Fan Fiction: Love or Hate?

Guilty pleasure? Genuine love? Trash heap you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, not when there are “real” books to be read? Or original works to be written?

Authors and readers alike have very strong, very mixed opinions with regards to fan fiction. There are those who hate it, no surprise there, but did you know that there are a number of famous writers who cut their teeth on it? Authors such as Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, Lev Grossman, Meg Cabot and Naomi Novik each got their starts writing fan fiction.

While on one hand that blows my mind, it also makes a lot of sense. I couldn’t tell you the reasons why these individual authors wrote fan fics, because I don’t know, but I can tell you why I like to read, and on one occasion, write them:

  • Tides me over between books or when I’m waiting for the next book in a series to publish. (Or the next season in a TV show.)
  • I’m not ready to say goodbye to the characters and reading fan fiction eases the pain of a loved book ending too soon.
  • I need an alternative to quell dissatisfaction. Not everything goes the way I hope they will for the characters or the story. Maybe I disagree with the ending. Or character decisions or behaviors.
  • Takes the edge off a sad or unhappy ending. It’s cathartic. Come at me.
  • It’s fun to explore the what-ifs. My favorites are always alternative versions of the characters, their motivations, and their choices. Setting the story in a different place and time period is cool, too.
  • Writing and publishing fan fiction online helped me get used to strangers reading and commenting on my work, but with the benefit of being anonymous. I’d previously only ever had family and friends read my writing. While I don’t think they would lie to me about the quality of my work, it’s not as risky as putting it in front of people who have no reason to pull their punches. But thankfully, in my limited fan fic writing experience, everyone who commented on my piece was really positive and supportive. No trolls. *Whew*
  • To build off the previous point, it’s good practice for interacting with readers. And getting used to answering questions and defending writing decisions. It’s also free feedback.
  • When readers compliment, it’s a fantastic confidence boost. And great motivation to keep working on original fiction.
  • It’s just fun. 

Reasons why fan fic gets a bad rap and falls into the hate category for a lot of folks:

  • The writing quality of some is appalling. Bad grammar. Misspellings. Immature character interactions and behavior. Like whining. Too many exclamation points. I don’t mind sifting through them to get to the gems; I can usually tell which ones are the bad ones by reading the summary or the first paragraph. Fan fiction sites are inclusive publishing platforms, so on principle I’m not upset that bad ones exist. I’m just annoyed that they sometimes get a stupid amount of hits and likes. *Scratching my head at that.* Oh, and I’m annoyed that they are part of the reason why fan fiction has a bad rap. If anyone with a computer and internet connection can upload one, well duh, some are going to be bad.
  • There are concerns about plagiarism and intellectual property rights. Most fan fiction writers include disclaimers with their works and don’t profit off them. Fifty Shades of Grey is a weird one. It started out as Twilight fan fiction, got really popular, was rewritten and then traditionally published. I guess the rewrite is how it survived editors and became a movie franchise, but somewhere along the way it must have caused an IP law headache or two (I just don’t know anything about it). 
  • Much smut. Sex = gross. I don’t agree that this is a con, but if you don’t like to read or partake in romance or sex, that’s a personal preference. There is plenty of fan fiction out there that doesn’t have explicit content, if that’s what you want. Just don’t look down your nose at those who do want the steamy, sizzling romance! There’s something for everyone. I do, of course, understand concerns about children stumbling across explicit fics online, which is why age restrictions and proper tagging is extremely important. It’s why J.K. Rowling only approves of PG-rated Harry Potter fan fiction. She didn’t like the idea of her young readers stumbling across aged up Harry & Friends doing very adult things…and thinking she wrote it. But in general, my guess is most fan fiction readers are older and don’t mistake fan writing for the author’s.

That’s just my take. And if you couldn’t tell by my long list of reasons to read/write fan fiction, I really enjoy it and am a proponent of it. It’s not for everyone though, and I understand that. I am curious though whether my opinion will change at all after publishing a book myself. New experiences mean new perspectives.

What are the reasons you love or hate fan fiction? If you love it, what are your favorite fandoms and pairings to read or write about?

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