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This is an attempt at an informal essay on fan fiction, by a middle-aged woman who reads and enjoys fan fiction. It won’t really be a balanced argument—I will be concentrating more on what I see as the positive aspects of the genre. I’ll be using mainly examples from the Sherlock fandom, that being the fandom I’m most familiar with. (There will be some spoilers, especially for series 3, so if you haven’t seen the series yet and you intend to, it might be wise to give this essay a miss.)

Why do I read fan fiction? The basic reason is exactly the same reason I read anything—some of it is of astounding quality. I think fan fiction is often saddled with the image of being written solely by beginners and being uniformly terrible. But it’s like any other kind of fiction. You have beginners, you have the competent, you have the talented and experienced. The very best fan fiction writers write at a professional standard; the very best stories surpass their source material. When I first started digging a little deeper into fan fiction I was taken aback at the quality of work that people were generously making available for free. That they were writing just for the fun of it.

What is fan fiction? I’ll start with what it’s not. The BBC series Sherlock is, obviously, based on the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. The creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have also acknowledged being influenced by Billy Wilder’s film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Moffat and Gatiss are huge fans of Sherlock Holmes and were inspired to make this new version out of love for the character. Is Sherlock fan fiction? I would say no. Not because the writers are being paid and the finished production is being shown on national television, but because there is a complete separation between Conan Doyle’s stories and Sherlock. Yes, the series is based on Conan Doyle’s work and that has to be acknowledged, but someone who has never heard of Sherlock Holmes before can sit down with episode one and completely follow it. There is no extra information that they need.

Fan fiction doesn’t have this complete separation—you have to be familiar with the source material to get the most out of it. But this lack of separation is deliberate. The very best fan fiction writers are not people incapable of coming up with their own characters—they write fan fiction because it is fun. Because it is pleasurable to see characters that you already love in new stories.

Is fan fiction about writing fantasies? I think fan fiction is about being indulgent without, hopefully, being self-indulgent. And in fan fiction, this very often does mean sex. (Sex and romance certainly aren’t an essential part of fanfics. They’re just very, very, very popular.) But reading a wide variety of fan fiction has brought home to me exactly what is the difference between writing literature and merely indulging a fantasy. A lot of fan fiction writers cheerfully refer to stories with sex in them as “porn”, which makes me flinch. It’s an entirely negative term for me, and I think in a lot of cases it isn’t an accurate one. Having a mature or explicit sex scene in a story doesn’t make it inherently pornographic. Pornography is about taking a fantasy and imposing it on the characters—making them act it out. In an erotic story, the sex comes out of the plot and is appropriate for the characters.

This does lead into whether it’s appropriate to write about sexual relationships between characters who aren’t in that kind of relationship in canon. This is a personal preference I suppose. All I can say is that it doesn’t offend me—in fact, I see it is a positive and enjoyable thing. Stories are occasionally labelled “alternate universe” (AU) if the setting of the story is significantly different from canon. I just consider all fanfics to be AUs of canon. And to be honest, “altering” people’s sexuality does irritate me, but extending people’s sexuality doesn’t. I’m not a great one for labels in real life either—sometimes “heterosexual” people fall in love with members of their own sex, sometimes “homosexual” people fall in love with members of the opposite sex. (And, yes, I know it’s more complicated than this. This is why I don’t like labels: people’s sexuality and gender identity is more of an essay answer.)

Writing a romance between characters who aren’t in a romance in canon illustrates an important skill in fan fiction. The writer must rewrite the characters slightly to make them suitable for the story. Get the characters right on the nose and it can be an uncomfortable read: “But they wouldn’t do that.” Move the characters too far away from their canon personas and they become grotesque—you recognise them but there’s something slightly off about them. Whatever the story, all fan fiction writers do this to some extent: rewrite the characters and make them their own.

In the novel Some of Our Thursdays are Missing by Jasper Fforde, there is a place called Fan Fiction, which is visited by the official written version of the series’ main character Thursday Next. She meets some of the fanfic Thursdays:

“Why is everyone so flat?” I asked.

“It’s a natural consequence of being borrowed from somewhere else,” explained the Thursday, who was, I noted, less than half an inch thick but apparently normal in every other way. “It doesn’t make us any less real or lacking in quality. But being written by someone who might not quite understand the subconscious nuance of the character leaves us in varying degrees of flatness.”


This is a little bit patronising and not, I think, accurate. If you were to meet all the fanfic Sherlock Holmeses from Sherlock, some of them would be flat because they’ve been written by beginners who don’t yet have the experience to make a character three dimensional. But there would be an awful lot of Sherlocks that would be rounded and have depth. And none of the Sherlocks would look exactly like one another. It would be like looking at cousins, not clones. You would see the family resemblance but there would be subtle differences.

