Fanfic considered wonderful

Time's Lev Grossman feature about fan-fiction breaks with the long tradition of portraying fanfic as weird porn written by creepy adults who live with their parents, and instead discusses the good and the bad, and the long tradition (all the way back to Homer) of readers retelling and continuing the stories they love. He also debunks the stupid myth that writers who don't send legal threats over fanfic will lose their copyrights, something oft-repeated by the likes of Orson Scott Card, who should really know better. Grossman does a brilliant job of capturing the fun, improvisational nature of playing with stories and characters that others have created, and especially of doing so together with other fans, building alternate canons and tearing them down again.
Fan-fiction writers aren't guys who live in their parents' basements. They aren't even all guys. If anything, anecdotal evidence suggests that most fan fiction is written by women. (They're also not all writers. They draw and paint and make videos and stage musicals. Darren Criss, currently a regular on Glee, made his mark in the fan production A Very Potter Musical, which is findable, and quite watchable, on YouTube.) It's also an intensely social, communal activity. Like punk rock, fan fiction is inherently inclusive, and people spend as much time hanging out talking to one another about it as they do reading and writing it. "I've been in fandom since early 2005, when I was getting ready to turn 12," says Kelli Joyce. "For me, starting so young, fanfic became my English teacher, my sex-ed class, my favorite hobby and the source of some of my dearest friends. It also provided me with a crash course in social justice and how to respect and celebrate diversity, both of characters and fic writers."

Diversity: the fan-fiction scene is hyperdiverse. You'll find every race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, age and sexual orientation represented there, both as writers and as characters. For people who don't recognize themselves in the media they watch, it's a way of taking those media into their own hands and correcting the picture. "For me, fanfic is partially a political act," says "XT." "MGM is too cowardly to put a gay man in one of their multimillion-dollar blockbusters? And somehow want me to be content with the occasional subtext crumb from the table? Why should I?"

As an aside, could Time's randomly inserted links to earlier stories be any more intrusive and less appropriate?

The Boy Who Lived Forever (via Making Light)

(Image: portal_dalek.png, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from uriel1998's photostream)


  1. That’s all very fair and, no doubt, all very true, but in an unfair and purely anecdotal way, the last person I saw reading and writing fanfic was a very odd smelling woman I had to sit next to on a train, who spent the whole time reading really bad Harry Potter slashfic and writing equally bad stuff herself (on a very large-screened Mac laptop in case you’re wondering the hell I would know!).

    1. The outline for the Harry Potter series was written on a train. Are you sure that you weren’t sitting next to JK Rowling?

      1. Well, it’s always possible… if J.K.Rowling has moved to Ontario, really let herself go, and is planning a remarkable new alternate version of the saga in which Harry Potter is a gay house elf who likes frequent hardcore boy sex with Drako Malfoy!

    2. “the last person I saw reading and writing fanfic was a very odd smelling woman I had to sit next to on a train”

      This is why I shower before I read fanfic on the bus in a tiny font on my phone. Maybe you saw me reading and writing fanfic and didn’t know it, just like you wouldn’t know about it if you worked with me or met me at a party.

      The geek I saw smelled funny and was drinking mountain dew. What, you say there were other geeks on the train, too? But they didn’t LOOK like geeks!

      1. This. Well said :) You know, there’s another thing I like about fandom- it is full of very smart, well-spoken people. (Though there is also a fair share of people who are just…bonkers. Or maybe that’s just my fandom. Ah well. Putting up with it is just the price of entry.)

  2. I’ve always thought of fan fiction writers as being similar to people who bring their big sketchbooks into fancy art museums and sketch works of the Masters. I suppose it might be a way to learn how to draw and in the case of fan fictioners, learn how to write. At the very least, it’s always good to have more writers in the world, though how many gushing “Star Trek” re-writes does the world need? And is it fair to compare fan fiction to the works of “Homer”? Well, maybe…

    1. I think it’s quite fair to compare fanfiction to Homer. The ancient epics almost certainly weren’t written by a single person- they were written by many generations of storytellers learning and borrowing from one another.

