Welcome to the first post in a series designed to delve into the depths of fanfiction. During the course of the next couple of months, I intend to answer the following questions: What is fanfiction? Why do we write fanfics? How do I write a good fanfic? This first post in the series is intended to answer the question 'What is fanfiction?'.
The art of storytelling has existed as long as humans have walked the earth. Primitive humans drew their stories on cave walls and related their tales by firelight as they congregated together trying to hold the horrors of the night at bay. By the time mankind learned to farm their food, stories had evolved into myths and legends. Ancient peoples used tales to explain their world - Why does the ground shake? what causes thunder and lightning? Where did we come from and how was the world created? Each important question resulted in another story, and these stories were transmitted from person-to-person via oral traditions, only later incorporating written traditions as well.
As the tale moves from one person to the other details begin the change. Maybe the cloak the hero wears is green instead of blue. Perhaps the villian of the piece is a female instead of a male. Maybe the setting shifts from a rural tale to an urban one. Each storyteller takes the tale and changes it to suit what he thinks should happen. Details shift, plot elements change, and what one storyteller thinks is important may be downplayed when it is told by someone else.
The process of relating stories is why I think fanfiction has existed for just as long as storytelling. The modern definition of fanfiction indicates that the genre is comprised of reader-generated stories based on books, movies, and TV shows. These stories float around the internet accessable to anyone who searches for more tales involving their favorite characters.
I postulate that this is a restrictive definition that doesn't take into account the ties fanfiction has to ancient storytellers. Instead, a better definition is any story that adopts and changes the plot/characters/setting of any other story that preceeded it. Folklorists know this fact. How else would we get many different versions of the same fairy tale, all of which have similar plots but different details, and sometimes different endings? As another example, King Arthur's tale is still retold and retooled to this day.
This trend exists in modern times and we see prominent examples when examining classic works of literature. Dracula, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, and many of the works of Jane Austen are only a few examples. Each of the works are adored by fans, some of whom take up their pens and write further adventures for the beloved characters. Sometimes they create modern adapations, sometimes they introduce new characters, but the authors strive to stay true to the original characterization. How is The Holmes-Dracula File by Fred Saberhagen (a good book by the way) anything but a cross-over fanfic?
Fanfics disguised as legitimate published literature (often referred to as 'derivative works') abound. Novels are published regularly for such TV shows like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who to name only a few. All of them are written by people other than the original creators of the characters, and frankly, some of those published works are less fun and readable than the fanfics one finds on the web.
So what conclusions can be drawn? First, stories have always been and always will be fluid. Despite the modern literary landscape of publishers, editors, copyrights, and royalities, we are still following in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors. We are still sitting around the proverbial firepit, telling and retelling stories, with each storyteller adding his or her own spin.
Second, fanfiction is integrally intertwined with storytelling. It is impossible to have one without the other, and for this reason, fanfiction is here to stay.
Please stay tuned for the next in this series where we will explore 10 Reasons To Write Fanfiction.