Fanfiction: The Merits of Originality

If you are not familiar with Fanfiction, then you will want to sit down for a moment. Because you are missing out on a subgenre of writing that has hundreds of millions of items devoted to it.

Really, it’s quite a simple concept. We have all been sitting in that cinema and thinking to ourselves, “that ending sucked,” and we’ve all turned to the person beside us at some point and said, “they could have done that ending so much better.” Well, what if you thought up a new ending and then wrote it down? What if you shared it with people? What if you kept on going, kept on writing and kept on exploring the what-ifs? If you did that… you’d be a Fanfiction author.

The A,B and C's of the community

If you want to start at the beginning of the subgenres origins, you may want to explore The Testament of Cresseid or explore the archives of the internet where Spock and Kirk have already been in a relationship for thirty or so years of writing glory.

In terms of public opinion on Fanfiction as a whole, there are generally three extremely emotive opinions that you hear and read constantly from a published Authors point-of-view:

1. Rage: “Fan fiction is to writing what a cake mix is to gourmet cooking. Fan fiction is an Elvis impersonator who thinks he is original. Fan fiction is Paint-By-Number art.” – Robin Hobb

2. Apathy: “I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you’re writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you’re writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you’re still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.” – Neil Gaiman

3. Encouragement: “I myself used to write Star Wars fan fiction when I was tween. I think writing fan fiction is a good way for new writers to learn to tell a story.” – Meg Cabot

Clearly, if the quotes above can demonstrate anything, it is that fanfiction evokes very powerful emotions.

So, does fanfiction deserve the same credit as the literature it’s based on?

An interesting and strangely relevant book to refer to on this topic is that of Don Quixote. To quote Wikipedia, “It follows the adventures of a nameless hidalgo (at the end of Part II given the name Alonso Quixano) who reads so many chivalric novels that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote.” While the book itself was (and continues to be) extremely unique, it is also very enriched by Quixote’s references to past books and well-known stories:

Have I not already told you’, replied Don Quixote, ‘that I intend to imitate Amadis, and to act the desperate, foolish, furious lover so as also to imitate the valiant Orlando, when he found signs by a spring that the fair Angelica had disgraced herself with Medoro, and the grief turned him mad, and he uprooted trees, sullied the waters of clear springs, slew shepherds, destroyed flocks, burned cottages, tore down houses, dragged away mares and performed a hundred other excesses, worthy to be recorded on the tablets of eternal fame?’ […]

Even in this time before the internet and mass publishing, there was a value of repeating a familiar story in a new setting. At the time, there would have been many readers who delighted at such well-known romps being referred to by this insane and delusional character. Even today, the book stands as an important reference to works of literature that may have been forgotten, if not for their inclusion in this great of literature.

Sancho deserves a mention here as well...
Sancho deserves a mention here as well…

The reason that I would include this book as a frame of reference is because it plays with the idea of originality. There have always been stories of big-headed idiots which have flown by unnoticed and yet, this story twisted these fables in such a way that it drew millions of readers into its pages.

Is it worthwhile to ask if these references to past stories and books make the value of this book any less? Is it negatively effected by these references and could it have been even better if it had been a 100% original novel? Honestly, we will never know. As a reader who has no knowledge of these past stories, the most important reasons for continuing my reading were based on the quality of the writing, the dialogue and the engaging characters. Not its originality.

In many respects, I understand why authors do not enjoy the idea of fanfiction. Some of the writing is just… terrible (and I say that with all due respect to the hundreds of stories I have read, favorited and re-read over the years). This not even semantic of the industry or a factor that is questionable. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of stories out there which are terribly written.


However, there are also many stories which read like a dream.

Truly, it doesn’t matter if the characters you portray are closer to the reader than their own parents. It doesn’t matter if there is a genuine story behind each moment and a reason for every setting to be included. What matters is whether the writing is well done and whether the reader feels satisfied. Whether the plot and idea have been executed and whether the reader is absorbed. And this mirrors exactly the situation that reviewers and readers face every day when picking up completely original books. Does this book deserve the same credit that I would give to a classic of literature? Is it readable? Is it well executed and will I actually enjoy it?

