Fan Fiction Is Different – Here’s Why

Hey everyone, Kern here… you know, it always bothers me when people critique fan written works the selfsame as they would original works. I decided I’d examine why.

First of all I want to make note that creative writing is in the eye of the beholder. It really comes down to your view, and you may not agree with everything I have to say. That’s fine and dandy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I’m only attempting to hang a light atop some of the reasons why being too critical of fan written media is on its face the wrong approach to a proper discussion on the subject.

The main difference between an entirely original piece of written media and a fan written piece is that the fandom exists in the first place. Fan written works come from someplace. By strict definition, an original piece of artistic work either inspires or defines some of the parameters of the work being written, hence the name fan fiction.

Orson Wells once famously said that “The enemy of art is the absence of limitationsand I believe this to be true. He didn’t say that in reference to fandom, but rather artistic endeavors in general.

Mind you, this is probably the one greatest truths for fan fiction. By its nature, the media itself is strictly defined by limitations in the first place. You have a set standard in which to choose how to proceed.

The Fan Fiction Writer’s “Toolbox”

A fan fiction writer has a complete tool box to use already at their disposal. We can choose to subvert these understood norms of the series we love, or use them as they are, but irrefutably they do exist already. A few very noteworthy limitations that define fan fiction include the following;

  1. Characters: It comes as no surprise to anyone that most fan fiction uses established characters built and crafted by the original creator. We know what they look like, we know how they act. We can make our own original characters too, sure enough. We can also insert other characters from series we know and love into a separately crafted universe, Either way, we have characters to utilize already and that makes a world of difference. Speaking of worlds though, let’s look at the second thing we gain from the artistic ‘toolbox”.
  2. Settings and Set Pieces: We have these at our disposal too. The books, television shows, movies, and anime that we know and love have these fictional worlds and setting for us to use and play around with. Once again, we can choose to subvert what we know and understand to be true, often we do. Ultimately though, we just don’t have to craft these things completely from scratch for ourselves. They exist, and like everything in the fan fiction writer tool box, we have a clear and distinct starting point from which to craft our story. Even if it comes down to alternate universes, we know exactly what place these characters come from, so we know what might be compelling to change about that.
  3. Proof of Concept: The fact the original work already exists proves that a story can be done with these characters and this world as it’s already designed. Furthermore, being a fan of something means you like that thing, whatever it may be. If there is an active fandom for this thing, then you know other people like it too. For aspiring creative minds, this may be the difference between making an attempt to be creative too, or avoiding the effort all together.
  4. The “Tool Box” Itself: This is the most important thing that harsh critics overlook when discussing fan written media. If the original media itself is flawed to begin with, then you need to allow those same flaws to exist in the fan written work. If there are plot holes and plot bunnies rapidly multiplying in the original piece, then hints of those things will inevitably crop up for the fan written piece. Even those writing fan works attempting to “fix the flaws” will inevitably end up with one or two flaws of their own making. It’s just the nature of the beast. Nothing is perfect, but this holds doubly true for fan made content.
  5. Lack of Services: Fan fiction writers might have a “beta reader” if they’re very lucky, but they don’t have paid editors or peer based quality control. Most fan fictions are posted up on websites and archives. This means that you shouldn’t expect the same sort of quality you’d get out of a best selling novel, or even one you might pick up at a discounted rate off store shelves… at the end of the day, the writer is NOT providing YOU a service, they’re writing for free (note: If you are paying them to write fan fiction for you, that’s a question of legality and morality, but that’s a separate discussion).

With all of that said, it’s almost arrogant and pompous to act with the mindsets that fan written work are the same as an original piece… or expecting that fan fiction authors might follow all of the creative writing rules and standards that we expect from other published media.

That isn’t to say a smash hit might not rise from the ashes and become it’s own unique story separate from fandom. This has happened a few times in the past. Although the likely most well-known example is Fifty Shades of Grey.

The story was originally a Twilight fan fiction, and it proves proved that it is possible to write a fan fiction based story and turn it into something else entirely. That you can, in fact, become a well-known author that way. However, that outcome is so rare that it may as well be labeled a pipe dream.

Ultimately fan fiction is a fun little hobby, and it should be treated and regarded strictly as what it is. That isn’t to say you can’t love it or use it to hone your craft as a wordsmith. Just remember, not all of us plan to be “best selling” authors one day. Some of us just want to enjoy a hobby we love and that’s okay too..

This has been Kern of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are part for the course. I’ll see you next time. Until then check out some other great content below.

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