The Taboo Genre: Fanfiction
I’m a fan of a lot of things and like a lot of fans nowadays, just because a story has come to a close does not mean I’m done spending time with the characters I came to care about along the journey. This is where fanfiction comes into play. It allows both the readers and the writers to continue going on adventures and spend time with the characters they love. If the writer feels inclined, they can even change things around a little bit, or a lot, as is the case with most Coffee Shop AUs.
I’ve mentioned it here and there a couple of times in previous blogs, and it’s hard to be a writer nowadays without ever hearing the term fanfiction. Fanfiction is a genre where fans of a story write their own tales within the universe that someone else created. Unfortunately, this has caused the genre to gain quite a reputation.
This is a topic I’ve debated on covering for a while now because fanfiction does get such a bad rap. As some who does like to read fanfics, I both understand why some people look down on fanfiction and love the genre at the same time. As I said, I enjoy spending time with some of my favorite characters or seeing them in new settings. However, I’ve also read enough fanfics over the years to recognize that a lot of them are poorly written. Honestly, as my writing skills have increased, my ability to read most fanfiction has decreased.
Common Fanfiction Terms
Fanfiction has its own unique culture that has plenty of common terms on fan sites. It is important to go over these because some I will be using as I cover this topic. Plus, some of these words have seeped out into the world and become a little more commonplace.
AU: Alternative Universe. A universe that doesn’t follow the main canon but includes the characters from the story/franchise. A popular AU is where the characters work in a coffee shop. I’m not sure why this became such a popular AU, but it is one of the most common.
Canon: Not to be confused with cannons, which are the giant guns, canon is the official true reality of the given story/franchise. For instance, though announced after the fact, Dumbledore is gay in the Harry Potter canon.
Crossover: A type of story that crosses between multiple stories. A popular example is sending characters from another story, such as Frozen, to Hogwarts.
Fandom: The collection of fans from a particular story or franchise. They are fans of a kingdom. As with any kingdom, there can be wars within fandoms, particularly when it comes to shipping. More on that in a bit.
Fanon: A headcanon that is largely accepted by the fan community but has not been acknowledged/accepted by the official creator of the story/franchise. These are dangerous in the sense that it can be easy to forget that something that is so widely accepted within the fandom isn’t actually canon.
Femslash: A relationship between two female characters that are straight within the official canon. Honestly, some fans have a hard time accepting that two people are just friends.
Headcanon: The writer’s created or preferred canon for a story or franchise that hasn’t actually been confirmed as canon. For example, a popular headcanon from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that Peter Parker acts as a big brother for Morgan Stark after the events of Endgame.
OC: Original Character. Characters that aren’t from the official canon of the story that the fan writer created. These are often rare, and if they are involved, are often the writer’s self-insert into the universe, which leads to OC’s being a bit unpopular for a lot of readers.
One-Shot: A short story that begins and ends in one chapter. I think this is how an author can tell their readers not to expect the story to be continued after the end. It’s one and done.
OTP: One True Pairing. The one pairing that the fan writer believes in over all of the others. Their favorite paring or ship from the story/franchise.
RPF: Real-Person Fiction. A fan story that involves real-life people, often famous celebrities. I’ve never really read anything like this. It’s too weird for me to read stories about real people.
Ships: Relationships from the story, often have fun names that are either mashups of the two characters’ names or are a name that resembles the two characters’ traits. When a person prefers two characters in a relationship, they ship them. Shipping is a big deal in fandoms. The bigger the cast of characters, the more ships there can be, which leads to ship wars where fans argue which relationship is best. Bumblebee beats Black Sun, just saying RWBY fandom.
Slash: A relationship between two male characters that are straight within the official canon. Again, people can just be friends. They don’t have to bang. But you try telling that to the Sherlock fandom, the one with Benedict Cumberbatch.
Song-Fic: A story, often a one-shot, whose plot is based on a song and often has the song lyrics interspersed throughout the story to slow it down and interrupt the flow. Despite my love of music, and having written several stories based on songs, I’m not a fan of these.
WIP: Work In Progress. Not a pure fanfiction phrase, but does come up a lot. Just means that the story is currently incomplete but the fan writer is still working on it. Hopefully.
Reasons Fanfiction Gets a Bad Rap
Despite having millions and millions of fans and writers from around the world, fanfiction gets a bit of a bad rap for several different reasons:
For starters, fanfiction authors don’t have the legal right to be writing stories about these worlds and characters. Everything in a story, from its settings to its characters belongs to the original creator and no one is allowed to use those bits and pieces without the creator’s permission. Naturally, this causes a bit of debate on whether or not fan fiction is legal. For the most part, as long as the fan writer isn’t making money off their writing, they will be okay. Still, that isn’t a guarantee.
Some authors absolutely hate fanfiction and have ordered some fan sites to prevent any fanfics of their work from being uploaded there or they risk being sued. Other creators love fanfic because someone out there loved their creation so much that they wanted to make something too.
Changing the Characters
Sometimes, writers like the world and most of the characters, but they dislike certain ones and so they rewrite the tales in order to change those characters. I think that sometimes this is done to make one of the characters more like the writer, so they can insert themselves without having to add an OC.