This highlights the difficulty of analysing the worth of fanfiction as a writing form, as prescribing a measure of value to it will always be done with a huge heaping of bias. From the perspective of a past fanfiction reader and writer, I believe fanfiction which is well-constructed and well-written to be a highly valuable form of writing. To be clear though, I have never published a book of my own.

I'm one of the good writers?! Right?
I’m one of the good writers?! Right?

It is obvious that a published author will value originality. Quality writing is already a prerequisite of getting to the financial position that they are already in, so the value of fanfiction surpasses the basic evaluations that a normal reader will give it. It is assumed, if you are published, that you know how to string a sentence together.

If authors are evaluating fanfiction through a lens that most other readers do not possess, should they be the authority on the matter? Should they be the ones to give credit and allow us to do the same? Or should they have a certain understanding that their value system is different to the average readers, who may care very little about copyrighting but may have an enormous level of concern over the stories readability?

So what happens when the decision of its quality and popularity is taken away from Authors?

This happens:


Let’s be clear, I have no interest in evaluating whether 50 Shades of Grey is a good book or not. That discussion could easily take up a book on its own.

What is important about this book, however, is the fact that the readers made a choice as to what they deem to be valuable. Readability, eroticism and excitement have made this a more popular book than other recently released novels. So is it important for us – on top of evaluating the writing, character development and plot – to also evaluate it’s original sources? Has it stayed true to Twilight? And if we are comparing this to Twilight, shouldn’t we then compare Twilight to Dracula, and Dracula to the historical accuracy of the stories of Vlad the Impaler? Should all works based off Vlad be evaluated as different forms of fanfiction?

Or should we once again look at what the common people actually care about? Is this a good read? Was it written well? More to the point, should we expect every person to be intimately familiar with the original source? On many occasions, I have read fanfiction based on media I have never viewed or read. To me, these stories are original. Therefore, I am not evaluating them on their accuracy, but on whether the characters are continuing to develop and whether the story is progressing in a way that is readable and interesting.

There are many people who would without a doubt say that 50 Shades of Grey is a terrible book. And they are absolutely entitled to their opinions. But can we expect such a small, suppressed market to have quality writers within it? Would you expect a child to be a great horse rider, even if he’d watched dozens of adults ride before him? Probably not. Because there is no standard for the skill level of a child rider. At that point, just getting them on the horse is the most important thing. And for fanfiction authors, just getting published is a huge and incredible step. How can we except the quality of the writing to be amazing if there is no precedent or standard for what that quality should be? General Fiction authors have industry standards, awards and various accolades constantly at the edge of their peripheral vision. But fanfiction authors have none of this. There is no award called Fanfiction Author of the Year or Best Fiction Adaptation of a Novel. Should you invest in creating beautiful prose and writing if an engaging story is what is going to get you published?

At what point does a work stop being Fanfiction and start being its own independent work – like in the case with Fifty Shades?

The sad thing is that there is no defined point at which this occurs. To be honest, 50 Shades of Grey was a stroke of good luck. Even though I never want to read it (it isn’t my style of book), I have to acknowledge that it has kick-started something which may change the way Fanfiction is viewed. In this case, the average readers spoke and decided that even if professional authors didn’t value the attributes this book possessed, that was unimportant as to whether it should be counted as a valuable work of writing.

At the end of the day, who should be deciding the merit of the book? Does getting published make your opinion more valuable than that of a 12 grade student’s?

I am inclined to say that the numbers speak for themselves. Currently, the combined sales of Robin Hobb’s first nine novels is 59 million sales less than the first 50 Shades of Grey Book. Which maybe explains her rage (I will still love you Robin, no matter how many rants you publish on the matter).

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Oh how I love fanfic. Love, love, love. Keeps me amused for hours and gives a wonderful insight into the human mind. Especially as most is posted anonymously.

