4 Misconceptions About Fanfiction

With the constant source of “Oh my God, Christian Grey” all over the internet/movie theaters/book stores/safe spaces in my real life (can you read my eyes rolling?) it has become  nearly common knowledge that Fifty Shades of Grey originated as a fanfiction for the Twilight book series. I even wrote about it here  in the early days of the blog, back when we were only plagued by the books and not a movie as well. While I am heavily against this series for many reasons (none of which involve me being a vanilla prude, I promise you), I know that it has gained popularity by some kind of magical marketing mix in which writer E.L. James provided a need in a once niche market that rocketed it into the mainstream. This was highly unexpected. But due to that skyrocket in popularity, fanfiction has become a much more mainstream discussion.

Aside from my original fiction, I have written fanfiction in three different fandoms. So, I feel the need to clear up some of the misconceptions that have sprung up about fanfiction, by discussing a series of topics in the community.

Misconception #1: Fanfiction is not well written. Whenever you have a large group of people involved in something, you can never really make a blanket assumption about it. Fanfiction can be horrendous sometimes. There is a fic in one of my fandoms that defies all logic and reason. There is middle of the road “this is good for a high school creative writing class” good, which isn’t phenomenal, but tells a clear, consistent story. And there are amazing tales. Publication-quality work. There are stories that make you cry. There are stories that make you laugh. There are stories that do both. It really is a varied group. But that might have a lot to do with age. Fanfiction is written by a span of pre-teens to seasoned adults, a fact which may impact any measure of quality writing ability.

Misconception #2: Fanfiction is porn. Not all fanfiction is like Fifty Shades of Grey. Fanfiction archive websites often use a rating system that starts with general audiences and moves steadily upwards to a mature rating. Fanfiction.net stops at M. Archive of Our Own goes up to NC-17. They also have classifications. Fanfiction.net has genre and character tags, while any warnings that may have to be issued must be done in the text. Archive of Our Own is way better in that its warnings are tagged on the fic, making those warnings searchable and able to be filtered. Personally, I tend to like writing in the “T” or Teen arena, so this belief that fanfiction is a way to work out erotic fantasies kind of bites me on the ass. But once again, there is a range that starts as family friendly and goes all the way up to some of the weirdest kinks you never wanted to imagine. It can get pretty weird in there, even if you have a very open mind.

Misconception #3: Fanfiction has no value. To my understanding, there are three reasons why people write fanfiction, and those reasons overlap.

  1. They are unsatisfied with the direction of their favorite fandom, wish it could have been done differently, and decide they’ll write that option themselves.
  2. They wish they could spend more time with these characters or in this world they have fallen in love with, so they write them in different scenarios, or different worlds to see how they would react.
  3. They like to test out different genres, different voices, different literary devices and use working with an already established canvas as a testing ground. For me, personally, when I work from a novel, I love figuring out the voice of a character whose point of view we don’t hear from often. When I work from television, I enjoy figuring out the inner workings of a character we only perceive externally. It’s a fun imagination exercise.

Misconception #4: You Can Make Money Off Of Your Fanfiction. Most of the fanfiction community, in my experience, frowns upon the idea that you can make money from your fanfiction. As a matter of fact, it should be illegal. Most of the fanfic communities, guided by the fanfic archive sites, attempt to observe author wishes regarding fanfiction created from their works. Otherwise, the secret deal we are making when we agree to write a derivative work, is that we understand that the true creator is not us, and we consider the characters and the world they exist in to be the possession of the original creator. Which means we would never make money off of this world or its characters because they are not ours. When someone changes the names of characters and profits from subject matter that wasn’t originally hers, it puts all of us fanfic writers in a negative light. The only time fanfiction can be used to turn a profit is if the work is in the public domain. Anything other than that is stealing and copyright infringement, plain and simple. Even in an alternate universe fiction, you are creating from the base of somebody else’s work. There may not be any such thing as a wholly original idea, but one can at least strive to find one instead of purposefully deciding against it.

As someone who has read fanfic for ages and written it for longer (my first fanfiction involved the son of Belle and the Beast and the daughter of Ariel and Eric getting married – of course, I just learned how to spell things so…), I hope I’ve addressed just a few of the ways people are perceiving fanfiction incorrectly.

If anybody has any further questions or need some clarity, please post in the comments below. As a supporter of the fanfiction community, I would love the opportunity to clear things up for you.

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10 thoughts on “4 Misconceptions About Fanfiction

  1. Numbers one and two drive me nuts. Every time I hear someone say all fanfic is bad, I want to strangle someone. Sadly the fandoms that are best known (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.) have some of the worst writing. I assume that’s because a majority of the writers are young. I learned right off the bat that you have to dig deeper to find the good fic. Strangely, good fic tends to get buried under the thousands of comments the bad fic receives. I’ve never understood that.

