Friday Culture Watch: The World of Fan Fiction.
Are you familiar with fan fiction? If you have read the Fifty Shades Trilogy (and are willing to admit it), you have dipped your toes into the world of fan fic—as E..L. James’ characters Christian and Anastasia were based on Stephenie Meyer’s leads from Twilight, Edward and Bella. James’ erotic reimaginings of her vampire world, initially posted online under the penname Snowqueen’s Icedragon, garnered such a robust following that James first self-published the books. Then Random House came calling and reiussed the trilogy in paperback, and the rest is history.
Lev Grossman provides this basic working definition of fan fiction in TIME: “Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couch-bound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”
I am intrigued by the idea of fan fic—in fact, I wrote my own Roald Dahl-inspired versions (based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, of course) as a kid. Would love to unearth those gems now! The reason I find the phenomenon so fascinating is that as Grossman notes, it demonstrates an active engagement with cultural media rather than passive consumption. And that is always a good thing.
You may know that first-time writer Anna Todd signed a six-figure book deal with Simon and Schuster this year for her One-Direction themed erotic fan fiction that first racked up millions of views on Wattpad. And she is certainly not the only fan fic writer that has been plucked from obscurity based on the rapid feedback available to online authors.
Not everyone condones this practice, however. George R.R. Martin, author of the popular Game of Thrones series, suggests that writers should not encourage unsanctioned spinoffs based on their characters—which are, ultimately, their own intellectual property.
In some ways, I think of fan fic as a literary form of sampling, but one could make the (valid) argument that successful fan fic can be too derivative and that it doesn’t always require the production of a composition with enough “newness” in the way that a song like Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage does (despite its origins in Lakeside’s song by the same name). Although, everything is a remix.
What do you think about fan fic? Do you read it? Do you write it?