  2. Lily Bolt

    For the authors who mention Fan fiction is all about money and feeding on the reputations of other authors- they are flogging live horses for their own financial gain.

  3. MeEubanks

    It’s fine when the original author is no longer writing, but I imagine it is intensely irritating if you are.

  4. Marvelous

    I had a bit of a shock last year when I realised that I’d been writing fanfiction for ten years of my life.

    Simply put, it’s my hobby, my relaxation, a brilliant way of making friends (some of whom are lifelong) and much more. It does deserve more credit. Yes, there is terrible stuff out there… and you can bet your life that the people who write what you think is terrible find something else just as terrible, or worse. Everyone has expectations 😉

    Fan art also deserves a mention because some of it is absolutely stunning and brings to life characters far more successfully than film adaptations do, in my experience.

    Whether we go on to be professional writers or artists really has nothing to do with it –this is our hobby, we love it.

  5. January

    Fanfiction has the best communities of fans.

  6. Ernie Dill

    Not strictly in the realms of fan fiction, but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the best book I have read this year.

  7. Adelina

    Fanfiction is a great way for aspiring authors to try their hand at writing.

  8. Both fanfiction and fan art can be breath-taking. My son is an avid gamer, for example, and some of the artwork for games like “Guild Wars 2” is simply breath-taking. I’d wager that in terms of pure quality, the fans are often better than the artists themselves.

    • Gaming is definitely one of the media where the fanfiction can often feature storytelling superior to the original.

  9. Josephina Hershberger

    I used to write fanfic. I was terrible, but I loved it. and made kind friends through it who helped to make my bad writing better. To be fair to myself though, I was nowhere near the worst – having basic grammar/spelling and a working knowledge of the human body (v.useful when writing “panting fantasies” 😉 ).

  10. The word fanfiction makes me shudder…

  11. I think the stigma that surrounds fanfiction is an interesting one. I remember telling a friend I was writing The Giver fanfiction and getting laughed at in the middle of a group. Fanfiction is, to me, a ststress-free creative outlet that needs to be explored and understood, almost like a new species of animal. Interesting read, though!

  12. I write fic for several fandoms (the difficulty I find is having time to finish them!). One motivation for writing can be that the original has a good concept, but is poorly executed, or characters and situations with potential are under-developed.

  13. I’m an amateur writer, and I assure you – I dream of the day that somebody writes fanfic for something I’ve written. I will be utterly honoured. If author that is irritated by the idea that their fans are so in love with the worlds that they have created that they want to play with them beyond the limits of the books, that is an author who evidently dislikes their own fan base for having the sheer gall to be fans.

  14. I wouldn’t condemn fan fiction in totality, but a lot of it isn’t very good. This makes it hard to explore and hard to love. There is only so much tosh you can go through before you give up – even if it does cover characters you like.

  15. As a full grown adult with a BA in Journalism, an avid fanfiction reader, I agree with this article.

  16. Minnick

    Still don’t get the obsession some have about writing about a pregnant Legolas. Very odd.

  17. Mainly read stuff based on Lord of the Rings, as this appears to be such a rich vein to be mined, and in ways in which Prof. Tolkein would never have dreamed of – most are absolutely awful, but have a kind of hideous fascination. Rarely, you get a well-written one (usually not involving some sort of Mary Sue having sex with various characters) , and they are a joy.

  18. I know that I used to have a negative opinion of fanfics, but when I had endings to shows I didn’t like, I ended up searching for them. I have maintained a neutral opinion of them over the years and I respect them for what they are. But whenever I read them I have this surreal feeling that it isn’t the same. i can’t pinpoint if it’s the author’s style or if the original ending is too ingrained in my mind.

  19. The Testament of Cresseid is an interesting example, because the tradition of Aeneid fanfic is much older than that. The entire story of Troilus and Cressida popularized by Shakespeare is essentially a fanfic play based on Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, which is a fanfic of Bocaccio’s Filostrato and Benoit de Sainte-Maure’s Roman de Troie, which was a fanfic based on a teeny little side note in Dares Phrygius, which was a fanfic-esque hoax text related to the Iliad and the Aeneid. Fanfic and reinterpretation runs so, SO deeply in literary history that it’s ludicrous to denounce it as some sort of modern, disrespectful fad. Authorship is relative and mutable. Thanks for the great article!

