By Gemma Tadman
Most of you will have heard of fanfiction, or fanfic— the body of literature that springs from the world, setting, or characters of an original work of fiction. It is written by fans, as opposed to the original author or creator. The fan-writer can continue the existing novel; write for other characters, or even write alternate endings. The possibilities are endless.
Fanfiction is seldom approved by the original’s author or publisher, and, is rarely professionally published. Copyright means fanfic is subject to restriction, and if infringements are made, legal action can be taken. But, not every author disdains their work being used, and many will offer encouragement to budding writers. What better form of recognition or flattery can an author hope for?
Whilst most people have heard of fanfic, many do not understand the point of reading or writing it. Cemre Camuz, BA English student at RHUL, said she writes fanfic because, she ‘want[s] more of the character,’ and, ‘it’s wish fulfilment, for things that will never occur in the canon.’ RHUL student Hayley Simmons, said she writes because it’s ‘a great way to have a real audience critique your work, give you suggestions, and provide motivation to keep going with your writing.’ Isn’t that something all writers want?
However, there’s a stigma surrounding fanfiction. Many look down upon, or disregard it as a genre. Yes, there is fanfiction that is very poorly written (e.g. Fifty Shades of Grey), and yes, some is just plain porn (e.g. Fifty Shades of Grey…). And it seems that most dislike springs from the misconceptions that these things comprise fanfic. Camuz agrees it may be due to ‘the fact that sex is written about so explicitly, as if sex in literature is a new thing. The media have […] fetishized it and shocked [the public] by telling them their children read and write it.’
The media have a lot to do with this backlash. Television host Graham Norton will sometimes confront his celebrity guests with fanfiction and art. Although he will congratulate exceptional pieces, he will also make fun of less good or work he finds funny; humiliating fans and tainting their enjoyment. Why does he feel the need to do this? If it’s bad, just leave it alone. TV Host Caitlin Moran got the cast of BBC’S Sherlock Holmes to read out fanfiction dedicated to the series. Fanfic writer mildredandbobbin had her Sherlock fanfiction read and mocked. When interviewed by Teleread, this is what she had to say: ‘Thank you for humiliating me, taking my writing out of context without my permission, and using it to embarrass the actors who I deeply admire.’ Jokes might be intended without meaning to embarrass, but they can do just that.
Camuz wanted to write her dissertation on fanfiction, but, she was shot down by RHUL. The English Department said there was not enough research, and no English tutors to support her, but, Camuz isn’t so sure: ‘As a reader and writer […] I can make a link between fanfiction and Shakespeare, Tolkein, Arthurian authors and many more who are doing what we do today, only centuries before. Finding a tutor would have been fine. But fanfiction has been so stigmatised that the moment I said it, “you mean Slash Fiction” was sneered back at me. It was mortifying.’
But might there be a market for fanfiction? Simmons said that, ‘Some fanfiction’s I have read are phenomenal, […] fans of the animes they are based on would pay money for them. In Japan, there is a great market for Doujinshi (fanfiction manga), so I think well written fanfictions could definitely hold their own alongside original releases in the West.’ Camuz explained how, ‘As a genre, it’s a casual format for critical analysis of characters, shows, certain issues that arise. It’s a form of literature that is so overlooked because it allows people to be creative, to improve what is given to them […] It’s easily accessible. It’s free.’
It seems there is a lot more to fanfiction than most of us think.
Gemma Tadman, Arts Editor