      I’ve read the Iliad and the Odyssey twice each (I’m not a classicist, but the second read was part of a course) and quite frankly, they’re not very good. They’re prototypes of the great stories, and the basis of a huge amount of culture, thus worth studying, but as stories go… not so much. You wouldv’e pretty much had to live in the culture and listen to it many times (it wasn’t written down until centuries after the peak of ancient greek civilization) to understand the story, since so much is left out or not explained. I mean, think about the scroll of the Iliad that’s just a roll call of all the ships. It’s pretty clearly wish-fulfillment fanfiction- each bard adding in his own hometown to the story to engage the audience- details that have no real bearing on the rest of the story.

  3. This article thrills me to no end. As someone who’s been writing fanfiction since I was 12 (I’m now 25), the disparaging remarks typically directed fanfiction’s way were always frustrating — and a little sad, given it (and fandom itself) is something that’s changed my life, given me a chance to meet people who are now my closest friends, and enabled me to grow as both a writer and as a person.

    The only valid complaint I’ve ever seen about fanfiction and how it isn’t “real writing” is that with fanfiction, you as the author don’t have to establish setting or character(s) in order to tell a story — you can hit the ground running. This can be an issue when transitioning from fanfiction to original fiction when an author doesn’t understand that in original fiction, you don’t have that communal understanding of setting/character with your audience and you have to establish these things in order for your work to be cogent. (This has been an issue with several authors who’ve made the move from fanfiction to published novels but I’m not going to be a jerk and name names [though Naomi Novik does not suffer from this AT ALL].)

    Aside from that, fanfiction writers often devote a ridiculous amount of time to story, structure, characterization, and improving their own talents. It is most definitely the case that some fanfiction out there is better crafted (and possibly better thought-out) than the canon from which it’s based. Some of the fics I’ve read have improved my enjoyment of a canon source tenfold.

    Which really is just me vomiting my feelings all over the comment page, but having fanfiction and the community surrounding it accurately represented for what feels like the first time in a major media outlet is astoundingly exciting for me.

    1. “…you as the author don’t have to establish setting or character(s)…”

      I assume you’ve transitioned (so to speak) from fan-fic to creating your own scenarios and original characters. Was this gradual or a drastic change? How would you rate your stories and character developments in terms of other works of fiction you’ve pulled from? I’m not a writer, but still find it interesting that fan-fic writers find it necessary to use the overall format(s) others have worked hard to develop. I guess it’s no different than what Bob Dylan did early in his career by mimicking the style of Woody Guthrie, then moving on to his own stylizations.

      1. For me, writing original fiction came first, though it was heavily influenced by things I enjoyed at the time. I started writing my very first novel idea when I was 8, and of course it had all of the failings that anything written by your average-though-precocious 8-year-old would have. There was no specific change or time period where I decided I was done writing original fiction and wanted to write fanfic, or vice versa — I do both simultaneously, and for different reasons.

        I write my original stories because they’re things that I’ve thought up or dreamt or are any number of things that I care about and want to get out. As a writer, I’ll have ideas and characters throttling themselves around my brain and writing it all out is /fun/ and infinitely rewarding.

        Most often when I write or read fanfiction it’s because I want something that wasn’t touched on by the canon explored. Grossman’s article does an excellent job of describing this use case. As a concrete example, I’m an avid fan of a current television series and wrote a story several months ago with the “what if” premise of “what if the protagonist’s partner and the antagonist were actually multiple personalities of the protagonist?” It was great fun and allowed me to play with the setting I had been handed in a new (and for me, exciting) way; and it isn’t as though the series was ever going to provide me with its own version of the story.

        It’s because of all of this that I don’t wholly agree with the idea that fanfiction is a stepping stone that writers use before going on to write their own original works. I’ve done both and continue to do both simultaneously, and I’ve used things that I’ve learnt with both in writing both. This isn’t to say that some people definitely don’t use fanfiction as their proving ground, where they work out their preferred style/etc., but it’s a lot more complicated than “when Katy was 12 she wrote fanfiction for Harry Potter and Gundam Wing because she couldn’t come up with her own ideas” or “when Katy was 23 she started writing a young adult novel and abandoned writing fic for Sherlock”.