What about originality? The formal term for fan works is “transformative works”. Originally I completely rejected that—it seemed that the one thing fan works didn’t do was transform the original. As I’ve said, you don’t have a complete separation between the source and the fan work. But I’ve changed my mind now. A good piece of fan fiction should give you something you can’t get from the original. A fresh view, a new angle.

This is my brief review for my favourite Sherlock fanfic:

Leaves me breathless with laughter. My absolute favourite Sherlock story.

It's perhaps ironic that the author begins with the disclaimer that they don't own this world, because they really, really do. This version of Sherlock allows us access to a childlike view of a world in which, though terrible things can and do happen, there is always colour, hope and love. (And quite a lot of grown-up sex.)


The BBC series has humour in it but doesn’t concentrate on it in the same way this story does. But the fanfic isn’t a one note story—it has darkness and poignancy. The author is unbelievably talented, able to move from one aspect to another while always keeping an even tone. But the emphasis is on bringing out the ridiculousness of life. The basic characters are borrowed but it is an entirely original outlook and writing style. Every talented fan fiction writer brings something new and original to their work. Sherlock itself is based on another man’s work but I think it can still be described as original. It’s fresh and exciting. It’s more than just another dramatization of Sherlock Holmes. It’s just that fan fiction, unlike Sherlock, always deliberately keeps itself connected to its source.

Fan fiction can be used as a type of literary analysis, a way of commenting on the canon material. After I watched the first episode of series 3 of Sherlock, I was left bewildered by a lot of Sherlock’s behaviour. In between the showing of the first episode and the showing of the second, a writer I greatly admire wrote a story based on the first episode, in third person but from Sherlock’s point of view. It took a step back and looked at the bigger picture.  The author gave their interpretation of what was going on in Sherlock's head during The Empty Hearse—they pulled everything together and gave a satisfying explanation for his behaviour.

Fan fiction can be used as a way of examining possibilities: what if this happened? Or: what if this had happened? It can be used as a way of magnifying certain aspects—looking more closely at a character. For example: Sherlock declares himself to be a sociopath. What if he really were an evil man, with no conscience? Or the writer can concentrate on his naughty little boy aspect. Or the way he can be calm, detached and in control, or the way he can sometimes be vulnerable and unsure of his place in the world.

You can go into the past and have Sherlock as a child, or as a young man. Or just before he met John Watson. Or go into the future and have Sherlock in middle-age or in old age. You can put the emphasis on humour, or on drama. When the source material is a TV programme or a film, the demands of the plot keep things zooming along. It can be nice in a fanfic to be able to just spend some time with the characters and listen to them talk to one other.

Fan fiction can expand a world. Harry Watson is a character who is mentioned but never appears in Sherlock. We know very little about her in canon. However, she appears in fan fiction in many different and rounded forms.

Fan fiction can sometimes give depth to the original work. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are, on the whole, simply adventure stories. (There are some that go a little deeper perhaps: The Cardboard Box for example.) There have been discussions about what is Holmes’ sexuality within these stories but personally I would argue that looking for any kind of sexuality for anyone (even though Watson gets married) is looking for a depth that simply isn’t there. There is a famous fan fiction writer who writes Sherlock Holmes stories that take a closer look at society and at homosexuality in Victorian times. Their Sherlock Holmes isn’t Conan Doyle’s Holmes—their characters are recognisable but original. If these stories were published in the physical world the writer would be getting rave reviews in all the literary sections of the broadsheets.

Can fan fiction be literature? Again, it’s like any other genre: some of it is; some of it isn’t. But what’s important is that it can be. Being literature is always a possibility for fan fiction. The stories I’ve mentioned so far I consider literature. I’ll mention another one here. At the end of Sherlock series 3, Sherlock is being sent off on a mission to his probable death but at the last minute he’s called back. This particular story asks: what if he hadn’t been told to return? What if he had gone?

I have absolutely no hesitation in describing this story as literature. It’s loosely based on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. The writing is beautiful and masterly, and it’s a heartbreaking exploration of grief, the confusion and hope that’s associated with it. The story is fan fiction because it doesn’t have a complete separation from the source material and it’s literature because of what it does with that source material.

I have said that you have to be familiar with the source material to get the most out of fan fiction—in fact, it’s the necessity to be familiar with the source material that makes it fan fiction. But the lines can get a bit blurred with AU stories. I have read and enjoyed fanfics where I know very little about the source material. And there are Sherlock fanfics that are close to breaking away from being fan fiction. There is a well-known story in the fandom which is set in America, it’s set in the ‘50s, John and Sherlock are 17 and 18 and they are still at high school. They are still recognisable as Sherlock and John but a couple more steps and this wouldn’t be fan fiction any more.

