By Kasie Whitener
I just delivered a “Fan Fictions Basics” class on Outschool wherein I told three tween girls to think about a specific who in a story they loved and then consider all the peripheral questions about that who.
For example, we meet the Wicked Witch of the West through Dorothy’s point of view in the Wizard of Oz and are never told 1) why she is wicked, or 2) why she is green. Enter Gregory Maguire’s book Wicked (and the Broadway musical it spawned) to address both the Witch’s backstory and her unique bathing ritual. Not to mention giving us her name, Elphaba Thropp.
Fan fiction is born of a reader’s experience with a writer’s missed opportunities. The reader says, “Yes, but…” and questions the writer about something. The writer, responds with disdain, “That’s not the point of the story.” Or, in George R.R. Martin’s case, simply sneers at the reader or the daring novice who dares to write in Martin’s world.
Fan fiction is that often maligned effort of novices to stay engaged in a writer’s world a little bit longer. In the class, my students said they thought the writer should be flattered that people wanted to stay engaged. I tend to agree. The questions Maguire had about the Witch are what led to his writing Wicked.
What is The Mandalorian but a Disney-studios-backed fan fiction? Rogue One, Solo, and The Clone Wars animated series are all Star Wars universe stories that grew out of fans’ love for the world George Lucas created. In Martin’s defense, fans can get a little silly. Fifty Shades of Grey started out with vampires because the author wanted more Twilight and decided to write the Bella-Edward sex scene we all deserved.
Tweens write fan fiction because they identify with the character, the situation, or the place and want more story. But authors sometimes finish with a character, situation, or place and move on. What’s a fan to do except try writing their own story in that writer’s world?
Platforms like Wattpad have developed communities of fan fiction writers wherein hungry readers can find satisfying re-tells, one-offs, and side-stories for their favorite worlds: Harry Potter, all the Marvel Comics, Keeper of the Lost Cities, and of course, Game of Thrones. Here fans connect with other fans and share complaints of unfinished storylines or underdeveloped characters. Here they reimagine what authors have put forward for consideration.
I am learning to love fan fiction in all its novice awkward tweeness. Though it’s been around for a long time (it’s where we get the phrase “Mary Sue”), it has largely been ignored or derided by the literary establishment. Real writers write new stories, we usually say. But there’s something just fun about jumping in, feet first, to the indulgence of fan fiction.
You cannot make money on fan fiction, so why do it knowing you’ll never sell this? Because finding insatiable readers can be a payoff of its own.