        1. Katy, this overview of yours is the most interesting thing I’ve read all week. I suppose in the olden days (pre-1960) your ideas and ambitions would be written off as a result of an overly-active imagination, but it’s obvious now (in 2011) that you have an intricate set of ideas and plans for your writing. Very inspiring!

          1. I’m happy that I was able to answer some of your questions and that it proved interesting to you. :) My involvement in online fandoms, whether it be through writing fanfic or any of the other numerous things we get up to, has been an incredibly positive experience for me so I’m ecstatic to be able to share it with people. And crivvens, thanks for the compliment, haha.

      2. I’m not a writer, but still find it interesting that fan-fic writers find it necessary to use the overall format(s) others have worked hard to develop

        Hi, I think that is a summation of a very (interesting to me) underlying suspicion of our culture. On the one hand, nearly all works of literature are heavily peopled, and yet, only one person, the Dictator, wielder of the sceptre of copyright, is allowed say!
        I hope we are in the final days of the ways in which we are disconnected from one another by our exploration and development of our knowledge of infinity. On the one side, we have all the common realm of the subconscious, the archetypes, the passive telepathy of symbolism. A funny, common thread, my own voice here being unique, is Star Wars. You see, I was born in 1968 and ripe for the pickin’ of the Lucas franchise… I wasn’t however, allowed to see it!, due to my parents holy roller anti-demonism, and yet, being a furiously passionate devourer of books, THAT was the one checkpoint no-one could control. A funny thing happened, you see, I was sure George Lucas was right about what was out there, and the sum total of his cinematic vision for me was contained in one glimpse of a VHS release being played at Kmart,
        right around the escape off Tatooine. Totally burned in my head, as in, check the sky for xwings burned in. Thoughts about Princess Leia I need not mention ever…yet the megahyped toys which the neighbor kids were swamped with limited the sum total of my childhood franchise purchases to one storm trooper and the original movie book release. All I had to do was go across the street and validate their reality by playing with them. Star Wars turned all us little kids into a community, and you bet your life I am not regretting that!
        Well, I don’t care about Star Wars at all, anymore, aside from feeling that its turn to the worse is a demonstration of how fan fiction is the only possible salvation of massive chi investment. The Return of the Jedi, the only theater release I caught, released me totally from Lucas’s devolving contraption. But considering the total expenditure of Chi itself that got enmeshed with the original visionary surface (A Huxley-term), if it wasn’t a franchise, someone who could salvage the germ plasm of that original, interdimensional doorway, would have my utter sanction.

  4. The only part I would quibble with is this:
    “They’re also not all writers. ”

    I would say that if they are writing fanfic then by definition they are writers. He probably means people that get paid to write, but still.

    1. He’s not saying that fanfic creators aren’t writers, he’s saying that not all fanfic has the written word as its final outcome. He then goes on to list some of the non-written forms.

  5. @MacBookHeir and others who view fanfic writing as a means to learn to write, or a step on the road to “real writing”: it can be, but it definitely isn’t always. I won writing awards and published academic papers years before I discovered the concept of fanfic or wrote any myself. I write fanfic for fun. I write because I like creating the stories. I put a lot of time and effort into them – I spend a lot of time on plot and details, and I’ll research the oddest things to make sure they’re accurate (my Google search history is full of things like “how long does it take for water purification tablets to work” or “are there blue jays in Texas”) – but I do it for fun because it means I get to play around with ideas and spend more time with characters I love. I have a (more than) full time career, and two kids, and I have no desire to publish a book. People sometimes tell me I’m good enough I should be a *real* writer. You know what? I am a real writer. I’m not a published writer, but I don’t aspire to be one.

