A few decades ago, you probably would not have been overly familiar with the term ‘fanfiction’. Now, every fourth-wall-breaking piece of media and their cat seems to have an episode dedicated to the subject.
This isn’t to say that ‘fanfiction’ was completely unheard of; the word was actually coined in 1939 by members of the science fiction community, used to make a pejorative distinction between amateur and professional texts. Later, in 1944, a specific definition was provided in the Fancyclopedia, a ‘lexicon fandom handbook’ by John Bristol Speer, and it now has its own place in the Oxford English Dictionary.
By its definition, many books heavily embedded in the literary canon may be considered as ‘fanfiction’. For example, take the 1667 classic ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton. It draws on characters already seen within the Bible, creating an alternate story based around the fall of Satan that also serves to better understand his flaws and reasons behind his rebellion. Additionally, there is Mark Twain’s 1889 work ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ – a time travelling piece based on the 1485 tale ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ by Sir Thomas Malory.
As someone who writes fanfiction in her free time (no, I’m not telling you my username), I have always been vehemently pro-fanfic. My journey started through websites such as Wattpad, or Fanfiction.net, then progressed to more organised, dare I say, sophisticated websites such as Archive Of Our Own (AO3 for short), which was formed in 2009 as part of the Organisation for Transformative Works (OTW), protecting fanfiction writers against unfounded copyright lawsuits.
For many people, fanfiction is a gateway into official writing
For many people, fanfiction is a gateway into official writing. It provides a safe, inclusive medium for budding writers to test the waters, and allows readers to provide constructive criticism which writers can directly respond to. This helps to create a far more flexible relationship than with a professional editor, inspiring confidence, and solidifying a person’s passion for the craft.
So, in case you need more proof, here is a list of authors who have origins in writing fanfiction:
Now more famously known for her best-selling series The Mortal Instruments, Clare’s stories of magic, betrayal, and love started out as Harry Potter fanfiction titled ‘The Draco Trilogy’. The stories were originally posted to the website ‘Fanfiction.net’, from 2000 to 2006. However, plagiarism controversies meant that Clare was banned from the platform, and the stories were removed. Clare also wrote fanfiction belonging to the Lord Of the Rings cinematic universe, called ‘The Very Secret Diaries’, published in 18 instalments.
Clare has written and co-written half a dozen other book series, and the Mortal Instruments stories have been adapted for both film and television
The first instalment of The Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones, debuted in 2007, with the sixth book, City of Heavenly Fire, releasing in 2014. Since then, Clare has written and co-written half a dozen other book series, and the Mortal Instruments stories have been adapted for both film and television.
Probably one of the most well-known examples of fanfiction becoming publishable material, E. L. James’ story Fifty Shades of Grey began as fanfiction titled ‘Master of the Universe’ for the series Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. Originally publishing her fanfiction under the pen-name ‘Snowqueens Icedragon’, ‘Master of the Universe’ only existed from 2009 to 2011, after which James removed the stories and published them in full with only minor edits – namely removing all mention of Twilight, creating new characters in its wake.
The Fifty Shades series consists of five published books, with a sixth set to be released in June of this year, as well as a trilogy of films starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.
From humble beginnings writing fanfiction, ‘more Star Trek than Star Wars’, Gray was commissioned in the mid-2010s to begin writing officially for the Star Wars franchise
The story of Claudia Gray is a fangirl’s dream. From humble beginnings writing fanfiction, ‘more Star Trek than Star Wars’, Gray was commissioned in the mid-2010s to begin writing officially for the Star Wars franchise. Her first Star Wars book, ‘Lost Stars’, was published in September 2015 alongside fellow author Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars novel, ‘Aftermath’, as a part of an initiative preparing audiences for the seventh film in the series, ‘The Force Awakens’, which was released in the December of 2015.
But before her Star Wars books, Gray had already published her Evernight series, as well as, more recently, her Firebird trilogy, Spellcaster series, and the Constellation trilogy.
Gaining notoriety through her One Direction fanfiction, After, Todd received a publishing opportunity in 2014 from Gallery Books, which later expanded into a film deal in 2019. Despite receiving criticism similar to that of Fifty Shades of Grey, the book series sold well, and a total of four films were made, the first of which was voted ‘Drama Movie of 2019’ at the People’s Choice Awards.
Todd’s other works include the Landon series, The Stars series, and a standalone book called The Spring Girls.
Sometimes, the stories are original works, featuring original characters, original universes – fresh ideas that many media companies go crazy for
However, not all stories posted to websites such as Wattpad and AO3 are fanfiction. Sometimes, the stories are original works, featuring original characters, original universes – fresh ideas that many media companies go crazy for.
Back in 2011, at the age of 15, Beth Reekles began publishing chapters of her original work, The Kissing Booth, on Wattpad, gaining over 19 million “reads” on the site, as well as an official publishing deal by 2013. Then, in 2018, The Kissing Booth was turned into a Netflix film, with the second film being released back in 2020.
Some people mock and scorn fanfiction and amateur fiction, seeing it as nothing more than mildly creepy fever-dreams written by overly hormonal teenage girls
It is deeply saddening to see how many people attempt to gatekeep literature and writing as a whole. There is a stigma around the word ‘fanfiction’ that we need to break. Some people mock and scorn fanfiction and amateur fiction, seeing it as nothing more than mildly creepy fever-dreams written by overly hormonal teenage girls, wholly ignoring how useful it can be to new writers. Publishing your work on writing platforms allows people to track their progress over time, charting the evolution of their writing, and build not only an official portfolio of work that can then be used and drafted into conventional, publishable books, but also an audience of avid readers, eager for more from their favourite content creator.
From Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, to The Aeneid by Virgil (a post-epilogue tribute to Homer’s Iliad), fanfiction has integrated itself into our society and culture whether we like it or not. I will leave you with this quote from Samantha Pennington, the community engagement specialist for Wattpad:
“Fanfiction, first and foremost, fulfils a social and emotional need for creative self, expression and wish fulfilment. It provides people […] the space to stretch their imaginations, challenge what already exists, and reimagine worlds and characters in their own way. As a literary genre, fanfiction allows endless scope for fans to explore their passions without boundary or restriction.”
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