The Art of Fanfiction
Have you ever wondered what might’ve happened if you were a character in your favorite movie? Or wondered about different endings to a book? What if Princess Leia had been raised on Tatooine and Luke Skywalker by the Rebellion? Or, what if Harry Potter had been sorted into Slytherin not Gryffindor? There are a million ways to explore the narrative of an existing work. Your own deleted scenes, a change in relationship dynamics, a dramatic twist in the main plot, or what if everybody’s in high school?
Welcome to the world of Fanfiction.
Now, as a literary genre, fanfiction doesn’t have much of a reputation. Aside from the clear wish fulfillment fantasies it embodies, a large portion of the stories are posted online by young authors in its raw unedited form. The worst of the pieces are the ones drawn into the spotlight. Perhaps most infamous, “My Immortal” is considered by those who know it as the worst Harry Potter fanfiction ever written. It contains such lines as, “Suddenly and idea I had. I clozd my eyes and using my vampire powers I sent Drako and Vampire so they would destruct Snape.” It’s unclear whether the author, known by her pseudonym Tara Gilesbie, deliberately butchered English into unrecognizable mincemeat.
Some authors don’t much care for this idea, and don’t want their hard work reinvented by someone else.
“I recognize that it’s an act of love… I would rather they make up their own characters and their own stories and not just borrow my world. I know what they [the characters] would do and what they can’t do, and some fan writers take over them and make them do things to my mind that are wildly out of character.”
George RR Martin
He’s got a point. A large portion of fanfiction is simply devoted to the relationships that never happened. Not everyone will agree with all the stylistic choices an author made, having formed their own idea of the story in their heads as they enjoyed it. Person A should have gone with Person C –not B! And just like that fanfiction takes a turn for the scandalous.
But it can also be critical and highly creative. Let’s switch the gender roles of all the characters and see what happens to the plot or just because it’ll make a statement about gender equality in society. The Lord of the Rings has only a handful of female characters; lets switch that up and see what happens. Like that Star Wars idea, where Luke and Leia trade upbringings from the beginning of this thought. Does she get to become the Jedi now? Why or why not?
Some authors, like J.K. Rowling, don’t mind fanfiction. In fact, Joss Whedon encourages it.
“I love it I absolutely love it. I wish I had grown up in the era of fanfiction, because I was living those shows and those movies that I loved and I would put on the score to ‘Superman’ and just relive the movie over and over.”
Fanfiction can also create something fun and original when it combines two different source materials. Tossing Sherlock Holmes into Hogwarts introduces logic to a magical world. Now we can use his skills of deduction to imagine how magic works, how it gets passed on, how people become stronger than others. It turns into something incredible in the combination.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was another who didn’t mind Fanfiction. “You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him,” he reportedly said to William Gillette, an American actor who wanted to change a Sherlock Holmes script that Doyle wrote.
The modern idea of fanfiction really started with the show Star Trek, when fans began writing romantic slash fiction between Captain Kirk and Spock. Course, back then you had actually print out your story or email it to your friends. But still, stuffy nosed writing academics saw women writing romantic novels and declared the lot of it unworthy of acknowledgement. This blatantly disregards works of literature that are hundreds of pages, equal to any published novel in complexity and command of English.
Copyright laws means fanfiction writers will never see a publishing company. They devote hundreds of hours, even thousands knowing their story can never earn money. But they have a story they want to see told that won’t be stopped. Not to mention that the world is actually full of legitimate fanfiction—we just don’t call it that.
Elementary on CBS and Sherlock on BBC One are glorified forms of Sherlock Holmes fanfiction. Every remake is just a fanfiction of the original. Book to Movie adaptations are also fanfiction. That absolutely terrible Harry Potter play The Cursed Child is a fanfiction. J.K. Rowling didn’t write the play; John Tiffany and Jack Thorne got her permission and approval to create it. I’ll probably get into why that adaptation was so terrible eventually, but for now the point is this—we’re already doing fanfiction, so lets take it seriously.
Too long has fanfiction been over-generalized into terrible, pornographic, amateur writing, while some bigshot in Hollywood is bringing back Frankenstein for the fifth time, or we got Cinderella getting a fresh new gritty modern take and, hey— you think we’re going to get a fourth Spiderman this decade?
Say what you want about Joss Whedon, but he’s got another good one.
“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.”
I’m a 2015 graduate from the University of Washington, with a Bachelor Degree in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis. I’m a huge nerd, enjoy binge-watching television, and suffer from extreme wanderlust. My real name is Sarah Gronostalski, but since no one can pronounce my last name I’ll be publishing under Sarah Janus.This space here is for all my fanfiction endeavors, which I have much affection for and is what got me writing in the first place.