Another story that I love is set in the next century. It uses a lot of Conan Doyle’s stories as basic material but what it does with them, and the fanfic’s overarching plot, are entirely original. My brief review:

The author has taken Sherlock's otherworldliness and run with it - creating this AU where everything is familiar but paradoxically entirely new.

We're constantly being surprised and I have
no idea where the mystery is going.

Again, a few more steps, this wouldn’t be fan fiction, just something inspired by Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. It would be perfectly respectable in the literary world.

Looking at things the other way round: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. The play is based on Hamlet—though the play is not really “about” Hamlet. You have to be familiar with the source material to get the most out of the play. Is this fan fiction? No, I wouldn’t say so. Because the “source material” is something that has become an integral part of British culture, and probably the world’s culture. Hamlet is something that the average Briton could be expected to be familiar with. (You could perhaps argue that stories using the character of Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be fan fiction then. This might be true for stories using the original Conan Doyle version but isn’t true for stories written about the Sherlock version. Sherlock is popular but isn’t an integral part of British culture.)

I suppose I should as my final point at least touch on what the writers of the canon might feel about fan fiction. If they don’t approve, it would be pompous to say to them: “You’re wrong, you don’t understand, you should be flattered”. I suppose the only thing I could say is that when a writer gets it right and brings their characters to life, people will automatically start writing “fan fiction” in their heads: they will carry the characters around with them. Characters ultimately belong to the reader. But it is understandable that the writers might feel uncomfortable that people are writing and posting stories using their characters without permission. I do have mixed feelings in this area—I don’t want anyone to be upset. However, I don’t believe that any disapproval takes anything away from the literary worth and originality of fan fiction.

You will notice that I have been somewhat circumspect (and downright vague) when referring to individual fanfics in my essay. If anyone wants to read any or all of the mentioned stories, send me a note and I will give you the links ^^ 

Add a Comment:
 

Daily Deviation

Given 2014-05-03
Deviant suggested by StormBringer23.

Fan Fiction for the Unconvinced—a convincing essay for any sort of writer, original or fanfic, by SCFrankles. ( Featured by neurotype )
:iconjaime9526:
jaime9526 Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Nice...but I prefer elementary, for the simple reason of how clear that divide you mention in reference to Sherlock is. I enjoy Sherlock, but having read the Conan Doyle stuff years ago, most of my enjoyment comes from seeing how they will tell the same stories in a modern way. This somewhat spoils the show, since being impressed at how easy it is to map those stories onto a modern frame, I then feel let down by, for instance, knowing the taxi driver did it, because he did it in the book.
It is very much akin to Data on the holodeck when star trek did Holmes.
In elementary, there is genuinely new stuff going on, along with genuine twists on the familiar.
But this isn't a Sherlock vs elementary rant, I enjoy them both.
I mention it mainly because it does push Sherlock much closer to fan fiction, or at very least, a reboot, while that modernity is all that provides a dividing line, and a bigger one than say that between Holmes vs the Nazis (rathbone I think).

Aside from that, I think you cover a lot of good stuff explaining exactly why good fan fiction is of merit, and also why and  how some of it exists, without getting bogged down in arguments around Canon.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much for such a thorough comment ^^

I see what you're saying: you consider "Sherlock" to be closer to being fanfiction than"Elementary" because it's closer to canon - "Elementary" is coming up with entirely new stuff. That's why I don't think I would enjoy "Elementary", btw - because it is so far removed from canon. But, of course, I can't really say without watching it :D

Thanks for the watch too! ^^
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:iconjaime9526:
jaime9526 Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
No worries, and no...in a way they are both as close to Canon as each other, except in story content. One is 'how would these characters -and stories- work updated in modern era' and the other is 'how do the core of these characters work in a different time and place without making them unrecognizable'
The character in Sherlock closest to elementarys paradigm is modularity, or Watson's wife. The closest in elementary to Sherlock is Holmes himself. (Ironic considering the actors history together)
I heartily recommend elementary to any Holmes fan...especially anyone who likes Sherlock. 
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:iconladydesada:
ladydesada Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Student General Artist
Very well-written essay on the topic of fan-fiction. I love reading fanfiction myself, though I've never delved into writing it (I personally prefer writing my own original fiction Meow :3 ). I agree that there is a lot of unrecognized talent lurking about sites such as fanfiction.net and Archive Of Our Own. I particularly liked reading your thoughts on these writers' portrayal of such characters' sexuality. I took a course of gender and sexuality in college, and when we discussed the topic of sexual preferences, the possibility of "sexual fluidity" (individuals whose sexual orientation are not limited to "heterosexual" or "homosexual") came up. As you have mentioned, there are other variables involved, but it is possible. Great work!     
 
