The literary minds of ultimate fans

Fan fiction websites have sprawled all over the Internet, acting as a way for writers to express their devotion to their favourite TV shows, movies and books by writing their own take on the story

Popular fan fiction websites include Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and Twilight.
Popular fan fiction websites include Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and Twilight.
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If stalking and squealing from the sidelines isn’t your style, there may be another way to show your affection for a book, movie or TV show. And it’s more up close and personal than you’ll ever get otherwise.

Fan fiction has blossomed over the last decade as a way for fans to indulge in their devotion to a book or movie by writing their own versions of it or reading others’. With hundreds of websites dedicated to fan fiction, any fan is bound to find stories written about their favourite characters by other dedicated fans.

Fanfiction.net remains the most established of fan fiction websites, with forums for hundreds of books, movies, cartoons, video games and other miscellaneous things. Other popular fan fiction sites include sugarquill.net and fictionalley.org.

Harry Potter is the largest fan fiction community. Other large fan fiction communities include Twilight, Lord of the Rings, House, M.D., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars, Star Trek, Pokemon and Manga comics.

It’s not just obsessed teenagers that read fan fiction, though. In a 2004 BBC report, actor Jason Isaacs, who plays Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, confessed his devotion to Harry Potter fan fiction. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling even supports the fan fiction and told she’s “flattered people wanted to write stories based on her characters.”

Kay Lingo is the forum administrator for harrypotterfanfiction.com (HPFF), the oldest Harry Potter fan fiction site, founded in 2001 and based in the U.K. With more than 60,000 stories and 30 million hits per month, the website has a dedicated fan base worldwide.

Lingo said the popularity of fan fiction is widespread, but many don’t declare themselves to be avid fans because of the stigma surrounding fandom.

“Maybe not everyone is willing to admit it, but our membership spans from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandmothers and eighth-grade English teachers,” she said in an e-mail to the Journal.

The website took off around the releases of the third and fourth Harry Potter films in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Lingo said the website always receives spikes in popularity when the movies come out as there’s a renewed interest in the story.

Lingo said there are many reasons why people like fan fiction, but ultimately it’s a way for people to interact more with characters and stories.

“For some people, it’s a desire to read more about the series they love. I think that’s particularly true with Harry Potter,” she said. “There are so many characters and so many threads of stories that people pick up a favourite character or a favourite era and they want to read more of it. It’s usually not long after that that they find fan fiction and ... it’s not long after finding it that people start writing it.”

Lingo said not everyone who reads or writes fan fiction has a desire to become a published author, but working with characters and story lines that are already laid out allows them to experiment with writing in a less intensive way. On the other hand, some people like fan fiction because it can go anywhere with a story.

“If the creator kills your favourite character in the series there really aren’t a lot of other direction one can go, but in fan fiction the possibilities are limitless,” she said.

Most writers of fan fiction use pen names to credit their work. HPFF mandates that writers use pseudonyms. Lingo said using pseudonyms is important for the fan fiction community to make sure it’s a welcoming space for new writers.

“Fan fiction is often a gateway into literary expression for people—most of the authors here are offering their written works up for criticism and accolades for the first time,” she said. “It’s a really brave thing to do, and it feels just a little bit less uncomfortable if you know that no one knows it’s you.”

Lingo said many people would be surprised to see how fan fiction writers have benefitted enormously from having a place to write freely and receive constant feedback on their work. Most misconceptions about fan fiction would be dispelled if people learned more about it.

“Until they get down in the trenches to see what we do here at HPFF—how many e-mails we get from teachers saying we got their students interested in writing and reading, or from people who gained the confidence to join their school newspaper from the support of their reviewers. ... Most people think fan fiction is something the kids with no friends do on Saturday night,” Lingo said.

Rachel Little, ArtSci ’10, has read a variety of Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean fan fiction. In high school, she wrote a sequel to the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and almost four novels worth of Lord of the Rings fan fiction with her friends. The Lord of the Rings fan fiction idea was inspired by the behind-the-scenes footage she watched on the DVDs and became a way for her to engage with the film.

Little said she would write herself into the story as a make-up artist or other set worker and interact with the actors in the film. She said writing yourself into the story is a way many fan fiction writers get involved with the story or act out their fantasies about it.

“It kinda lets you be more a part of the story,” she said. “Instead of just having control over it, you’re actually within the story and I think a lot of teenage girls are doing that for Twilight.”

Little said a lot of what makes a good fan fiction story is the same as any story, but there are some differences. A good fan fiction story has to be original to set it apart from what’s already written, but it also has to adhere to the characters and story lines that are already laid out to keep fans interested.

“You have to on one hand create new characters that are interesting but you have to be faithful to what’s already been created somewhat because if you don’t, then the people who are dedicated and following are not going to read ... it because it’s not similar to what’s already there. And that’s why they love it originally,” Little said.

Slash fiction is one particularly creative subset of fan fiction because it explores sexual story lines that would never be present in the original story, Little said. Some popular slash fiction stories pair Hermione Granger with Severus Snape, Harry Potter with Draco Malfoy, or in House fan fiction, House with Wilson. Twilight slash will often play out the sex between the main characters that’s suggested, but not acted out.

“Slash is good because it is so completely different,” Little said. “People are used to watching House and his endeavours with women but then if you have a story where he’s hooking up with Wilson, it’s unbelievably different and you would have to be creative because you don’t really have the basis within the actual show.”

Little said the quality of writing found in fan fiction can vary enormously, with some written by 12-year olds and some being highly sophisticated novels. Although there’s no filter for what’s posted on the Internet—which is why the fan fiction community is so large—some websites do monitor the posts somewhat and will restrict some of the content.

“If you go to a site with moderation where people are actually editing and not letting everything get posted, I think you’d be more likely to find something that’s a higher calibre of writing,” she said.

Little said fan fiction is likely to grow as more cult movies, TV shows and books are made and people want to engage more with the story.

“All it takes is to be a bit of a fad and have a huge following ... and people are going to think, ‘I want to be a part of this’ or, ‘This is what I think should happen.’”

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