Research Paper About Fan Fiction
Yep, you read that right. In fact, I have to turn this in on Monday and I just
hopefully finished my final draft. So I give to thee, dear Internet, my research paper concerning the literary quality of fan fiction. I wanted to share this with Tumblr, because, really, I made this for all of us. (Also! PLEASE let me know if you see any problems in the logic, writing, facts, etc.) (ALSO ALSO, it’s still in MLA format, so just ignore the in-text citations. Sorry.)
A Scholarly Piece Concerning Fan Fiction
(Yes, You Read that Correctly)
Hamlet, Wicked, Paradise Lost, Greek mythology, any film, television show, or novel based off the original Sherlock Holmes series, and, yes, even Fifty Shades of Grey. All share more than a massive franchise and fan following. They all have roots in somebody else’s ideas and stories, yet are all still considered “noteworthy,” if not “praiseworthy” entertainment pieces, and, for the most part, literature. The art form of literature, as with all arts, holds an individually interpretative definition based a general meaning. However, the definition of literature should include fan-made stories—such as these listed—based on pre-existing fictional pieces, known as fan fiction, as a part of its composition. Fan fiction possesses many qualities that earn it the title of “literature,” and should gain respect from the general public. Fan fiction has existed throughout the entire length of human story-telling, yet it remains disregarded and disrespected in all stories. But these writings can provide as much enjoyment as any published novel, film, or TV show—twisting plots, creative characters, challenging reading material—as well as giving both readers and writers a profound sense of community and joy.
Initially, for one to define literature speculates on the entirety of human writing and art form. Dictionary.com lists the term as “writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays,” which would include practically every piece of fiction ever written. However, in simple phrasing, literature is the art of language. And as an art form, each individual is entitled to a personal and different interpretative meaning. In fact, the flexibility of such an art form changes in connotations throughout history. For example, writings such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or the works of Virginia Woolf would not have fallen into the category of “classic literature” at the time of their publishing because the publishers behind mainstream text of the period, all male, would have passed them off as “women’s literature” (Garber, 77). For centuries, purists considered erotica too scandalous to ever gain such a graceful title, no matter the quality of the writing (Dines & Dines). But these perspectives changed with the gradual shift of societal views, seeing that, in general, popular agreed opinion dictates the meaning and standards of “literature,” (Garber, 89). Again, though, each individual’s view slightly shakes the concrete meaning. As one young writer associates it as “published sophisticated fictional works,” (“Jess”) another believes it to simply be “writing with a purpose” (“Sarah M.”). Literature may or may not limit itself to fiction; it may or may not consist of only published works; and it may or may not require hoards of readers. For the purposes of this paper, I will form a loose definition conglomerated from many opinions and sources to cite literature as writing of fiction or non-fiction that ultimately serves a purpose and reaches a generally agreed upon sense of quality.
Contrarily, fan fiction has a much sturdier concrete meaning: writing, art work, musical compositions, videos, and any other source of media or entertainment that uses characters or settings of another source, with a different creator. This could go as far to include popular super hero movies or adaptations of a book to a film. However, those are the rare cases. The vast majority of popular fan fiction resides on the Internet in forms of prose. Fanfiction.net hosts the most stories, commonly referred to as “fics,” of any site online. The Harry Potter books dominate the website, with more than 630,000 fics and counting. This nearly doubles the second most popular series, Japanese anime Naruto, with almost 330,000 stories, and crushes the television show Glee, which ranks third, having over 92,000 fics (fanfiction.net). These numbers do not even come close to projecting the actual amount of pieces written for any book, TV show, movie, video game, comic book available on a wide expanse of sites spanning across the Internet. These sites even produce some remarkable pieces, such as one particular paradigm written by an English major, “The Spirit of Redemption,” based off the video game Mass Effect, which consists of approximately 3,403,015 words. By comparison, Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, famously dubbed “Hugo’s Brick” for its thickness in print, contains a mere 530, 982 words (“Les Misérables”). And yet, according to popular opinion, none of these millions of stories count as literature.
The literary characteristics of fan fiction do not stop with length, and did not start with the Digital Revolution. Many great works from all of history were based on somebody else’s ideas. Homer created Aeneis before Virgil penned The Aeneid. Shakespeare plucked characters out of history and folk lore for plays such as Hamlet or Julius Caesar. In fact, the great quote connotated with Caesar’s death, “Et tu, Brute?” never came from a historical source, but rather Shakespeare’s play (Grossman). In a more modern setting, take author Gregory Maguire as a prime example of someone benefitting from the works of fan fiction. For years, Maguire wrote books delving into the “untold stories” of characters of classic fairy tales such as in his book Mirror, Mirror. Then, he published the novel Wicked in the 1990s, as an accompaniment story to the greatly famed book The Wizard of Oz. Wicked went on to become a four-part book series, and a Tony award-winning hit Broadway musical, much like The Wizard of Oz. Maguire has formed his entire career on the writing of fan fiction (Maguire).