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 6, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you ^^ And thank you for the fave too! :icongivecupcakeplz:

To be honest, I think "sexual fluidity" is just part of being a human being ^^ We've all got our preferences but there's always the potential to be attracted to someone outside those preferences. As I said, I'm not keen on characters' sexuality suddenly being abruptly different to what it is in canon, but extending someone's sexuality seems possible and truthful.
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:iconladydesada:
ladydesada Featured By Owner May 6, 2014  Student General Artist
No problem. It was a great article :)
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Yes!! I love good fanfiction. I even tried to write it once, but I gave up because I suck compared to actual good fanfic writers lol. Some of my favorite stories ever come from the FMA and ATLA fandoms. :heart: I still re-read them on occasion, with just as much relish and love as I would one of my HP books. 
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 6, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
The brilliant fanfics that I've read made me want to have a go myself. And also made me want to give up writing in despair because I knew my work would never be that good ^^" I think if people haven't actually read any of these amazing stories, they simply don't believe there's any talent in the fanfiction world. 

Thank you for the fave, btw ^^ :happybounce:
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner May 7, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I think it takes an open mind to really enjoy fanfic. Lots of fanfic I've read that removes itself too far from the original universe is just too weird for me, but it is still well written. So, even I have my biases in what I prefer in fanfiction lol. But on the whole, I think it is a growing tool in the literature community, especially for writers who may be overwhelmed by the "elitism" of some people. :P 

My pleasure! :heart:
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:iconnaktarra:
Naktarra Featured By Owner May 4, 2014   Writer
Fan fiction has an interesting look to the literature community. Some people fully support it and others look down on it. Although I think it's quite amusing when people look down on it--as you've said that people carry books and television characters around with them--that they've forget everyday they're writing little stories in day dreams and thoughts by themselves. 
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Everything in my gallery is writing of one form or another. It feels a bit odd sometimes that some of it has to go into the "literature" section and some of it has to go into the "fanart" section. It all feels like "mine". I'm not writing in a different way; I don't consider my fanfiction to be of a lower quality than the rest of my work. I'm not saying it shouldn't be in a section marked "fanfiction" - it just would be nice if that section was within "literature". I really don't think any writer should look down on fanfiction - the starting point may be someone else's work but what the most talented fanfiction writers accomplish from that starting point is incredible.

And thank you so much for the fave! :happybounce:
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:iconnaktarra:
Naktarra Featured By Owner May 6, 2014   Writer
I really feel you. Sometimes people come to fame of their great work because it is crudely "fan art." In a way, people look down on the creator because it isn't all theirs, but then again, what is truly original? Everything is influenced by everything. People might as well look down on me for being influenced by oxygen and water keeping me alive this long to read some books and write some stories. XD

Anyways, lovely piece of work m'dear. :)
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:iconwerewolfptstudios:
WerewolfPTStudios Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
THANK YOU. I needed this. I wanted to write this but couldn't put it this well.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I'm really pleased you liked it ^^ :boogie: It's something I've been writing in my head for quite a while - finally, I had to set it all down :D
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:iconefreet-in-the-oven:
Efreet-in-the-Oven Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
As another middle-aged woman who approaches fanfiction with something of a literary critic's eye, I found this to be really interesting.
I agree with some of you points, not with others - still, I'm deeply grateful for such a thought-provoking, well-argumented read!
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much, and thank you for the fave too ^^ :icongiveflowerplz:

I'm pleased the essay made you think - and if you want to discuss the points you didn't agree with, I'm more than willing :D
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:iconefreet-in-the-oven:
Efreet-in-the-Oven Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Only that will result in a monster PM double the lenght of your Deviation.  X-D

I guess it all boils down to the very definition of "literature" being far from univocal anyway.
I agree on the fact that fanfiction implies a shared knowledge, but this very fact makes it non-literature IMHO. Mind you, this has *nothing* to do with it being good or bad; I agree there is some stuff out there that is superbly written (I'm not familiar with the Sherlock fandom, but I could quote examples from many others).
It's only that to me, literature is defined by its being universal - you can "get" it even if it was written 2000 years ago, or by someone from a different country and/or culture.
Literature as I see it requires no common ground - if nothing else it *creates* it, so that, as you said, one can know about Hamlet (or Don Juan, or Quixote, or what have you) even without reading the books. (Granted, even with literature, there will be personal interpretation involved - you may think Don Juan is a dashing love-aholic who couldn't help falling for every breathing female, whereas I could see him as simply a chauvinistic bastard and a serial rapist.)

