Author Cara Diaconoff has an interesting article out in the September 2016 Writer’s Chronicle about an experiment she conducted as a creative writing professor recently: teaching fanfiction in a writing class as part of an important emerging literary practice, or maybe even its own genre. In the article, she quotes some of her student work, one piece being a fascinating mashup between Game of Thrones and Mean Girls. While the term “fan fiction” immediately conjures images of Star Trek aficionados writing wish-fulfilling fantasies about the characters on old typewriters in their basements (no offense intended – I’ m a serious Trekkie myself!), the practice of writing fan fiction has definitely come into the mainstream in recent years. The best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is a famous fan fiction treatment of Twilight and there are a ton of YA books in recent years that are re-workings of classic stories such as the Dorothy Must Die series by Danielle Paige (a retelling of The Wizard of Oz); the Splintered series by A.G. Howard (a retelling of Alice in Wonderland), and Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon (a dystopian retelling of Robin Hood).
Writing fan fiction has become so mainstream that Amazon some years ago unveiled its Kindle Worlds program, inviting authors to create their own stories based on popular books, television shows and movies for which Amazon has secured licenses by the creators to allow the fanworks without concerns about copyright infringement.
Some authors have famously decried fan fiction as a plagiaristic practice that potentially infringes copyright. Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris, for example, have spoken out against unlicensed fan fiction of their works, at least on forums they control. Nevertheless, the practice remains popular and many authors are flattered by fans wanting to use their works as source works. Hugh Howey, for example, encourages fanworks based on his writings and has contributed his Silo Saga stories as fanworlds in the Kindle Worlds program.
While there’s something to be said for creating wholly new and original works, it shouldn’t be forgotten that all writing (all art, in fact) is based to an extent on what has gone before. While slavish copying might be problematic both legally and ethically, taking an existing idea and truly making it something new is something creators have done for centuries and something that copyright law generally allows.
Writers of science fiction and fantasy, in particular, often draw on existing materials to branch off into new worlds and ideas and build on what previous authors in the genres have done. While I haven’t ever written fan fiction myself, I’m fascinated by how the field is developing and the differing attitudes to the practice–in the hands of both the fan creators and copyright-holders of the sourceworks. And I must admit that, while I don’t write fanfic, I’ve read my share of it and it’s not a bad way for a new author to start flexing those writing muscles.