FanFiction is Empowering

Do you remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from middle school? The ones where you got to choose if Sally went through the red or green door, or spoke to the alien or not, and then, depending on your choice, you flipped through to the page where the story reflecting that choice was told?

I hated those.

They felt like a cheap trick to force me to be an active reader. I thought I was already too much of one. My 8th grade teacher took me aside during a camping trip to explained that I confused and concerned people when I started telling stories about people I knew and I didn’t specify if they were fictional or not. It didn’t really matter to me–stories about Buffy and Alanna could be just as exciting as Morgan and Brian–but I started explaining because that teacher often gave me sound advice. But the activeness of my participation in the story felt natural because, to me, reading is about exploring author’s world. Yes, there was only one path through the story (pages 1-n, in order), but a good story shows the paths not taken.

The entire 3rd season of Dr Who, to me, is about him trying to accept not taking the path to Rose. Twilight, garbage that it is, can be quite entertaining if you read the series while waiting for Bella to decide that she doesn’t need to choose between werewolves and vampires, she can have both (Laurell K. Hamilton-style). I don’t do passive media.

It’s the ultimate trope about TV: TV is a passive medium and TV viewers are passive consumers.

Not when they’re writing fanfiction. Not when they’re taking the story into themselves, testing it, enlarging on it, exploring it through their own lenses–even if a consumer never produces a word or a clip of fanwork, they can engage in a story by being a fan. I think reading and writing fanfiction and writing it gives fans control over their shows, makes them active participants by engaging their minds in considering the paths not taken by cannon. This can be quite cathartic, if the show isn’t heading in the desired direction.

This week, I was getting really stressed out watching Dr Who. Where I am in the plot, the Doctor has had to abandon his love in a parallel dimension. Talk about the worst long-distance relationship ever. Feeling quite tense, I decided to find some fanfiction where the tenth Doctor and Rose ended up in a relationship. And, after reading a few, I relaxed. I knew the cannon would continue to torture me–season three of Dr Who is all about the pity and fear of Aristotle’s catharsis–but reading fanfic gave me choices.

In return for the mental exercise of holding a dozen possible permutations of the cannon world, with different memories and characterizations of the characters, I get to see my (current) pairing happy together.The more engaged I got, the more I got out of the series.

I went back to watching Dr Who on Netflix after my fanfic break. While I was stilled stressed about how miserable the Doctor was, I was looking for hints and clues as to where the show might go next. While following the plot, I kept an eye out for clips I had seen in fanvids, glances or phrases that might support my current theory about the future of the characters.

I used fanfic to give me a new perspective of the show, and then dove right back in. I think that is to the benefit of the story’s creators.

Inspirational Quote:

“You watch television to turn your brain off and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.”– Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer and Pixar, in Macworld Magazine, February 2004


  1. I have never read or written fan fiction of any kinds. (Despite it being, behind porn, probably the item most prolific on the internet.) My initial reaction is that it’s cheating, and uncreative. That is is sort of an “up yours” to those who create entire universes out of their own minds.

    Yes, I very often have hated how shows turn out. I can’t in fact think of many shows that I at some point liked that ended up in a way I found satisfying. But fiction is escapism in and of itself. We go there to escape the real world. To write fan fiction that runs counter to the script is like, escapist escapism. not only is the real world too much for us, but the fake one’s created to entertain us also become too stressful for us, so we engage in or create fan fiction. How far removed do we need to be exactly??

    I suppose I can give a bit more leeway to fan fictions that cover events that were not covered in the cannon, but you know happened. Like what happened to a character during the whole season they were missing or something like that. Some “continuing adventures” may also work, if their launch point is the canonical end to the series.

    It all depends. I am just not sure about it yet.

  2. Cheating and uncreative because other people make whole universes? Is origami from purchased paper uncreative because other people make paper and then make origami out of it? Telling a good story about people and making characters are two totally different skill sets. Stories about ancient gods and goddesses were often FanFiction, William Shakespeare wrote FanFiction about historical characters, and even some musicals (Wicked, hello) definitely qualify as FanFiction; would we dare call any of that uncreative?

