by Cat Reed
Those were the roots that the newly created stories ventured forth from, but it would seem that instead of embracing that part of the history, authors would rather avoid the fanfiction they used to write as one would avoid a dog in desperate need of a bath.
The scorn toward the medium is founded in odd logic. Why hate on fanfiction for not being “original” when there is nothing new under the sun? Everything we consume is a redone, retold, reworked version of something else. As Leo Kirschner writes in “Originality? There is No Such Thing!”: “As a society, we are compelled to re-tell tales and fables and epics to offer wisdom and retain our identity. But we also do it to gain insight and find meaning in ourselves and our actions. So, it’s only natural storytellers to digest what was learned, interpret the findings, and present it in a new way for new audiences.” Fanfiction does exactly this. People find meaning in their media, digest it, interpret it, present it in a new way for others on the internet—maybe even all over the world. There is nothing shameful about it, Clare. Be proud of that original fanfiction of Harry Potter! It helped craft the idea into what it is today!
The birth of modern-day fanfiction is and always has been closely tied to publishing (particularly self-publishing), whether E. L. James or Cassandra Clare like it or not. As Langdon mentions, the first ever fanfiction (in the way we think of the genre today) was a Star Trek zine called Spockanalia. Since the rise in internet fan cultures, fanfiction branched out to serialized self-published posts via huge fandom-oriented websites. One such site, Wattpad, works hand-in-hand with writers with the hope of one day becoming monetized.
Essentially, Wattpad functions for writers the same way YouTubers make it big. If someone has enough reads, followers, or otherwise, Wattpad might in turn make the account paid (and has even gone so far as to publish physical copies of popular works). Fanfiction authors have the promise to become noticed by the website to produce marketable content once they reach a certain level of popularity. Even if the fanfiction itself is not something Wattpad will monetize, the skills practiced via writing so much fanfiction and allowing the internet to read it can produce results, one of the most obvious being a large following for one’s writing. Whether or not said author writes fanfiction ceases to matter.
Fanfiction authors have the promise to become noticed by the website to produce marketable content once they reach a certain level of popularity.
However, there are those that still argue fanfiction isn’t hard work and doesn’t count as “true writing” because it takes already established worlds and characters and remixes them into various tropes to produce different content. And, quite frankly, that’s nonsense. Fanfiction requires a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to go into honing the author’s craft. Fans spend hours of their time writing every chance they get, as with any other author’s experience, or even any other artist’s experience. But, even with Wattpad holding out a thread of hope for writers to get some money, why aren’t writers allowed to sell their fanfiction?
The short answer is copyright and companies. If more companies sought out fanfiction for publication and were willing to work with the writers to create “publishable” content (similar to Wattpad’s mentality), then there would be limitless marketable content for the companies to make money off of. Due to the downplaying of fanfiction’s validity, this isn’t even a consideration. The work is already done, the words are already out there, why not refine them to sell? It’s not as if Disney doesn’t re-use old content with a different twist already. Take a look at all the remakes with “new” content related to a character, or a retelling of the story from a different character’s point of view. Thousands of people are already writing those different twists ripe for the picking; they should get paid for it!
From the casual viewer to the diehard fan, everyone has at least one piece of media that they’re absolutely obsessed with. Fanfiction is a form that unites a wide variety of individuals, some of whom have never met, so that they can bond over one (or more) pieces of life-changing content. It’s not something that people should be ashamed of writing, nor is it something that companies should discourage their fans from creating. Hopefully, more corporations will improve upon Wattpad’s approach and learn from HoYoverse’s mentality to allow their fans to monetize their creations. Otherwise, maybe the future of fanfiction is in its past, and more zines reminiscent of Spockanalia will pop up.