The year was 1995, I was 17, and one of my favourite TV shows was The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I loved watching the martial arts fighting, but I was continually frustrated with the plot lines. “Too one dimensional!” I would fume, and eventually I decided to write my own power ranger story. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first foray into the world of fan fiction.
Fan fiction is a term used to describe stories about characters or settings, written by fans of an original work. This can be stories based on TV shows, movies, literature, even real people (usually celebrities). Fan fiction is not a new concept. There has been fanfic about Chaucer’s works, and the Bronte sisters wrote fanfic about their own version of a celebrity (the 1st Duke of Wellington) in the 1920s, fans of Arthur Conan Doyle formed Sherlock Holmes societies and published fanfic in their Baker St Journal.
Modern day fanfic started in the sci-fi population. In the 1960s, Star Trek fanfic was regularly published in fanzines and mailed to fans, or sold for a small fee at sci-fi conventions. Woman authors dominated the field. By 1973, 90% of Star Trek fanfiction was written by women. When the internet became widely spread, electronic mailing lists were started to discuss fandoms and to email and share fanfiction. Small websites popped up dedicated to certain areas of fanfiction.
The internet wasn’t at my house as a teenager, but when I hit university I discovered the online fanfic community. I uploaded my old story to a website dedicated to power ranger fanfic, and enjoyed receiving emails from readers, and interacting with them. I had a 13 year old in the US emailing me and sending me her stories to proof read. I chatted with another 20-something woman in the US, discussing each other’s stories.
In the late 90s, Fanfic.net and Live Journal were created, giving a large platform to fanfic writers, allowing self-publishing and feedback from readers. Nowadays I hang out on AO3, which stands for Archive of Our Own, a fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks, like fanfiction, fanart, fan videos, and podfic. They even have a peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles about transformative works, media studies and the fan community.
Opinions from the original creators are mixed. Some authors hate fanfic, and stay well away from it. Others find it flattering. Orlando Jones, an actor in the Sleepy Hollow TV series, loves it. He creates and shares fanworks of the show on his twitter and tumblr account (the guy is hilarious, you should definitely look him up).
For me, I love that the line has blurred between creator and consumer. Fans are not just passive consumers, and now with the reach of the internet, they are able to share their stories, films, comics and artworks on a worldwide scale. We can engage in critical analysis of our shows and books, and interact with our celebrities, actors and authors. If we don’t like the way a show has portrayed a character, we can write our own version of the stories. In some cases, I find fanfics so well written that I think they’re better than the actual show plotlines. Some fanfic authors actually go on to publish their own books, such as Cassandra Clare (no I’m not using 50 Shades of Grey as an example, terrible book).
Of course, there are loads of badly written fanfics, and they can be tiring to trawl through in search of a good story. But there are websites that review good fanfic, and tumblr accounts that direct you to authors of note. My current method is when I find an author I like on AO3, I then look up stories they have bookmarked to read, figuring that a good writer will want to read other good writers.
In the end, I love fanfiction because they are written by people who enjoy a book, movie or tv show so much, that they sit down and create something that will never earn them money, just for the love of it. There are millions of stories online created out of love, and I think that is beautiful.
Do you read fanfiction? What TV shows or books would you like to see stories written about?