    I publish my fanfic online because, sure, I like feedback. I like being a member of the fandom community, finding people who squeal delightedly over the same things (which may or may not involve porn.) The self-publishing nature of Internet fanfic means that there’s an awful lot of really bad stuff out there, sure, and probably an even greater volume of simply mediocre stuff. But there are stories I’ve read in fandom that are amazingly good: well-crafted, powerful, funny, and better than a lot of the published fiction I’ve read. And they’re mostly written by other people who are librarians or lawyers or architects or full-time moms who do it for fun.

  6. Grossman is saying that some of them aren’t writers in the sense that they don’t write fanfiction prose. They paint or compose music or act in fan-plays.

    I don’t even get why anyone thinks fanfiction is odd. If you’re a fan it seems reasonable that you’re engaged with the world and the characters. You think about the questions established storylines raise. Don’t you wonder what if? What if that character had made a different decision. Or what if the coin had landed the other side up? What happened after the cameras turned off or the show was cancelled? Sure, most people don’t go so far as to actually draft and publish their thoughts, but is it such a stretch?

  7. I’m fascinated by two things:

    1. Lev Grossman claims that nobody is making money of fan-fic, yet examples in his own article of works that are or nearly are fan-fic contradict this. I would even classify Grossman’s “The Magicians” as a sort of fan-fic/mashup. I wonder if the fact that his follow-up comes out in a month has anything to do with this article and the timing of it.

    2. I really enjoy Orson Scott Card’s fiction, but sometimes I think he takes very strange positions. I wonder what Joseph Smith would think of the Alvin Maker series, which is an alternate universe retelling of the founding of the Mormon church. Or what would Mormon himself think of the Homecoming series, in which Mr. Card retells the story told in The Book of Mormon? He didn’t even change the names. “Nephi” the protagonist in the early part of The Book of Mormon is “Nefi” in the homecoming series. Note that Mr. Card served his mission in Brazil and in the Portuguese Book of Mormon the name is spelled Nefi.

    Card has posted a lengthy defense of the Homecoming series at:

    I wonder if he thinks any of his own arguments apply to fan fiction?

    1. There’s a fine distinction between a piece of fanfic and a parody/sendup/homage to another work. A fanfic can be a parody, a sendup, and an homage; but first and foremost it was written because the person wanted to write with those characters, in that world. Something frustrated them, the author left a hole they felt should be filled. There was a gap.

      Or there was a longing – the wold the author created was one that caught their imagination, and wouldn’t let them go. Writing the fanfic is a way of both remaining in that world for a moment longer, not being kicked out (an interesting way of looking at the Fillory subtext in The Magicians) and of exorcising a thought that won’t get out of your head. It can be a self-referential death spiral, or it can be a moment of relief, pulling out a splinter that got stuck in your mind.

      Either way, the distinction between fanfic and published fic is simple: the author never bothered to change the names, and the author never bothered to sell the work. Every work is, in some respect, derivative; all the way down the line, we don’t learn to tell stories except by reading and hearing other stories, so we include the hows and whys of the stories we’ve read in the stories we write. The best writers take than and make it their own, and eventually figure out a way to use those tools to translate something onto the page that’s never been there in quite that way before. But it’s still a thing they learned from those who went before, and a thing they built on.

      Fanfic just sticks closer to those who went before, is all. It lives in the shadows and never steps out to become itself. It’s a world overshadowed by the thing that sponsored and spawned it, content to build off something else, like market stalls springing up around a fair.

  8. When I was a wee lad, I wrote a bit of short story set on the planrt Pern, as described by Anne McCaffery. I’m fairly sure that it was a terrible bit of wish fulfillment and I am a little bit glad that I don’t know what became of it. In any case, something possessed me to write her a fan letter and include a copy.

    She sent me a lovely letter back, telling me that she couldn’t read unsolicited material due to legal blablabla, and that a young writer should invent their own world and get out of hers. (it is not lost on cynical adult me that about 20 years later her son would write his own Pern fanfic — I mean — canonical novels)

    Despite what seemed, at age ten or so, to be a chastisement, she also thanked me for my effusive praise and included her stock “advice for young writers” sheet. I wish that I still had that. The points that I remember were to read every day and write every day.