This has always kind of bugged me. Why rewrite characters into something they are not? If you are completely changing the character, why not just make them an OC? Sometimes, it can be fun to play “what if” with characters and have them do something a little outside of their norm, but then there are times when someone is completely changing a character to the point that they are unrecognizable. I mean giving Harry Potter spiked hair with green tips and piercings to match unrecognizable.
Yeah, that was the point when I left that particular story.
The Mary/Gary Sue
For those who don’t know, a Mary Sue or Gary Sue is what is known as a self-insert character. In other words, the author put themselves into the story. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, who out there hasn’t wanted to go to Hogwarts?
The problem tends to stem from how these characters are written. For starters, they are often too perfect. This is likely due to the fact people never want to admit their flaws, and so they don’t write them into the story. This leads to bad characterization, which leads to boring and bland stories.
Plus, there are the steamier stories where the self-insert character gets it on with one of the characters that the author is attracted to, which is where it starts to get really weird. I’ve heard this happens to Snape a lot. While that kind of story can be fun for the author, it can be more than a little bit awkward for the readers.
Every Character Has to Be There
Some authors feel the need to shoehorn in every single character from the original story, whether or not they play any real part in the story that the fan writer is telling. This leads to a bloated cast that then suffers from the issue of not enough description because everyone should know what the characters look like.
Introducing too many characters at once is a sure-fire way to cause confusion for readers. On top of that, if the characters aren’t super important to the story, but still have names, it can be extra frustrating. Why am I remembering so much about a character that has one line of dialogue?
Though it’s not fanfiction, a good example of this might be the Red Wedding scene from Game of Thrones. I’ve heard people complain about trying to memorize all of the new characters introduced, only for them all to be killed then and there.
The Stories Aren’t Always Well Written
This can cover so many different errors that you just won’t find in traditionally published works.
The number of times I’ve opened a story to find it is one solid block of text with no paragraphs, or it is just straight dialogue with no descriptions, is staggering. The minute I see writing like that, I leave the page.
Paragraph breaks are important. They take a giant block of text and break it down to a more digestible size. Readers don’t want to have to sit there and decipher text or listen to a conversation that is seemingly happening between two voices in the void of space.
These are rookie mistakes that can be easily avoided, which leads to the final problem with fanfiction.
Anyone Can Write It
Fanfiction also suffers from the same stigma that self-publishing does, which is that anyone can do it. Anyone can go on to a fanfiction site, create an account, and start writing. They can upload the work in whatever state they want, and given that many fanfic writers are new to the craft, the state of the writing isn’t great.
This leads to a large mass of stories being “published” that really would have benefitted from some form of editing.
Every story needs editing no matter who wrote it.
The Good Parts of Fanfiction
The bottom line is that a lot of fanfics are bad because, for most of these writers, this is their first attempt at writing. While this can lead to a not-so-great reading experience, it can lead to a great writing experience. Sharing work with other people for the first time is exhilarating.
As I’ve said in another article, we all have to start somewhere. No one’s first writing project is great and no first draft is ever great. Even the pros write crappy first drafts.
Fanfiction’s greatest crutch is also its greatest strength. Someone was so inspired by someone else’s creation that they wanted to create something too, even if they had no experience. Creating something brand new is incredibly intimidating, and as I mentioned, creating something within a world or with characters people are already familiar with is easier. Doesn’t mean the writing itself is any easier, just the writer has fewer steps to take.
This is why fanfiction is a bit easier to write, the readers are already familiar with the world and the characters, and the author doesn’t have to put much effort into describing their characters or world. Everyone just knows how the world is laid out and what the characters look like. They don’t have to figure out the rules of the world if it has a magic system because the creator already came up with one.
It’s kind of like filling out a coloring book. Someone else designed the picture, but you colored it in your own way. Maybe you stayed inside the lines and maybe you didn’t. The final image is both your own and someone else’s.
As someone who has created something new from scratch, I can tell you, it isn’t easy. It is a lot of fun though. I highly recommend it. If you’ve written fanfiction before, and you wrote the characters a bit OC, why not just go all the way and make it all your own? Have faith in yourself and your abilities.
You can do it!
Fanfiction Is Fun
Though it may not seem like it after that long list of cons, I enjoy fanfiction. I love spending time with characters I already know. Plus, with the price tag of “free”, reading fanfiction is a whole lot cheaper than buying book after book or movie after movie.
Fanfiction is also fun in the same way that writing prompts are fun. Two people have taken the same concept and yet ended up with different results. You have the original creator creating the official canon of the story, and then you have the fan writer that puts their own spin on things. It’s fascinating.
I get why fanfiction gets a bad rap for the above reasons, including the weird legal gray area that the genre falls into. After all, no one on a fan site has legal permission to be writing stories about the copy-written characters and worlds they are using. But in my opinion, it shows how much people love a certain story. They don’t want it to end and want to continue going on adventures with beloved characters.
I do recommend reading fanfiction, but I have to add the warning that you will need to sift through some not-so-great stories to find something good.