Also, I think there is a difference in purpose between regular writing and fanfiction writing. By oversimplifying grossly, I could say that literature is mainly about the story and characters, whereas fanfiction is primarily about the author (and the readers).
That is not to say that regular writers don't put a bit of themselves in their work, because duh, they all do to varying degrees. But a fanfic writer will get passioned about a character or pairing usually for very personal reasons, and in turn will write for like-minded readers who *already know* they'll have a link with him, and it's usual a small group.
(ex. the Harry Potter series is very popular, but the active fandom is surprisingly small. Within it, Snape fans will be an even smaller group of people who are sensitive to the themes such a character brings up - guilt, redemption, love etc - which might not be paramount to, say, someone who's in the HP fandom because of Hermione. And Snape/Lily shippers will be an even smaller group, focusing on a very very specific aspect.)
By being devoted to that particular pairing, they know they're talking to people to who the same themes are somehow personal - this makes fanfic even more impermeabile to "outsiders", to a point that fanfic writes may even do "fic exchanges" tailored for a fellow fan *ad personam*.

I'd have more to say (about sex fictions and the whole "flattening vs. enriching" thing etc, but that boild down to personal taste in the end. To me the thing is, fanfiction is another thing than literature - not worse or better, just different, because it serves a different purpose in the first place.
I don't know if any of that was clear as English is not my main language but weeeeell...
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Everything was entirely clear :D Thank you so much for your reply ^^

That is a very good point - fanfiction is by its nature a little exclusive. You have to be familiar with the source material to get the most out of it. But some fanfiction feels like literature to me. It's partly because there's a depth to it that makes you think but it's also a gut reaction. There's an emotional reaction - the piece seems to be something special. But, yes, ultimately everyone has a personal definition of what makes something literature.

...fanfiction is primarily about the author (and the readers). I think I have to disagree with you here. Or at least there are fanfiction writers for whom this isn't true. The best fanfiction writers are the same as any other writers - they step back and keep themselves out of the stories. They put the characters first. You will often find the most skilled writers will write about a variety of pairings, or no pairings at all. And they may write to prompts but they transcend those prompts. There is a close relationship between fanfic writers and their readers, but the best writers are always in charge and put the story first. They're always trying something new and pushing themselves. But admittedly I'm just talking about one fandom (Sherlock) here.
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:iconefreet-in-the-oven:
Efreet-in-the-Oven Featured By Owner May 19, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
It seems to me that you mean "feels like literature" as "feels like a well-written piece should" - deep and meaningful and touching. 
I see literature as simply a different genre with different rules (like poetry or theater or comics); I attach no positive value to it by default. I think you can get very well-written fanfictions, and pieces of literature that are awfully bad. 

And again, I don't see author immersion and/or the peculiar fan writer/fan readers  dynamic as "diminishing" at all.
I simply think it's a foundation feature of fanfiction as a genre, and as such it provides an answer to the classical question "If they're so good at writing, why can't they come up with their own characters to being with?"
The answer being: "They _could_ if they wanted to. But what they want to do right here is something else entirely." I think the basic motivations for writing one or the other are completely different, so "Couldn't they do real literature then?" is like telling to someone who craves cherries, "Couldn't you have apples then?" YES THEY COULD, but what they _want_ is something else.
In the end, the point I really want to stress is: I don't see one set of motivations as inherently "higher" or "nobler" that the other. Even the basic Mary Sue fantasy has its place, even though it is super hard to make it interesting and convincing (to anyone other than the one who writes it, that is)... but even that can be written well. And if it is, I'll rate it above a poorly written piece of literature any day.   :p

(Sorry for taking so long btw... Things got a bit overwhelming at work!)
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:iconcutecat213:
CuteCat213 Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This is exactly how I feel as a fanfic author! (The apples\cherries part.) It's not about 'could'; I write original stuff, too. It's just that THIS is what sings to me loudest at the moment.

I tell my non-writer friends, when they ask about it, that they're under the mistaken impression that I have a CHOICE in the matter. When I write, it's because something springs up in my mind that I can't NOT write. This is what my Plot Bunny has given me, and it's write it down or lose it.

I get a little about fanfiction being inclusive, but I personally see canon\fanfiction relationship as more supplemental. (But maybe that's only me?) Yes, knowing both helps you get the MOST out of it, but the same could be said for literature and other works. (Who would have guessed cold that Dumbledor was gay without that interview with J.K.R.?) But not NECESSARY to it. I've read pretty much all of the Gundam Wing fics (as of a few years ago) without ever seeing the series.