  9. Fanfic writers? What’s next? _Time_ discoveries furries? Maybe they aren’t the creepy basement dwellers either.

  10. Aye, I write fanfic. One of my fics deals with a character who started out stranded in a hostile land and ended up with enough money to buy her own airship; I’m filling in the blanks between those steps, which means I have to build virtually the whole world she has landed in. I consider it training for writing my own stories.

    If you want to start reading fanfiction, try Elizier Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – HP meets the scientific method. It’s professionally written, smart and often very funny.

    The strangest fic of quality I’ve read recently is a mashup of Fallout and… My Little Pony:FiM. Somehow, it works.

  11. It’s nice to see a writer that ‘gets it.’

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to send Quentin Coldwater to Equestria.

  12. On the old Wheel of Time website, there was a fanfic story that centered on Bela, the stolid pony from the Two Rivers that left the comfort of her stable in Emond’s Field with her master to participate in the events leading to the end of the world. Most fans approached Robert Jordan with an air of worship, so it was refreshing and very, very hilarious to read about Bela’s misdeeds as she pedaled dope and did many very un-ponylike things. Fan fiction can be fun, but I like the parodies a bit more than the serious stuff, as the serious stuff is usually god-awful drek.

  13. I write fanfic and I really appreciate Lev Grossman taking the time to talk to actual members of the community (he posed several interview questions online and made an open call for self-identified fanfiction writers to answer them). All the reasons he cited why people choose to write fanfiction rather than “original” fiction are true.

    I’ve been an SF/F fan all my life. I like to write. One thing you’ll find as an amateur writer in any genre is that nobody wants to read your work. Nobody cares. The only goal is to get published because then a few people will actually read it. You have to pay to get someone to edit your work, and you have to join a writing group and read everyone else’s stories that YOU don’t care about in exchange for getting feedback on your own work.

    Fanfiction is different because people do actually care. As long as you’re a pretty good writer, a few people will like your work enough to come back for more, and even offer criticism, writing advice, and editing. Professional writing is officially a monetary economy, but I doubt most writers actually do it for the money. The fanfic community is an affective economy where writers’ true motivations (self-expression and positive feedback) take center stage. That’s why I do it. I can write a short story, have it edited in real time over Google docs by a couple of my friends in the community while I watch, post it that night, and have three comments in my email inbox in the morning telling me that people enjoyed my story.

    Writing is often described as a lonely, solitary pursuit, the writer yelling into an empty room with no one to hear. Fanfiction is a community activity, both in the social nature of distribution and the way it can directly comment on the source (or on other fanfic). That’s why I love it.

  14. I wrote fanfiction in my late teens. It was indeed fun, as fandoms allow one to wallow in whatever current obsession you have without need for apology or shame. I also always enjoyed writing, not as a pipe-dream for the future but as a relaxing, engrossing activity.

    I think that fanfiction’s bad rap comes from the fact that a large subset of it is basically just porn, with little concern for actual plot between various characters’ sexual couplings. I can’t argue that it gets really awkward, cloying and heavy-handed; I was sick of it myself. That said, I don’t think it’s any creepier than ‘regular’ porn…

    Nevertheless, there IS such a thing as good fanfic. Overall, it’s a fun, creative and interactive way to engage with material or stories that one enjoys. IMO, writing is always a great activity to partake in, whatever the level of skill or subject matter.

    There is also a lot of widely respected literature that is outright fanfiction. Take, for instance, some of Neil Gaiman’s works: “A Study in Emerald” is a Sherlock Holmes story with some Lovecraft elements sprinkled in. Another short story of his is set in the Matrix universe. The Sandman draws not only from the DC universe but from countless myths, fairy tales and lore. Granted, he was commissioned to write these stories, but the result is still alternate stories drawn from previously created characters and settings. It’s essentially ‘professional’ fanfic. That term is an oxymoron, but the literary style is the same. I don’t see why an amateur writer using this same creative device, solely out of her own enjoyment of the material, should be regarded with contempt. Sure, the writing may be clumsy, but it’s no reason to dismiss the whole activity as creepy or bizarre.

