Why the Modern Day Fanfic Author Deserves Acceptance (Like Shakespeare)

By Alyssa Chen

Fanfiction is nothing new. It’s been around since historical times – even Shakespeare wrote fanfiction – but for some reason modern day society has turned it into a shameful, unspeakable topic.

In the past few years, fanfic writing has been on the rise. On July 20, Archive of Our Own (AO3), a nonprofit site for fanfiction, reached 4 million fanfics. Fan lingo such as the word “ship” even became a trend at one point. But do fanfiction and fanfic writers really deserve this newfound appreciation?

Some authors, like Anne Rice, are bothered by fanfics. Rice sent a message for fans on her official site: “It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters.” Other authors, such as Diana Gabaldon and Robin Hobb, think fanfics are unoriginal and theft of an author’s ideas. If a fan wants to write, they say, then why does the fan refuse to make original characters, a new world, and a new plot but instead take ideas from published works?

Let’s take a step back and define fanfiction. Fanfiction is a work that a fan creates for other fans using characters from a specific series, TV show, anime, etc. It is a way to keep a series alive long after it has ended. It is a way to promote an ongoing series. It is a way for fans to share crazy ideas about their favorite characters and read about another fan’s crazier ideas.

It is not that fanfic writers are incapable of creating their own original fiction, but that they don’t want the other writer’s story to end. A fan’s passion for a series drives her to expand on the world the characters have already experienced. A fan’s love for the characters in a series prompts her to imagine ‘what if’ scenarios starring said characters.

After years of being underappreciated, it is high time fanfic writers be acknowledged for the effort, courage, and creativity they expend on the making and sharing of their works.

Remember Shakespeare? The fanfic writer from centuries ago whose works are read in classrooms today? One of his most famous works, Romeo and Juliet, is a fanfic of Arthur Brooke’s The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet. The plot was hardly Shakespeare’s own, yet we still celebrate the play and perform it to this day. Why do people today celebrate sixteenth century fanfic writers, yet turn up their noses at modern day fanfic writers?

Not all fanfics are unoriginal and cringeworthy. The characters and the setting may be the same as in the original, but the writing style and the plot can be uniquely the fanfic writer’s. Coming up with a new plot, putting familiar characters into unfamiliar situations while keeping them in character, exploring underdeveloped relationships – these are a fanfic writer’s challenges. And facing those challenges head-on requires the same amount of effort and creativity, or even more, than making a work of original fiction.

Sharing a fanfic for other fans to read also demands a lot of courage. It’s difficult to publicly post something that may or may not be taken well – after all, many authors don’t like getting flamed. Putting up a work of fanfiction is an invitation for others to comment, judge, and criticize. No matter how bad the work might be, the author deserves respect for gathering the courage to post her fic in the first place.

Although there are plenty of writers who litter their works with grammatical errors and wish fulfillment author inserts (when an author makes herself the main character of a story to live out her fantasies), there are quite a few talented writers on fanfic websites. Several writers of fanfics were able to become published authors, including E. L. James (Fifty Shades trilogy) and Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles). James’ book Fifty Shades of Grey began as a Twilight fanfic with the name Master of the Universe, which was immensely popular with the fan base. In 2011, James took down the story from ff.net and had it revamped for publication. Both James and Meyer support fanfiction. According to Yahoo News, E. L. James said in a statement about fanfiction, “I’m immensely flattered, and it’s humbling to know my work is inspiring others to write.”

Society’s stance on fanfiction has undergone a lot of development over the years. People, particularly newer authors, have become more accepting of fanfiction. This marks a shift in the literary world. It’s a change where some fanfic authors are recognized for their talent, respected for their writing, and in some cases even given opportunities to get published. Fanfiction was and still is a major stepping stone for many young writers, so let’s keep the practice alive for many more years to come.

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