2012

I have never really understood the concept of fan-fiction before. After seeing this I can tell that to get it right takes skill and courage. I can think of a character that I would have liked to 'pick out' from the first page of a novel and write a story around. However, the thought of having the ability to keep a character on track so as not to upset fans and readers of the original is awesome.

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