I guess I'm just saying that I don't much care for labels, either.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 20, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Once again, thank you for such an interesting reply ^^

I suppose we're simply defining "literature" in different ways, but we are in agreement at a deeper level :D I certainly agree with you that being well-written is the most important aspect of any kind of writing ^_^
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:iconefreet-in-the-oven:
Efreet-in-the-Oven Featured By Owner May 21, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Yep yep.   ^__^
I really hope to read your full essay soon. I think no one has attempted a theory of fanfiction yet - it has been touched upon in more broad essays on pop culture etc, but never in a specific way, and only by people who don't really care about it IMHO...   :-/
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:iconeclecticquill:
EclecticQuill Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Student Writer
I disagree. 
My fan fiction reading has mostly centred around Star Wars and video game fanfics, though there have been LoTR and Doctor Who and other fandoms represented. 
The vast majority (in my experience) of fan fiction are poorly executed, self indulgent fantasies. And even when the author manages to maintain a decent narrative there's still the issue of the work being borderline plagiarism.
The plagiarism issue, more than anything, is in my opinion the biggest reason why fan fiction can't be taken seriously as literature. Except in rare cases where work is licensed by the copyright holder, fan fiction is a literary dead end. You try publishing unlicensed fan fiction and see how faster the lawyers come knocking with a cease and desist, or just straight up suing for copyright infringement, theft of intellectual property and plagiarism. 

That being said, this is a well thought out and presented essay, and well deserving of the DD. 
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for complimenting my essay, and thank you for taking the time to disagree with me :giggle:

Though I'm not sure you are disagreeing with everything I've said. The vast majority (in my experience) of fan fiction are poorly executed, self indulgent fantasies. That has been my experience too. Wouldn't disagree with you there. But the very best stuff is brilliant. I'm not sure the worst stuff should be held against fanfiction. You don't get that elsewhere, in poetry for example. When you read the poems of Willliam McGonagall, you don't think: "Isn't poetry awful?" You think: "Isn't his poetry awful?" Everyone has an abstract idea of how good poetry should be and expects the poet to live up to that.

About  plagiarism: "plagiarism" to me means trying to pass off other people's work as your own. Fanfic writers aren't pretending that the characters belong to them. Most fanfic writers seem to be scrupulous about acknowledging that the characters belong to other people, and are up-front about when they've used parts of plots, or they've quoted dialogue. As I said in the essay, the writers are deliberately keeping their stories connected to the source material.

 ...fan fiction is a literary dead end. Well, you can't publish it and make a living from it. But a literary dead end? Writing is about more than making money. I have been so impressed by the beauty of some of the writing I have come across in fanfiction.
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:iconeclecticquill:
EclecticQuill Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Student Writer
You're welcome. :) I generally try to be an agreeable fellow, but never one to compromise my view points, save where argument sways me. To quote Shakespeare, "to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man" Or woman, as the case may be.

I don't disagree with every point, mostly I disagree with your conclusion, that fan fiction is equal to original fiction.

I mostly used plagiarism as a catch-all term, to include copyright infringement and theft of intellectual property. The vast majority of fanfic writers do include all relevant disclaimers and attribution notes, but not quite all.

I don't deny that there is quality, skilled writing to be found in fan fiction, but as a professional writer, as anything more than a hobby, it is a dead end, unless you're only of those extreme few who receive license to write from the copyright holder. Because of this it's hard to argue fan fiction is on par with original fiction.
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:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Professional General Artist
I disagree. Only really poor ones border on plagiarism. There are tons of published work built on the works of other writers throughout the centuries. Before the written word, it was called oral histories and they were copied and embellished and passed on to the next person. No one went around whining "so-and-so stole my idea!" I think people tend to refuse to think very logically about the whole issue of fan fiction. Most people are biased because of the hordes of terrible fan fictions out there (incidentally, there are even more hordes of terrible "original" fiction out there, but strangely people don't allow that to bias them against reading and writing "original" fiction...) I would give examples of published and extremely successful derivative works, but people have a tendency to say "Well that doesn't count...." without giving a good solid reason as to why.

Anyway, haven't we had this conversation before?
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:iconeclecticquill:
EclecticQuill Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Student Writer
Derivative works are not the same as fan fiction, Tolkien's histories of Middle Earth are a derivative of Beowulf (among other sources) but they're not fan fictions of the source material. There's a difference between having a basis in another work, and taking another work and just altering the narrative, to tell a different story in the same setting with the same characters.
As for the oral tradition, that is another matter entirely, as the originator of the story/history/whatever would often change it him/herself with each retelling. It's only with the advent of the written word that concepts like copyright and intellectual property come into being. But such things only apply to finished works, works that won't be altered further.
I'm sure I could name a few "adaptations" which have been successful... *cough cough* Avatar *cough cough* 

You know, I do believe we have... If it happens again, you're gonna start thinking I'm out to get you :laughing: In all seriousness, I really don't mean to belittle what you do. I'm cynical with fanfics because I've so seldom read good ones, and don't hold it in the same esteem as original fiction because it's the literary equivalent of tracing line-art. That doesn't mean there's no skill or work that goes into them, nor that there's no quality to them. But when you're building a house, you'd not expect the same praise as someone who built from the ground up, when you borrowed a foundation and two walls from someone else.
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:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Professional General Artist
:giggle: For the record, you are pretty awesome. :3

