There are several online archives where hundreds of thousands of fanfiction entries are stored and can be accessed. These allow the writers to tag their stories by media elements, and by content elements! The two biggest archives are fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org. These also serve as discussion forums for writers and readers to converse about the entries. Writing and reading these stories allows you to dive in and roll around and get your fingers into the clay to have a hand in molding the characters and worlds that you love. Especially for TV shows, book series, and other kinds of media where there are often long waiting periods between new episodes or series entries, fanfiction can be a way to keep up a steady diet of your favorite media. It can also be a way to insert yourself into the action creatively.
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The fanfiction community is inclusive of all skill levels of writing, so if you have an idea you want to create or just can’t get out of your head, known as a plot bunny, go ahead and write it! If you know in your heart that The Doctor and Rory are the true OTP Ship, write it! Don’t let lack of experience or credentials intimidate you from trying this activity out! You can share your stories with the community if you want to or hold on to them personally and keep them private if you don’t feel comfortable yet. When you do feel ready to add your writings to the communities and archives, I would encourage you to try connecting with someone you meet through the community to have them test out your stories. Getting connected into a writing group or even creating your own new one through Beta Readers will help you learn about the ins and outs of the fan fiction world and its unique behaviors and manners.
Fanfiction writers borrow characters, worlds, and situations from the source material of the show, book, film, comic or other texts, and then use those borrowed elements to add and create their own takes! These stories can take many different paths and serve different purposes for each author and reader. Some examples of fanfiction story themes are extra scenes, or retellings from alternate points of view, reversing the genders of main characters, creating relationships between characters, or switching good characters to be evil or vice versa. The creativity of fanfiction authors is limitless. Fanfiction allows writers to become part of the worlds they love, but also to correct things they feel are wrong or lacking in the main text, or canon, to create more points of self-identification with the material. This can be adding more diverse characters and relationships into the world, like more women, people of color, and LGBTQ representation which can be lacking in mainstream media, they can also fix a situation that they did not like in the source material. Fan Fiction can be a way to help jump start the changes that you want to see in mainstream culture. It is an important way readers and writers add to cultural discussions and build upon the work of the past! It also allows the writer to join fandom worlds and characters together in crossover and megacrossover stories!
A Word About Copyright and Fair Use
When you start writing fan fics utilizing characters from TV shows, films, comics, and books, one thing you need to be aware of and be careful about is copyright infringement. The producers of the media that you borrow from have rights to their creations and to profit from them. Different media producers will have varying levels of sensitivity to the idea of fans borrowing from their worlds and characters. Some will encourage it, knowing that engaging positively with fans will ultimately be beneficial for their media product. Some will be overly protective, unhappy with fans altering their vision of the media, and actively working against fan fiction creators. Fan fiction lands in a kind of gray area legally, where it is technically a copyright violation but could be covered under a fair use exemption but would likely be an expensive case to prove. Fair use is permissible use of copyrighted material because it is used in manner that is non-commercial, transformative, or for public benefit. Fan fiction often inserts diversity and fresh perspectives that are not seen frequently in mainstream media this helps to build the cultural dialogue around these issues! The fan fiction community balances the uncertainty their legal standing by self-regulating, making sure that their fan fiction sites are non-commercial and that they actively give credit to the creators of their characters and worlds. Fair use covers purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, research, and scholarship. It is fair to use material for parody and satire, educational purposes, and when the new work transforms the original into a new context. Looking at Fan Fiction, many of these fair-use attributes are present, such as when characters are gender-bent or shipped in different relationships, or when fictional characters are used to satire real-world politics. There are no current copyright protections for the moral rights to media, but it is a hot topic which could be changed, so that the rights-holders could have a say in how their works are distorted. The Organization for Transformative Works, the group that hosts http://www.anarchiveofourown.org, argues that all fan fiction is transformative by nature, as it is a comment on the original, and that it is not a threat to the original in terms of profit. I do not want this information to make you afraid of writing fan fiction, but rather to arm you so that you are informed about the subject and can write with confidence and creativity! Please check out the Research page of this site for more in-depth details!
I do want to address the elephant in the room. Fanfiction can have a bit of a suggestive reputation, after all the erotic/BDSM 50 Shades of Grey book series was initially written as Twilight fanfiction before it was made into its own new material. There is a good deal of fan fiction out there that is explicit and mature. Usually there will be warning labels or ratings listed along with codes that indicate what the contents of the story is about, but it is literally written in code. If you see a story description marked as slash or showing codes like, M/F, M/M, or F/F, or identifies as a lemon, or citrusy, it is warning of sexual content, that can be very explicit. The slashes generally are noted as sexual relationships between the letters (usually referencing the gender of the participants), the term slash is generally indicative of LGBTQ+ relationship stories(often sexual in content) in fanfiction, since most mainstream romantic fiction is written through straight relationship perspectives. The fanfiction community does a wonderful job of overcoming hurdles of Western puritanical sexual repression and lack of diverse sexual expression, but it is also important to access this kind of story aware of what the codes are, and what you are getting into. No one wants to accidentally be reading something explicit when Grandma peeps the screen or minors are present, or to be surprised by triggering content, or access explicit content from a work/school device. There are loads of stories that do address and work to lessen the lack of diverse representation of LGBTQ+ romantic relationships without explicit content, but Slashy fiction is a big slice within fanfiction.
Photos on page obtained from Pexels.com, Data visualizations created by Rebekah Pierce 2019