Fan fiction (alternately referred to as fanfiction, fanfic, FF or fic) is a broadly defined term for fiction about characters or settings written by admirers of the original work, rather than by the original creators. The term usually applies to works that are uncommissioned and unauthorized by the owner/creators and publishers of the original and usually (but not always) works which are not professionally published. Fan fiction is defined outside of original fiction, which exists within its own discrete, professionally published universe, and therefore outside of canon works within that universe. Most fan fiction writers assume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a professional writer) in which their works are based.

Before about 1965, the term "fan fiction" was used in science fiction fandom to designate original, though amateur, works of science fiction published in science fiction fanzines, as differentiated from fiction that was professionally published by professional writers, but this usage is now obsolete. Modern definitions of the term exclude such entirely original writing from the genre. Today, fan fiction writers use characters and situations already created by other writers in order to develop their personal and preferred views of the story. For example, the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling have spawned a lively fan fiction genre, in which the characters make choices and enjoy an afterlife that Rowling herself did not create.

Material in which the fan fiction author merely consciously imitates the style, voice, and/or subject of another author's work is usually called pastiche and is generally considered a separate genre from standard fan fiction, though some works may in fact be both a pastiche and a fan fiction story. Unauthorized films that are derivative works are generally referred to as fan films, while fan-made comic books are usually referred to as either "fan comics" or (in Japan) doujinshi. These films and comics are generally considered different from "fan fiction", which is regarded as literary in nature.

Definitions of conceptEdit

While it is generally agreed that fan fiction is fiction written by fans of a given story, using characters and/or settings that they themselves did not create, definitions of the concept vary widely.

Licensed novelsEdit

There is some debate over whether licensed and copyrighted novels based on an original work can be considered fan fiction. Some view these works as a form of fan fiction because they were not written by the original creator. However, debate rages on due to the fact that, unlike most other modern works accepted as "fan fiction", these works are officially licensed, often have their basic plot outlines authorized and approved by the original copyright owner or his/her representatives, and are written for profit and published professionally for the mass market. Examples of such works include the Dune books written after the death of Frank Herbert and licensed novels published under the name of the late Robert Ludlum.

Some regard these features as indications that the writings should be considered "official" and thus not fan fiction, even if they are not part of the original series and even when they contradict the previously-established canon facts. Others, who define fan fiction more in terms of how "canonical" it is, see such works as fan fiction precisely because they were not produced by the original writer(s). This view does not appear to extend to novelizations of canon works released in other formats, such as feature films or television episodes.

Shared universesEdit

Additional borderline examples are fan contributions to shared universes created by one author or a group of authors with the expectation that anyone can add material and help develop a fictional universe. A famous example is H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, to which both professional and fan contributions have been made for over fifty years.


In many fanfiction mediums and formats the authors are mostly female.[1]


Fan fiction as it is now understood began at least as early as the 17th century, with unauthorized published sequels to such works as Don Quixote[1]. The turn of the 19th century also saw parodies and revisions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland by authors including Frances Hodgson Burnett and E. Nesbit. In addition, there were several fan-authored versions of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. In the 1920s and 1930s, fans of Jane Austen wrote stories based on her characters and published them in fanzines. In 1945, C. S. Lewis adopted certain elements from J.R.R. Tolkien's then largely-unpublished legendarium (mostly Númenor, there spelt Numinor, probably because Lewis never saw it written out) and incorporated these into the last novel, That Hideous Strength, of his Space Trilogy. (Given that Lewis and Tolkien were personal friends, this could be seen more as an "homage").

In 1975, "slash" fan fiction, and fan fiction in general, were recognized academically in a Grup article by D. Marchant. The book Star Trek Lives!, edited by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston, was published by Bantam Books and distributed to bookstores and newsstands. An analysis of the Star Trek fan phenomenon, it contained an entire chapter on fan fiction. David Gerrold's The World of Star Trek (1974), included fan fiction in its chapter on fan activities. Neither book mentioned slash.

For a more detailed timeline of fan fiction see the Fanfic Symposium.


There are three usual distinctions of fan fiction based on length, which are common to most fan fiction archives. Chaptered "fic" is written in a similar manner to traditional serial stories, with each chapter released separately as it is finished. Chapters may take anything from a day to several months to be updated and often remind readers of their place in the story with each new installment. Most archives allow authors to upload individual chapters sequentially under a single title with a main link to the first chapter, and each chapter easily linked to via a drop down menu. A subgenre of this is seen in fan fiction groups frequently organised by comic book fan fiction writers which not only feature series starring certain characters but create a full shared universe much like a comic book company.

These stories are a form of webserial, although that term is not common in fan fiction circles. They are often described as "epics" or "series". Until they are finished, they are referred to as Works in Progress or WIPs. On message boards and mailing lists, where the chapters are not easily consolidated, the chapter is usually marked as a number of the total chapters expected: 2/4, or 13/?. Authors will also often leave a link in each part to previous parts for readers who may not have seen the previous chapters updated.

Sometimes, creative writers may release a chapter that acts as a trailer for a webserial or series they might do. This can be done by having bold, italics, underlines etc., or combinations of these editing tools to denote things like: actions, characters' speech, voice-overs, graphics, or audio. These things combined may describe a trailer, which the reader can construct in his/her mind, much like a written storyboard of a cinematic trailer.