  20. Funnily enough I recently came across two pieces of fan fiction that made me laugh more than just about anything else in the past year.

  21. What does Don Quixote have to do with fanfiction? Isn’t it fairly common to use literary allusions? There’s a difference between being in communication with literary tradition and using someone else’s characters to write a story.

  22. Fanfiction has a long history:

  23. That’s really interesting that you bring up Don Quixote, in a lot of my literature classes we talk about how copying old stories, such as the characters or plot, was really common and before copyright was acknowledged as a law it was expected from new stories to rework old stories, but before this I never connected it to fanfiction. It’s definitely true though that you could trace the origins back to that. I personally love fanfiction, even the worst written ones. I love that people can be so passionate about a story or characters that they make up their own plots within that story’s universe. I used to write fanfiction too but at one point I stopped just because like you said, there was a point where I thought ‘I really like this plot, I want to make it into my own book with my own characters’ so I would maybe base someone off of a character from the original story but change everything else so it was my own. Really interesting article, fanfiction is definitely an interesting outlet and a lot can be said about it.

  24. Fanfic as subculture is interesting to understand and analyze (or at least attempt to) because the rising popularity of things considered subculture may be muddling the lines of what is cool, what is new, what is mainstream, etc. Music often places a high emphasis on originality but simultaneously is an attempt to be progressive with that which already exists. Fanfiction is art – it’s literature!

  25. CriticalOtaku

    I’ve personally never read fanfiction but I agree with you on the point that originality isn’t really something that should be placed above all else especially because most of the subjects, if not all of them, that current authors and past authors have written about have been so many times. And it’s not just something that happens in literature but in music and art as well. As long as an artist (whether writer, musician or painter/sculptor/etc.) can move an audience member, originality shouldn’t be the thing that’s emphasized.

  26. Adnan Bey

    The lack of good writing in many Fan fiction stories is the sole reason why I very rarely read it… but I write it constantly. It’s a chaotic mess of good writing and bad mixed into one medium that is Fan Fiction. This gives it a sort of diversity not found in published works (most of which can at least string sentences together as you said.) Still, I’ve read a lot of good fan fictions out there, ones worthy of being published, ones that are so good, one wonders why these authors are not professional writers in their own right. Fan Fiction gives everyone the right to the published (online at least) but only the privilege to be highly regarded later. I personally love Fan Fixction because when you do work at it, you get better, you get more writers and it’s partly why the book industry has experienced a major boom. I know Cassandra Clare, author of Mortal Instruments, used to write HP Fan Fiction (though it was admittedly very controversial, it was still highly regarded.)

  27. ChelseaOtis

    Wow, I have read fanfiction before but this article have given me a whole new perspective, and I already liked fanfiction pieces. I love how you approach the question posed and the way that you discuss it. I feel originality can be important but I agree that it shouldn’t be the ultimate deciding power. I feel that the reader is what is important and if the writer gives the reader what they want, then that is what really matters. Writers are all influenced in some way by what they have read themselves. True originality can be hard to come by.

  28. There’s really nothing new under the sun to write about: boy/girl meets girl/boy, boy/girl loses girl/boy, boy/girl finds & eats a different girl/boy in a crazed zombie/vampire attack while searching for the key to the code which will unlock the truth to life, the universe & who actually wrote the plays of Shakespeare.

  29. It seems a great challenge to identify whether the fan-fiction has originated from a inner critique or inner creative.

  30. Fanfiction is an excellent way to practice writing and get experience. The writer doesn’t have to worry about the difficult part of creating the world, coming up with the characters, etc. All they need to focus on is ‘stringing words together into a sentence’, which, like you stated, can be either hit or miss when it comes to quality. In which case, the writer just needs to keep practicing, and before they know it they could have to technique down and be well on their way to creating their own original stories.

