A Defense of Fan Fiction
Posted by Jaime McCall
“Yes, Aragon,” She said luminous lavender eyes glittering, “I am a werewolf, or Lycan as we call ourselves. My brother, Legolas, would have told you. But I asked him not to. Can you ever forgive me?”
Aragon swept the dying woman into his arms, “Seraphina Dawn, you defeated the orcs to save my life! How could I ever hold that against you?”
And Boromir was upset because while he’d plotted with the orcs, he was also secretly in love with Seraphina too. So he went out and killed himself. And everyone cried for Seraphina and not Boromir.
Thanks to shows like “The Big Bang Theory”, the commercialization of Comic-Con, and the general upsurge in technology as a cultural phenomenon, nerds have gained a great deal of acceptance in the mainstream. In fact, (dare I say it?) we’ve even been called… Cool.
However, there is one little corner of nerd-dom that remains locked up in the attic and shunned like a step-child of questionable hair color. Yes, I’m talking about Fan Fiction and Fan Fiction writing.
For the uninitiated, Fan Fiction is “a broadly-defined term for fan labor regarding stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.”1 In short, it’s a story that a fan writes based on their favorite movie, book or TV series. It’s not written by anyone involved with t he creation of the book, show or movie and it’s frequently posted up on the Internet for other fans to read.
Given the nature of these works as unauthorized, unregulated, and often unedited, can one really make an argument for their legitimacy as a genre or even an art form?
Well, heck. I’ve written more than my share of them and I’ve got an MA in Literature under my belt. I’m willing to give it a shot! Our first hurtle is perhaps the biggest one.
Quality (or lack thereof)
There’s no getting away from this. That example of fan fiction I included above is not exactly uncommon. While serious Fan Fiction authors use beta-readers to check for grammar, plot, and characterization issues, no one is enforcing any sort of quality rules on these pieces. Plus, those beta-readers may or may not be worth their weight in online cookies. After all, they are not paid and they offer their services out of love for the fandom.
However, it’s important to note that while the unregulated nature of Fan Fiction doesn’t discourage low-quality work, it also doesn’t inhibit high-quality work as well. In fact, there are quite a few published authors who have created and posted fan fiction. Here are a few examples:
- Keith R.A. DeCandido
- Orson Scott Card
- Neil Gaiman
- S.E. Hinton
- Cassandra Clare
- Meg Cabot
- Lois McMaster Bujold
If these authors (who have created positive revenue for companies whose sole interest is profit) have contributed to the genre of fan fiction, then we can’t use lack of quality as a blanket excuse for dismissal. Of course, for every Keith R.A. DeCandido there are usually about thirty Mary Sue Awfuls. However, in any art form there will be pieces that are worthwhile and pieces that are… less so. As a genre, Fan Fiction may be skewed more heavily to the less-worthy but this is a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one.
Human beings, by our nature, need to tell stories. It’s part of how we explore our world as well as our humanity in general. However, at this point in time our culture is fed the majority of our stories in a very specific manner. Through the publishing industry (as well as film making and television industries), we are offered certain choices based not only on the quality of the story but also on its likelihood to make money. One might even go so far as to say that our imaginations are all too often tethered to a corporate “agenda.”
Fan Fiction not only gives budding authors a chance to sharpen their skills but it does so by allowing those authors to take those existing stories and make them relevant to the author’s specific sociological place and time. It allows them to put their fingerprints in the clay, so to speak.
After all, if popular literature is what publishers offer as a mirror for our hopes, dreams, and thoughts, than Fan Fiction provides a window to how these things are being consumed and applied by actual individuals. What does it say about our culture that Loki has 3,653 pieces written about him while his more traditionally heroic brother Thor only features as a main character in 1,117?
Plus, there are pieces that take on the task of tackling social issues head-on. For example, LucyToo uses a mature-themed story called “The Part You Won’t Recognize”2 to tackle a realistic take how a group of outcast heroes handles the gray areas in their ideology. The story is skillfully written and touches on such serious topics as family dynamics, class differences and the isolating experience of being regarded as “other.”
Could she have written this as an original story? Absolutely. But the fact that the outcast heroes happen to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles let’s her use our familiarity as a stepping stone to heightening tension and diving into the meat of the work. She doesn’t need five chapters establishing who these characters are and how they are utterly cut off. She can go ahead and start using them to show us something new right off the bat.
Fan Fiction is the product of people creating their own stories within preexisting frameworks. I am not saying that published literature does not offer professional authors the same opportunity but it is a filtered and narrower range of experience. There is value in letting people whisper their own stories around the fire.
Next week in the second part of this series, we’ll take a look at one last argument. Tune in and we’ll discuss the “Then Write Your Own Story!” argument.
 Please note that the inclusion of this work in the blog does not constitute an endorsement by Lantern Hollow Press. This fan fiction contains some mature material and was included as an example of a piece showing some skill in striving to deal with the complication that material creates.