    Number two is more of a problem for me when reading fanfic. I don’t write it and don’t read it normally. Finding fic can be frustrating sometimes, especially in small fandoms with only a few writers, and they all write one pairing (usually slash) and it’s just PWP.

    One of the things said about fanfic that bothers me the most is when people say it’s only “practice” or isn’t “real writing.” Writing is writing. And my fanfic writing isn’t “practice” in the sense implied–that I’m using it to get good enough to write my own stuff to publish. Sure I practice my writing, but everything I write is practice. You don’t take up an instrument then quit practicing once you get good enough to come up with your own songs.

    Fanfic was what got me writing after a life of wishing I could write. It gave me a focus. I started putting some of that focus into original fiction a few years ago, but frankly, I think my fanfic is better written. I’ll just keep practicing

    1. I agree! The only way that fan fiction is practice is in the way that all writing is practice. Every time you write something you learn something new. Every time you revise and gain feedback, you know better for next time. But that’s true of your original writing pieces as well. Fan fiction is its own special writing exercise. It can be used as practice by some. But I feel that most of us are simply telling a story – with other people’s characters/setting, but we’re telling a new, unique story and that doesn’t make it any less than original writing.

  2. Bravo! Well said! You have an excellent writing style and voice.

    I think fan fiction is a valid platform for writing regardless of the reason people engage. More folks should try their hand at it. My daughter actually improved remarkably in English when she took it up. Definitely shouldn’t be looked down upon.

    50 Shades? Don’t even know what the fuss is about. I’ve read better fan fiction. WAY better.

    1. Thank you so much! I agree! My writing improved so much when I started working in fanfiction. I think the reason is that the focus is more on the plot and on the language than it is on building characters or building setting, because for the most part, the readers of the work will already know those things. I also wholeheartedly agree about 50 Shades. There is definitely way better fanfiction out there. Also, way smuttier. 😉

  3. I’ve been writing fanfic ofr a good portion of my life – as a kid I wrote myself into Disney animal films as another, clever cute animal. Teen hood had me doing scarily awful inserts singing with my band crushes. I sort of dropped it for a while and then found Star Trek zines. I still have notebooks full of laboriously handwritten fic (ST & other fandoms) and yes, it’s pretty dreadful.

    When the internets finally came into my life and I found my once and future fandom had a good deal of fic, it was a glorious moment and I ate that stuff up, reading everything I could find (This was and is Vampire Chronicles fandom). I started writing it myself and I was no kid anymore. My first attempts were rusty and wincingly mundane, but gradually I found myself getting better and learning writing as a craft rather than as just an outlet and I have been writing in that fandom ever since. I have decent hits on AO3 and have a great time participating in the fandomwhich is, for the most part, above par when it comes to fic.

    I do think that seasoning makes a difference. My first attempts at writing when I knew others would be reading it were far different than how I write now. I don’t view any of it as ‘practice’ and in fact I have only just recently begun writing original work, not necessarily with the aim of publishing it. It really bothers me when people make assumptions about fanfic when they don’t know anything about it. It also bothers me that the very tepid and often laughable (at least the parts that I have been unfortunate enough to get a glimpse of) 50 Shades series is so successful. Some of it’s envy, I guess. I’d like to have a little bankroll at this stage of my life, but some of it is also it feeds into the notion of fanfic being badfic read only as masturbatory fantasy for women when it’s as widely varied as the aisles of B&N (before they started closing). And really, as you said; there is way better fic if you want explicit online and it’s free.

    Great blog BTW (got here via metanews in Dreamwidth) …glad I found it!

    1. My fandom experience started much like yours. First as self-inserts into Disney films and other cartoons (I was a GI Joe SOLDIER…trained by Lady Jaye), then into science fiction and/or fantasy shows. It wasn’t until a few short years ago…I think it was in 2009 that I actually shared my first fic with people, and that was Stargate fic. It escalated from there. Started with a one-shot. Then got an idea for a multi-chapter, Then ended up writing something for a fandom event (I will NEVER do that again. I liked what I wrote, but I don’t write fanfic well when a topic is handed to me. It was the toughest fic I’ve ever written, and this was NOT the fic that I wrote from the POV of a person as he goes insane), and it escalated from there. Now I have written multiple fics across three fandoms. I’m not at all prolific by any standards, but I have fun with it. 🙂 Which is what I think most of us write fanfic for.

      Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts! I hope you’ll swing by again! 🙂

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