Fan Fiction: What Is It, and Why?

With the success of the barely-disguised Twilight fanfic Fifty Shades of Grey, fan fiction talk is all over the webwaves. Here’s a primer if you’re all ‘huh’?



Fan fiction can happen when fans of a story take over if they feel the writer isn’t doing it right.

Sometimes, it’s when fans are so enamored of a fictional world they want to live there all the time and hang out with their favorite characters. See Harry Potter fanfic. Google it and you’ll have 20 million hits to choose from.

One of the charms for fanfic fans is that they can deepen, if you’ll pardon the pun, unresolved or unrealized sexual tension between characters.

  • What if Edward and Bella had hot, “on-stage” sex instead of the close-the-door-at-just-the-wrong-moment primness of Stephenie Meyer’s original?
  • What if Scully and Mulder were doing it like rabbits off-camera all that time they were playing it cool while we were watching?
  • What if Clark Kent was secretly donning tights for Lex Luthor?

Wait, what? But aren’t they both straight guys?

Welcome to the wide world of slash fiction, where everything you assumed about the Kinsey scale rating of your favorite fictional characters is up for grabs.

Slash is rumored to have started with Kirk and Spock on Classic Star Trek and can probably be traced to William Shatner’s fetching guyliner. He pretty much made out with the camera and anything else in view. Fans took note and decided the chemistry between him and Leonard Nimoy was buried longing to go where no man had gone before. Kirk/Spock was born, Kirk-slash-Spock, geddit? A thriving subculture was born.

You would think it would be gay guys who are into slash. It’s actually mostly women and in my unscientific study, mostly straight women. (Why this is requires a separate post; tune in next week.) But it’s interesting to note that in TV fanfic especially, most of the participants are female, while TV writers are upwards of 80% male. Might be one of the appeals of writing your own adventures for your favorite TV characters.

Most fanfic writers are all about the love and will write astonishing amounts of content without expecting any remuneration. Some canny souls have figured out how to parlay online popularity into offline financial success, but these writers are few. Rumor has it the YA paranormal writer Sarah Rees Brennan gained fans writing Harry Potter fanfic and this helped her get a sweet book contract for her first original novel, The Demon’s Lexicon. But she had to leave JK Rowling’s world behind and create her own to do it.



What’s different about E L James’ success is that it’s above-board and legal. Change the names and some of the details of a crazy-popular book series and you can publish anything. Reveal that it’s thinly-veiled Edward/Bella fanfic and watch it sell like the real thing.

At a recent writer’s conference, a Samhain editor pointed out that male/male romance, read by women, was an up-and-coming trend and she referenced the vast, untapped numbers of slash fiction fans as a reason why.

So should struggling novelists start churning out barely-disguised Hunger Games fanfic? Gale/Peeta slash, anyone? How about Katniss/Haymitch? My answer: probably not and for the same reason non-romance writers shouldn’t try to dash off a quick romance novel for money. Fan fiction readers, like romance readers, are, well, fanatic about their chosen genres. They’ll be able to tell if you’re faking it, and you will have spent a lot of time in a world and with a brand of fiction that you don’t even enjoy.

A great quote:
“Fanfiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.”
β€”Lev Grossman, TIME, July 18, 2011

Jason Boog muses on the trend and the implications for publishing on NPR: Fifty Shades Of Grey: Publishing’s Sexiest Trend., one of the more popular sites.

Excerpts from Henry Jenkins’ excellent book on ‘participatory culture,’ Textual Poachers.

This entry was posted in Marketing, Pop Culture, Publishing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Fan Fiction: What Is It, and Why?

  1. My “Vampire Syndrome” story is a fan-fiction writer’s dream, with various cue-points for particular non-canon relationships sprinkled throughout. Book One, Chapter 11 (where L puts her hand on J’s leg) is an obvious “J & L” fan-fiction jumping-off point. Two gay male vampires (who are minor characters) could be paired with D or even J 😈 for some interesting slash-fiction. And the plot of Book Two will naturally imply “L & S” slash-fiction.


    • Chris Devlin says:

      I think that’s smart, to anticipate a fan fic response. It’s such a diverse and thriving community. And vampire characters are great candidates for slashy fiction. Anne Rice pretty much writes her own slash with characters like Louis and Lestat. Or I should say: Louis/Lestat. πŸ˜‰


  2. Pingback: Slash Fiction: Girls’ Night Out? | Chris Devlin's Blog

  3. Pingback: Zero Shades Of Vetting « Vampire Syndrome Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s