A year ago, I wrote a post on Harry Potter fan fiction, http://wp.me/pYql4-14b. My information came from an article in Time on the occasion of the release of the final Potter movie. I had no idea how popular fan fiction had become, since my only prior experience was with its 20th century incarnation as cheaply printed fanzines on the magazine racks at Tower. I sometimes skimmed but never bought.
All of that has changed. The genre was featured last Friday in a Wall Street Journal article, “The Weird World of Fan Fiction.” No wonder the Journal took notice. E.L. james, author of the Fifty Shades of Gray erotic trilogy, which sold 15 million copies in three months, got her start writing fan fiction based on the Twilight Series (Edward as a powerful CEO and Bella as his sex slave).
The article mentions other well known writers whose first work was fan fiction. Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries began writing Star Wars stories when she was 11. Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire series, which has been optioned by Peter Jackson, continues to write fan fiction. For her it is play, and she has more than 400 stories online, set in the worlds of Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, and The Avengers.
In addition to fan fiction writers who have broken into the mainstream, some have gathered huge numbers of online readers at sites like fanfiction.net or wattpad.net. One story based on The Hunger Games has been read two million times.
Fan fiction isn’t new. Conan Doyle fans in the late 19th century wrote their own Sherlock Holmes stores as authors continue to do. The theme for an upcoming TV series with a female Watson appeared first on fanfiction.net. One can argue that both Homer and Shakespeare in his histories, created stories akin to fan fiction; they used pre-existing worlds, situations, and characters.
The Journal gives a sense of the wild playfulness of fan fiction authors. There is Pride and Prejudice in Space. We have Alice and the Mad Hatter battling zombies, and The Lord of the Whiskers, which populates Middle Earth with cats. Male-male romance appears to be common, with Kirk and Spock, and Harry and Draco among readers’ favorite couples. There are character cross-over stories too, like characters from the TV series, Glee, winding up in Middle Earth.
Published authors are mixed in their response. Some, like J.K Rowling and Stephanie Meyer welcome the spinoff stories. Others like George R.R. Martin and Anne Rice are dead set against fan fiction, and threaten lawsuits, though suits are seldom launched except when fans try to move borrowed worlds into mainstream publication. Orson Scott Card was initially opposed to fan fiction but has come to embrace it. This fall he will host a contest for Ender’s Game fan fiction. Fans can submit works to his website, and the winning stories will be published in a anthology. “Every piece of fan fiction is an add for my book,” Card said. “What kind of idiot would I be to want that to disappear?”
I understand the draw of fan fiction. My first real literary effort was a sequel to The Wind in the Willows that I wrote in the fifth grade because I didn’t want the story to end. In college I was seized with great, “What am I going to do now?” angst when I finished Lord of the Rings. One of the things I did was work with a group of independent filmmakers on a 20 minute epic entitled, Billy the Kid Meets the Wizard of Oz
The word, “amateur” comes from the Latin, amare, to love. With that in mind, I look forward to checking out some of the web sites where these amateurs post their work.
My 12 yr old daughter writes stories that while not consciously fan fiction, are certainly derivative of her favorite novels. I kind of discouraged it but now I think it’s a healthy step on the path to creating one’s own voice.
I wonder if it isn’t a necessary stage, that we naturally assume some of the elements of style of the works that move us? One nice feature of the visual arts is being able to see artists’ evolution, like Picasso mastering classical drawing technique before venturing off into new directions.
I didn’t even know there was such a category of fiction, and I certainly didn’t know any authors would approve of others “stealing” their franchises. But I can see a value for this. Orson Scott Card sure knows how to take advantage of what many would see as a problem. Thanks for the post.
Since the first I heard of fan fiction involved Harry Potter, and Rowling has always encouraged things that fire the passions of her readers, I’ve been able to see the positive aspects from the writer’s point of view. I’m sure that those who grew up with Potter will pass the series on to their own kids, and that would have happened even without the fan fiction and Pottermore web sites ,but I’m those extras help.
I think that fan-fiction is a great way for a writer to start learning their craft, but I don’t know how the published authors should think about fan-fiction. On Jim Hines’ website he’s done several posts where he’s talked about fan-fiction, citing one example of an author who was sued by a fan-fiction writer when the published author was writing a book very similar to the fan-fiction. (I can’t remember who the author was offhand, but it was in a serial series similar to Discworld or Xanth, where the different books are about different characters in the same world.)
I don’t care to read much fan-fiction, although I imagine it would be like reading through a slush-pile, some things would be very well written, but many would be very low in quality.
That’s a really bizarre lawsuit. The article I cited quoted a copyright lawyer talking about how difficult such suits are to win. In one case, the estate of Margaret Mitchell sued a writer for publishing a book called, The Wind Done Gone, a take on Gone With the Wind from a slave’s point of view. The estate won initially, but that judgment was overturned in appeals court.
I definitely know what you mean about slush pile stuff. There is so much to read and so little time that the sum effect of all the new media is probably to make me more selective than before.
Here’s the link to Jim Hines post talking about the danger of fan-fiction as a published author. http://www.jimchines.com/2010/05/mzb-vs-fanfiction/
Hines goes into a many of the potential problems from an author’s perspective. It’s quite interesting to read about.
My wife recently started reading,( Abe Lincoln Vampire Slayer), not the exact title name. I have to admit the idea did not interest me in the least. She says it is fun to read, and a lot of historical fact was used to prop up the plot. Perhaps I should read it, if for no other reason than to see what the attraction is, actually I am not sure this even fits into the “fan-fiction” genre.
Not exactly fan fiction, but at least on the surface, in the same spirit as some of the crossovers, like Darth Vader in Middle Earth. I’ve heard of this title, and isn’t a movie in the works?
Thank heaven I left the literature department after my first two years of college – if I’d become a professional, I’d be obliged to get appalled by such things. Now I can just go my merry way as a fascinated student of the weird.