I think part of my problem is that I have a really loose definition of fan fiction, which includes strongly derivative works. Because, really, I don't see how they are much closer to "original" fiction than fan fiction is, and that's part of why I don't understand it when people say "original" fiction is automatically better, without even reading technically brilliant fan fictions. And with your analogy, I mean if J.R.R. Tolkien was so, so heavily influenced by Beowulf and Norse stuff, isn't that like borrowing a wall at least? I just have a hard time understanding why that sort of thing is permissible (even with the Sherlock show, which this deviant says is not fanfiction, but I don't buy the "it's removed" argument because it is EXACTLY an AU, the alternate universe being contemporary time period instead of the 19th century. The city is the same, the characters all have the same names and more or less the same personalities, the plots are heavily, heavily referencing Doyle's... seriously, how is it removed? I just don't buy it. I think because it's actually good, people say well you know for this excuse it's not fanfiction, because fanfiction is supposed to be bad, right? XD)

No, you are not belittling it I don't think. You were not rude about it. (For the record, I do not write fan fiction. Once upon a time, but that was long ago and a lot of it was pretty bad.) I totally, totally understand when you say "so seldom read good ones" because really, there are very few really, really good ones. Even I acknowledge that.
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:iconeclecticquill:
EclecticQuill Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Student Writer
:laughing: Thanks, you're pretty spectacular yourself. :aww:

Tolkien is a difficult one. On the one hand, the man created 5 fictional languages, a religion with several variations, and complex, interwoven racial histories for Lord of the Rings/Silmarillion. And then on other, the sinking of Numenor is just Atlantis by another name, Gandalf is a re-imagining of Odin and Aragorn is molded from the Arthurian archetype. It's hard to argue his work isn't original, but yes, he's at least borrowed a wall. I think the problem with fan fiction, isn't so much that it borrows from other works, but because they borrow so heavily from, and in the worst cases, are reliant on other works.
:shrug: I haven't seen a single episode, so I can't really comment. Though from what you say I'd be inclined to agree it is fan fiction.

:nod: I wrote fan fiction once, but it's been about 5 years since I wrote my last (just after I joined dA) It's a good way to practice, and it's a bit of fun. But yeah, the good ones are few and far between. 
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:iconsmoke-z:
Smoke-Z Featured By Owner May 4, 2014
Being published in fanfiction isn't the point.  There are only a handful of authors who refuse fanfiction, and the rest are fine with a disclaimer.  Some authors would be more involved and encouraging with the fanficcers if they could, but someone had to sue the author they were fanficcing for plagiarism.

In rare cases, you could get your name in a tv show for writing that episode.

I've heard that you should throw out your first three novels anyway, so might as well practice on something fun.  You would get more clueless idiots on fanfiction than on fictionpress, but that's because it's harder to get attention with original work.
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:iconeclecticquill:
EclecticQuill Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Student Writer
Perhaps not, but when you set the bar lower for yourselves, how can you complain when other writers don't take you as seriously?

Extremely rare cases, and such would be covered under my allowance for work licensed by the copyright holder. 

I'm not saying nobody should ever write fan fiction, I've written some myself. But as a professional writer, fan fiction is a dead end, and leads nowhere in the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases. If you want to have fun, or just a bit of practice, then by all means, write fan fiction to your heart's content... But you can't put it on par with original fiction, because it's just not as accomplished.
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:icondarksabreassasin:
DarksabreAssasin Featured By Owner May 3, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING ALL THESE WONDERFUL POINTS. I am not a writer of fan fiction, mainly because I haven't got the time, but I probably read way more than what is good for me, mainly in the Lord of the Rings fandom. I am a huge fan of novel length AUs, because there are some really great ones out there. And there are so many that are so much better than the "real" books that are marketed towards teen and college age girls. I am majoring in Creative Writing, and I know that if I hadn't read and dabbled in writing fan fictions, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing now. 
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
When I first started reading fanfics, I couldn't believe the quality of some of them. And the talent of some of the writers. The best writers - fanfiction, original fiction - I don't care. I'll read whatever they're offering simply because of the quality of their prose :D
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:icondarksabreassasin:
DarksabreAssasin Featured By Owner May 8, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Oh yes. A couple of my all-time favorite fantasy stories are AU Lord of the Rings fan fiction. The Raven's Blade series, The Rohan Pride Chronicles, and The War of Light and Shadow. 
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:iconsciencevsart:
sciencevsart Featured By Owner May 3, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I've seen some incredible fan fiction, and then there are the horrible ones (90% of it, unfortunately, but the cream of the crop is called so for a reason) and then there is the porn.

