Fanfiction: The Art of Recreation

Fanfiction is a relatively new style of creative writing – one that faces adversity from long-time players in the field who struggle to find respect for what they see as a shallow genre. Although the term “fanfiction” is loosely defined, it can be understood as any writing which makes use of popular, preconceived characters or settings. Typically, the style tends to manifest as a short story that extrapolates upon movies, video games, or original works of fiction, using the characters and settings from the original work to create alternative plotlines and new interpretations of the initial concept.

The arguments against this style of writing are few, yet strong: firstly, fanfiction often portrays an aura of childishness due to the nature of the work it emulates, and as such is rarely taken seriously; secondly, there’s no market for stories that can’t be published due to a myriad of copyright issues; and finally, many people, both writers and readers, feel that the process of reimagining fiction intrudes upon the sanctity of the original author’s designs.

To be fair, each of these arguments is sound and valid, but let’s take each in part.

It’s an unavoidable truth that fanfiction is rarely taken seriously. Most educated readers find it hard to analyze and delve into a story about Pokémon or Halo, and even if they took the time, the reality is that most fanfiction isn’t written with depth enough to explore those avenues of literary interpretation. Even the stories that are written with the skill and tenacity required for a deeper reading are usually either lost within the slush of shallow work or are unkindly labeled by the genre that defines it. However, it’s important to recognize that fanfiction, unlike traditionally published literature, is uploaded onto free-to-access websites like that lack any sort of selection process. The result is terabytes upon terabytes of unedited, unprofessional writing that defines the style as a whole. For the genre to be given the attention and recognition it deserves, I argue that it should be judged by the merit of the best stories those sites have to offer, not the average. That is not to say, however, that I believe open submission sites are unhealthy in any way. Later I’ll return to this idea and explain why I believe the genre to be so incredibly benign to beginning writers, but I do not agree that their contributions should be given as samples to the whole.

Again, part of fanfiction’s twisted image comes from its almost absolute inability to reach publication, and the impossibility of profitable distribution leads many to fault the style as a waste of time. Furthermore, even some of those who appreciate the best of fanfiction believe it to be, in those cases, a waste of talent that could better be applied to literature that more readers could be exposed to. While these arguments are valid, they are only effective on the condition that the writer’s purpose is for his or her writing to either return money or gain viewership. For most writers, at least one of those provisions would hold true. For myself, I write so that my writing can be read and in some small way affect the world around me, and so in my case, a dedication to fanfiction might cripple my progress toward that goal. However, not all writers write for others. Many, many, writers write for the sole cathartic and therapeutic return they receive from the writing process itself – they write for the sake of writing, and care very little whether their stories are of any particular quality, much less if they are widely read. For these writers, fanfiction is a logical, and often easier, stylistic option. The argument of fanfiction as a wasteful genre is really torn asunder by this maxim: do not judge all by the standards of a few.

All in all, these arguments and counterarguments are inconsequential unless the genre is able to reconcile itself with the issues some see it having with authorial intent and the sanctity of the original writer’s design. In this, I have really no contention to give other than this: as a writer, I would be flattered, I think, if my work were to be reimagined as a piece of fanfiction; and as a once-dabbler in the genre, I feel as though fanfiction compliments and pays homage to the vast potential of the original creator’s work. In this though, I think that each author and reader is entitled to his or her own opinion, and should in turn respect the opinions of others. If an author publicly asks to retain the sanctity of his own work, don’t use his ideas to fuel a story, or at the very least don’t share the story in a public forum. On the other hand, I feel compelled to give examples of acceptable (and even laudable) artistic recreation in history. In classical music, themes and even entire pieces were often reimagined and performed by other composers as “variations” on the original piece. In many such cases, even less credit was attributed to the original composer than is given in general fanfiction today. Within the realm of visual art, it was historically a common practice for apprentice painters to recreate traditional masterpieces in order to hone their craft. These paintings were then sold for profit, oftentimes without any ascription to the original artist at all. Even in architecture, recreation is a common practice. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Like I mentioned before, I’ve previously written pieces that fall well within the bounds of fanfiction. In fact, my first real creative writing experience was based within the world imagined by Shigeru Miyamoto in “The Legend of Zelda” video game series. Not only was the project fun and compelling, the predetermined settings and characters really allowed me to give my attention to learning the craft of writing itself, rather than to the process of evolving a conceptual world and protagonist from scratch. Although I now relish the task of imagining a world from nothing, for a beginning writer, I believe that there can be many benefits to taking the first steps of your writing career slowly. Ease yourself into the water. Learn how to swim before you jump of the dock.

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