Returning to the subject of online fan fiction, the ease of access provides writers with instant feedback on their work which can praise, or critique, authors within minutes of posting (Land). Reader reviews often assist young writers in their reading and writing skills, which only develop as they produce more fics (“Sarah M.,” “Rebecca,” Grossman). Some criticize the fact that mostly young adults create fan fiction, but this can help young minds grow (Abbott, 244). Child therapist and fan fiction writer, who wishes to be referred to by only her first name, Sarah, for this paper, believes that simply “[fan fiction] writers are remarkably similar to any other writers. They write because they have to write.” And like any other type of writing, many fan-made pieces cover serious issues—domestic abuse, coming out, and social justice and equality, to name a few—that young audiences often do not face in real life or learn how to handle in school, but can safely explore accompanied by a familiar favorite character (Grossman). Furthermore, fan fiction often dives into a sensitive subject that might bring embarrassment for young minds to address elsewhere: sex. The realm of fan fiction covers perhaps the most diverse and creative sexual scenarios that anybody could ever hope (or dread) to find (Abbott, 245). The erotic Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy might comes to mind immediately upon reading this fact and therefore brings the rolling of eyes and full dismissal of this topic. Some fans of the steamy bestseller still remain unaware of the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey first appeared on the Internet under the title “Master of the Universe;” the story focused not on Christian and Ana, but rather Edward and Bella from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight franchise. The books received critical censure, both from serious literary sources and the world of erotic fiction fans for its utter lack of quality. Many online considered it sub-par erotica, offended by its publishing (Young). To bring up statistics again, most fan-made erotica focuses on homosexual pairings, especially male couplings (Grossman). Some observers look at this fact with an optimistic eye, claiming that it signifies an underlying urge for social change supporting homosexual rights (Abbott, 245). Obviously, not all of these pieces make such pushes. With such accessibility, the range of quality drifts from the bottom feeders of writing to that of tomorrow’s great novelists at the top of the food chain One can never assure the value of a piece for sure until personally reading and judging it. An experienced fan fiction writer and reader, Tumblr user rrueplumet well sums up the overall experience by saying “the majority is poor with the occasional gem,” but uplifts her opinion by adding that, eventually, “a lot of those people who write poor at the start end up spewing out gems later if they stick to it.”
However, those who have already produced gems do not always approve of spin-off creations. Authors including Anne Rice and Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin have often expressed their distaste for the subject—going as far as asking fans to restrain from producing fan fiction (Grossman). Fans do not always oblige to such wishes. Legally, they must keep their writings away from publishing offices. Copyright and trademark laws protect original intellectual property of authors and creators, therefore fan fiction makers cannot legally turn a profit using their material, at least not under the pretense of fan fiction (Young). The massive spectrum produces multiple reasons to speculate the overall worth of fic. Negative stereotypes smear the very name of fan fiction, resulting in masses of skeptics. These people, conservative mothers and literary “purists” among them, judge fan fiction as licentious smut and a shame upon a writer’s ideas.
On the other hand, fan fiction gives its dedicated followers a shared space to come together over a common interest. When middle school librarian Tracey Kell assigned her students to make fan fiction as a creative writing assignment to work on the children’s literacy skills, she noted that not only their writing improved, but the students covering the same subject matter came together and bonded over their material (Kell). Onlyone class has ever been given a project such as this. The rest of those reading and writing do so for pure entertainment. Unnecessary creative writing and recreational reading is somewhat a marvel in this day and age, particularly among young people. People all over the world who would never meet in real life can connect via Internet to congregate over fan material (Land). So the type of people who spend massive amounts of time on a computer do not in fact lack an amount of friends, they just possess an unconventional type of relationship. What more, the pure aspect of recreation presents itself as mere reasoning for reading or writing this material, just the same as anybody might read another book or watch a movie. As another fic author, who asked to go by the simple title of “Jess,” puts it, “It makes me feel GOOD. It really does give me a feeling of satisfaction … once I’ve written some I want to write more and more.” Few other things in this world give girls everywhere like Jess such pleasure as fan fiction.
In conclusion, fan fiction lays claim to a list of reason for why society should deem it worthy of the title of “literature.” Most involved with it would agree that “Right now, fan fiction is still the cultural equivalent of dark matter: it’s largely invisible to the mainstream, but at the same time, it’s unbelievably massive,” (Grossman). But with more exposure in the general public and acceptance of the practice, society could make discoveries in the unexplored parts of writing. Fan fiction’s inexorable presence alone commands attention, not to mention its potential quality, and its benefits. Though some say nay, fan fiction has the power to produce the next wave of cult series with their own fan following. Someday, it might even produce the next great epic, or Shakespeare, for that matter.