    It’s people writing stories they enjoy. It’s people being creative and fanciful. There’s nothing weird or scary about that.

    1. Arguably, Neil Gaiman’s “The Problem of Susan” is furry vore X fan fiction. And while it was commissioned for an anthology, the subject matter was not specified (as I understand it).

  15. “There’s fan fiction based on the Bible.” Isn’t the Bible one of the most successful examples of fanfic – made-up stories about fictional characters introduced in older stories?

    1. Orson Scott Card is the heir to the Massengill fortune.

      I can’t find any evidence to substantiate that statement, so I choose to read this as a fairly clever way of implying that Card is a bit of a…

  16. The confusing thing about this disagreement is that neither side is wrong. The contradiction lies in our culture, which supports both positions at the same time and hasn’t sorted out a good way to mediate between them.

    Time prints something intelligent and rational about copyright issues? It is truly the end times.

  17. While reading the article, I kept waiting for the cringeworthy moment when some key fact is misstated, or some key subtlety misinterpreted, as seemingly happens every time the mainstream media tries to report on any geek activity or subculture.

    It didn’t come. This article restored my faith in the news media.

  18. Nice musings, nicely written, but it’s not like nobody has researched this.

    In light of that saying “If anything, anecdotal evidence suggests that most fan fiction is written by women” is frustrating to read

    Henry Jenkins and Rebecca Tushnet have covered the role of women authors in fan fiction pretty extensively, also Sonya Katyal, Anupam Chander & Madhavi Sunder, a fun book by Camille Bacon-Smith (seriously that’s her name!)

  19. I don’t write fanfiction (I don’t have the patience or writing skills), but I do end up thinking a lot about the books I read and inserting my own scenarios in various moments in them (A Game of Thrones currently has the lead in number of these scenarios). I agree with what Cory has written previously that fanfiction is part of the process of internalizing fiction and when someone internalizes it and makes it his/her own, they become a die-hard fan for life, which makes it sad when some authors oppose fanfiction of their work, and in effect, their core audience.

  20. I loved the article. Too many discussions about fanfic seem to devolve into the ‘omg, aren’t they weird/kinky/perverted!’ side of things, scoffing at the idea that a fanfiction writer could have any actual talent or be anything other than a basement dwelling, social outcast.

    I’ve written fanfiction for years, poked around in my own original worlds for longer, and am content in both. If I never publish an original work, it’ll be okay – I’m not trying to become the next Rowling – I just want to tell my stories.

    Awesome to see RPF mentioned without a lot of pearl-clutching! Thanks for pointing the article out! Both pieces were enjoyable.

    And yes – the links in the Time article are weird and kind of off-putting.

  21. Point of fact, many members of the fanfic community are not writers, nor are they artists or vidmakers or anything similar. Plenty of fanfic fans are readers, and they’re vitally necessary. Sometimes a person who’s only been reading will try writing, but most don’t want to; they’re happy to read and comment and discuss, providing the bulk of the feedback the writers (and other creator types) need and want.

    There are also organizers who don’t write. There are fanfic fans who mod communities and archives and mailing lists, people who edit and compile and write for newsletters, people who organize contests and awards, run fic fests and other writing events; some of them also write fic but not all. The community as a whole is much larger, richer and more diversely active because of its non-writers who find other ways to contribute.


  22. Fanfiction, like everything else, is subject to sturgeon’s law. Ninety percent of fanfiction is crap. But, ninety percent of published fiction is crap, too. Fanfiction, regardless of quality, has a heads-up on original fiction in one way: while most fanfiction is not significantly more derivative than most ‘original’ fiction, it does not hide its derivative nature.