  31. I wouldn’t say fanfiction is literature per se, but it’s a great way for writers to get started. Cassandra Clare who is the author of the mortal instruments series got her start writing fanfiction.

  32. Jill

    Interesting read. I’ve been a fanfictionist for about thirteen years, though I hope those writing never surface. LOL. There are very valuable learning in writing fanfiction and because the writing and reading is more lax within a fandom intent on enjoyment rather than producing “art” compared to, say, actually writing professionally, I must say my taste for experimentation in form and ideas has developed exponentially. Of course there are drawbacks because editing doesn’t play much role in fanfiction. It’s supposed to be “fun” not work. Of course there are tight a$$es that use beta-readers but really fanfiction is very much a grammar mayhem. I believe writing fanfiction has made me grammar-careless. It’s the mentality of I-must-produce-for-my-fans that quality suffers a lot. I am actually earning a degree in Publishing and Editing and we spoke a lot about Fifty Shades of Grey which has not been edited properly. It speaks a lot about the Millennial generation… that we demand entertainment right now and to hell with quality. As a fanfictionist who primarily writes, I think it’s really useful in building a sense of your writing self. As a reader though, I cringe. It’s not a matter of originality, because I think at this point of history, all literature is influenced by something, right? It’s like the chicken-and-the-egg debate. It’s a matter of quality at this point, so I still wish for the reemergence of traditional publishing. Maybe it’s still a question of can “popular” be “art”. Who defines art? Why is there a need for hierarchy in a art, anyway?

  33. Fan fiction in my opinion is truly limitless and gives the author complete freedom.

  34. Andie

    I’ve read many fanfictions that were far better written than some of the published books I’ve read.

  35. Amelia Fairweather

    It’s an interesting argument – whether fanfiction qualifies as literature or not. Like Don Quixote, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is also fanfiction (based off of Jane Austen’s Emma). Despite this, both are considered great works of literature and analyzed academically. There is a negative opinion attached to fanfiction which I feel stems from a degree of misogyny – since a large amount of fanfiction is written by teenage girls. Overall, I see fanfiction as a useful writing exercise and hobby. Fics are very much like published books; some are good, some are bad.

  36. I think fan fiction stories are great, it’s like a new refreshing perspective to a story that you have already read or a show you’ve watched. In fact some of these fan fiction writers are really good at writing a story. It’s also a great way to practice your story writing skills. Yes, the work isn’t completely theirs but the readers already know that.

  37. I enjoy the occasional fan fic. Sometimes I even enjoy reading bad ones just to enjoy how bad they are. I also love seeing how different people have interpreted characters. Sometimes it changes how I view a certain character in the original media.

  38. Something I don’t think many people know is that our favourite Harry Potter series by the beloved J.K. Rowling is very often thought to be based off Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, which was first published in 1968. Authors cannot become authors without first being readers, and just as we all are influenced by certain ideas and genres, so are they.

  39. This is a very interesting article! I do, however, think there are multiple types of fanfiction and grouping all types together is slightly unfair. It would be like grouping all romance or mystery or thrillers together.

    One type, in my observations, is fanfiction that continues the life of a character (and possibly world) created by another author. In this case the writing, while perfectly okay for stress-relief, relaxation or other personal purposes, does tread into copyright issues, and therefore is ‘uncool’ for the new author to publicly publish. It’s this type of fanfiction I can see causing problems for the original authors.

    A second type, again, in my observations, if fanfiction where a plot concept or idea is noticed by a new author, and that new author using it as the premise for a new story. The good and bad things with this type of fanfiction is that unless the new author specifically tells you it’s fanfiction, you may never know. Another thing to consider about this type of fanfiction is that it’s hard to read a book now-a-days that has a completely new and never-before-used plot concept! This isn’t a bad thing, but it goes with the argument in this article regarding where you exactly draw the line.

    I personally have no problems with fanfiction, in general, as long as it does not step on the rights of the original author – unless that author is explicitly supportive of it.