Single-chapter stories of any length are usually referred to as one-shots. Stories with two chapters are sometimes called two-shots, although this can also refer to a one-shot and its sequel. There are various terms for different lengths and they are sometimes used interchangeably. These include "flashfic" for stories under 500 words, and short-short for stories between 500 and 1,000 words. The term "ficlet" is also commonly used for stories under approximately 1,000 words. A piece of fan fiction is usually considered "long" if over 1,000 words, although it can still be considered a short story up to about 20,000 words in terms of professional publishing, and a novella or novelette can describe a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words.[2]

A drabble is traditionally a story exactly 100 words in length. However, when a story is referred to as a drabble, it often is a short scene or idea that does not tell an entire story, or a story at all. It is simply a reflections of a moment in time, somewhat similar to a character sketch. In fan fiction writing circles, many fandoms have a drabble community which sets a weekly prompt for authors to use in a drabble. A prompt can be a motif such as "faith" or "mothers", a specific situation such as "someone is bleeding", an object, a line of poetry, an instruction such as "only dialogue", or "from the point of view of a minor character", etc. Some authors also regularly ask their friends to give them a prompt, or a specific pairing for them to write a story from. The resulting stories are more and more often referred to as drabbles, and the meaning has extended in some places to include anything that is less than 500 words.

A character sketch is generally either a one-or-two shot in which the author looks mainly at what a certain character is like, and how they are feeling. Many character sketches fall under the genres of either "drama" or "angst", but they can be found under any genre. These fictions generally aim to make the reader reflect on their feelings towards the character, but they also often make the reader think about themselves. They are best described, perhaps, as philosophical.

In manga-based fandoms, textual fan fiction and fan produced manga can also come under the term dōjinshi (also sometimes romanized as doujinshi). This is a Japanese term for self-published works, usually manga, novels, fan guides, art collections, or games, often sold in small runs for a minor profit. While most dōjinshi featuring fan fiction is not technically legal under Japanese copyright law, the general practice of most copyright owners is to allow it, on the grounds that it keeps fans interested in the original work and fosters the talent of amateur artists and writers who may choose to go professional, such as Clamp.

Fan fiction is also occasionally written in script format, although has banned all these stories. There are several subgenres of "scriptfic". Some are written in the style of screenplays. While most are not written in the format of professional scripts, most do have the basic structure and are written in the present tense. Others are "chatfics", stories which are written like an instant messaging or chatroom conversation between characters, usually as a comedic exercise; "chatfics" are somewhat similar in this sense to an epistolary novel, though usually much shorter.

Another format of fanfiction is the songfic format, where authors take the lyrics of a song and, with the song as inspiration, construct a piece of writing around the lyrics. Usually this is done by quoting lines of the lyrics in order and inserting original writing in-between. However, this format is controversial, due to copyright complications. has banned songfics because of this reason, but there are still many songfics on the site. (See also filk.)

Fan fiction is occasionally produced in an audio theatre format and released in the form of a podcast.

Reviewing and interactivity in the online eraEdit

Unlike traditional print publication, the internet offers the option of giving and receiving instantaneous feedback. As such, most fan fiction archives feature a "review" system where readers can post comments about the story via form, to what is sometimes referred to as the "review board" (reviews page) of a story. These systems often are programmed to notify the author of new reviews, making them a common way for readers and authors online to communicate directly.

Since many such sites do not automatically moderate these systems, on such sites the systems are often abused and used to send flames, spam or trolling messages. For this reason, many such unmoderated systems allow the author the option of receiving only "signed" (non-anonymous) reviews, and many sites that sport such systems feature the suggestion to reviewers that they take the opportunity to give the author some constructive criticism.

Recently fan fiction has seen greater use of the forum format. Built around message board systems, stories are posted on threads with feedback interlaced and immediate. This style of fan fiction is more interactive but also can be a distraction since the stories and comments are between each other. Additionally, blogs, which typically allow entries to be sorted by topic with the additional option of receiving commentary on each entry, are also a somewhat popular choice for fan fiction postings.

These communication methods make fan fiction sites and blogs useful affinity spaces as writers are able to take readers' feedback and improve their skills and abilities as writers. This informal learning is a side benefit for many fan fiction authors, some of whom eventually attempt or go on to writing professionally.

It is often considered wise in fan fiction circles to acquire the aid of a "beta reader", often shortened to just "beta", whose responsibilities are roughly those of a professional editor to a commercial author—with the exception that the "beta" is most commonly a volunteer who works without pay and on a casual basis, usually though not exclusively through E-mail or private message systems. Writers are discouraged in some circles from posting fan fiction that has not at least been checked for grammatical, spelling, consistency and plot errors by a beta reader. Now, it seems more "fan fic" sites help authors find betas by maintaining a list of users that will be able to "beta" their writing. In late February 2008, set up an area of their site that contains a list of authors willing to "beta" other authors' "fic". [3]


Fan fiction is now found in a variety of genres with sites specializing in each. Sites can be found by star, by TV show, by books (such as the Harry Potter Fanfiction forums), and by style of story such as mystery, crime shows, crossover, or romance (for the "shippers"). A growth in part due to the Internet, it is expected that these specialized sites will only continue to grow in popularity.

For common terminology relating to fan fiction, including some specialized subgenre terms, see the sub-article Fan fiction terminology.

See alsoEdit




Further readingEdit

  • Hellekson, Karen, and Kristina Busse. Fan fiction and fan communities in the age of the Internet: new essays. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2006. ISBN 0786426403.
  • Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (Studies in Culture and Communication). New York: Routledge, 1992. ISBN 0415905710.
  • Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Bridgend, Wales: Seren, 2005. ISBN 1854113992.
  • Karen Joy Fowler. Wit's End. Puntam, 2008. A novel about a mystery writer who constantly battles fan fiction about her famous detective.

External linksEdit

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