How would Gandalf fare outside Middle Earth? Writers of FAN FICTION dare to find out.
What if the Harry Potter series was set in Newport Beach, Calif., and all of the young wizard’s friends were characters from the television show The O.C.? Or tributes in The Hunger Games didn’t duel to the death but went to high school together? Or if Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet was a forensic analyst who enlisted the help of FBI agent Mr. Darcy to track down a killer?
Sound improbable? Not in the wacky world of fan fiction, where no character is safe from a rewrite by amateur authors bent on taking popular books, movies, television shows and even video games in unlikely and sometimes disturbing directions. It’s a way for fans to continue the story, and the genre is exploding with thousands of fan-fiction websites hosting millions of free works based on everything from The Lord of the Rings, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Glee to more classic tales like Charlotte’s Web or the works of Shakespeare.
Whether the works are merely snippets of new dialogue between iconic characters, single stories known as “one-shots” or full-fledged novels, what appeals to these amateur authors is the inclusive and open nature of the movement. “Anyone can write something and stick it up there,” says Anne Jamison, a University of Utah associate English professor who is writing a book on fan fiction. “It runs the gamut from tweens to professional writers and everyone in between. There are all kinds of motivations for writing fan fiction, but most do it out of love for the source and a desire to share stories with others who feel the same way.”
Bella, Edward and Jacob, characters from the Twilight saga, are among the most popular muses for writers of fan-fic, as it’s known. Fanfiction.net, the largest website devoted to the genre, has more than 200,000 postings about the vampire series alone. There’s even a Twilight-specific fan-fiction site called Twilighted.net, whose creator, Elizabeth Harper, founded the e-book publisher Omnific Publishing about a year ago as a way of giving the works of fan writers a larger audience. And sometimes, it really works: E.L. James’ best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy grew out of a Twilight fan-fiction piece she wrote titled Master of the Universe. First published as an e-book by The Writer’s Coffee Shop, Fifty Shades was later acquired by Vintage, a Random House imprint, and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.
Jenny Pedroza, chief marketing officer of The Writer’s Coffee Shop, says editing a story that originated as fan fiction poses new challenges with the editing process and requires additional review.
“You have to look at the fan-fiction elements and take out everything that could be construed as a characteristic of the work it originated from,” she says. “For instance, in Twilight, Edward’s hair was messy, so if that keeps coming up in the story, we’re going to tell the author to take that out.”
Why? Because it’s illegal to profit from copyrighted literary works. The majority of unpublished fan fiction, however, is posted free of charge and qualifies as fair use under copyright law, providing the creator doesn’t try to profit from it. “These are not works that compete with the original, but supplement,” says Francesca Coppa, an English professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., and co-founder of the fan-fiction site and nonprofit organization Transformative Works. “We see these works as gifts, not commodities. Fandom is a really collaborative and communal culture that encourages people to participate.”
And people have been doing it for centuries.