    I don’t think the fact that a story may be fanfiction implies lack of quality. I’ve read novels by several published authors with terrible writing (some of which I’ve given up on). Therefore, I also don’t think being a published author implies quality writing. I think in both cases it’s about risk. Self-published authors are taking the risk that their writing is of the type and quality that readers will like. And publishers are taking the risk that a book *they* think is good will also be liked by a large number of consumers. In the end, it’s the reader (aka. consumer) that decides what is good and what isn’t based on their buying power.

  40. You raise some interesting points. I think fanfiction is certainly a valid way to learn to write, and there is merit in being able to pick out “bad” writing and, more importantly, exactly what makes it “bad”.
    That said, it is certainly more challenging to write a truly original work, and I think that should be the gold standard for writers.

  41. People keep mentioning, “Yeah, there’s horrible fanfiction out there, but there’s some good stuff, too!” What does that have anything to do with the validity of fanfiction? There are PLENTY of horrible novels out there that have been published, for whatever reason, yet no one makes a comment about it.

    The quality of fanfiction as a whole shouldn’t, I think, be a major focus of this topic. I know George R.R. Martin said that fanfiction is copyright. …Obviously he doesn’t know what it is. No one claims to own these characters and I don’t see how people could really make money off of it. But if I read a Game of Thrones fanfiction and I like that story better, or the path of character development is something that I would prefer to see for some of my favourites, then you bet I’ll be reading that fanfiction.

    I write original pieces in addition to fanfiction, and, to a point, I can see why this would upset some authors. But there is a tiny part of me that believes these authors are angry at the fact that random people can take their characters/universe/etc. and make a better story than they could/are. I don’t doubt that happens. It goes back to my original point of there being horrible books published that are not fanfiction at all. If there were elements that I enjoyed, but overall it was poorly written and has great potential, I’ll write a fanfic. Why not?

  42. Though I understand how fanfiction can be seen as a negative thing, it definitely got me into writing in the first place. When I was younger, I would read many books and create fanfiction by rewriting the ending of a story or even writing a second book. That was actually how I got into writing. Of course, I don’t believe that a fanfiction author deserves any real credit as the original idea didn’t come from him/her. However, fanfiction is a good pathway to start practicing writing before creating original ideas and publishing those.

  43. A very interesting perspective. It’s true, sometimes one isn’t sure of the line between fanfiction and fiction- the use of 50 Shades is a very good example of that. There are a lot of conflicting views on it and I think it’s really interesting to look at them. I think it’s a wonderful means to create a world within a world.

  44. I believe that fanfictions are created, like the original fictions they are based off, to be enjoyed by the members of the fandoms. Stories of fiction are meant to be shared and loved – and if a fan would love a story to go in different direction than the author originally intended, it is the fans prerogative to creatively explore this new direction.

    From an authors point of view, it can be aggravating to see someone come into the universe you’ve built and change the story you’ve created. A painter would not want someone to alter their painting, just like how many authors become offended when a fan adds a plot that may have not been intended for the characters.

    This all being said, I agree that fanfictions are fun and interesting way for many aspiring authors to hone their writing skills. It is also a way for many fans to get an added fix of their favourite characters.

  45. Excellent article!

    I come from a fanfiction background. I wrote tons of Harry Potter fan fiction as a teen as an outlet for expression (teen angst!). Personally, I would be flattered if one day people started writing fan fiction about my stories. I believe we’re all in this together and we should be empowering each other, not claiming ideas for our own and not willing to share. Fan fiction is not theft, it is the appreciation of the creator’s universe, and a tool for writers (of all levels but particularly to the up and coming) to develop their own style and practice narrative techniques.

    You put up an excellent defence for 50 Shades of Gray. I have never read the story but don’t care to as I closed my mind to the Twilight series after I saw the first movie. However that being said, if 50 Shades was based on Harry Potter I might have had some time. Your article forced me to reflect upon my own views about fanfiction being published and personally I think: why not? It doesn’t have to be made canon. How many popular fictions (Doctor Who comes to mind) have had books published, have had TV series made that is a direct inspiration from the universe but has nothing to do with the canon?