    The association with Homer is fair. Fanfiction’s place in the oral tradition has certainly been mentioned, in many places. Biblical apocrypha are typically considered ‘fanfiction’ as well. It’s not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, the distinction between ‘fanfiction’ and ‘original fiction’ could be considered to have come about with the earliest copyrights on books (only a few hundred years ago), and as recently as Shakespeare’s time there was no distinction being made. Gothe’s Faust and Marlowe’s Faust share characters, events, and the general outline of plot — few things could be argued to be significantly more derivative while being considered separate entities — and yet they differ insomuch as Marlowe’s version of the story is a terrible, shallow, and clumsy treatment while Gothe’s version contains characters who have motivations. Which one is the fanfiction?

    I won’t deny that there is a lot of terrible fanfiction out there. Publishers at least have the motivation to avoid publishing the very worst documents, unless they stand a chance of being extremely profitable. On the other hand, since fanfiction is considered grey-legal at best (it’s fair use unless the owner of the copyright has better lawyers, more money, and more time/motivation than sense), all the things that would not be published commercially can be explored with ready-made familiar characters.

    This is not to say that fanfiction writers are all misunderstood artistes, either. A lot of fanfiction is poorly written porn by twelve year old girls. A certain about of fanfiction is written by professional authors, or by skilled writers who clearly could become published. A certain amount is quite clearly playing with ideas that would be very difficult to pull off in another context (highly nonlinear detournments of existing canons, for instance, or skilled manipulations of their fanbases).

    Another thing to recall is that fanfiction does exist commercially, in the realm of ascended fanfiction (‘expanded universe’ books and ‘book of the film’ books are very visible examples). There is also ‘ascended fandom’ (most notably in mainline comics: fans of spider-man grow up, work for marvel, and publish their spider-man fanfiction as drawn by professional artists, which then become canon; this has happened for several generations in western comics, and has also occurred in long-running cash-cow anime franchises like Evangelion, where several spinoff manga have art and plot quality far more representative of the doujin market and appear to be the result of Gainax ‘blessing’ the works of several doujin artists). There are some very good examples of people starting in ascended fanfiction and then branching out into independent works. John M Ford, whose list of books is dominated by Star Trek novels, wrote the excellent (and highly original) novel Web of Angels, which presaged much of Gibsonian cyberpunk (including the occult elements so prevalent in the Cyberspace trilogy after Neuromancer and in Morgan’s Altered Carbon series).

    In other words, while it it possible to make arguments against particular types of fanfiction (which very well may apply to the vast majority), doing so would be like maligning all books because of the bodice ripper genre, or considering all films not worth watching because of the popularity of hollywood blockbusters and mediocre teen rom-coms.

  23. Can’t wait for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality to be complete, so I can read it all in one go. I might even print it out and bind it. That’s the sort of fanfic that the world would be poorer to loose.

  24. I like to make art about life. Reading is a very important part of my life. Therefore, I write about reading in the form of fanfic. Writing fanfic is, among other things, an intense form of reading. It is the yin and yang of reception and expression simultaneously.

  25. There was a certain horrific fascination to it.

    On a more general note, I don’t think the efforts to ‘legitimize’ fanfic by claiming that almost any historic or current form of writing that has influences or is a homage or sequel is ‘fanfic’ hold much water. ‘Fanfic’ is fiction that emerges in the specific context of fandom, which is very much a recent phenomenon.

    I also don’t think fanfic needs legitimation. It is what it is. It doesn’t generally aspire to being literature nor does it need to. No doubt there will be occasional examples that transcend their origins, be published and read outside of fandom, but then they will get judged as literature in the normal way, no special pleading required.

  26. In Japan fan fiction comes mostly in the form of manga called ‘doujinshi’ that are sold openly in many stores, but especially at a collection of conventions through the year. The largest of these conventions, Comiket, runs twice a year in summer and winter. The summer one alone attracts 500,000+ people in the space of only a few days. Many doujinshi are adult, and most of the creators are female (according to the official comiket demographics of the groups that produce the works). There’s over 30,000 people selling their work, and many of the better known groups can move hundreds of copies of a single work in one day without difficulty. Even with the extraordinarily conservative assumption of $5 worth of product per person, it’s a fairly significant economic event…

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