Episode 95: Childish Copy Catting or Learning and Marketing Gold?

On May 16, 2020, Kasie and Rex discussed fanfiction (fanfic) and its impact and usefulness to the writing craft. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Fan Fiction: Childish Copy Catting or Learning and Marketing Gold?


  • What is Fan Fiction?
  • Why do authors hate it?
  • What good can it do for our books?
  • How can it teach new writers?
man holding white hand fan
Photo by FransA on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

There’s a great line in When Harry Met Sally when, speaking of faking orgasms, Sally says, “Every man is sure it never happened to them but most women at one time or another have done it so you do the math.”

FanFiction is kind of like faked orgasms. We may not be able to talk about it quite that way on the radio but here’s the point: People hate fanfiction for being a copycat rip off of the “real” work a published author has done, but most writers at one time or another have penned some kind of fanfiction. So you do the math.

So what is Fanfiction? Here’s the wikipedia link. Work written featuring the original characters, world, or other elements of another author. Usually written by fans.

  • Used as early as 1939 in a disparaging way
  • Usually appears in fan magazines, or on websites
  • Rarely professionally published
  • Written and read by fans of the original work

It sometimes imagines the original characters in unexpected circumstances, puts missing exposition in place, and/or adds the fans themselves to the story.

Adding the fan himself or herself to the story is where we get the concept of Mary Sue which we explored in this episode. The Mary Sue is an idealized characterization of the author superimposed into the story. 

Segment 2

Why do authors hate fanfiction?

This interview with George R.R. Martin explains a few basic reasons:

  • The lewd or ridiculous use of established characters
  • Monetization of the fanfiction which violates copyright
  • The wide-open fields of licensing options available for Game of Thrones was staggering

Does fanfiction help popularize the original work? Or is it a “tawdry” pursuit of less-talented writers that should be ignored by publishers?

This author argues fanfiction is a good thing for writers and publishing for these reasons:

  • Writers of fanfiction expand the original world of the story
  • They provide diverse characters with perspectives not seen in the original work
  • Fanfic featuring people of color as heros, LGBTQ romances, and disabled people in crucial roles
  • Allows the story to continue on without the writer having to do the work

This post talks about 7 versions of Harry Potter fanfiction including one in which Neville Longbottom is the chosen one, not Harry.

Even the New Yorker argues that there is merit (and opportunity) in fanfic. It cites a book and a collection of articles by British-intellectual-types that discuss the merits of fanfic as its own genre. Beyond the exploration of the side characters, fanfic offers a place for people with an affinity to congregate and dig deeper into the work.

So it’s the community of readers and the writers’ ability to present work for critique, learn to take critique, and go on to create better original work.

Segment 3

So fanfic can be an incubator for new writers? Sure. Anyplace writers go to get feedback on their work, in my mind, is a good thing.

Imagining the life Buffy Summers should have had if not for this stupid vampire thing is a compelling premise. But who would read it except those Buffy fans that know what her life actually turned out to be?

The fanfic communities also provide writers with a kind of online anonymity, there is no ambition to go looking for an agent, or a publisher, so the writing is purely for fun and enjoyment. Its anonymous so they can explore their own feelings and experiences and get discussion around reactions, situations and self-created melodrama.

So where do these aspiring authors go? How does it work?

  • FanFiction.net — looks more like an open Microsoft-based shareroom
  • Wattpad — looks more like a website for a professional company, not sure what happens after the login
  • Archive of Our Own (AO3) — a cross between the two, it’s utilitarian but a slicker look and feel

Login and create your online profile. Then upload your work with the relevant demarcations (characters, universe, etc) to be recognized. Build your readership and fan base. Amplify by sharing your story across multiple platforms and through traditional promotional means.

Some of the realities to be aware of: anyone who reads your work can comment and those comments may not be supportive. The internet makes people bold and cruel.

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