    We write what we know. We make observations from the universe which surrounds us as creators and then recreate from our interpretations of it. In my opinion, nothing is “original” there is only our interpretation of the universe and what it inspires us to do.

    …And then hopefully someone pays us for it.

  46. I love fanfic. I used to read Harry Potter fan fiction all the time after the series ended and it was just another way for me to keep in touch with the characters and see things from a different perspective. Not wanting to take anything away from JK Rowling or anything, her work is the original, but seeing her fans take her characters to another level and give them more personality is great to read.

  47. Jenna Mae

    FanFic can be a crapshoot but I agree, it is excellent practice for the striving writer. A supportive community is essential, especially in the beginning stages of writing. With the basic elements already laid out, I surmise fanfic writers find it easier to find momentum.

    One of the main reasons I have looked into FanFic is due to books, shows, films ending in a way that doesn’t sit right with me. I have also searched for fan fiction when I find myself wanting to explore more of the universe that has already been created. While I have struggled through ineloquent writing, I have also found many beautiful stories that have invigorated my view on the value of FanFic, no matter what you must sift through first.

  48. I think the quality of a piece of writing far outweighs originality. Shakespeare, who is arguably one of the greatest writers in English history, used unoriginal plots for most of his plays, yet it is his version of the story most of us remember to this day because of his mastery of language and his ability to re-create his own unique version of a familiar story. I believe that true originality is almost impossible. Inspiration for plots and characters can come from one source, or they can be made up of bits and pieces of a thousand sources. Is one more original than the other? Good characters and plots are good because they are identifiable to readers, making them common and unoriginal. Therefore, it is not the plots and characters themselves that are as important as how they are portrayed to make them believable.

  49. Fanfiction provides an opportunity for writers to fall into the mindset of different characters. When creating original works, new writers tend to create characters that are merely reflections of the author’s personality. By spending time with other characters, fanfic writers put aside thoughts of “what would I do” and replace it with “what would ____ do”.

    Fanfiction is a great place to ask “what if”. What if a character chose a) instead of b)? These questions lead to potential character growth and a deeper exploration of the world the original author had created. In Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl”, the main character, Cath, describes the importance of fanfiction. From uniting a community to strengthening a bond with lovable characters, fanfiction is a great way to make that all possible. With a supporting community, it might just give new writers the confidence to pursue stories outside of fanfiction.

  50. I agree with Meg Cabot that writing FanFic is a good way for people to learn how to write. It allows them to explore their own voice in a world that they feel familiar with.
    On a different note I don’t think stories like 50 Shades count as FanFic (although the author will disagree with me), because unlike StarTrek or StarWars fanfics, where they stay in the world, 50 Shades, leaves the world of Twilight behind. So I think it would be safer to say it was merely inspired by Twilight, and I don’t think inspiration counts as fanfic. Or else, as you mention, everything would be a fanfic of something.

    • shelbysf

      I do believe though that the author of 50SoG had written it into the verse of Twilight. Once she was given the opportunity to get it published, it gave her a forced hand to move the story between Bella and Edward.

  51. I’ll occasionally read fanfiction but I’m more likely to enjoy reading original content on Wattpad. That being said there’s a lot of fics that are amazingly written and when I come across these, I get kind of annoyed that the only thing they have in common with the original story is the characters, why didn’t the author just write their own story? Sometimes it’s easier for writers to have the safety net of the fandom or want to pay homage to what inspired them to write it but still… some of these writers are amazing and need to write more original stuff!

  52. shelbysf

    I could go on for days in regards to the debate of Fanfiction. I’ve written it and collaborated with so many people on respective sites for so many years now. I’ve been bashed for choosing to do this for a hobby while I’ve had doors open into my life because of it that I refuse to close now. I saw it mentioned above but, it is such an amazing release to do for writers that aren’t professional. It’s an amazing tool to utilize for aspiring writers and it teaches them of all the varying styles of writing that are around. Fanfiction can be cruddy though, as mentioned in the article. There are stories that everyone has read that are just awful but that’s someone else’s beginning into learning and acquiring their own voice in their writing. We all have to start somewhere, right?