Oh god, the porn. I know the Internet is essentially a broiling pot of smut stew but on the other hand, some of those are also very well written!

Like your essay. I find myself agreeing with some of it; the rest makes me think. Thinking feels good.

Wonderful breakdown on fan fiction. Some works like Sherlock Holmes have their own stories and a divided fanbase when it comes to fan fiction, with perspective and all. There's also Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, which technically started as a tabletop miniature game but had a gist of 'make your own army/story', with some base canon in it. Now there's a massive book series based of that one universe, with characters and major events fleshed out. It's a setting, not a story, because the story already happened; it's time for your story now!

I like those better, although the canon wars are even more furious, because of the freedom it allows.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much for the fave! :D

I would agree that the majority of fanfics aren't terribly good but then the majority of works in any type of writing aren't terribly good ^_^ The very best fanfics are astounding. When it comes to sex in a story - I think it's a case of what is suitable for the characters. I have read and enjoyed some stories that the writer has labelled PWP. But I think even then, if the sex is appropriate for the characters - and the characters are three-dimensional - and it isn't just a fantasy that the author is imposing on them, then that's OK.

And I'm glad I made you think a bit ^^
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:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner May 3, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Congratulations on your well-deserved DD!!! :iconflyingheartsplz::iconlainloveplz::iconflyingheartsplz: :clap::clap::clap:
I’m very happy for you!!! :iconloveloveplz: :tighthug:
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much! That's so kind ^^ :iconhappehdanceplz:
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:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:iconflyingheartsplz::iconsweethugplz::iconflyingheartsplz:
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:icongsnail:
GSnail Featured By Owner May 3, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I don't get the statement that "some" fan fiction is literature. It's all literature, because it's written. If it's drawn, its a drawing, if it's taken with a camera, it's photography, etc. It doesn't have to be good to be literature, honestly a lot of literary fiction is completely obtuse.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
To start with, I definitely wouldn't regard something badly written as "literature" just because it's written. If I take a holiday snap, I don't equate that as being on the same level as something by Man Ray. If I doodle something when I'm bored, I don't view the results as being on the same level as something by Picasso. And I don't regard the fact that someone is intending to create art makes the result automatically art.

My personal way of differentiating between non-literature and literature would be roughly this:  you read a story and the plot draws you in. You want to find out what happens next. When you get to the end and find out what happens, that's it - you never feel the need to return to the story. There's nothing more it can give you.

I also expect a good story from a literary piece - something that draws you in and engages you. But there's more going in "literature". There's something deeper - something to bring you back and read the story over and over again, even when you know exactly what's going to happen all the way through. There's something to make you think.
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:icongsnail:
GSnail Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Well, regardless of people's classing things as 'art' based on their personal preference (I've seen enough argument over what art is that I don't believe it has an objective definition) literature is just a category. Right over to the left of this screen, there's literature, where you put text, prose or poetry. 

And whether something makes you think, I believe, is just personal. You can pretty much objectively measure craftsmanship, whether a lot of planning and work went into something, or whether they just put a urinal on a pedestal and called it symbolic. And sure, it made someone think, but others, they'll just see a urinal. So I wouldn't put things into a category, or even say whether they are good or bad based on those criteria.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Yes, I would agree that "art" is to some extent at least a personal preference. But I can't agree with that statement: "It's all literature, because it's written." For me personally, "literature" is something with depth that makes you think (and when it comes to specifics I accept not everyone will class the same things as literature). And though I definitely wouldn't consider anything badly written as literature, conversely, something that I don't think of as literature, I might still consider well-written. (And some writers may not intend their work to be taken as "literature" - they may be happy thinking of their work as purely entertainment.)

But I think with this argument we're drifting away from what I was trying to say in my essay. I'm not trying to put individual fanfics down by saying they're not good enough to be literature; I'm attempting to elevate the whole of fanfiction as a genre by pointing out it is capable of producing literature. Here on dA, fanfiction isn't part of the literature category - it has to go and sit in the corner with fanart.
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:icongsnail:
GSnail Featured By Owner May 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
That is true, and I do agree with much of your essay. I'm just the type that likes to attach to small things, hehe.
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:iconrumai:
Rumai Featured By Owner May 3, 2014
Well, I respect other's likes, but fanfiction is not for me.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for letting me know ^^
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:iconjenny345:
Jenny345 Featured By Owner May 3, 2014
Nice.
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:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! ^^ And thank you so much for the fave :iconlovesqueeplz:
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:iconjenny345:
Jenny345 Featured By Owner May 4, 2014
You are welcome.
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:iconayzeee:
AyZeee Featured By Owner May 3, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I love your concept of the fandom world and I understand every single one of your points.


By the way, where did you find the fanfiction where it takes place in the next century? I'd like to read it due to your review of it.
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