Something niggling me for some time now…

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Can fan-fictions considered as literature of value?

This post will be somewhat unusual compared to my previous posts. This week I decided not to choose a book, but to get to the bottom of the secret realm of fan-fictions. There are a lot of questions and skepticism around fan-works, and I want to find some answers to them. Like might or might not fan-fictions represent any literary value? Can those novels or novellas be real piece of arts without the bias caused by the pre-created fandoms?

In the past weeks I read a lot of fan-fictions, I revisited the feeling of my teenager years when no one could force me to get through compulsory read books in school, because I was only interested in the worlds of my favorite video-games, tv and anime series. And I shall say that even if the brightness of the feeling was somewhat dimmed, I still love fan-fictions.

So, let’s start from the basics. What is a fan-fiction, what are its most important features and its most frequent mistakes when writing one?

First of all, definition. I decided to use the Wikipedia version (for the full article click here).

A fan-fiction is a type of fictional text written by fans of any work of fiction where the author uses established characters, settings, and/or other intellectual properties from an original creator as a basis for their writing. Fan fiction ranges from a couple of sentences to an entire novel, and fans can both keep the creator’s characters and settings or add their own.

I was thinking a lot about what makes people create whole stories placed in different fandoms, sometimes even complementing each other’s fan-works. It could really be a thrilling experience to try and add something to our favorite universes, creating stories we wished to get, but the authors had chosen other paths that we were hoping for. Or when we don’t want to accept, that our favorite novels/video games/series etc. had come to an end, and the main characters had rode off into the sunset after finding their own eternal happiness, or they had met their sorrowful ending.

I get it completely that sometimes it’s hard to let them go, in particular when we had read a certain story during a significant period of our lives, letting it have an amplified effect or influence on us. Or it may be other reasons that makes us want more, and if we don’t get it from the original writer, he have to look for them elsewhere. And we can find tens of thousands of fan-fictions especially when we are looking for something really popular.

And if you look at it from this angle, the pre-prepared universe is a huge plus when it comes to writing. Because you already have the characters, the world and everything necessary to connect with the readers. You and them will have the same knowledge, you won’t have to start building a universe from nothingness, because you can just simply enter one. You can even create small bubbles of sub-universes, alternative dimensions so to speak, and you can put your selected characters from a specific fandom there. Pretty attractive solution, right?

Further following along this thread of thought, the story-setting and using a fandom’s character for your own demise can be treacherous. As I read a lot of fan-fictions (even tried my skills to write some) I can confirm that I have my fair share of good, even excellent and pretty bad fan-fictions too. But what kind of factors determine that a fan-fiction turns out to be good or bad?

First of all, how much can the writer grab the essence of the characters he or she uses. I let the wold-setting slip in this case, because based on my experiences, fan-fictions can work in almost every kind of imaginary words, but badly interpreted characters could not and will not. There are different types of bad, ruining seemingly good stories in whole different levels.

  • The characters act out of character. Based on the scale of their behavior it may be a minor issue. I mean, the best of the bests can slip sometimes, right? So if you write once or twice something fishy, the readers will just move on without really batting an eye. But if the character you’re using in your fic constantly does something schizophrenic, that could be really disappointing.

Let me tell you an example. Lately I read a fan-fiction in which one of the main characters tried to kill his brother out of jealousy. He almost succeeded, and thus the brother survived, he became a human wreck. Then the main character ran to his love-interest confessing this almost-murder act. And what said the love-interest after all this confession? “It’s ok, you were just afraid to lose me. Love you and shit like that” And I was like what? Dude, really? He’s insane, but something is wrong with you too… No normal human would react like that, it was simply unbelievable…

  • When the fandom’s character becomes a Mary Sue/Gary Stu (detailed explanation of these two notions in here) as the writer recreated him/herself as a character of a specific fandom. Usually this type of fiction is written in 1st person POV, and it could be so bad it nearly makes you cry.
  • When the writer adds original characters to his fan-fic. It is a two-way street, because it can work out as good as it can turn into some very poor story. I had the chance to experience both ends of the spectrum.

After all this, let’s take a look at the length of the fan-fictions. Originally I wanted to write “average length”, but then I decided against it, because of the wide variance in the length of fan-works. A fan-fiction vary from a few phrases up to a LOT of chapters (volumes even). I personally prefer the shorter ones, a few chapters to read easily and fast during daily commute or work breaks. I don’t want to keep track where I was in the fan-fic like in the case of a real book. When I choose to read a fan-fiction I want an immediate recreation/entertainment.

When reading a fan-fiction, I think that the readers use a different mind-set. This kind of works are easier to read in my opinion. Why do I think that? Because the world is pre-defined, the characters are pre-defined (in the best of the cases), and the reader don’t have to remodel a new universe inside him/her while reading. Therefore I think it is more easier to slip into the fandom, but depending on the content it can be really tricky or hard to step out when you have to – for example – return to work.

But of course there are others, who contrary to me, prefer the longer fictions. One of my friends is inescapably lost in the Star Wars fandom and reads a lot of fan-fictions, but only completed, novel-length (containing more than 20 chapters) fictions. According to this friend those works could be published, because those fics have everything necessary to a good book.

So up to this point, we could check and prove, that a lot of amateur and pro-writers put a lot of time and effort to write fan-fictions. But can those works considered among really valuable literary works? In my opinion they most certainly could. Tastes cannot be debated, and due to this, the acceptance of fan-works could vary widely, but it won’t change the fact if someone use all his/her talent, to create perfection.

But all the same, the evaluation of fan-fictions will be always lower, poorer than independent novels/novellas, also because the usage of pre-defined content, since fan-fiction writers will always use the creations of others.

Will it diminish the value of fan-fictions? Absolutely not. If you liked it, and if it gave something valuable to you, then it worth your time spent reading, right? So as conclusion, fan-fiction can be a good thing to spend time on, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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