    As for originality, Fifty Shades of Grey is the key example for this nowadays. But really, all authors have their influences that have utilized the styles and things they’ve read from other authors. Through the years, everyone has taken bits and pieces here and there and everything has become so collaborative. We’re a big melting pot of ideas that we’re always bouncing off of one another. There is still originality though. Fanfic writers start off from the basis of the story and continue on the character’s paths after the story was finished or completely change it around into an AU scenario. Of course, there is always credit where due and I think that’s splendid to do. But then the story evolves and you grow the characters and make them something else. You have so many ideas of this character that suddenly it doesn’t seem to be the same as they had started out while still in the story that the original author had created. I believe that’s when it turns into originality because you can take the idea of a character, dissect it and understand every little bit of it, and create this whole new world thanks to the ideas of others. But until that happens – writers and readers alike will just enjoy the benefits of reading silly, dramatic, romantic, erotic, and action-packed fanfic for fun.

  53. Morgan R. Muller

    This article is very interesting and well written! Great job!

  54. I think fanfiction is something that just happens to a community just like fan art. If some one loves something they want to do some thing with it. If they can’t draw, why not write. I see nothing wrong with it.
    Yes, some of them are badly written and done by under age girls who just want to talk about sex, but really don’t know how. But, others are good stories and are worth seeing. Also, if some one is a writer they are going to write. Fanfiction is a good place to start. It’s like manga artist making doujinshis before doing their own work.

  55. I agree that Fanfiction definitely deserves as much respect as other works of fiction! Most of the fanfictions out there are ten times better than 50 shades, and deserve just as much credit! I’d love to see how the fight for fanfictions publishing rights expands over the next couple years.

  56. Originality is a really good theme you hit on. Each genre, besides the actual books that make it up, has its own set of ‘rules’ for how elements of the story should be and all writers working with that genre are pulling from this pool – sometimes quite a bit and sometimes not as much in order to mix it up. But because they all have their characteristics, it is hard to say what’s original.

    Usually, taking an author’s characters is getting into troublesome territory, but I think that is one facilitation in Fanfiction that is important. Most aren’t publishing their Fanfics for money, and from my reading experience, a large amount recognize that X is the author’s and only the plot is mine or something of the sort. Fanfic writers aren’t under the delusion that they’re being completely original, they are just having fun working on their writing! I don’t write FF myself, but do enjoy reading it – something people have laughed at me for sometimes – especially when I have an OTP the original work isn’t doing justice for!

  57. I have to say, I love fanfiction, I’ve read it for years for fun and just over a year ago finally started to actually publish my own work. It has always been though a genre that I’m not so sure about. When it takes up majority of my reading and people ask me what I have been reading I’m reluctant to say ‘fan fiction’ because it’s simply not respected in the same way as a paper book.

    Anyways, great article! I really like the work that you put into this. I think it’s very true, that originality in some ways is overrated. I also think that no matter how original a story is as writers we all have to learn from other people, something has to inspire us, and there is always going to be some amount of overlap, so why not use FF as a springboard into your own writing, kind of like as a way to practice writing as Gaiman and Cabot said.

  58. An interesting and well written article! I would recommend checking out the following article as well. It smoothly describes the concept of fanfiction.

  59. kristinagreta

    Although I do agree with the general viewpoint that fanfiction isn’t deserving of immense credit for great writing and originality, I do find that it is a brilliant way to get people even more interested in the original piece of work. I also find that it has helped both me and some friends develop a wider vocabulary!

  60. I like how you question what it means to be original in writing. It is interesting how the concept of originality has evolved in Western (American/Western European) culture and its ties with capitalism. Just a couple of centuries ago it was common, even expected, that an author was to borrow or “steal” from other writers and stories. Nowadays, originality is held up as almost a holy grail for a writer to achieve, but other push back against this idea (for example fanfiction writers).

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