NOTE: This piece originally published on Jan. 10, 2020.
I’m gonna let you all in on a little secret:
I used to write fan fiction.
Castle fanfic, mainly. There was one where I managed to merge Castle with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was fun to write, but it got lost in the shuffle of life as a full-time worker bee and self-published creative type…I keep telling myself I’ll get back to it, but I haven’t yet.
Now, depending on which corner of the Writer Internet in which I say the words “fan fiction,” there’s no telling the reaction I’d get. In certain circles, fanfic might as well double as one of the late, great George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words. It’s the Thing That Shall Not Be Spoken Of, and people who partake in it might as well wear a scarlet W on their chests.
Acting like fanfic is the second coming of Satan and the director’s cut of Batman v. Superman, all rolled into one.
Now, I don’t begrudge authors who don’t want to see fan fiction of their work. It’s their work, their property, and they’re entitled to not wanting others to play with it. I disagree with that stance (I would flip my shit — in a good way — if I ever found out someone wrote fanfic based on my books), but I’ll never tell another writer how to treat their intellectual property.
And I think some of the anti-fanfic sentiment stems from such works as the Fifty Shades series, which famously started out as Twilight fan fiction before Big Publishing swooped in and left millions of us with a bastardized idea of what BDSM should be (but that’s another blog post for another writer to tackle).
Also worth noting: many of the most active fanfic readers and writers online are female and/or LGBT (and that there’s plenty of adult material in fanfic)…so I can’t help but feel like a good chunk of the anti-fanfic sentiment is society trying, once again, to render things that speak to marginalized people as less than, as The Other.
“You like that?! Ugh, girls and q***rs like that!”
So I write in defense of fan fiction, for several different reasons.
- It’s fun! Seriously, people are showing their love for their pop culture property of choice by spending more time in it, by creating their own corner of it. People love Harry Potter so much, for example, that they spend their precious free time creating more of it (without payment). Fanfic, at its essence, is a labor of love.
- Fanfic can be great practice, for both novice and experienced writers. When writing fanfic, you’re operating in a fictional universe that already exists. The rules are already there, the characters are at least somewhat fleshed out. In writing fanfic, you can hone your skills when it comes to plotting, dialogue, and characterization. Even if the fanfic in question stems from a belief that the source material erred (i.e., “Kate Beckett would never walk out on Richard Castle like that!”), the basics hold true.
- Unless a fanfic writer is profiting off the work, fanfic is, at the end of the day, harmless fun. People are reading and writing stories about worlds and characters they love. They’re harming nobody in doing this, and if a new fanfic chapter is what helps someone get through the day, then it’s worth it.
- Not to get meta on everything, but if you really boil it down, almost anything can be considered fanfic of a sort. This is a variation of the “everything derives from everything” argument. There are no truly original ideas anymore and that every story, explicitly or otherwise, borrows from several other sources. Many of us become creators because something someone else created inspired us, and we pour that inspiration into our work.
I’m not saying everyone has to partake in fanfic; it’s your prerogative if you don’t. But don’t look down on people who read it, and definitely don’t begrudge people who write it. In a way, fanfic is one of the purest forms of written expression, because it’s done without the expectation of reimbursement.
If I publish a book, it’s in the hope someone buys it, and if they buy it, I get a cut of the money. If I write fanfic, and someone reads it, I get…the satisfaction of knowing someone read my work.
But fanfic is a legitimate form of writing, a legitimate form of entertainment, and a legitimate form of artistic expression. Without fanfic, I’m not sure if I’m a published author at this point, and fanfic is something that I occasionally long to dabble in once more.
It’s fun, it’s harmless, and it’s really just another way for creatives to show support for the stories and characters they love.
About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.