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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.