    The deal with FanFiction is, you’ve inspired a whole bunch of people (often kids and teens) to write about something in which they are interested. They get to join a community full of like-minded people who are interested in the same things (versus making your own world, which people may or may not ever care about) and have their work praised and critiqued. Sure, some of it is garbage, but there are kids engaged in a healthy community of writers who are exploring and developing their writing talents and, yes, creativity, and they are excited about it. It sounds like a schoolteacher’s dream, no?

    I mean, who knows, maybe one day these people will branch out and once they are comfortable writing with other people’s characters, they’ll start developing their own and then eventually even make their own world. Or maybe they never will, and that’s okay too. I don’t know when it became necessary to look at one art form versus another and say one is superior and the other is cheap. Looking at the big picture, it’s about people exercising their brains, enjoying themselves, being creative, and finding readership. All of those things happen in FanFiction, so why not?

    And I liked Choose Your Own Adventure, I wanted to find out all the ways you could go wrong and how to get to the end, like a maze! =)

  3. @ Her Royal Annonymousness:

    FanFiction as origami is a flawed/perilous metaphor. We buy paper with the explicit purpose of creating origami. The person you bought the paper from said “Here’s some paper. Make a crane. Do something fun.” Some authors do that, like Gaiman, like Joss Whedon, because the art world is better when we share our ideas and create dialectics. But what can actually occur with the FanFiction as origami metaphor is that a colleague of yours gives you a poem or story zhe wrote printed out. Zhe says “I’d love feedback.” You fold it into origami. Obviously this situation can go both ways. One, zhe goes “Wow. That completely changed the way I thought about my work. Thank you.” or two, zhe says, “You don’t get it at all. Screw you!” and rips it out of your hand. Frankly, both are legitimate responses. There was no agreement between author and audience to suggest you could/should turn zher poem into origami. When you create your own universe, you’re sometimes protective of it. I’m sure a lot of comic book fans would have preferred creators to have been protective (and that stuff is “authorized.”)

    The issue is not creativity. The issue is what are the rights and duties of being a fan? If you’re a fan of an author’s work, shouldn’t you respect their wishes, just as (hopefully) they respect yours (and don’t exercise their legal right to sue you)? Isn’t that part of the exchange? Copyright exists to protect the earning potential of artists. Given, some of the limits are too long, but those of us with rent to pay would like to be able to tell the people making the eight year old kids of our main characters have sex to cut it out because you’re scaring all the moms who go on the internet to see if the book is appropriate for their kids.

  4. I agree, mostly, with what Lillian says. I too think the metaphor is flawed, because anything can be taken to an unpractical extreme.

    I could say, for example, that kids who play cops and robbers at recess are not creative, because cops and robbers already exist, so they didn’t make anything new. But that is not what I said. What I said was referring to taking the work of someone else, and twisted it in such a way to make YOUR OWN POINT, or to establish your own themes. Whatever your level of fandom, Rowling did not write the Harry Potter books to provide you, or anyone else, with a platform by which to illuminate the morality of homosexuality, or the legitimacy of the monarchy. (Both of which themes have been found amongst fan fiction in the so called “Potterverse”.

    I realize that Rowling doesn’t much care if people do that, but I maintain my position that making use of someone else’s world CAN be a bit lazy when it comes to writing. At least a world as recent and marketable as that of Harry Potter, and such.

    The Shakespeare reference doesn’t work, either, as far as I am concerned, one because it was a very different world of writing fiction back then. And secondly, (more importantly) he tended to deal with previous material that was based on either historical documents, or on iconic figures and myth. Not 100% of his mind, but part of the overall collective subconscious. I don’t think we can place Twilight quite on the same level as that of Holinshed, can we?

    If I published a fiction, I would love that people loved my characters enough to read and obsess over my creation. And I am not saying I would sue, (I am not saying I would NOT), but I would be far less impressed by fans who just took my characters and my ideas, and warped them into their world, as opposed to creating a new world themselves.

    Because the use of common themes from other places to create your worlds, (like the Gods, as were mentioned) is not the same as taking the actual creations of someone else, (Hogwarts) and turning them into something you would have RATHER them been.

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